Thursday, 19 April 2018

Raleigh 400 in Westminster: 28 October 2018

St Margaret's, Westminster, next to the House of Commons in London: Raleigh's last resting-place  
Image credit: Reinhold Möller

East Budleigh, Oxford, Sherborne, Jersey, Winchester… they’re just some of the places associated with Sir Walter Raleigh. But perhaps the most poignant is St Margaret’s Church, Westminster, where he was buried after his execution on 29 October 1618 in the nearby Palace Yard.

As at the 300th anniversary of Raleigh’s death, when a major commemoration took place, St Margaret’s will hold a special service in 2018.  A Sung Eucharist will be held at 11.00 am on Sunday 28 October, themed around Raleigh’s  life and work. The Dean of Westminster is to preach at this service.

There are also plans for an exhibition of work by young people - teenagers rather than children -  on the theme of Raleigh as a supporter of exploration.

Further details will be announced in due course on St Margaret's website

For many Americans, St Margaret’s is a place of pilgrimage, given Raleigh’s efforts to establish the first English-speaking colony in the New World, an initiative which led to the journey of the Pilgrim Fathers in 1620.

This memorial window over the west door was installed at St Margaret’s in 1882. It was subscribed for by American donors led by J.T.Lord. At the top, angels hold banners with the arms of the United States of America and the Royal Arms. Below, various angels hold other coats of arms and Tudor emblems.

Five figures are shown in the main window - Elizabeth I, Henry, Prince of Wales - son of James I - Raleigh himself, the poet Edmund Spenser and Sir Humphrey Gilbert, the celebrated navigator. Panels represent Raleigh sailing for America, his landing there, Spenser presented to the Queen by Raleigh, his imprisonment and burial. The inscription was composed by James Russell Lowell, US Ambassador in London at the time of the unveiling

Professor Brent Lane at Raleigh’s tomb in St Margaret’s

I’ve received much encouragement in my Raleigh research from Professor Brent Lane, Director of the University of North Carolina (UNC) Center for Competitive Economies and an Adjunct Professor at the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School.

In connection with Raleigh 400, Professor Lane is hoping to organize an event at the University of North Carolina’s Winston House facility in London that would include a delegation visiting St. Margaret's.

You can read about Professor Lane’s research into Raleigh’s New World exploration, and the comparison that he makes with 21st century space explorers like Elon Musk and Sir Richard Branson at


Ta very much, Sir Walter!

A Trinidad and Tobago stamp illustrating Raleigh’s discovery of the Pitch Lake in 1595  Image credit: Mark Morgan

People will tell you all kinds of silly stories about how Sir Walter invented potatoes and about his tobacco smoking exploits.  

But have you ever thought about how journeys today are more comfortable thanks in part to one of Sir Walter’s lesser known discoveries?

In 1595, during his exploration of the Caribbean island of Trinidad he found the Pitch Lake, the largest natural deposit of asphalt in the world. Raleigh found the pitch useful for caulking his ships. It was, he wrote ‘most excellent good’, commenting that ‘it melteth not with the sunne as the pitch of Norway’ and noting that it was ‘for ships trading the South parts very profitable.’

Painting by an unknown artist of Raleigh discovering the Pitch Lake

Many years went by before horse-drawn transport gave way to modern vehicles. By the early years of the twentieth century, mechanised road transport was becoming commonplace. The newly developed motorcycles, steam and petrol cars needed a good flat surface on which to run, and Tarmac Limited came up with the solution. 

Originally, to make the road surfacing material in a process developed and patented by Edgar Purnell Hooley in 1902, the company used aggregate mixed with coal tar, a once commonly available by-product from the many town gas works that heated coal in a closed retort. In 1971 Tarmac acquired Limmer and Trinidad, a London based quarry products firm, high quality asphalt from Limmer in Germany and from the Pitch Lake in Trinidad.  Tarmac then became the largest road surfacing contractor and blacktop producer in UK.

Having tried unsuccessfully to persuade various crisp manufacturers to sponsor Fairlynch’s Raleigh 400 exhibition I had hoped that Tarmac might be interested in supporting the Museum. I thought that the story of Raleigh’s little-known discovery of their prize product would be good publicity for the company, but my suggestion was not followed up. Ah well, you can’t win them all.

Described as the 8th Wonder of the World, the Pitch Lake covers about 40 hectares (99 acres) and is reported to be 75 metres deep, containing 10 million tonnes of asphalt. It’s a major tourist attraction with a small museum, attracting about 20,000 visitors annually.

Sir Walter Raleigh's raid on the island of Trinidad in 1595. The captured Spanish Governor, Antonio de Berrio, is being escorted. Engraving by Theodore de Bry

Trinidad was simply a stopping-point for Raleigh on the way to Guiana, now part of modern Venezuela. It was there that he was hoping to discover gold mines which would make his fortune and that of his investors, including Queen Elizabeth I. He failed to find gold, but managed to anger the Spanish by attacking their settlement on Trinidad and capturing the Governor.   

