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A Dangerous Place to Be!

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One Friday evening last month, John Nevison the highwayman was forced by circumstance to hide with the good people of the Sandal Community Association. Yes, the constables and watchmen were after him again – his life seems to be one long hue and cry!

This was a somewhat different experience for him, for his most oft’ preferred choice of refuge is in schools, where he can tell the children all sorts of adventurous stories about his life, after which the scholarly children can correct the many libelous accounts published in new-sheets and chap-books. This time the company were somewhat older – on average about six times older – yet they too enjoyed all the same stories!

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What he couldn’t have known, however, was that it would eventually be at Sandal, in the Three Houses Inn, that he was arrested and taken to York for trial and execution! Had he known this I doubt he would have felt anything like as safe!

Of course, the history of his capture was exactly why the folk of Sandal were particularly interested in him – perhaps that’s why they had wry smiles on their faces as he described in colourful detail how gentlemen of the road were hanged for their crimes?

The evening was a sellout. The organiser, Richard Taylor, afterwards wrote: “Thanks for giving us such a great evening last night. It went down very well with everyone.” The evening even got a picture and an article in the Wakefield Express, although when I showed the newspaper to my boys (5 and 7) they seemed very underwhelmed. After all, what’s so special about a photo of dad?

Please click here – highwayman – to find out more about visits from the famous John Nevison.

Good Timing?

Sir William Petty, natural philosopher (mathematician, doctor of medicine and inventor of umpteen ingenious novelties) seems to have mastered the illusive art of time travel! At Easter last year (2015) he appeared briefly at Skipton Castle, and began learning what he could of this far future world.

Having managed to free himself from the shackles of time, so that he might move back and forth through the centuries, he did however discover that he had become stuck in space! It seemed his condition was now quite the reverse of that of other humans – they could move in space but were held fast by time. Thus it was that he was unable to leave the chamber he found himself in, and could not go into the town to witness the world himself. Luckily, a steady stream of visitors came wandering through, allowing him to make queries of a wide variety of people: comparing the marvels they described to his own time, offering them tales of his life in exchange for descriptions of theirs, and connecting the scientific theories and discoveries of their world to those of his Royal Society Fellows from the late seventeenth century.

Here you can see him explaining why, amongst a chest of instruments and artifacts he thought he might need, he brought a plumb-line with him (because he thought it entirely possible that the land around the castle might be inundated with flood waters, making just such an instrument necessary to discover the water’s depth).

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The visitors learned that his chest was packed with a wide range of instruments and objects, from medicines to measuring apparatus, from a plague doctor’s mask to a pistol! Everything he thought he might need if he was to survive in the far future.

Although he was dragged back to his own time by the pendulum swing of his secret engine, he managed to reappear at the castle this year (2016) too, now armed with a leather-bound book brimming with many hundreds of questions to ask and investigations to carry out. Here you can see him (still trapped in that same chamber) thumbing through said tome to ask new questions of every visitor he encountered.

2016 Time Traveller

I don’t think he discovered answers to all his questions, but that is no reflection on the wit and wisdom of the fine and enlightened folk he met, rather due to the fact that he stayed insufficiently long to ask all of them!

Many people are now wondering whether Sir William might ever again succeed in traveling through time (whether it be from a later or even an earlier point in his life)? And if so, will he appear in the same or a different place? I myself think it likely that next time, perhaps soon, he could appear in a school!

(This time-traveler version of my Sir William Petty character is almost ready for school visits. If teachers are interested in exploring the possibility of a time-travelling themed day to motivate literacy, science and more, or simply to support a time traveling topic, then please be in touch!)

 

Piratical Accounts

After a January visit as Captain Burwash the pirate to Marsden Infants, I received a nice e-mail comment from student teacher Jonathan Atkins, saying: “Just wanted to drop you a note and say you were awesome today. The kids proper loved it, as did I!”

Although I did not forget this comment, I have a habit of not updating my website ‘comments’ section, mainly because I am too busy with all the day to day things. This time, however, another comment came in recently about the same visit, but through a very different source. When teacher Sarah Steele from Stalybridge wrote to book me as Captain Burwash (in a few weeks time), she explained how she had heard about me: “My little girl saw you at Marsden Infants and hasn’t stopped talking about it.”

