Jun 212018
 

Today is the birthday (1764) of Admiral Sir William Sidney Smith, GCB, GCTE, KmstkSO, FRS a British naval officer who served in the American and French revolutionary wars, as well as the Swedish Navy, who later rose to the rank of admiral. Chances are that you have never heard of Sidney Smith (as he called himself), but have heard of the Duke of Wellington and Lord Nelson. Yet . . . Napoleon Bonaparte, reminiscing later in his life, said of Sidney Smith: “That man made me miss my destiny.” Why is this?

Sidney Smith was born into a military and naval family with connections to the Pitt family. He was born at Westminster, the second son of Captain John Smith of the Guards and his wife Mary Wilkinson, daughter of wealthy merchant Pinckney Wilkinson. Sidney Smith attended Tonbridge School until 1772. He joined the Royal Navy in 1777 and fought in the American Revolutionary War, where he saw action in 1778 against the American frigate Raleigh. For his bravery under Rodney in the action near Cape St Vincent in January 1780, Sidney Smith was, on 25th September, appointed lieutenant of the 74-gun third-rate Alcide, despite being under the required age of 19.

He distinguished himself under Admiral Thomas Graves at the Battle of the Chesapeake in 1781 and under Admiral George Rodney at the Battle of the Saintes and in consequence was given his first command, the sloop Fury. He was soon promoted to captain a larger frigate, but following the peace of Versailles in 1783, he was put ashore on half pay. During the peace, Smith chose to travel to France and first became involved with intelligence matters while observing the construction of the new naval port at Cherbourg. He also traveled in Spain and Morocco which were also potential enemies. In 1790, he applied for permission to serve in the Royal Swedish Navy in the war between Sweden and Russia. King Gustav III appointed him to command a light squadron and to be his principal naval adviser. Smith led his forces in clearing the Bay of Viborg of the Russian fleet, known as the Battle of Svensksund. The Russians lost 64 ships and over 1,000 men. The Swedes lost 4 ships and had few casualties. For this, Smith was knighted by the king and made a Commander Grand Cross of the Swedish Svärdsorden (Order of the Sword). Smith used this title, with King George III’s permission, but was mocked by fellow British officers as “the Swedish knight.” There were a number of British officers, on half pay like Smith, who had enlisted and fought with the Russian fleet and six had been killed in this action. As a result, Smith earned the enmity of many British naval officers for his Swedish service.

In 1792, Smith’s younger brother, John Spencer Smith, was appointed to the British embassy to the Ottoman court in Constantinople. Smith obtained permission to travel to Turkey. While there, war broke out with Revolutionary France in January 1793. Smith recruited some British seamen and sailed to join the British fleet under Admiral Lord Hood which had occupied the French Navy’s principal Mediterranean port of Toulon at the invitation of the French “Royalist” forces (they were not so much pro-royalty, as against the Reign of Terror). By Smith’s arrival in December 1793, the Revolutionary forces, including a colonel of artillery, Napoleon Bonaparte, had surrounded the port and were attacking it. The British and their allies had insufficient soldiers to mount an effective defense and so the port was evacuated. Smith, serving as a volunteer with no command, was given the task of burning as many French ships and stores as possible before the harbor could be captured. Despite his efforts, lack of support from the Spanish forces sent to help him left more than half of the French ships to be captured undamaged. Although Smith had destroyed more French ships than had the most successful fleet action to that date, Nelson and Collingwood, among others, blamed him for this failure to destroy all of the French fleet. Smith and Nelson were, at the same time, both friends and rivals. Both were strong-willed individuals with giant egos who preferred to buck the system rather than follow orders.

On his return to London, Smith was given command of the fifth-rate HMS Diamond and in 1795 joined the Western Frigate Squadron under Sir John Borlase Warren. This squadron consisted of some of the most skillful and daring captains including Sir Edward Pellew. Smith fitted the pattern and on one occasion took his ship almost into the port of Brest to observe the French fleet. In July 1795, Smith, commanding the western frigate squadron in HMS Diamond, occupied the Îles Saint-Marcouf off the coast of Normandy. He sacrificed two of his gun vessels, HMS Badger and HMS Sandfly, to provide materials and manpower for fortifying the islands and setting a temporary naval garrison. Further defenses were constructed by Royal Engineers, and Royal Marines and Royal Artillery detachments were established. The islands served as a forward base for the blockade of Le Havre, a launching point for intercepting coastal shipping, and as a transit point for French émigrés, and were held by the Navy for nearly 7 years.

Smith specialized in inshore operations, and on 19th April 1796, he and his secretary John Wesley Wright were captured while attempting to cut out a French ship in Le Havre. Smith had taken the ship’s boats into the harbor, but the wind died as they attempted to leave the harbor, and the French were able to recapture the ship with Smith and Wright aboard. Instead of being exchanged, as was the custom, Smith and Wright were taken to the Temple prison in Paris where Smith was to be charged with arson for his burning of the fleet at Toulon. As Smith had been on half pay at the time, the French considered that he was not an official combatant. Whilst in the Temple prison he commissioned a drawing of himself and his secretary John Wesley Wright from the French artist Philippe Auguste Hennequin, which is now in the British Museum.