But the dream persisted. Raleigh’s second voyage to Guiana in 1617 was prompted by the same desire to discover the fabled City of Gold and its chief, El Dorado, but that too was a failure and led indirectly to his execution on the orders of King James I.

Some historians believe that Raleigh's greatest accomplishment may have been in creating good relations between the English and the natives of South America. 

Raleigh was keen to learn about the culture of peoples of the New World, as were members of his teams like the artist John White and the scientist Thomas Herriot. 

During the 1595 expedition to Guiana he had befriended the native chieftain Topiawari, making known English hostility to Spain. Spanish invaders had succeeded in alienating large areas of the New World and its tribes. It had been relatively easy for Raleigh to conclude an alliance with the Topiawari, although the latter passed away not long after Raleigh's first voyage. 

But the goodwill remained and future English explorers are said to have benefitted from it.  


Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Budleigh Salterton Ladies Choir Spring Concert 2018

Pictured from top left, clockwise, William Byrd, Sir Walter, Thomas Tallis, Andrew Millington, Henry VIII, Bob Chilcott

Two pieces with words by Sir Walter Raleigh, set to music by distinguished modern composers, will be performed at a concert in Budleigh this Saturday.

The town’s Ladies Choir is being joined by Pieces of Eight, members of the Exeter-based St David’s Singers, who will also be performing musical items from the 16th and 17th centuries.   

The pieces include:
‘Pastime with good company’ by Henry VIII
‘Ave verum’ by William Byrd
‘Come again!’ by John Dowland
‘Fair Phyllis’ by John Farmer
‘If ye love me’ by Thomas Tallis

Two additional pieces are Raleigh’s celebrated poem ‘Even such is time’ set to music by Bob Chilcott and ‘Give me my scallop shell of quiet’ by Andrew Millington.

Pieces of Eight was formed directly as a result of the Walter Raleigh theme to the Ladies Choir concert, and will be wearing appropriate costumes! 

The Ladies Choir will be singing a number of pieces relating to the sea and travel including:

‘The Rolling Sea’ (by Madeline Chase and Eric Harding Thiman)
‘Blow the Wind Southerly’ (Northumbrian folk song, arranged by John Clements)
‘The Ship That Never Returned’ (English folk song)
‘Rolling Down to Rio’ (Rudyard Kipling and Edward German)
‘The Ships of Arcady’ (Francis Ledwidge and Michael Head)

‘And a few more with regal, Shakespearean or Raleigh links,’ I’m told.

Sir Walter will be delighted.

The concert, on Saturday 21 April in the Temple Methodist Church, Budleigh Salterton, begins at 7.30 pm.  Tickets £8.00 (including refreshments) will be available on the door.

See more about Budleigh Salterton Ladies Choir at

The St David's Singers' website is at


Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Singing Sir Walter's praises

A fine performance of my 'Hero of Devon' song last Monday by members of the Exmouth and Budleigh Anglo-French Society in Budleigh Salterton's Masonic Hall. 

It concluded my illustrated talk in French, 'Notre Grand Elisabethain', which I promised them some months ago. I'll be giving versions in English during the coming months. 

The tune to go with the verses is 'The Ash Grove' which I first heard my friend Annie playing on the piano and which I think is rather beautiful, as well as easy to sing.  You can hear it nicely performed at

Try it yourself!

1. A Hero of Devon –
We hope he’s in Heaven –
He lived in the time of Good Queen Bess.
They said he was proud:
His clothes were so loud.
He had his faults we must confess.
His surname is Raleigh,
Or maybe it’s Rawley,
And as for the spelling nobody is sure.
We’ll call him Sir Walter
Queen Bess called him Water.
He loved her to bits but we’re sure it was pure.

2. His cloak on a puddle,
He said ‘T’is no trouble!
Your Majesty’s feet will now not get wet!’
The Queen smiled and said,
‘We cannot be wed.
But please do become my favourite, pet!’
Sir Walter became
The man in the frame.
Potatoes won fame as his favourite dish.
Virginia known
For Queen Bess on her throne.
A pipe of tobacco his dearest wish.  

3. With bicycles too
His fame grew anew.
His poetry also was not bad at all.
But Bess’ successor,
A man so much lesser,
Did craftily bring about his fall.
He stood on the scaffold.
The crowd were so baffled
To see English justice had gone amiss.
Sir Walter take praise!
Our hero from Hayes
Who wrote loads of poems much better than this.


Raleigh 300: Who was involved in the tercentenary celebrations in 1918?

Continued from

Here are some of the people who felt that Sir Walter Raleigh was worth remembering and his life worth celebrating in 1918. 

