Feb 062016
Steel Helmet, Brodie MKI (Lancashire Fusiliers)© IWM (UNI 12606)

Steel Helmet, Brodie MKI (Lancashire Fusiliers) © IWM (UNI 12606)

A while back, when browsing old issues of The Times from 1919, I came across a fascinating case that I felt compelled to share with you, because it’s very much a testament of its time.

Colonel Rutherford had served as a medical officer at the Western Front with during most of the war. He had been commended for gallantry and mentioned in despatches and all that sort of malarky. His fellow officers later testified that he was usually easy-going, able and very gallant, but that he also suffered from brief spells of extremely violent temper, triggered by tiny things, during which he would react and speak in ways not appropriate for an officer. These spells were short and afterwards he seemed quite dazed and tired and appeared not to remember them.

He had been married since 1902 and had several children. An old friend from university testified about how during his engagement he had, on at least one occasion, displayed irrational and violent jealousy because his future wife had taken a walk with said friend. This friend said that over the years he’d known him, he had witnessed in him a downward spiral of melancholia and continually sinking spirits.

During the course of his work, Colonel Rutherford developed a condition that resulted in extreme skin reactions that were quite, quite painful. Partly because of that, he suffered from acute insomnia for most of the war. His fellow officers and his batman attested to him being depressed and even speaking about killing himself. His wife had showed a letter he’d sent her to an old friend, who described it completely incoherent and full of mad scribblings that did not make sense.

Due to his medical problems, he was sent home in 1917 and got a cushy government post. However, he then quit that position and applied to be sent back to France. An acquaintance thought this very odd, and found him quite queer when they spoke, but surmised that the whole thing was due to financial or domestic problems.

Upon his return to France, he was kicked in the head during a rugby game and was unconscious for some time and suffered a brief loss of memory. By all accounts he was under extreme strain due to his work at the front. His wife wrote to him in very warm tones about her love and forgiving him for something in the summer of 1918, but in September, something had clearly happened because she expressed that she had “gone through hell in the last week” because of his mistreatment of her and that, because of it, there was not “an atom” of love for him left in her (the later divorce proceedings seem to imply he’d been unfaithful to her). She told him that she had been advised to get a divorce, but was willing to let him have custody of the three oldest children. After the Armistice, he told his brother: “I am sorry the war is over. I had hoped to be killed in France.”

He returned home in Jan 1919, and there are several accounts of him dragging his wife into a room and locking the door while she called for the maid. There had been evidence of extreme jealousy earlier; apparently, at some point, he had gone berserk and destroyed all the pictures of other men in the house he had been able to find. In anticipation of his return, his wife had ordered the maid to hide two pictures of Major Miles Seton, a family friend and former colleague of  Colonel Rutherford’s who was godfather to their youngest child. At the same time, Colonel Rutherford was described as spending most of his time since his coming home with his children and he was apparently very good to them.

Then one night, after the delivery of a letter from Major Seton to Mrs Rutherford, Colonel Rutherford set out on the town. He stopped at a messenger office and got the address for Sir Malcolm Seton where Major Seton was staying.

A photo of Sir Malcolm Seton’s house in Holland Park.

Sir Malcolm, his wife and his cousin, the Major, were seated in the smoking room when Colonel Rutherford called on them, and Major Seton went to speak with him alone in another room. After about 10 or 15 minutes, they heard crackling noises. Sir Malcolm and lady Seton rushed to see what it was and found Major Seton shot (the body would later be examined and found to contain 14 entry and exit wounds altogether, the result of 6 or 8 bullets).
Lady Seton exclaimed: “You have killed Miles” to which Colonel Rutherford replied “Yes, I only wish I had a bullet for myself.” Sir Malcolm said he appeared rigid and curiously calm (the word ‘dazed’ was suggested) and as if the situation was only gradually dawning on him.

Sir Malcolm rushed out to find a doctor and the police, while Lady Seton remained with the dead or dying Major and the Colonel, who burned a letter, presumably the one from Seton to his wife. When the doctor and the police arrived, Colonel Rutherford went downstairs to admit them. He was asked if he had shot Major Seton which he affirmed. He then asked for his hat and walking stick and to be allowed to send a message to his wife. It read: “I am sorry. An awful thing has happened. Seton is dead.”

A photo of the inquest can be found here.

He was later examined by several doctors, several of which were specialists in mental disorders. According to these, he only gave as reason for the act that he thought Seton had a bad influence on his children. The only example of this he could give was that one son had talked about big game hunting in Africa which he did not approve of. When asked why he’d shot Major Seton so many times he said he hated to see things wounded. Later during his trial, he seemed confused about the whole thing and said it felt like it had happened to someone else. According to the experts he was not fit to plead due to insanity.

The jury found him “guilty, but insane” which meant he was admitted to Broadmoor and not hanged.
His wife tried to obtain a divorce, but murder and insanity were not considered to be sufficient grounds as the law then stood. Lord Birkenhead commented on the case that

To some this may appear a harsh and even an inhumane result, but such, my lords, is the law of England.

She was finally granted a legal separation in 1922 and eventually (following a new Parliamentary Divorce Act) obtained a divorce from her husband in 1938 on the grounds of cruelty, the suit being undefended. She later remarried and lived to be 100 years old.

During his time at Broadmoor, Colonel Rutherford wrote a book entitled An Outline History of the Great War together with (non-inmates) Gordon Vero Carey and Hugh Sumner Scott, which was published with Rutherford as an anonymous contributor. After publication, Scott sent it to the Home Secretary Sir William Joynson-Hicks, ‘with a covering letter describing fully Rutherford’s part in its production’, after which Rutherford was released quietly from Broadmoor. After his release, he was reinstated to the Medical Register but mostly lived and worked abroad, among other places in Vienna and Persia.