He was held in Paris for two years, despite a number of efforts to exchange him and frequent contacts with both French Royalists and British agents. Notably Captain Jacques Bergeret, captured in April 1796 with the frigate Virginie, was sent from England to Paris to negotiate his own exchange; when the Directoire refused, he returned to London. The French authorities threatened several times to try Smith for arson, but never followed up on the threats. Eventually in 1798 the Royalists, who pretended to be taking him to another prison, helped Smith and Wright to escape. The royalists brought the two to Le Havre, where they boarded an open fishing boat and were picked up on 5th May by HMS Argo on patrol in the English Channel, arriving in London on 8th May 1798. Bergeret was then released, the British government considering the prisoner exchange as completed.

Following Nelson’s overwhelming victory at the Battle of the Nile, Smith was sent to the Mediterranean as captain of HMS Tigre, a captured 80-gun French ship of the line which had been brought into the Royal Navy. It was not a purely naval appointment, although he was ordered to place himself under the command of Lord St Vincent, the commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean. St Vincent gave him orders as Commodore with permission to take British ships under his command as required in the Levant. He also carried a military and diplomatic mission to Istanbul where his brother was now a Minister Plenipotentiary to the Sublime Porte. The mission’s task was to strengthen Turkish opposition to Napoleon and to assist the Turks in destroying the French army stranded in Egypt. This dual appointment caused Nelson, who was the senior officer under St Vincent in the Mediterranean, to resent Smith’s apparent superseding of his authority in the Levant. Nelson’s antipathy further adversely affected Smith’s reputation in naval circles.

Napoleon, having defeated the Ottoman forces in Egypt, marched north along the Mediterranean coast with 13,000 troops through Sinai and into what was then the Ottoman province of Syria. Here he took control of much of the southern part of the province, now modern-day Israel and Palestine, and of a single town in today’s Lebanon, Tyre. On the way north, he captured Gaza and Jaffa and massacred captured Turkish soldiers, whom he was unable to take with him or send back to Egypt. Napoleon’s army then marched to Acre.

Smith sailed to Acre and helped the Turkish commander Jezzar Pasha reinforce the defenses and old walls and supplied him with additional cannon deployed by sailors and marines from his ships. He also used his command of the sea to capture the French siege artillery being sent by ship from Egypt and to deny the French army the use of the coastal road from Jaffa by bombarding the troops from the sea. Once the siege began in late March 1799, Smith anchored HMS Tigre and Theseus so their broadsides could assist the defense. Repeated French assaults were driven back, several attempts to mine the walls were prevented. By early May, replacement French siege artillery had arrived overland and a breach was forced in the defenses. However, the assault was again repelled and Turkish reinforcements from Rhodes were able to land. On 9th May after another fierce bombardment, the final French assault was made. This, too, was repelled and Napoleon began making plans for the withdrawal of his army to Egypt. Shortly after this, Napoleon abandoned his army in Egypt and sailed back to France evading the British ships patrolling the Mediterranean.

Smith attempted to negotiate the surrender and repatriation of the remaining French forces under General Kléber and signed the Convention of El-Arish. However, because of the influence of Nelson’s view that the French forces in Egypt should be annihilated rather than allowed to return to France, the treaty was abrogated by Lord Keith who had succeeded St Vincent as commander-in-chief. The British decided instead to land an army under Sir Ralph Abercromby at Abukir Bay. Smith and Tigre were involved in the training and transport of the landing forces and as liaison with the Turks, but his unpopularity resulted in the loss of his diplomatic credentials and his naval position as Commodore in the eastern Mediterranean. The invasion was successful and the French defeated, although Abercromby was wounded and died soon after the battle. Following this Smith then supported the army under Abercromby’s successor John Hely-Hutchinson, which besieged and captured Cairo and finally took the last French stronghold of Alexandria. The French troops were eventually repatriated on similar terms as those previously obtained by Smith in the Convention of El-Arish.

1801, Smith received some honors and a pension of £1,000 for his services, but he was overshadowed again by Nelson who was being acclaimed as the victor of the Battle of Copenhagen. During the brief Peace of Amiens, Smith was elected Member of Parliament for Rochester in Kent in the election held in 1802. There is strong evidence that he had an affair with Princess Caroline of Brunswick, the estranged wife of the Prince of Wales. Although she became pregnant, she was notorious for having a number of other lovers at the same time, such as George Canning and Thomas Lawrence, so it is doubtful that the child was Smith’s. With the resumption of war with France in 1803, Smith was employed in the southern North Sea off the coast between Ostend and Flushing part of the forces gathered to prevent Napoleon’s threatened invasion.

Like Nelson, Smith was interested in new and unusual methods of warfare. In 1804 and 1805, he worked with the American inventor Robert Fulton on his plans to develop torpedoes and mines to destroy the French invasion fleet gathering off the French and Belgian coasts. However, an attempt to use the new weapons combined with Congreve rockets in an attack on Boulogne was foiled by bad weather and the French gunboats that came out to threaten the attackers. Despite this setback, suggestions were made that the rockets, mines and torpedoes be used against the combined French and Spanish Fleet in Cádiz. This was not necessary as the combined fleet sailed to defeat at the Battle of Trafalgar in October 1805.

In November 1805, Smith was promoted to Rear Admiral, he was again sent to the Mediterranean under the command of Collingwood, who had become the commander-in-chief following Nelson’s death. Collingwood sent him to assist King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies to regain his capital of Naples from Napoleon’s brother King Joseph, who had been given the Kingdom of Naples.