It was the 300th anniversary of his execution, and Britain was still engaged in a world war. But that didn’t stop the nation’s Great and Good. They still believed, as they put it, in ‘one of the great heroes of the modern world’. 

HM King George V

The Raleigh Tercentenary Commemoration was seen as an initiative of national importance. No less a person than the King was its Patron.

A Tercentenary Committee to organise the event included: 

Arthur Balfour, KG, OM, PC, FRS, FBA, DL (1848-1930), 1st Earl of Balfour.  Politician. Foreign Secretary from 1916 to 1919, noted for  issuing the Balfour Declaration in November 1917.  He had served as Prime Minister from 1902 to 1905.

(Honorary President, speaker at the Mansion House, London, on Tuesday 29 October 1918)

George Forrest Browne (1833-1930). Bishop of Bristol 1897-1914.


James Bryce, OM, GCVO, PC, FRS, FBA (1838-1922), 1st Viscount Bryce.  Academic, jurist, historian and politician. British ambassador to the United States from 1907 until 1913. Speaker at the Mansion House, London, on Tuesday 29 October 1918.
(Honorary Chairman) 

Sir Charles Harding Firth, FBA (1857-1936). British historian. Delivered a paper on Raleigh’s History of the World before the British Academy at Burlington House on 30 October 1918).  Image © Royal Historical Society

Sir Israel Gollancz,  FBA (1863-1930). Scholar of early English literature and of Shakespeare. Professor of English Language and Literature at King's College, London, from 1903 to 1930.  Gave an address on ‘Shakespeare and the New World, on Friday 1 November 1918).
(Honorary Secretary)   

Rufus Isaacs,  GCB, GCSI, GCIE, GCVO, PC, KC (1860-1935), 1st Marquess of Reading. Barrister, jurist and politician.  Ambassador to the United States from 1918 until 1919, while continuing at the same time as Lord Chief Justice.   
(Honorary President)

Walter Hines Page, (1855-1918)  
 Journalist, publisher and diplomat. US ambassador to the United Kingdom during WW1.  Illness that year had led to his retirement as ambassador.  Photo credit: Library of Congress
(Honorary President)

Photo credit: Illustrated War News   
Sir Charles Wakefield, GCVO, CBE (1859-1941), 1st Viscount Wakefield. British businessman and philanthropist who founded the Castrol lubricants company. He was Lord Mayor of London, 1915-16. His support created the enduring Raleigh Lecture on History at the British Academy.  
(Honorary Treasurer)

Apart from the Tercentenary Committee, others involved in the Raleigh 300 commemoration included:

Reverend Ernest William Barnes, FRS (1874-1953). Mathematician and scientist, Master of the Temple Church, London, 1915-19. Bishop of Birmingham 1924-53.  (Preacher at the morning service in the Temple Church on Sunday 27 October 1918).

Reverend William Hartley Carnegie (1859-1936). Canon of Westminster and Rector of St Margaret’s, Westminster from 1913 until 1936.   (Preacher at the special afternoon service at St Margaret’s on Sunday 27 October 1918).

Sir Lionel Henry Cust KCVO FSA (1859-1929) British art historian and museum director. Director of the National Portrait Gallery from 1895 to 1909; co-edited The Burlington Magazine from 1909 to 1919. (Delivered a paper in November 1918 on ‘Raleigh’s portraits’).
Image credit NPG

**Hugh Fortescue, KCB, 4th Earl Fortescue (1854-1932). Landowner and politician, Lord Lieutenant of Devon 1903-28.  Speaker at Exeter Cathedral, on Tuesday 29 October 1918.

*Sir Edmund Gosse CB (1849-1928) Poet, author and critic.  Knighted in 1925. 

*General Sir Ian Standish Monteith Hamilton, GCB, GCMG, DSO, TD (1853-1947) Lieutenant of the Tower of London. Notable for commanding the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force during the WW1 Gallipoli Campaign.  

Sir Sidney Lee, FBA (1859-1926). Biographer, writer and critic. Delivered a paper on 10 December 1918 on ‘Raleigh’s discovery of Guiana’, at the Royal Colonial Institute, London.

Sir Harry Lushington Stephen (1860-1945). Judge.  (Delivered a paper on 27 November 1918 before the Royal Historical Society on ‘Raleigh’s Trial’). [no photo available]

*Major John Baker White DSO (1868-1944). American lawyer, military officer, and politician in the U.S. state of West Virginia.  Judge-Advocate, American troops in Great Britain and Ireland. 

*Speaker at the Mansion House, London, on Tuesday 29 October 1918.

Having listed them all, I was awed by the thought of so many distinguished figures working together to celebrate the life of a great British hero. 

I was ready to express my surprise at the relative silence with which Sir Walter’s 400th anniversary is being greeted today. 

But of course some people I know would say that the list simply reeks of privilege.  


Raleigh 400 in Westminster: 28 October 2018

Continued from St Margaret&#...