The Kelston Turnpike

Bonus: Haile Selassie did NOT keep his lions in the basement of Fairfield House, Bath.

Story basics here (via D). An intensely amusing affair: Bath Council planning department is bound to protest, but not so much as to further piss off voters amputated from Ye Ancient Roman Mall by a draconian health and safety response to a small crack in the road. (Did it really need to be closed to cars and motorbikes?)

Kalebeul has acquired for entrepreneur Mike Watts a grotto on Mount Olympus, but how did he finance Via Michaelis without planning permission and with dubious prospects of getting back his investment? Does he have Zeus-like powers to generate more extreme weather events, or merely an understanding of the deficiencies of council project planning?

Joining him with the Gods is the barmaid at The Old Crown, who, challenged by Plod with Range Rover as to who had told her that she could block off one carriageway of the empty A road to hold a modest party, replied, “My boss.” Has Eric Pickles really managed to get the police to focus away from harassing harmless people doing harmless though technically illegal things to wondering how an innocent man could be beaten to death and burnt a stone’s throw from a police station?

You may not have heard of turnpike sailors. These beggars pretending to be sailors marooned in the countryside without the price of a ticket to their home port were the ancestors of the Liverpudlians who infest Euston and the blond Balkan backpackers “mugged” in downtown Barcelona. Henry Mayhew in London labour and the London poor (1851):

I became a turnpike sailor, as it’s called, and went out as one of the Shallow Brigade, wearing a Guernsey shirt and drawers, or tattered trowsers. There was a school of four. We only got a tidy living – 16s or £1 a day among us. We used to call every one that came along – coalheavers and all – sea-fighting captains. ‘Now, my noble sea-fighting captain,’ we used to say, ‘fire an odd shot from your larboard locker to us, Nelson’s bull-dogs;’ but mind we never tried that dodge on at Greenwich, for fear of the old geese, the Collegemen. The Shallow got so grannied (known) in London, that the supplies got queer, and I quitted the land navy. Shipwrecks got so common in the streets, you see, that people didn’t care for them, and I dropped getting cast away.

Back down the A431 is Fairfield House, where Haile Selassie lived from 1936 to 1941. There is a persistent rumour among locals and resident Rastafarians that he kept his lions in the basement. Not so:

On 4 May 1936, HMS Enterprise entered harbour at Djibouti… Upon arrival, the ship’s commanding officer, Captain Charles Morgan [freebooting Henry was otherwise engaged], proceeded directly to the French governor’s residence, where he had been instructed to meet a small group of passengers. He found … 150 people, fifteen tons of luggage, several cases of silver bullion, one dog and two lions. This was the entourage of Emperor Haile Selassie I, the ruler of Abyssinia.

[…]

Morgan informed Haile Selassie that the maximum number of passengers Enterprise could carry was fifty, along with the baggage and silver, and that ‘I could not take the lions, but that I would accept the dog‘. As the message was transmitted through interpreters, ‘all held up their hands in horror… The Emperor looked so weary and fragile that I felt a perfect brute for screwing him down.’

(Glyn Prysor, Citizen Sailors: The Royal Navy in the Second World War)

However, maybe lessons were learnt: when in 1966 the Emperor visited his flock in Jamaica he was accompanied by a chihuahua, and here’s Patrick Leigh Fermor, The traveller’s tree (1950):

The Rastafari live in a patch of waste land by the railway in the western slums of Kingston known as the Dunghill—pronounced Dungle, to rhyme with jungle—a collection of huts built of the same flimsy materials as the hovels of San Juan de Puerto Rico. Some of the slightly more luxurious dwellings are composed of the rusting bodies of old motor-cars from which the wheels have been removed. The whole is embedded two feet deep in the ground. The glassless window space is filled in with paper; holes cut in the hood do service as chimneys. The other houses are constructed throughout of cardboard and paper. From flagpoles above these hovels flutter the red, yellow and green tricolour flags of Abyssinia; and notice-boards bear messages in clumsily-formed letters, which say ‘Long live Abyssinia’ or ‘We are Ethiopians.’
Among their other characteristics, the inhabitants of the Dungle are passionately anti-white, and I had been warned by coloured Jamaican friends that it was insane even for coloured people who were not initiates to set foot inside it. It was the refuge of all the robbers and footpads and murderers of Jamaica, and policemen, they said, could only venture there in twos and threes; a real Alsatia. Curiosity, however, triumphed over caution, and I made an intrepid descent.
It was plain to see that the Negroes lounging among the trees and huts regarded this white intrusion with extreme dislike. They looked a terrible lot of people with expressions of really frightening depravity. All were dressed in the most sordid rags, and all equipped with curling black beards. Three boys of about eighteen, of slightly less forbidding appearance, were throwing dice on a biscuit tin. I asked them for a light and after a pause, to avoid the appearance of haste, offered cigarettes; which, after a pause, were accepted.
‘What are you looking for here?’ one of them asked. I had thought out my line rather carefully, and answered with what I hoped was a nonchalant unconcern.
‘Nothing, thank you. I was just going for a walk.’
‘The white folk don’t come to the Dungle.’
‘Where’s the Dungle?’
‘This is the Dungle. This is where the Rastafari live. Don’t you see the beards?’
‘I’m sorry. I’ve just got off the boat from England, and don’t know Kingston at all. What are the Rastafari, and what about the beards?’
Their hostility seemed to waver a little.
‘Come inside,’ one of them said, getting up. ‘I’ll tell you.’
The hut was about two yards square and constructed entirely of copies of the Daily Gleaner glued together. Three of us sat on the plank bed that filled half of the cabin. The owner settled down on the biscuit-tin that he had brought with him. A photograph of the Negus, nursing a bat-eared lap-dog with enormous eyes, was stuck to the paper wall. Underneath it was written in charcoal, ‘My one hope. Signed Paul Fernandez.’
The Rastafari, he explained, were Ethiopians, and they had all come to live in the Dungle before going back to Africa and their King—but not, he said, before they had conquered the West and driven away the white men. But, I said, none of the slaves that came to the West Indies were from Ethiopia, which was inhabited by a different, a Semitic race. He waved this aside. ‘That’s all lies,’ he answered, ‘that’s what the history books say, but the history books are all written by white folks to make a fool of the black men. We’re from Abyssinia. We got wise men, and they tell us the truth.’ There was no more to be said about that.

Somewhere an MI5 officer is being toasted over hellfire for having succeeded in discouraging British Jamaicans from joining the Reverend Claudius Henry and others’ Ethiopian Zionist cult, surely contributing to the later success of a rather more lethal and less tuneful millenarian movement.

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Comments

  1. Mr Watts’ video makes things a bit clearer. 7,000 journeys prior to the Deluge, and if it only cost 150K, say 250K including wage costs and private planes, you don’t need many full-price journeys a day to break even, assuming the council will be ready by Christmas:

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