Smith planned a campaign using Calabrian irregular troops with a force of 5,000 to march north on Naples. On 4 July 1806, they defeated a larger French force at the Battle of Maida. Once again, Smith’s inability to avoid offending his superiors caused him to be replaced as commander of the land forces despite his success. He was replaced by Sir John Moore, one of Britain’s most able soldiers. Moore abandoned Smith’s plan and resorted to making the island of Sicily a strong British base in the Mediterranean.

Smith was sent to join Admiral Sir John Thomas Duckworth’s expedition to Constantinople in February 1807. This was intended to forestall the French from making an alliance with the Turks to allow free passage of their army to Egypt. Despite Smith’s great experience in Turkish waters, his knowledge of the Turkish court, and his personal popularity with the Turks, he was kept in a subordinate role. Even when Duckworth eventually did ask for his advice, he did not heed it. Duckworth, instead of allowing Smith to negotiate with the Turks, which the French ambassador later said would have been the end of the French overtures, retreated back through the Dardanelles under heavy Turkish fire. Although this was a defeat, the withdrawal under fire was played up as a heroic feat. In the summer of 1807, Duckworth and Smith were recalled to England.

In October 1807, Spain and France signed a treaty to divide Portugal between them. In November 1807, Smith was appointed to command an expedition to Lisbon, either to assist the Portuguese in resisting the attack or to destroy the Portuguese fleet and blockade the harbor at Lisbon should that be unsuccessful. Smith arranged for the Portuguese fleet to sail for Brazil, at that time a Portuguese colony. He was involved in planning an attack on the Spanish colonies in South America, in combination with the Portuguese, contrary to his orders, but he was recalled to Britain in 1809 before any of the plans could be carried out. He received much popular acclaim for his actions and was treated as a hero, but the government continued to be suspicious of him, and he was not given any official honors. Smith was promoted to Vice Admiral on 31st July 1810. In the Royal Navy of the time, promotion was automatic and based on seniority, not a specific reward for good service. Upon safe arrival to Brazil escorting the Portuguese Royal Family, Smith was awarded the Grand Cross of the newly restored Order of the Tower and Sword by the prince-regent, John.

In July 1812, Smith again sailed for the Mediterranean aboard his new flagship, the 74-gun Tremendous. He was appointed as second in command to Vice Admiral Sir Edward Pellew. His task was to blockade Toulon and he transferred his flag to the larger Hibernia, a 110-gun first-rate. Blockade duty was tedious, as the French showed no inclination to come out of port and confront the British. Early in 1814, the Allies entered Paris and Napoleon abdicated, and was exiled to the island of Elba.

In March 1815, Napoleon escaped from Elba and gathering his veteran troops marched on Paris where he was reinstated as Emperor of the French. Smith traveling back to England had only reached Brussels by June. Hearing the gunfire of a great battle, he rode out of Brussels and went to meet the Duke of Wellington. Smith found him late in the day when he had just won the Battle of Waterloo. Smith started making arrangements for the collecting and treatment of the many wounded soldiers on both sides. He was then asked to take the surrender of the French garrisons at Arras and Amiens and to ensure that the Allied armies could enter Paris without a fight and that it would be safe for King Louis XVIII to return to his capital. For these and other services, he was finally awarded a British knighthood, the KCB, so he was not just “the Swedish Knight” any more.

Smith then took up the anti-slavery cause. The Barbary pirates had operated for centuries out of a number of North African ports. They had enslaved captured sailors and even made raids to kidnap people from European coasts, including England and Ireland. Smith attended the Congress of Vienna to campaign for funds and military action to end the practice of slave taking.

Smith had managed to run up significant debts through his diplomatic expenses, which the British government proved to be very slow in reimbursing. He also lived a high lifestyle and his efforts to mobilize opinion against the slave trade had cost a good deal of money. In Britain, at that time debtors were often imprisoned until their debts were paid, so Smith moved his family to France, settling in Paris. Eventually the government did reimburse his expenditures and increased his pension, allowing him to live in some style. Despite frequent attempts to obtain a seagoing position, he was never to hold a command again. He died on 26th May 1840 following a stroke. He is buried with his wife in Père Lachaise Cemetery.

I have known Sidney Smith for many years because Sir Sidney Smith’s March is popular in folk circles. Makes me want to buy a new instrument. It’s a common tune for Northumbrian small pipes, but here it is on button accordion – my instrument.

 

As a small amusement for you, I found this version played on an ensemble of yuèqín (月琴) in China. The rendition is painfully slow and precise, and why Chinese musicians would play this defeats me (although the 2 on the left are foreigners – the leader is Chinese).

This English recipe for raspberry pie (called raspberry tart in the original) comes from the period of the French/Napoleonic wars, taken from William Augustus Henderson’s The Housekeeper’s Instructor (c. 1800). Raspberry pie happens to be a particular favorite of mine, so why not use it to celebrate Sidney Smith? Or choose any other recipe from the period.

ROLL out some thin puff-paste, and lay it in a patty pan; then put in some rasberries, and strew over them some very fine sugar.  Put on the lid, and bake it.- Then cut it open, and put in half a pint of cream, the yolks of two or three eggs well beaten, and a little sugar.  Give it another heat in the oven, and it will be fit for use.

