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This visit to Sally’s place was planned a while ago. We had a long chat, listened to music and cooked a spicy, if imaginary, joint. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed being part of it.
Take a look at the menu above and, if you have been here before, you will notice something missing. A Purgatory of Misery has gone. That is because it is now a print and digital book. The digital version is available to pre-order right now. Print and digital will be released on 20th November. Click the link above to go to Amazon.
Here are a few of the things you will discover by reading the book:
- How a request for help from an Irish King led to 800 years of enmity and distrust between Ireland and her larger neighbour
- How subsequent contests for land and power on the British mainland spilled over into Ireland with terrible consequences for that nation’s inhabitants
- How religious fanaticism, following the Reformation, resulted in the massacre of Irish people and the banning of religious observance
- How Irish Catholics were forbidden to practice certain professions or serve in the British army
- How Irish men enlisted instead for the armies of Britain’s enemies
- Why William of Orange’s success at the Battle of the Boyne was not the victory for Protestantism that some would have you believe
- How the peculiar geography of Ireland made it especially suitable for the cultivation of the humble spud
- How patterns of land ownership and control left Irish people particularly vulnerable to economic crises
- How attitudes to poverty, and the chosen means of alleviating it, proved utterly inadequate to deal with a crisis of monumental proportions
- How British arrogance and self belief contributed to the idea that Irish peasants were inferior
- How annual food shortages, caused by the exhaustion of one year’s crop before the next year’s harvest, may have caused an observed lack of intelligence among the peasant class
- How politicians’ ideologies prevented them from introducing the most appropriate measures to deal with the crisis
- How journalists and independent ‘investigators’ witnessed the horrors and reported them but were unable to offer solutions
- How the citizens of British, American and Canadian cities responded to a nineteenth century refugee crisis
- How Irish orphan girls were transported to Australia to serve the needs of pioneering bachelor farmers
- How an attempted revolution, emulating those taking place elsewhere in Europe, descended into farce
- The origin of the Irish tricoleur
All of that, and more, in a book being sold at the lowest price permitted on Amazon (0.99 in most currencies for the digital version although the price you see may be different because of local sales taxes).
The story began a few years ago when a certain gentleman (I’ll call him Paddy) joined our local writers’ group. Some years previously he had suffered serious injuries in a road accident and had subsequently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. From being a successful professional, keen golfer and member of Toastmasters, he was facing the frustrations of a debilitating condition that makes communication difficult. Nevertheless, he was determined to produce a collection of anecdotes and stories from his family history, humorous incidents from his long career, and adaptations of Irish folk tales. With help from members of the group he succeeded in producing a small volume which sold well among friends and acquaintances.
I hadn’t seen him for a long while until he contacted me towards the end of last year seeking help with the compilation of a history of the organisation for which he had worked for more that two decades. I completed that task in January.
Meanwhile, he came to me with the idea for a book based on the life of one of his aunts. He hoped we could, together, create another ‘Brooklyn’. I produced about 8500 words for the beginning of this novel but got stuck because of the gap in Paddy’s story, between the courtship and marriage in 1931 and events some 40 years later. I could have invented material to fill the gap but feel I don’t know enough about life in Ireland in those years. Not that such lack of knowledge prevented me writing about Ireland in the 12th and 13th centuries, but there are too many people still living who know the recent period intimately.
More recently, Paddy began studying the Irish Famine of 1845-51. I helped him transcribe notes he’d made based on a couple of books he had read. I also began doing my own research. Paddy’s intention was to produce, with my assistance, his own book about this terrible period in British/Irish history. For my part, I could see the possibility of another historical novel, this one set in that period and featuring a young woman who experiences the horrors of starvation and forced migration first hand. I already have the first couple of chapters drafted for the novel and am continuing to gather material for the non-fiction book and as background to the novel.
Lessons for today
Discussing the latter with Paddy earlier this week, we were unable to come up with a unique “angle” that will make our book different from those already written. After all, most of those have been written by professional historians and academics. Paddy told me a librarian had conducted a search for him and found no fewer than 130 books on the subject.
I think I have the answer, and the germ of it is in my earlier post about the famine, in which I pointed out how easy it is to move from scapegoating a particular group to genocide. From what I have discovered so far, it seems to me that there are many parallels to be drawn between the events of 1845-51 in Ireland and Britain and things happening today. They include forced migration and attitudes to migrants in the destination countries; the division of resources between rich and poor with great wealth existing alongside terrible poverty; the dominant economic, social and political ideologies, and conflicting religious beliefs.
