Here are a few samples from my extensive portfolio of published work.



 From Cumbria magazine:





I shall never forget my first sight of St. Bega's Church in the Lake District. 


The sun was hanging low in the sky, striking shimmering highlights from the ripples on Lake Bassenthwaite and dipping towards Sale Fell and the Wythop Woods. A murmuring rill meandered across a field of contented grazing sheep. Birdsong from a nearby copse and the occasional inquisitive bleat only emphasised the afternoon's drowsy stillness as I approached, and against a tranquil backdrop of lake, trees and hills there it stood; the holy place which William Wordsworth described in his 1835 A Guide To The English Lakes, the Parish Church Of St. Bega, Bassenthwaite, where Christian worship has taken place for more than a millennium, but whose origins are cloaked in mystery.


In the 18th and 19th centuries many distinguished visitors came to this charming place, including Alfred Lord Tennyson in 1835. At this time the poet was writing his Morte d'Arthur, in which St. Bedivere carries the dying King Arthur to

                                    ...a chapel nigh the field,

                                               A broken chancel with a broken cross,

                                             That stood on a dark straight of barren land.


...a passage which is believed to have been inspired by St. Bega's and its setting. In a nearby wood can be found a small open-air theatre built by the Tennyson Society to mark the spot where it is thought the poem was composed.


The historian Thomas Carlyle, a frequent visitor, wrote from his native Scotland, ' I looked from the Firth into your Skiddaw Mountains, and thought of Bassenthwaite's still churchyard.'


The lyrical beauty of this scene has inspired and enchanted many over the years, but how did this lonely house of God come to be established, this '...little church that stands to the North of a spit of land jutting out into the lake,' as Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley described it in his 1900 Memories Of Tennyson, and who was St. Bega?


The majority of the information we have regarding this mysterious saint comes to us via an unnamed 14th century monk whose manuscript, Life Of St. Bega, is held in the British Museum, but the author, artist and antiquary W.G. Collingwood has suggested that she may have been a mythical figure. The document states that much of the story of Bega's early life is lost, but does tell us that she was the daughter of a 7th century northern Irish chieftain. Deeply devout, she dedicated herself to the service of God and therefore, when her father wished to marry her off to the son of the king of Norway in order to gain favour with the Norsemen, she had no recourse but to flee. Making for the coast, she took passage on a ship which carried her across the Irish Sea to Cumberland, where she landed at the promontory now known as St. Bee's Head. More extravagant versions of the tale have her cutting a piece of turf on which to float across the water.


Sometime later, concerned by the increasingly frequent depredations of Viking raiders along the Cumbrian coast, Bega made her way inland, and it is thought she may have dwelt mostly in the Bassenthwaite area until the end of her days.


The author of the Life tells us that miracles such as healing the sick were attributed to the holy woman and that 'she was handsome in form above all the daughters of religion.'


The story is a delightful one. Unfortunately it contains a chronological discrepancy which cannot be ignored. We know that the Vikings established bases on the east coast of Ireland and were intermarrying with the clans of the Irish chieftains in the 9th century, and that they subsequently began raiding the north-west coast of England in the early 10th century, but these events were taking place some 200 years after the documented time of Bega.


A more likely time-frame for our anonymous monk's account of Bega's flight would be around 870 A.D., when the Norse were invading Ireland and before they began to raid the Cumbrian coast.


The only purported artefact of Bega's existence was a bracelet or arm-ring bearing the sign of the holy cross, said to have been given to her by an angel or other divine being while she was still in Ireland. The existence of this article is attested to by more than one source, but unfortunately it seems to have disappeared sometime in the Middle Ages. Whether this relic actually belonged to the saint or whether the story of her life grew in folklore to account for an already extant sacred object is a matter for conjecture.


We are on firmer ground regarding the history of the church itself, which is documented from the mid 12th century. This building does not stand adjacent to the site of any settlement dating from the time of its construction, and so could well be built on land where Bega had her dwelling, or even where she may be buried.


The building predates Norman times, the older masonry courses being consistent with a Norse or Saxon period of construction. The chancel and nave, constituting the original church, were probably built c.950 A.D. The arch between the south transept and the chancel may date from the mid-12th century.


The church underwent extensive restoration in 1874 in order to ensure its continued use. The exterior was completely renovated in the Gothic style, and the Norman interior was preserved and restored so expertly that the building has stood virtually unchanged since.


During this restoration a hidden lead crucifix was discovered which is thought to be of 14th century origin, and which was possibly concealed during the period of Cromwell's Protectorate. A replica of this now hangs over the pulpit, the original being stored in the treasury at Carlisle Cathedral.


The church now occupies a part of the grounds of Mirehouse, a family-run historic house and gardens built in 1666 by the Earl Of Denby.


St. Bega's Church and its magical setting is one of the most beautiful and profoundly peaceful places in England. The historicity of Cumbria's local saint may never be determined for certain, but as we contemplate the story that has come down to us, whether verifiable fact or colourful legend, it is still a source of inspiration and wonder.









This one appeared in The Oldie:




Although almost forgotten today, a scruffy, vulgar, gin-swilling loafer dominated popular culture in Victorian and Edwardian Britain, giving rise to a merchandising phenomenon and inspiring the screen personae of Charlie Chaplin and, especially, W.C. Fields. He was Ally Sloper, the first superstar of comics.