Aug 212017
 

Today is the birthday (1765) of William IV, king of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and king of Hanover from 26 June 1830 until his death in 1837.  William was the third son of George III and younger brother and successor to George IV. He is often considered to be one of the dullest of the Hanoverian kings, yet a surprising number of pubs in England are named after him. The pub signs usually show him in naval uniform because he spent a good part of his life in the Royal Navy, and, thus, is usually nicknamed the Sailor King.

In 1789 William was created Duke of Clarence and St Andrews. Since his two older brothers died without leaving legitimate issue, he inherited the throne when he was 64 years old. He also died without legitimate heirs, so the daughter of his deceased younger brother, Edward, became Queen Victoria on his death. She could not inherit the kingdom of Hanover as a woman, so William’s younger brother Ernest (who was junior to Victoria in the British succession) became king of Hanover while she continued the Hanoverian line in the U.K. Therefore, William was the last joint monarch of the United Kingdom and Hanover.

William mostly kept away from politics yet his reign saw several key reforms: the poor law was updated, child labor restricted, slavery abolished in nearly all of the British Empire, and the British electoral system refashioned by the Reform Act 1832 (which William did play a hand in). Although William did not engage in politics as much as his brother or his father, he was the last monarch to appoint a prime minister contrary to the will of Parliament. He also created a number of extra peers sympathetic to the Reform Act when it stumbled in the House of Lords and threatened to create more if they did not accede.

William spent most of his early life in Richmond and at Kew Palace, where he was educated by private tutors. At the age of 13, and because he was not expected ever to be king, he joined the Royal Navy as a midshipman, and was present at the Battle of Cape St Vincent in 1780. His experiences in the navy seem to have been little different from those of other midshipmen, though in contrast to other sailors he was accompanied on board ships by a tutor. He did his share of the cooking, and got arrested with his shipmates after a drunken brawl in Gibraltar, although he was hastily released from custody after his identity became known. He served in New York during the American War of Independence. While William was in North America, George Washington approved a plot to kidnap him, writing: “The spirit of enterprise so conspicuous in your plan for surprising in their quarters and bringing off the Prince William Henry and Admiral Digby merits applause; and you have my authority to make the attempt in any manner, and at such a time, as your judgment may direct. I am fully persuaded, that it is unnecessary to caution you against offering insult or indignity to the persons of the Prince or Admiral…” The plot did not come to fruition; the British heard of it and assigned guards to William, who had up until then walked around New York unescorted.

He became a lieutenant in 1785 and captain of HMS Pegasus the following year (aged 20). In late 1786, he was stationed in the West Indies under (then-captain) Horatio Nelson, who wrote of William: “In his professional line, he is superior to two-thirds, I am sure, of the [Naval] list; and in attention to orders, and respect to his superior officer, I hardly know his equal.” The two were great friends, and dined together almost nightly. At Nelson’s wedding, William insisted on giving the bride away. He was given command of the frigate HMS Andromeda in 1788, and was promoted to rear-admiral in command of HMS Valiant the following year.

William sought to be made a duke like his elder brothers, and to receive a similar parliamentary grant, but his father was reluctant. To put pressure on him, William threatened to stand for the House of Commons for the constituency of Totnes in Devon. Appalled at the prospect of his son making his case to the voters, George III created him Duke of Clarence and St Andrews and Earl of Munster on 16 May 1789, supposedly saying: “I well know it is another vote added to the Opposition.” William’s political record was inconsistent and, like many politicians of the time, cannot be certainly ascribed to a single party. He allied himself publicly with the Whigs as well as his elder brothers George, Prince of Wales, and Frederick, Duke of York, who were known to be in conflict with the political positions of their father.

William ceased his active service in the Royal Navy in 1790. When Britain declared war on France in 1793, he was anxious to serve his country and expected a command, but was not given a ship, perhaps at first because he had broken his arm by falling down some stairs drunk, but later perhaps because he gave a speech in the House of Lords opposing the war. The following year he spoke in favor of the war, expecting a command after his change of heart; none came. The Admiralty did not reply to his request. He did not lose hope of being appointed to an active post (but his rank of admiral was purely nominal at that time). Despite repeated petitions, he was never given a command throughout the Napoleonic Wars. In 1811, he was appointed to the honorary position of Admiral of the Fleet (usually reserved for distinguished officers in retirement). In 1813, he came nearest to any actual fighting, when he visited the British troops fighting in the Low Countries. Watching the bombardment of Antwerp from a church steeple, he came under fire, and a bullet pierced his coat.

Instead of serving at sea, he spent time in the House of Lords, where he spoke in opposition to the abolition of slavery, which although not legal in the United Kingdom still existed in the British colonies. Freedom would do the slaves little good, he argued. He had travelled widely and, in his eyes, the living standard among freemen in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland was worse than that among slaves in the West Indies.

From 1791 William lived with an Irish actress, Dorothea Bland, better known by her stage name, Mrs. Jordan, the title “Mrs.” being assumed at the start of her stage career to explain an inconvenient pregnancy and “Jordan” because she had “crossed the water” from Ireland to Britain. William was part of the first generation to grow to maturity under the Royal Marriages Act 1772, which forbade descendants of George II from marrying unless they either obtained the monarch’s consent or, if over the age of 25, gave twelve months’ notice to the Privy Council. Several of George III’s sons, including William, chose to cohabit with the women they loved, rather than seek a wife. Having legitimate issue was not a primary concern for William. Because he was one of the younger sons of George III, he was not expected to figure in the succession, which was considered secure once the Prince of Wales married and had a daughter, Princess Charlotte, second-in-line to the throne. She died later giving birth however.

