SUES FORUM 10: 08/2020


We are rather surprised but pleased to see that the Forum has got into double figures. When we started, we thought it would be a useful idea for keeping SUES together for a few weeks. However, as the crisis continues, we find ourselves committed to something that may have a lot longer to run yet. This edition contains the last of Roger Mitchell’s pieces on American houses and another example of John Sharp’s picking around the byways of History. Our responses section is devoted entirely to responses to the item on the Aughton song.

We have recently held a face-to-face, but appropriately distanced, committee meeting. Inclement weather forced us to move south from John Sharp’s Southport garden to Peter Firth’s covered loggia in Crosby. We had a successful and enjoyable meeting that concluded just as rain started to fall. Our main business was to try to look ahead to future society activities. Two things seem reasonably certain. We will continue to produce Forum at approximately three weekly intervals. This will include information that would previously have been sent out via the newsletter as well as articles etc. Contributions from members would be gratefully received. We retain our partnership with Continuing Education at Liverpool University and hope that you have seen their ambitious programme for 2020-2021. This will be entirely online, with the promise of full support for people who are new to Zoom and other ways of delivering online learning. If anyone is enrolling, it would be really interesting to have ‘progress reports’ for Forum to inform and encourage the rest of us.

Other plans have more question marks. We are contacting All Saints to see if meetings in the large hall might be safe and possible. Ideally, we would arrange two Friday afternoon lectures. Longer courses will not be possible this year, but we hope that Alan Potter’s course on The Human Brain will finally get under way in the new year. We might even get our visit to Scarisbrick exactly a year after the date originally scheduled.

In the meantime, we are hoping to experiment with new ways of learning. Much has been heard of Zoom in recent months and, although it is not a panacea, it does seem to offer long term opportunities for learning and for contact with other members. If you are already using Zoom, it would be good to hear about your experiences.

Further information will be in Forum 11 along with a variety of articles and comments. The Forum Archive, which is available on the SUES website, now runs to over 100 pages and we have ranged over many topics and themes. If you have ideas for broadening the range still further or for producing your own contribution, we would be delighted to receive such material.

Gresham College Lectures

We have just learnt of the existence of a programme of lectures put out by Gresham College. These look as if they would be of considerable interest to SUES members. You have to register for new lectures, but you can have unlimited and free access to hundreds of lectures given over the past 20 years on a huge range of subjects by lecturers who are experts in their field. All that you need do, is search for Gresham College Lectures – and decide which you want to hear. If you do, we would be glad to have information about your experience.

Seaside, Florida – The Modern American Cottage

In Forum 7 we left the American Cottage in Newport, Rhode Island in the 1890s. It had undergone a dramatic transformation from an informal, small scale wooden building to an elaborate stone villa or even a palace which made an appropriate summer retreat for a rich industrialist and his family, whose surname was likely to be something along the lines of Vanderbilt, Frick or Astor. They are remarkable buildings, but only their owners could consider them as cottages and they fail the fundamental architectural test – would you choose this house as the place to spend your hot and sunny seaside summers?

In this final piece about American houses, I want to move forward to the 1990s but return to true cottages. The place that I am taking you to is Seaside, Florida. We are more than 600 miles away from Miami, tucked away in the north west of the state, relatively close to the border with Alabama. There is a long narrow stretch of coastline that is part of the state of Florida, known, because of its shape, as the Florida panhandle. When Glendon and I first visited it in the late 1990s, it was still peaceful and underdeveloped but Americans do not seem able to resist the urge to develop any piece of unspoiled and unprotected coast and more recent visits to the area show that it is no longer what it was. Ironically, the carefully planned development of Seaside, designed to preserve the natural environment has proved a magnet to other, less sustainable development.

Seaside now has city status and a growing population, but until the 1980s, this was a totally undeveloped section of coast with excellent sandy beaches. Seaside was the brainchild of Robert Davis who in 1978 inherited 80 acres of ‘worthless sand and scrub’. He grew up in Alabama, had a career in property development and knew this North West Florida Coast from family holidays. At Seaside, he sought to develop a new town with a formal and urban plan. He wanted to avoid the ribbon development that mars so much of the American coast. Instead, here at Seaside, there is high housing density but immediate access both to the beach and to the coastal wilderness. Davis worked with the influential architectural theorist and planner, Leon Krier. He is known as a champion of the traditional town or city where everything is within walking distance and where the architecture, a mixture of classical and vernacular, encourages a sense of community and involvement. You will not be in the least surprised to know that Krier is a friend of Prince Charles and an important influence on the development of Poundbury near Dorchester and Nansledan, Newquay – the two major Duchy of Cornwall initiatives that seem to be loved and loathed in equal measure. 

As we approach the end of an English Summer, let’s concentrate on Seaside, where the Florida sunshine continues for much longer. Seaside is a holiday town with as many short- term visitors as long-term residents and so critics can argue that it is not a ‘real’ place and has only limited relevance to urban planning. It can never solve the problem of housing the huge populations of the megacities of the modern world. Nevertheless, it has proved extremely influential and, I would argue, a force for good. It represents what is often called, ‘new urbanism’, which its supporters define as

a planning and development approach based on the principles of how cities and towns had been built for the last several centuries: walkable blocks and streets, housing and shopping in close proximity, and accessible public spaces. In other words: New Urbanism focuses on human-scaled urban design. 

