Swan Dive

Death of an Airman in Berkhamsted, 23 September 1942

Schoolboy David Russell of Castle Hill Avenue was in his garden when he saw, through his telescope, the fighter plane ‘either a Tomahawk or a Mustang’ approaching. It seemed slow for a fighter and fairly high up. It did two rolls as it crossed over the town where it lost speed and turned on its back. He saw smoke coming from the plane. It righted itself but was at an odd angle with its nose at 45 degrees.… More

Common People Part I: Sheep

‘… Common ’tis named/And calls itself, because the bracken and gorse/Still hold the hedge where plough and scythe have chased them’
‘Up in the Wind’ by Edward Thomas

Battle Lines

In 1866 Lord Brownlow, the young and fabulously wealthy owner of the Ashridge Estate, erected iron fences to enclose (privatise) about 400 acres of Berkhamsted Common. Resistance was led by the Commons Preservation Society which had been formed the previous year. The fences were taken down in a celebrated moonlight raid and, after a lengthy legal battle, stayed down.… More

Common People: Introduction

Oh, dear. I’m enjoying not blogging every week too much. Maybe it’s reached a natural end. And, well, we have plans: more on which later. Perhaps the blog needs ditching or reinventing. I’m also enjoying getting back into music: which is great, but a time-drain. First-world problems, perhaps. Meantime, I shall carry on posting older stuff. For the next month or so, I shall publish the original version of a deep dive into the 19th-century history of Berkhamsted Common.… More

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.… More

This Wireless Affair

Two post-mortem writings on a Hertfordshire airman. Monday 9 March 2020 [7min read]

The photo was in a book called ‘Talks with Spirit Friends, Bench, and Bar: being descriptions of the next world and its activities by well-known persons who live there, given through the trance mediumship of the late Miss S. Harris to a retired public servant, and recorded by him.’ I’m not sure if copyright law extends the other side of the veil.… More

A Sort of Death

Friday 27 September, 2019.

I realised when I posted ‘Trouble in Mind’ on my blog that the version published in ASON, the Graham Greene newsletter, had gone out without a couple of corrections. These related to the ‘sunken’ cottages at the bottom of Castle Street. They weren’t, as Greene thought, alms houses. I had removed references to them as such in the final draft.

Not the biggest of big deals, but difficult for an auty.

Last weekend at the excellent Graham Greene International Festival, I suddenly heard my dad saying ‘That’s not the same man you wrote about’.… More

Trouble in Mind

Berkhamsted School Prefects, 1922.

A hatchet faced photo of a dozen Berkhamsted School Prefects in the Summer of 1922 shows my grandfather, Dennis Goffey, on the far right, standing. Charles Greene, headmaster & father of Graham, is in the centre, and Claude Cockburn, the writer, and friend of Graham, seated (appropriately, he was once denounced as the ‘eighty-fourth most dangerous Red in the world’ by Senator McCarthy) on the far left.

The photo may or may not explain my interest in Berkhamsted’s most famous literary figure – I mean after Ed Reardon.… More

Vanishing Men

The rifle range on Berkhamsted Common: A journey with maps.

rifle butt
Berkhamsted Rifle Range, May 2017, author for scale.

For a couple of years now I have helped my father, Brian Shepherd, lead a walk for the Graham Greene Festival. The walk tracks the Berkhamsted author over the common of his childhood and teases out references from Greene’s autobiographical writing and his fiction especially his later novel, The Human Factor (1978), which is partly set in Berkhamsted.… More

Local War News

Berkhamsted Gazette ; Sat Nov 24 1917 ; Local War News

Further information has now been received bearing upon the accident which resulted in the death of 2nd Lieutenant J.W.D. Needham, R.F.C., reported in last week’s “Gazette.” (27.3.2017) The following letter from his commanding officer explains the sad circumstances:-

Dear Mr. Needham,-

It is with very great sympathy and regret that I have to write you about the death of your dear son, Joseph, which occurred at about 11 p.m.… More

Spring from the Bunker

Oddly enough I had switched off the Today program on Wednesday morning (22 March). I only ever listen to five minutes whilst I’m making porridge so it has to be pretty bad for me to hit the off button early. I objected to the casual Moslem-bating tone of someone taking the piss out of the idea of virgins in heaven. I wondered what Christians do up there all day long. I couldn’t quite imagine them listening to the Today program.… More