William appeared to enjoy the domesticity of his life with Mrs. Jordan, remarking to a friend: “Mrs. Jordan is a very good creature, very domestic and careful of her children. To be sure she is absurd sometimes and has her humours. But there are such things more or less in all families.” The couple, while living quietly, enjoyed entertaining, with Mrs. Jordan writing in late 1809: “We shall have a full and merry house this Christmas, ’tis what the dear Duke delights in.” The couple had ten illegitimate children—five sons and five daughters—nine of whom were named after William’s siblings, each given the surname FitzClarence (child of Clarence). Their affair lasted for twenty years before ending in 1811.

In 1818 William married Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen, the daughter of George I, Duke of Saxe-Meiningen. At 25, Adelaide was half William’s age. Their marriage, which lasted almost twenty years until William’s death, was a happy one. For their first year of marriage, the couple lived in economical fashion in Germany. The couple had two short-lived daughters and Adelaide suffered three miscarriages. The city of Adelaide, capital of South Australia planned in 1837, was named for her when she was queen, and the main street, a wide boulevard running down the center was named King William Street.

William’s elder brother, the Prince of Wales, had been Prince Regent since 1811 because of the mental illness of their father, George III. In 1820, the King died, leaving the Crown to the Prince Regent, who became George IV. William, Duke of Clarence, was now second in the line of succession, preceded only by his brother, Frederick, Duke of York. Reformed since his marriage, William walked for hours, ate relatively frugally, and drank only barley water flavored with lemon. Both of his older brothers were unhealthy, and it was considered only a matter of time before he became king. When the Duke of York died in 1827, William, then more than 60 years old, became heir presumptive. Later that year, the incoming Prime Minister, George Canning, appointed him to the office of Lord High Admiral, which had been in commission (that is, exercised by a board rather than by a single individual) since 1709. While in office, William had repeated conflicts with his Council, which was composed of Admiralty officers. Things finally came to a head in 1828 when, as Lord High Admiral, he put to sea with a squadron of ships, leaving no word of where they were going, remaining away for ten days. The King, through the Prime Minister, by now Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, requested his resignation and he complied.

Despite the difficulties William experienced, he did considerable good as Lord High Admiral. He abolished the cat o’ nine tails for most offenses other than mutiny, attempted to improve the standard of naval gunnery and required regular reports of the condition and preparedness of each ship. He commissioned the first steam warship and advocated more.

When King George IV died on 26 June 1830 without surviving legitimate issue, William succeeded him as King William IV. Aged 64, he was the oldest person yet to assume the British throne.] Unlike his extravagant brother, William was unassuming, discouraging pomp and ceremony. In contrast to George IV, who tended to spend most of his time in Windsor Castle, William was known, especially early in his reign, to walk, unaccompanied, through London or Brighton. Until the Reform Crisis eroded his standing, he was very popular among the people, who saw him as more approachable and down-to-earth than his brother.

The King did his best to endear himself to the people. Charlotte Williams-Wynn wrote shortly after his accession: “Hitherto the King has been indefatigable in his efforts to make himself popular, and do good natured and amiable things in every possible instance.” Emily Eden noted: “He is an immense improvement on the last unforgiving animal, who died growling sulkily in his den at Windsor. This man at least wishes to make everybody happy, and everything he has done has been benevolent.”

William dismissed his brother’s French chefs and German band, replacing them with English ones to public approval. He gave much of George IV’s art collection to the nation, and halved the royal stud. George IV had begun an extensive (and expensive) renovation of Buckingham Palace but William refused to live there, and twice tried to give the palace away, once to the Army as a barracks, and once to Parliament after the Houses of Parliament burned down in 1834. His informality could be startling and, certainly, against norms of the age. When in residence at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, William used to send to the hotels for a list of their guests and invite anyone he knew to dinner, urging guests not to “bother about clothes. The Queen does nothing but embroider flowers after dinner.”

In William’s day, eating out at taverns was popular which may be a partial explanation of why so many pubs are named after him. Some tavern chefs at the end of the 18th century produced cookbooks, notably, The Universal Cook: And City and Country Housekeeper by Francis Collingwood, John Woollams. You can browse it in the original here:

https://books.google.com.mm/books?id=xJMEAAAAYAAJ&dq=old+syllabub&pg=PA214&ci=121,727,766,235&source=bookclip&redir_esc=y&hl=en#v=onepage&q&f=false

By modern standards Collingwood and Woollams cooked vegetables too much as in the recipe for a ragout of celery:

To ragoo Celery

CUT the white part of the celery into lengths and boil it till it is tender. Then fry and drain it, flour it and put to it some rich gravy, a very little red wine, salt, pepper, nutmeg and catchup. Give it a boil and then send it up to table.

The “catchup” here would be a fermented mushroom ketchup which you can get a version of today in some supermarkets. I think this would be all right if the celery were no more than blanched in boiling water first then fried quickly. The point of flouring the celery after frying is to thicken the gravy.

The following recipe appeals to me more: battered, deep-fried celery.

