Last Orders Part 2

Liebesgabe: a charitable gift

The airship crew called their incendiary bombs, twenty-five pounds of thermite wrapped in tarred rope, ‘fire buckets’. At 10:40 they dropped five of them on a field at Decoy Farm in Hendon. The farm took its name from a duck decoy built for the Abbots of Westminster just below the point where the Dollis and Mutton Brook combine to become the Brent. The lake, in Brent Park, is still a feature of the modern landscape. The farm disappeared in 1935. The raid report prepared for the Home Office suggested they may have been aimed at Hendon airfield. Historian, Douglas Robinson, who had access to German archives for his account, suggested that the airship crew were simply checking the bombsights.

A high explosive bomb landed in a field at College Farm in Church End. ‘No damage was done,’ recorded the official report. Even so ‘Half Finchley,’ one local resident remembered half a century later, ‘turned out on the Sunday afternoon to see the crater that had been made.’ College Farm survives to this day, surrounded by suburbia, thanks in part to a successful media campaign in the 1980’s fronted by Spike Milligan, then President of the Finchley Society.

College Farm, Finchley

Today I sheltered under an ivy-clad tree to take pictures of the scruffy farm buildings and two rectangular fields separated by wintry poplars marching in pairs down to a locked gate on the Regent’s Park Road. There was a brutal unexplained murder here in 1898. The killers of the farm itself are easier to determine – vans arrive every day for them with food-like items and a carbon footprint that would make a Zeppelin commander wince. Diabetic time bombs are palmed across tiled drives with vouchers for school computers, loyalty points, air miles. They are hardly criminals unless shopping is a crime. The model farm has been slowly sclerotised to a semi-vegetative state by the same people who most value its continued presence as a memorial to a lost world. But it survives. There was a horned black cow in the field. A sign on the peeling corrugated iron advertised a saddlery and pet shop ‘Horse riding wear country clothing & pet supplies.’ No sign of a crater though.

St Bartholomew the Great near Smithfield, which claims to be ‘London’s oldest parish church’, may have been one of the first buildings in London to have piped water. The source was in Canonbury and the lead pipes were already old by 1433 when their repair was the subject of a legal document. In the sixteenth century, records show that the Lord Mayor and various dignitaries would make an annual pilgrimage to the water source, perhaps killing a hare en route to eat at the conduit head, before enjoying an afternoon of fox hunting. In the centre of Bartholomew Close, about five feet below the road surface is a medieval brick-built aqueduct similar to ones found in Canonbury and Clerkenwell. We know this because it was clearly visible in the crater left by 300kg of high explosive dropped by the crew of the Zeppelin on the evening of 8th September 1915.

Writing between the wars, Leopold Wagner, author of several pub guides to the capital, speaks rather disparagingly of the rebuilt Admiral Carter with its mock-antique frontage and contrasts it unfavourably with the delightful spot that Bartholomew Close presented to the thirsty saunterer thirty years previously. The Coach & Horses, in the shadow of St Bartholomew the Great, which Wagner found boarded up and awaiting demolition, had cellar walls that had been part of the priory. A church official had at one time dispensed church ale there, and an early English window admitted light to the taproom.

Admiral Carter earned his place on the pub sign by giving his life at the battle of La Hogue, near Barfleur, in 1692. He was struck by a piece of his own yard-arm and died ‘exhorting his Captain to fight the ship as long as she could swim.’ His death marred an otherwise successful day which saw the French flagship, The Soleil Royal, sunk and British control of the Channel restored. Edward Russell, who had replaced the recently executed Admiral Byng as commander-in-chief, won a peerage for his contribution to the battle.

The last time The Admiral Carter had been in trouble had been in 1815 when the vestry withdrew its licence for allowing illicit gaming. But the pub, and four others struck off at the same time, were quickly reinstated after the five publicans attended the vestry and gave a solemn undertaking to prevent any playing of bagatelle, dominoes or other games of chance on their premises.

William Fenge, 36 years old, married with a six-year-old son, was the driver of a Brougham for Tillings where his father, also called William, was foreman. The Brougham – pronounced ‘broom’ – was a small four-wheeled covered carriage which the driver sat outside at the front. William’s wife, Amy, was the licensee of The Admiral Carter. The family together with William’s young niece lived on the premises occupying, William sr. told the inquest, ‘the whole house except the bar.’ Just before 11.00 pm William and Amy were having supper in the parlour on the ground floor facing the close when William heard Zeppelins. Leaving his wife standing on the doorstep, he went out to raise the alarm.

  • District call (1)
  • Home call (1)
  • Small fires (4)
  • Chimneys (2)
  • Chimney alarms (2)

An hour earlier Charles Henley, the duty fireman in the close, had shut the door of his street station – a caravan equipped with a small hose cart – and begun to get ready for bed when the phone rang warning him of the Zeppelin’s imminent approach. The street station was one of the last of its kind in operation. It had originally been positioned in Aldersgate Street but transferred to its position in the close in 1892. With the deployment of new motor fire appliances to Redcross Street fire station, it had been earmarked for withdrawal, and a new fire alarm linked with Redcross Street and Clerkenwell fire stations had already been set up to replace it. It is difficult not to see the street station’s service record for the two years up to June 1915 as anything other than a monument to a lost world.

Charles Henley soon heard a noise ‘like a motor car’ approaching the normally quiet close. Opening the door the noise, from the north-west, got louder. As William and another man approached from The Admiral Carter he heard several explosions, the last of which threw him to the floor. When he came to he found himself in the wreckage of the street station which had been completely demolished by the blast, and he was having trouble breathing in the dense smoke. The whole close seemed to be alight. He could see a crater in the road a few yards away, and he could hear children calling him from a window.

PC William Walton of Snow Hill police station remembered hearing St. Paul’s strike a quarter to eleven. He too had heard the Zeppelin’s approach and reaching the close soon after had been thrown to the ground by the force of an explosion. Coming round after a second or two he could see that the firebox had been demolished so he went to alert the station at Charter House. Delayed by other fires caused by the incendiary bombs, it was some time before the fire brigade arrived and, helped by soldiers and special constables, started to tackle the multiple fires.

Toby wasn’t carrying anything apart from his overnight bag and a forty-eight-hour pass. No one would be at home until late afternoon and he didn’t fancy sitting in the garden with a book or going to the YMCA to see if there was anyone he knew there. So he stayed on the train, got off at Tring and bought a shandy in the station hotel. Then he walked along lanes to Aldbury where he joined a footpath up the chalk escarpment. He reached the monument and headed south-east on no particular path for home. He could see some soldiers near the trenches, chatting idly and laughing. Jack reckoned that trench warfare was always going to take longer than an open war. If you dig a hole in the ground, he said, within minutes people will gather around it discussing what it’s for or telling stories of other holes they have known. Work grinds to a halt. Stories were being told round holes before they invented fire.

It was good to be coming home. He felt several times larger than life, striding across the common like a giant, a returning hero. But then he remembered that Jack was already dead. Shelled fourteen days on end, his sergeant had said.

It was as if an invisible army had swept through the town and the common and replaced everything he had ever known with stuff that looked the same but that no longer had any relation to him personally. A new country. Reaching the edge of the common he followed a deep cleft down into the valley. At The Crooked Billet, he turned left along the high street and came to a stop at the bottom of Cross Oak Road.

‘Sorry, Sir, but you can’t go up there.’

‘But I live there.’

Harry & Elinor, looking gaunt, appeared. They stared at him blankly, turned, and walked up the hill without a word.

He woke up. It was 10:50 pm.


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