It was such a lovely coincidence - two comments about the same day but from such very different sources – I thought I ought to make a news story out of it (another thing I have a habit of doing only rarely). And I have!

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(Photo from the Yorkshire Show last summer, given to me by a member of the public.)

If you want to know more about Captain Burwash, please click here.

Busy Weekends Too!

I am about to begin a run of five fully booked weeks. That means visiting 25 different schools all over Yorkshire and beyond, as six different characters. Still, that hasn’t stopped me visiting the past during the last two weekends too.

Last weekend I was back in 1647 being a New Model Army soldier in Hampton Court Palace guarding King Charles – as in making sure he didn’t escape.

Here I am firing my musket as part of our drill session. I reckon the photographer must have the fastest finger in the world to catch this particular moment! (Thanks John Beardsworth - see https://www.facebook.com/john.beardsworth.56)

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And here I am reading the Soldiers’ Catechism to enlighten my comrades as to why they are fighting, what makes them good soldiers and how they can be more godly. (It made a change from complaining about arrears of pay!)

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Then this weekend, today in fact, I went back a little further into the past to 1605, becoming Guy Fawkes at Sandal Castle, explaining all the details of our very carefully worked out and – hopefully – fool-proof plot to rid England of the Scottish tyrant King James and put the world right again.

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It was a great chance to practise how exactly to describe all thirteen plotters and a plan involving everything from gunpowder to galloping horses, kidnapping princesses and inviting Spanish soldiers to come to English Catholics’ assistance. The crowd seemed to enjoy all the grisly bits too! (It was a Halloween event so my descriptions seemed entirely appropriate!)

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Now all I have to do is keep my voice working until December. Oh, and remember all about the Gunpowder Plot, the Civil War, Drake’s Circumnavigation of the globe, the Great Fire of London and every pirate from Morgan to Blackbeard, and more besides.

I still have a couple of days available in December, and loads up for grabs in 2016. To see which of my characters you might like to visit your school, please take a look at my page of Characters. That page includes links to describe each character in more detail. I hope to hear from you.

Shivering Those Timbers!

The start of the term has been a busy one for several of my characters: Sir William Petty has been telling the story of the Great Fire to rapt audiences, John ‘Swift Nicks’ Nevison has had to hide himself from the hue and cry in a number of schools already, and Captain Burwash has been preparing for a new cruise.

On Thursday the pirate captain managed to find a company of scholarly and artistic children to help his preparations. In return for tales of piratical derring do, and a chance to see the captain’s possessions and weapons, such as learning how to load a musket and scrutinizing the numbers, words and pictures on fifty stolen pieces of eight, the children were happy to work for the captain. They designed new jolly rogers, much scarier than the one Burwash’s friend had painted, and they made a great pile of advertisements for a crew, with a big picture of Burwash in the middle.

Here you can see Burwash posing for the portrait on the advertisement. He was not sure how to stand but in the end thought that as he was recruiting in Hull he might as well have a tankard in his hand, for he reckoned he often would.

Posing

The children wanted to know how he planned to find his way around the West Indies and along the Spanish Main, so he showed them one of his maps. It turned out that although the children were dressed as every species of pirate – from buccaneers to privateers, from Sally Rovers to Flibustiers – they only knew four of the thirty two winds on a compass. The captain began to wonder if it was possible that they were really land-lubbers in disguise.

Showing the Way

The children had a LOT of questions – so many that the captain decided he could stay a whole week and still not answer them all. They asked about all sorts, even his hat. After telling them all about his very fashionable tricorne, he admitted that very few sailors and pirates wore them at sea, mainly because they were likely to blow away in the wind. Then he showed them the sort of hat much more usually worn by English seafarers.

A Sailor's Hat

It was not the sort of hat the children expected to see. It seems pictures in books and reality can be quite different.

If you want to know more about Captain Burwash, click here.

To see which of my other characters you might like to visit your school, have a look at my page of Characters. Or click on the highwayman to find out more about John Nevison, or click on the Great Fire of London to find out more about Sir William Petty.

I look forward to hearing from you.