To fry celery

FIRST boil it, then dip it into batter, then fry it of a light brown in hog’s lard. Put it on a plate, and pour melted butter over it.

Apr 292017
 

Coincidence Day again. Today is the birthday of Lonnie Donegan (1931), Rod McKuen (1933), and  Willie Nelson (1933). Now . . . let me say at the outset that I am not really a fan of any of them, but they all made waves in their own way, and each represents a strand of music that was popular in certain circles at one time or another.  I’ll go in chronological order, and apologize at the outset for brevity.

Lonnie Donegan, born Anthony James Donegan, is the only one of the three who I have listened to more than casually over the years, not because I like his music, but because there was a time in my life when the radio was relentless, playing “My Old Man’s a Dustman” or “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour (On the Bedpost Overnight?)” over and over and over. The most important thing to remember about Donegan is that he virtually single handedly created a skiffle style based on recordings from the US, gave the style a (slightly) British flavor, and popularized it to the extent that tens of thousands of British teens wanted to play it. Out of this fad grew the British pop scene of the 1960s. Donegan was the lynch pin of a musical revolution.

Donegan started his musical career as a guitarist and banjo player for jazz bands in his teens. While in Ken Colyer’s Jazzmen, Donegan sang and played guitar and banjo in their Dixieland set. He began playing with two other band members during the intervals, to provide what posters called a “skiffle” break, a name suggested by Ken Colyer’s brother, Bill, taking the name from the Dan Burley Skiffle Group of the 1930s from the US (American skiffle was an obscure form of country blues). With accompanying music produced by a washboard, tea-chest bass, and a cheap Spanish guitar, Donegan sang classic songs by artists such as Lead Belly and Woody Guthrie. This music proved popular and in July 1954 he recorded a fast version of Leadbelly’s “Rock Island Line,” featuring a washboard but not a tea-chest bass, with “John Henry” on the B-side. The 1954 version was released as a Ken Colyer Jazzmen record, and Donegan got nothing for it but his session fee. So he released it again in 1956 under his own name. It proved to be a colossal hit. It was the first debut record to go gold in the UK, and it reached the Top Ten in the US.

It was the success of this single and the lack of the need for expensive instruments or high levels of musicianship that set off the British skiffle craze. There were a few bands that enjoyed chart success in the skiffle craze but Donegan remained the king of skiffle. The main impact of skiffle was as a grassroots, amateur movement, particularly popular among working class teens, who could buy or make cheap instruments and use their music to rebel against the drab austerity of post-war Britain.

It has been estimated that in the late 1950s, there were between 30,000–50,000 skiffle groups in Britain. A great many British musicians began their careers playing skiffle in this period, some becoming leading figures in their respective fields. How about Van Morrison, Alexis Korner, Mick Jagger, Martin Carthy, John Renbourn, Ashley Hutchings, Roger Daltrey, Graham Nash and Allan Clarke to hit the tip of the iceberg? The Beatles developed  directly out of John Lennon’s skiffle group the Quarrymen. Here’s a bootleg recording of the Quarrymen singing a cover of Donegan’s “Putting on the Style” on the day in 1957 when Lennon met Paul McCartney. It was #1 on the English charts at the time.

The Beatles still retained elements of skiffle when they first burst on the scene in 1962. I don’t believe that Donegan is ever given enough credit for the revolution he started.

At completely the opposite end of the spectrum is Rod McKuen who, despite being one of the best-selling poets in the United States during the late 1960s, has had zero influence on music and poetry as far as I can tell. There is a simple reason for this: it is worthless. How he became so popular is a complete mystery to me. Here is an early live version of “Seasons in the Sun” from the 1960s. It is a translation of the Jacques Brel song, “Le Moribond”.

“Seasons in the Sun” is probably McKuen’s best known song, and it has been covered innumerable times. I have no idea why. I’m sure it works well enough in French for a Belgian audience. When I lived for a while in France in 1966 I heard no end of this kind of stuff, and watched movies in the same vein. I suppose it’s cultural.

I’ll give McKuen enormous credit for making a success out of a life with disastrous beginnings. He was born in a Salvation Army hostel in Oakland, California and never knew his biological father who left his mother before he was born. He was sexually and physically abused by relatives, and raised by his mother and stepfather, who was a violent alcoholic. McKuen ran away from home at the age of 11 and drifted along the West Coast, supporting himself as a ranch hand, surveyor, railroad worker, lumberjack, rodeo cowboy, stuntman, and radio disk jockey.

To compensate for his lack of formal education, McKuen began keeping a journal, which resulted in his first poetry and song lyrics. After dropping out of Oakland Technical High School prior to graduating in 1951, McKuen worked as a newspaper columnist and propaganda script writer during the Korean War. He settled in San Francisco, where he read his poetry in clubs alongside Beat poets like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. He began performing as a folk singer at the famed Purple Onion, and over time, he began incorporating his own songs into his act. He was signed to Decca Records and released several pop albums in the late 1950s. McKuen also appeared as an actor in Rock, Pretty Baby (1956), Summer Love (1958), and the western Wild Heritage (1958). He also sang with Lionel Hampton’s band. In 1959, McKuen moved to New York City to compose and conduct music for the TV show The CBS Workshop.

