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A Short but Merry Life!

Ten days ago the infamous highway robber John ‘Swift Nicks’ Nevison once again found himself hiding from the hue and cry at Skipton castle. Luckily, he did not want for company, as the steward (a drinking friend of his) allowed a great number of folk in the visit the castle, all of whom he believed could be trusted with keeping Nevison’s presence secret until his getaway after dark.

The crowd included several lads who Nevison had met previously upon his travels, and he soon fell into conversation. After bemoaning his lack of ale …


… and the fact that the steward refused to give him any more (saying if he was to hide a highwayman for the day then he wanted that highwayman sober throughout for his own good) Nevison wondered if the lads might make good cutpurses or pickpockets. They were certainly too short to make much of an impression as ‘gentlemen of the road’ (he never liked the term highway robber), but if they were nimble fingered and fleet of foot might yet profit from the noble art of the nip and foist. By the use of some bells and string, upon which a purse could be hung, he encouraged the little lads to try their best to remove the prize without the slightest of tinkling sounds.


When that proved impossible, he decided to show them how distraction might be employed instead. Clearing an area for the game, and taking the role of the coney himself, one boy became the stall and another the coney-catcher. Soon umpteen children in the castle yard were trying their luck at plucking a purse from Nevison’s coat pocket without him noticing!


This coming weekend a far more respectable character will inhabit the castle, no less a personage than Colonel Sir John Mallory, governor of its royalist garrison. His troubles make Nevison’s concerns seem trivial, what with the lives of everyone in the castle depending on his decisions!

In the meantime, if you like the idea of a highwayman visiting your school, then please click on John Nevison to find out more.

Note: It is very useful when one’s own boys and some old friends come to visit on one of my days, as it means that not only is there someone to take photographs, but I can also use those photographs afterwards. Thanks Ruth, James, Thomas, Daniel, Duncan, Brian and Jackie!

A Weekend Warrior

Last weekend I became a Parliamentarian musketeer once again at a large reenactment event at Newstead Abbey near to Nottingham. Luckily the photographer Carl Blythe was on hand to take a picture of me marching with my fellow Tower Hamleteers. (I will admit our average age might be just a tad over the average age the soldiers would have been – at 48 I myself am an ancient soldier!)


And the photographer Steve Liddle caught another image of me close up and looking somewhat pensive. I have no idea what was on my mind!

Thank you Steve Liddle for permission to use this photo
There are many more of Steve’s photos at steveliddle.smugmug.com/Sealed-Knot-2016/Newstead-Abbey/.

I can learn a lot by reading history books, but I gain a different kind of knowledge, also useful, from taking part in these reenactments: How small one feels when the horse soldiers are galloping by; how your ears ring when even a small field piece goes off close to you; the ease with which one can fall into step with the drums during a march (and the aching legs and back that comes with it); and the disorientation when suddenly the ranks and files around you have lost their form.

Click on these links to find out more about my civil war characters for school visits, the Civil War Castle Governor and Civil War musketeer.


Captain Burwash is a brave fellow indeed, who never baulks at a challenge no matter how fearsome the foe. Recently he has been traveling the length and breadth of the kingdom looking for scholars to help him prepare for his next cruise (there’s a LOT of typpling houses and ordinaries in Hull, which means he needs a big pile of advertisements if he is to put one on every door). He can’t help but tell stories and answer questions – he’s a talkative sort of man – but occasionally he falls into dispute, which can lead to trouble. Here you can see he may have bitten off more than he can chew, for this particular disputant had an unnervingly confident swagger and bold demeanour …

The Duel!

Luckily for both the bullets missed their mark and the matter was resolved without any rancour. They parted friends and Captain Burwash went back to telling his tales of piratical deeds.

How to Load a Pistol

The pictures come from a lovely day last week. The children learned about all sorts of things, from pistols and cutlasses, to tricornes and cartouches, from Blackbeard and Anne Bonny to sloops and salmagundi.

Wall Ahoy!

As for what ‘vapouring’ is – the captain could tell you!

If you want to know more about Captain Burwash, please click here. And if you want him to visit your school, please get in touch.

Just a Point of View

Over the years I have worked in a lot of classrooms, all over the north of England (and beyond, on occasion). A couple of weeks ago, however, I looked out of the classroom window and it took my breath away. This is what I saw …


I’ve seen everything from brick walls and rooftops to fields and playgrounds, from housing estates and roads to woods and parks. Many have been very pleasant views. But this one made me itch to explore it, and (otherwise it wouldn’t be here) to take a picture of it!

Wherever you are, however, and whatever the views are like near you, please feel free to contact me to arrange for one of my historical characters to visit your school. It’s a lovely way to get a view of the past!

A Dangerous Place to Be!


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!



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.