Pastel coloured wooden houses inspired by classical architecture and vernacular Victorian cottages can easily look whimsical and it is no surprise that the film ‘The Truman Show’ was filmed at Seaside. However, this is not Disneyland. The houses are properly designed and constructed and the building code requires that every house should have a front porch. Gardens are small, footpaths run through the town and cars are kept out. Architects have enjoyed the opportunity to find individuality within the general rules and the whole town has a light hearted holiday feel about it. I hope that the pictures on the next two pages, which I took about ten years ago, will give you some sense of a walk round Seaside and that you will be encouraged to find out more. You can have a virtual holiday there courtesy of the internet and YouTube. If you prefer to read about Seaside and to study pictures of it, then Seaside by Steven Brooke (1995) or Views of Seaside published by Seaside Institute (2008) are helpful and well- illustrated introductions.

Roger Mitchell

Seaside – Public Buildings

Seaside – Private Houses

More Odd Facts About Monarchs

It was when I came across King John I of France, monarch for his whole life of five days and known as John the Posthumous, that I began to think about the nicknames or soubriquets awarded to monarchs. Perhaps I should have called this article the Monikers of Monarchs.

It is interesting that in this country we have not had a ‘great’ since King Alfred and really not any similar descriptors since Ethelred the Unready (it means badly advised), Edward the Confessor and William the Conqueror. References to John Lackland, Edward Longshanks, Bloody Mary, Good Queen Bess and Charles the Martyr are found from time to time, but do not have quite the same formality. Russia has two Tsars regularly called ‘the great’, Peter I and Catherine II. It also has Ivan the Terrible, but the practice was not generally used with Tsars, if you except the politically loaded and cynical ‘Nicholas the Last’. Incidentally an English historian once decided that Ivan the Terrible was a mistranslation and insisted on calling him John the Dread. It never caught on.

Ivan the Terrible – or John the Dread?

In the Middle Ages it was the case in France that most kings were given a nickname, and this is also true of the Spanish kingdoms. It was already popular in Charlemagne’s time with Pepin the Short, Louis the Pious and Charles the Bald. Charlemagne himself, of course, did not need one since his name means ‘Charles the Great’. These appellations were not always flattering and one wonders about the feelings of Charles the Fat and Louis the Stammerer; on the other hand, John the Good must have been pleased with himself. I am not sure about Philip the Amorous, as the implications could go either way. Charles VI of France, the one defeated by Henry V of England, was sometimes known as Charles the Well-Beloved and sometimes as Charles the Mad, presumably not at the same time.

The medieval Spanish kingdoms also honoured monarchs such as Alfonso the Wise, Ferdinand the Saint and Ferdinand the Honest; and Charles the Affable sounds like a nice guy. However, there was also a Pedro the Cruel and, unequivocally, Charles the Bad. Henry the Innocent is more ambiguous, although Henry the Impotent isn’t. Alfonso the Monk was king, abdicated to become a monk, resumed being king and then for a second time abdicated to become a monk again: he just could not make up his mind.

Neuschwanstein – Wagner or Disney?

There are many more examples – you can look them up online – but alas few are female. Unfortunately that’s the way with monarchs, outside our own.

There must be lots of appellations that might have been used but were not. Once on holiday in Bavaria a friend and I visited the castles of Ludwig II, who was certainly insane and built such Wagnerian fantasies as Neuschwanstein. My companion insisted in referring him to Ludwig the Daft, so much neater than the German. Finally, Peter Ustinov in one of his plays invented a purely fictional character, the boy king Theodore the Uncanny. How I wish he had really existed!

John Sharp


I was pleased to get responses that help to unravel the Aughton Song. Many thanks for all contributions. There was general agreement that the ‘Heads’ of Aughton Town were the local worthies. They might hold local office or be called upon for jury service. They are not quite gentlemen but are at least respectable.

‘Paddy from Cork’ may be one of those itinerant Irishmen who came over to North West England to help with the harvest. ‘Turnpike Rip’ sounds like a highwayman. The mid 18th century was the great age of the highwayman and of the turnpike and John Sharp comments:

The Liverpool-Preston turnpike, passing through Ormskirk is dated 1771, and issues associated with that might have been in people’s minds at the time of the dispute.  Turnpike Rip sounds like a robber (‘rip’ has that subsidiary meaning); tollhouses were often attacked for the money kept there.  However, how this is connected with the hay matter is puzzling.  Perhaps the clergyman was using local ‘heavies’ to promote his cause.

Margaret Wilford has some thoughts on ‘Rip’:

When I was small, I remember old folk calling someone (usually a child) a Rip. It meant cheeky and impish, naughty but not really bad. However, the meaning got worse as the character aged and we would probably call an adult Rip a wide-boy or a con-man.

The phrase that aroused the most interest was ‘Hatbands made of Hay’. It reminded Margaret of the annual hiring fairs, when those seeking employment carried some indicator of what they could do. John Clare and Thomas Hardy both have references to them Alternatively, John suggests ‘People wore cockades in their hatbands and in this case, this was perhaps a way of celebrating the legal victory’.

John even went to the trouble of contacting Martin Brayne, a friend of his who happens to be Chairman of the Parson Woodforde Society. Parson Woodforde is the archetypal Georgian cleric (and gourmand), and perhaps he should be our final witness.

The thing that I find most puzzling is the ref. to hatbands. Did hats have hatbands before the 19th Century? Once hats had hatbands you could use it to attach your political cockade to – or, in this case, push a piece of hay into. Did the big hat in which C.J. Fox always appeared – in political cartoons at least – have a hatband and would the Heads of Aughton Town have something similar? But I fear I don’t know enough about 18th century Hatmaking.

Martin turned to Parson Woodforde’s diary and noted the entry for 4th October 1788 when he buried the squire’s son and received for burying him ‘a black silk Hatband, a pair of white Gloves, and also wrapped up in paper £5-5-0.’

Silk sounds rather more impressive than hay!

Roger Mitchell


Chair: Alan Potter
07713 428670

Secretary: Roger Mitchell
01695 423594 (Texts preferred to calls)

Membership Secretary and Forum Editor: Chris Nelson
07960 117719


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