He died in South Africa in 1951, and asked to be buried with his tin hat from the trenches.

Sources: The account of the actual crime is mostly based on articles describing the trial in The Times while the account of the later life of the Rutherfords is based on information found by the clever application of Google Fu, most especially here:

Jan 272016

Having carefully studied the criminal gangs of the first three decades of 20th century Britain, I would like to pass on some useful things I learned, in case you… You know, get stuck in the TARDIS and find you’ve travelled back to 1919 and your only hope of survival is to join a gang in Camden.

These things do happen, you know. Or could happen. Maybe.

A selection of tough boys in 1919, including Billy Kimber, the McDonalds and the Sabinis, on an outing to Hammersmith.

Continue reading »

Jan 222016

Mornington Crescent in London doesn’t look very exotic, does it?

Monrington Crescent

But then, on the other side of the street….

Carreras Building, London

Doesn’t it look like it sprung straight out of the Poirot series on tv?

The Carreras building was constructed 1926-28 by the Carreras Tobacco Company and is arguably one of the world’s finest examples of Egyptian revival Art Deco architecture. It was drawn by architects M.E and O.H Collins and A.G Porri to house the Carreras cigarette factory. It doesn’t look much like a cigarette factory to me, but why shouldn’t utilitarian buildings be beautiful?

2012-10-19 14.05.29

2012-10-19 14.06.03

Anyway, in 1959, Carreras merged with Rothman’s, and the building was converted to an office building and stripped of all it’s Egyptian decorations. The huge cats flanking the entrance were split up and shipped to Basildon and Jamaica respectively (they’ve since been replaced by replicas).

Carreras building

In 1996 the building was purchased by Resolution GLH who commissioned architects Finch Forman to restore the building, and today it’s a bright and exotic beacon in the common-place environment. It currently hosts a number of companies, among them the British Heart Foundation.

Carreras building

If you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth a little detour!

ETA: all photos by me.

Jan 252014

Detail from Smokers in an Interior by David Teniers the younger, ca 1637

For those interested, I can report that as of 6th Nov, 1633, London had 211 taverns, of which six were licensed by the King, 203 by the Vintners, and 2 by neither. The Lord Mayor and the Aldermen claim that 61 of these had been erected since 1612. Also, the White Lion in Candlewick Street is said to be in an “inconvenient place”.

There is also an Order in Council of the same date for the suppression of all taverns having signs and stairs to the water, “having regard that loose persons, bankrupts, & such as are otherwise obnoxious” may otherwise slink away and withdraw themselves from the justice of the realm.

Oct 262013

Someone on Twitter just tipped me off about the greatest thing ever – a 3D rendition of London in the 17th century. It’s made by six students from De Montfort University taking part in the
Crytek Off the Map project (which is an amazing idea, by the way – do keep your eyes open for what else might come out of it).

Chelsea Lindsay, Luc Fontenoy, Dan Hargreaves, Joe Dempsey, Daniel Peacock, and
Dom Bell have created a 3D slice of London before the Great Fire including Pudding Lane, where it all started. The infamous address has also given name to their team – they call themselves Pudding Lane Productions.

In order to find out more, check out their blog where they talk about how this stunning film was created and what resources they used.

May 252011


It’s October 8, 1760, and David Morgan, William Dupuy and Ralph Wayne are up to no good.

They don’t look like fearsome criminals at first glance. Wayne is only 16 and described by witnesses as short and slender. Dupuy is not yet 24, and a native of Hampshire though of French descent. He was entered as a volunteer aboard a man-of-war when he was only eight years and served as a sailor for several years before disembarking to a life of petty crime. During the sad aftermath of their adventure, he will be described as “giddy, trifling, and boyish.” Morgan is an unknown entity, but from the general account, I’m assuming he is about Dupuy’s age or a little older. Somehow I get the feeling that he’s pretty much the leader of the group. The cool kid, if you know what I mean. The kind who draws people to him. Continue reading »

May 132011

The first balloon voyage in England was made on September 15, 1784, by Vincenzo Lunardi, who had come to England as secretary to the Neapolitan ambassador. He was to entertain the crowds several times after that, but not always with unmitigated success as this review from The Times reveals:

Yesterday being fixed by Mr. Lunardi for the ascent of his balloon, the public were taught to believe that he, Mr. Biggin. and a lady were to ascend from the Artillery Ground, and the concourse of people was great beyond any former instance. But the very reverse of all his was true, for after the signal was given, Mr. Lunardi alone ascended, to the disappointment of all present, as no reason whatever could be assigned why the engagements with the public were not fulfilled. Deceptions of this kind had better be avoided, as those who finish entertainment for the people will always find their interest in performing what they promise.

The balloon was exceedingly large, and more beautiful than we have seen, but as it has been exhibited in the Pantheon for so long a time, we presume our readers are sufficiently acquainted with it.

The Times, May 14, 1786

Clearly, just Mr. Lunardi flying wasn’t nearly as exciting as Mr. Lunardi flying with Mr. Biggin and a lady. One can only guess why the addition of the latter would add so greatly to the entertainment of the spectators. Perhaps it was freakish in the same vein as the dog, the cat and the caged pigeon he brought on his virgin flight?

All in all, the flight must still be called a success as it is reported that “Mr. Lunardi descended about 25 minutes after near the Adam and Eve in Tottenham-court-road.”

May 022011

Sally Salisbury
In the early 18th century, Sally Salisbury was a famous, not to say notorious, prostitute. She could count some of the most famous and powerful men of her day as her customers, and I suppose she might be likened to today’s reality show celebrities – you know of them even if you deny watching the show. Continue reading »