In the early 1960s, McKuen moved to France, where he first met the Belgian singer-songwriter Jacques Brel. McKuen began to translate Brel’s work into English, which led to the song “If You Go Away” – an international pop-standard – based on Brel’s “Ne me quitte pas.” In 1978, after hearing of Brel’s death, McKuen was quoted as saying,

As friends and as musical collaborators we had traveled, toured and written – together and apart – the events of our lives as if they were songs, and I guess they were. When news of Jacques’ death came I stayed locked in my bedroom and drank for a week. That kind of self-pity was something he wouldn’t have approved of, but all I could do was replay our songs (our children) and ruminate over our unfinished life together.

In the late 1960s, McKuen began to publish books of poetry, earning a substantial following among young people with collections like Stanyan Street & Other Sorrows (1966), Listen to the Warm (1967), and Lonesome Cities (1968). His Lonesome Cities album of readings won a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Recording in 1968. McKuen’s poems were translated into eleven languages and his books sold over 1 million copies in 1968 alone. McKuen said that his most romantic poetry was influenced by American poet Walter Benton. McKuen has sold over 60 million books and his song titles have sold over 100 million records. I cannot fathom why. The best I can make out is that his poetry and lyrics are simple and sentimental, and this appeals to a segment of the population. I am fully in accord with Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Julia Keller when she wrote that his work “drives many people crazy. They find it silly and mawkish, the kind of gooey schmaltz that wouldn’t pass muster in a freshman creative-writing class”

The third of our trio, Willie Nelson, is the only one still alive. I’d say he sits somewhere in the middle of the other two in terms of musical impact: not minor, not huge. He started out as a fairly conventional Country singer-songwriter, but over the years has become rather eclectic, but always with a Country bent.  He was born and grew up in Texas, left to be raised by his grandparents after his mother and father left with other partners. His grandparents taught him some music and bought him a guitar when he was 6, and with his sister Bobbie, he sang gospel songs in the local church. He wrote his first song at age 7, and when he was 9, played guitar for the local band Bohemian Polka. During the summers, the family picked cotton but Nelson disliked the job, so he earned money by singing in dance halls, taverns, and honky-tonks from age 13, and continuing through high school.

After high school Nelson bounced around for a while, and in 1956, went from Fort Worth, Texas first to Portland, Oregon, and then on to Vancouver, Washington, where he found a job on KVAN hosting the show The Western Express, and became popular locally, while still doing live performances. During this time he started writing “Family Bible”. His inspiration for the song came from his grandmother, Nancy Elizabeth Smothers, who would sing “Rock of Ages” and read from the Bible after supper. Nelson played the demo of the song that he had recorded on a reel-to-reel tape machine for Mae Boren Axton after interviewing her on the show. Impressed by his songwriting, Axton recommended that he go to Nashville and dedicate himself to songwriting full-time. Nelson quit the job at the radio station after being denied a raise in 1957, moving first to Houston and then on to Nashville, joining a long line of aspiring singer-songwriters.

In Houston he sold the rights to “Family Bible” for some quick cash, and it was recorded by Claude Gray in 1959 and released in 1960. It was a modest hit, and, even though Nelson was not credited as the writer, its success persuaded him to move to Nashville, where the song gained him some attention.

Through the first half of the 1960s Nelson had only modest successes. Then he signed with RCA Victor and joined the Grand Ol’ Opry. Although a step up, and his records consistently registered in the Top 25, they always lingered in the low 20s. By 1972 his ranch had burnt down, he had divorced his second wife, and RCA Victor was complaining about the lack of real hits from his records. So he decided to quit the music business and start over. He moved to Austin, Texas, where the burgeoning hippie music scene revived his interest as a singer. His popularity in Austin soared as he played his own brand of country music marked by country, folk and jazz influences. He was transforming into the hippie cowboy.

Nelson signed Neil Reshen as his manager to negotiate with RCA, who got the label to agree to end his contract upon repayment of US$14,000. Reshen eventually signed Nelson to Atlantic Records for $25,000 per year, where he became the label’s first country artist. He formed his backing band, The Family, and by February 1973, he was recording his acclaimed Shotgun Willie at Atlantic Studios in New York City. Shotgun Willie was released in May 1973 and earned excellent reviews. But it did not sell well. The album led Nelson to a new style and he later stated that Shotgun Willie had “cleared his throat”. His next release, Phases and Stages, released in 1974, was a concept album about a couple’s divorce, inspired by his own experience. Side one of the record is from the viewpoint of the woman, and side two is from the viewpoint of the man. The album included the hit single “Bloody Mary Morning.” The same year, he produced and starred in the pilot episode of PBS’s Austin City Limits. From that point on emerged the “Outlaw Country” Willie Nelson we now know.

This trio of singers does not exactly inspire me in the kitchen, not least because their musical ranges and geographic backgrounds are so diverse. The only thing that really ties them together is that they were all making a mark in the early 1960s. Most of what I remember of early 60s party food is rather wretched – cubes of cheese or salami on toothpicks, shrimp cocktail, and the like.  I’ll go with Chicken à la King since it was very popular at the time, and is not desperate. It’s a common standby if you have leftover chicken. It was actually invented some time in the 1880s, and recipes were available in standard cookbooks in the early 20th century. But it became a defining dish in the 1960s. It’s really quick to make. This recipe is my modification from Betty Crocker – which seems appropriate. A cover of a 1960s classic, if you will.