Expect more posts from me on this subject in future. Meanwhile, if you have anything you would like to contribute to help me and Paddy to understand these terrible events, books you’d like to recommend, for example, or individual stories passed down to you through your own family history, please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments below.
Andrew Reed was a Congregationalist minister with a doctorate from Yale who encouraged philanthropy on a grand scale. Many of the schools and hospitals he founded live on to the present day.
Perhaps Rev. Dr. Andrew Reed’s most extraordinary talent was for social networking. For it was surely his ability to extract donations from the rich and famous of Victorian England that enabled him to found so many institutions, including:
D.D from Yale
Born in St Clement Danes in Middlesex, England on November 27th 1787, he studied theology at Hackney Academy and was ordained a Congregationalist Minister in 1811. In 1830 he was instrumental in building the Wycliffe Chapel where he remained until 1861. He died on 25th February 1862 and is buried in Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington, London.
In 1834 he visited the USA on a deputation to the Congregationalist Churches and received the degree of D.D from Yale. He was instrumental in the formation of Boston’s first anti-slavery society. His report on his visit includes the following statement, controversial at the time: “Justice, Truth, Mercy, Religion—Earth and Heaven, demand of America that she should assure the world she is what she professes to be, by preserving the Indian, and emancipating the African.”
Together with his wife, Elizabeth Reed, he compiled a hymn book containing some 21 hymns of his own composition as well as a similar number of hers.
Schools and Hospitals
But it is for the many institutions that he founded that he is remembered. These include:
- London Infant Asylum – subsequently The Royal Wanstead School. The school is now closed, but The Royal Wanstead Trust continues to offer bursaries to support attendance at suitable boarding schools for children where “the home circumstances are seriously prejudicial to the normal development of the child”
- Asylum for Fatherless Children – later Reedham Orphanage, still later Reedham School. Like RWS, the school has closed and been replaced by The Reedham Trust with similar aims.
- Asylum for Idiots at Reigate – later Royal Earlswood Hospital. “Idiots” being the unflinching term used in Victorian times for the learning disabled. In 1847 Reed toured Europe to gather information on institutions serving the purpose, in response to a suggestion by Ann Serena Plumbe and Dr John Connolly.The first superintendent was John Langdon-Down after whom Down’s Syndrome was named. The hospital closed in 1997 as part of the modern policy of moving such individuals into the community. The site is now occupied by luxury apartments.
- Royal Hospital for Incurables in Putney. – now known as the Royal Hospital for Neuro-Disability, and still active in the treatment of people suffering brain injuries and researching such treatments.
- London Orphan Asylum – Now Reed’s School and located in Cobham Surrey. The school still provides education for boys under the original foundation, as well as a much larger number of private pupils. In the 1950’s, when I was a pupil, much of the cutlery still carried the identification “LOA”.
Rich and Famous
Reed associated with a wide circle of the rich and famous of his time. The “Royal” tag to so many of the institutions with which he is associated shows that these included Queen Victoria, who often provided funds in the name of her son, The Prince of Wales, later Edward VII.
Other benefactors included Sir Morton Peto, Rev Francis Cox, Dr Leifchild, Miss Burdett Couutts of the famous banking family, and Lord Morpeth.
The writer Charles Dickens was another associate and it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that “Dootheboys Hall”, which features in “Nicholas Nickleby”, is based on one, or more probably, an amalgam of several, of Reed’s orphanages.
Reed’s ministry and his work as an educator and social reformer were continued by his sons, Andrew and Charles, and his grandson, Talbot Baines Reed who is also well known as a writer of stories for boys.
Andrew Reed wrote his own epitaph. It reads as follows:
I was born yesterday, I shall die tomorrow,
And I must not spend today in telling what I have done,
But in doing what I may for HIM who has done all for me.
I sprang from the people, I have lived for the people–
The most for the most unhappy; and the people when
They know it will not suffer me to die out of loving remembrance.
His monument, a tall obelisk of polished red granite, can be seen today at the London Congregationalists’ garden cemetery Abney Park Cemetery, Stoke Newington. As stated on timetravel-britain.com, “Stoke Newington was an area known for its religious dissidents, many of whom were founders or members of educational and social reform movements. A visit to Abney Park is highly recommended for those with an interest in religious or social history.”
I can honestly say that Andrew Reed was a great influence in my life. Use the comments to tell me about someone whose influence contributed to making you the person you are today.