Named for a slang term of the period which described the sort of insolvent tenant who would slope off down the alley to avoid the rent collector, Alexander 'Ally' Sloper was created by writer/artist Charles Henry Ross for Judy, a rival magazine to Punch. Beginning on 14th August 1867, the adventures of Ally and his friend Ikey Mo (comics' first racial stereotype) were published weekly. They were crude, broad and hard-hitting, appealing to the newly emergent literate working class created by the 1870 Education Act..


Balding, bulbous-nosed, spindly-legged and wearing a battered stovepipe hat, Ally was an eternal optimist, whose imagination was matched only by his incompetence. He would cook up various dubious schemes for making easy money which inevitably fell through, leaving him no wiser. A pro-Royalty and pro-Empire working-class patriot, he was comfortably acceptable to his publishers and advertisers, as well as his target readership. This was perhaps the secret of his success; he was mildly subversive but not a danger to the establishment.


Ross sold the character to publisher and entrepreneur Gilbert Dalziel, who felt that the pseudo-Micawber could sustain his own magazine and in 1884 launched Ally Sloper's Half-Holiday, which ran for an impressive 39 years, billed as 'Being a Selection, Side-Splitting, Sentimental and Serious, for the Benefit of Old Boys, Young Boys, Odd Boys Generally, and Even Girls.' The paper was as crude as its star. Tasteful layout and design were not a consideration. The idea seemed to be to fill every inch of space with cartoons, strips, jokes and illustrations so that the reader could feel he was getting his pennyworth.


The commercially aware Dalziel, wishing to increase the visual appeal of his star character, jettisoned the crude but vigorous artistic style of Ross and his wife Marie Duval in favour of the polished penmanship of American-born W.G. Baxter, who set about developing Ally into a classic charming grotesque. This superb cartoonist's tenure on the strip was a short one and, ironically, he would die in the sort of drunken poverty which was the strip's milieu. He was succeeded by W. Fletcher Thomas, who remained on the feature until the Twenties.


In 1896 it was claimed by one newspaper that Ally was the most famous fictional character in the country. True or not, his fame was certainly exploited in that most modern of ways; by canny marketing and promoting the character as what we would think of today as a 'brand'. To encourage reader participation a fan club was created whose members received 'a splendidly designed diploma' and other promotional items. Various spin-offs, both official and bootleg, included mugs, games, toys, paperweights, puppets, cast-iron doorstops in the form of Ally and his wife and even a sauce called 'Ally Sloper's Favourite Relish'.


Ally crossed over into other areas of entertainment. He was portrayed in music hall, theatre and magic lantern shows and was licensed out for use in advertising campaigns. He even featured in a number of very early motion pictures.


The strip ran for 56 years. Perhaps Ally's eventual declining popularity could be attributed to the character's target audience being predominantly adult at a time when comics were increasingly being perceived as kiddie fare. British adult comics have been a tiny niche market ever since.


The rogue enjoyed a brief revival in the 1920s, and again in 1976, courtesy of British comics historian and writer Denis Gifford, who published four issues of an adult-oriented comics magazine featuring both reprints and new material. Critical reaction was favourable but sales were sluggish and the Dickensian reprobate sloped off once more into the alleys of obscurity.







This was published in The Dalesman:




Grim, weather-beaten sentinels, they stand defiant amidst the rolling grey waves of the Humber Estuary.


Not as well-known as the Spitbank Forts in the Solent or The Thames Estuary Maunsell Forts, the two Humber sand forts called Bull and Haile are nonetheless poignant reminders of an embattled twentieth century, as well as being truly impressive feats of offshore construction.


Haile, the smaller of the pair, is located about two miles southwest of the Lincolnshire seaside resort of Cleethorpes. Bull stands one-and-a-half miles off the curving, fragile spit of Yorkshire land known as Spurn Point, and towers some fifty feet over the choppy waters of the estuary.


These erstwhile guardians of the ports of Grimsby, Immingham and Hull were built over a three year period during the Great War at a total cost of over two million pounds. Bull posed the most challenging feat of engineering, as the sandbank upon which it stands lies eleven feet underwater at low tide. It was built upon interlocking steel piles in the form of caissons, forming compartments which were filled with concrete around a sand core. Both forts are protected by armour plate twelve inches thick.


However, being completed in 1918/19, these defensive titans were destined not to see action until The Second World War. Then, with a 250 man garrison and equipped with anti-aircraft guns, searchlights, radar, and anti-submarine booms, they stood firm against enemy aircraft and E-Boats.


Remaining in military use until 1956, the forts were manned by civilian maintenance crews until the early Sixties, when the Humber Conservancy Board took control. Today they are privately owned but, despite various plans being announced over the years for converting them into rehabilitation facilities or luxury dwellings, they are not currently in use, although Bull Fort continues to function as a navigational aid for shipping; a boon in these hazardous waters. Yet, like old warriors with tales to tell, they still catch the eye of onlookers gazing out from Spurn Point or Cleethorpes beach.


The civilian caretakers of fifty years ago made a suggestion as to the future deployment of one of the forts. They said that if the sea were to reclaim about a quarter of a mile of Spurn Point, Bull Fort would then be outside of the three-mile limit, and could be used as a duty-free drinking resort.


Bearing in mind the glory years of the Humber Forts, what a sad fate that would be.