Chicken à la King

Ingredients

3 ½ oz butter
½ cup chopped green bell pepper
3 oz mushrooms, sliced
½ cup all-purpose flour
salt and pepper
1 ½ cups light cream
1 ½ cups chicken broth
2 cups cooked chicken, cubed
3 oz cooked peas
scallions, sliced (for garnish)

Instructions

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat and add the bell pepper and mushrooms. Sauté until they have softened a little.  Add the flour and season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir to blend the flour with the butter and continue to sauté for about 2 minutes. Add the broth and cream, whisking to make sure that the flour is combined with the liquids. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly as the sauce thickens. Add the chicken and peas, and heat through. Serve over noodles or plain boiled rice, garnished with scallions.

 

 

 

Oct 212014
 

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Today is Trafalgar Day, the annual celebration of the victory won by the Royal Navy, commanded by Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson, over the combined French and Spanish fleets at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805. The formation of the Navy League in 1894 gave added impetus to the movement to recognize Nelson’s legacy, and grand celebrations were held in Trafalgar Square on Trafalgar Day, 1896. It was widely commemorated by parades, dinners and other events throughout much of the British Empire in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It is still widely celebrated by navies of the Commonwealth of Nations, but not so much in Britain.

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Its public celebration declined after the end of World War I in 1918. The massive casualties and upheaval had changed the general public perception of war as a source of glorious victories to a more somber view of it as a tragedy, for which the newly instituted Armistice Day on 11 November was created. However, Trafalgar Day was still marked as a public day each year. Around 1993, it was rumored that John Major’s government might make it a public holiday in place of May Day, and this plan was revived in the 2011 Tourism Strategy created by the current coalition government.

The year 2005 was the bicentennial of the Battle of Trafalgar, and the Royal Navy led Trafalgar 200 celebrations. The 2005 International Fleet Review held off Spithead in the Solent on 28 June was the first since 1999 and the largest since Queen Elizabeth’s 1977 Silver Jubilee.

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In Birmingham, the anniversary is celebrated by a ceremony at the statue of Lord Nelson in the Bull Ring. The statue is the oldest statue of Lord Nelson in the United Kingdom. The ceremony is led by the Lord Mayor of Birmingham and involves men and women of HMS Forward, Sea Cadet Units from across the West Midlands and various civic organizations including The Nelson Society and The Birmingham Civic Society. Afterwards there is a wreath laying by naval and civic organizations and a parade marches off to Victoria Square, the public square in front of the seat of local government, where the Lord Mayor takes the salute.

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Another aspect of the Birmingham celebration is that the statue is regaled with swags of laurel and flowers, possibly due to its location by the wholesale flower markets of the city. This tradition was carried on throughout most of the nineteenth century and was revived in 2004.

In Edinburgh, the Nelson Monument on Calton Hill was built in memory of Admiral Lord Nelson. Weather permitting, the Trafalgar flag signal ‘England expects that every man will do his duty’ is flown on Trafalgar Day. Looking like a tall stone telescope, the Nelson Monument contains a time ball which drops at 1 o’clock daily.

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The victory is celebrated each year in the Australian town of Trafalgar, Victoria, in which the town of 2,200 hold an annual Battle of Trafalgar Festival with the Trafalgar Day Ball held on the Friday or Saturday closest to 21 October each year.

I’ve talked before here about rations on board ship in the days before refrigeration. Chief foods were salt beef, dried peas or beans, and ship’s biscuit (hard tack), supplemented with odds and ends such as dried fruits, treacle, and, of course, rum. Steamed pudding, or duff, was a rare treat and was not the rich dessert of home cooks (unless the ship was in port). Usually duff, also called spotted dick if it had raisins in it, was made with crumbs from ship’s biscuit perhaps with some flour added, made into a stiff paste and enriched with a little treacle and dried fruit, then turned into a cloth and boiled for several hours. I don’t think it would be favored by modern diners lacking as it does suet, eggs, milk, and baking powder to make it flavorsome and light-ish (suet pudding is heavy no matter what). But it would have been a luxury for sailors on a monotonous diet. I’ve never tried to recreate it, but I have made the modern version of spotted dick many times (as well as numerous variations on suet pudding).

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Spotted Dick

Ingredients

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
⅓ cup brown sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
¾ tsp salt
1 cup beef suet, finely chopped
8 tbsp whole milk
½ cup treacle
½ cup raisins

Instructions

Put several inches of water in a large pot and put on medium-high heat to a rolling boil.

Thoroughly mix all the dry ingredients. Blend the milk and treacle together and add this one tablespoon at a time to form a sticky mass. Make sure that all of the dry ingredients are moistened thoroughly by kneading well.

Grease the inside of a pudding basin well (I use a 19th century lidded pudding mold). Put the pudding dough in the basin and cover it with buttered greaseproof paper which you should tie down with string.

Place something in the boiling water to keep the basin off the bottom, such as a large cookie cutter. Place the basin on this spacer so that it clears the pot bottom. Keep the water at a slow simmer, cover tightly and let steam for 1 ½ to 2 hours, checking periodically to make sure the pot does not dry out.

Turn out the pudding on to a warm serving platter and serve with custard.

Serves 1 in my house.

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A good variation is to add a few tablespoons of treacle or golden syrup to the bottom of the basin and omit the raisins in the pudding dough. This will produce treacle pudding which, when turned out, has a lovely basting of hot syrup.