Monday, 11 February 2008

“At 12 Mr Byng was shot” – the court martial and execution of Admiral Byng

© National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

The Byng family was prominent in Bedfordshire in the 17th and 18th centuries. After a successful naval and political career, George Byng was created Viscount Torrington in 1721. His son, Pattee Byng, was MP for Bedfordshire until he succeeded his father in 1733. The family had strong naval connections, the best known being John Byng, a younger son of the first Viscount, who rose to become an Admiral.

Admiral Byng was charged with neglecting his duty during an action against the French fleet in the Mediterranean in summer 1756. At a court martial he was found guilty and sentenced to death. Pleas for mercy were unsuccessful and he was executed by firing squad on board his former ship, the Monarch, on 14 March 1757.

The story is simply told on the Royal Naval Museum website and on the National Maritime Museum site where there are also some excellent portraits of Byng and a painting of his execution.

His execution has long been controversial and a group at Southill in Bedfordshire where the Byng family lived is campaigning for his pardon. Despite a set back last year on the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of his death when the MoD told a descendant that a pardon after so long was inappropriate, the campaign continues, with several local initiatives -

  • A seminar entitled “Admiral John Byng (1704-1757): the life and death of the Admiral of the Blue" will be held on Saturday 23rd February 2008 from 10. am to 4 pm at the Function Room of the White Horse Public House, High Street, Southill, near Biggleswade, Beds SG18 9LD (This is 200 yards from the Byng Vault – his resting place, open to view during the day.) Speakers include Dr David Davies, David Wyllie, Dr John Byng Hall, James Collett-White, Chris Byng-Maddock, John Taylor QC, Rev. Mark Aaron Tisdale, Sarah Saunders Davies and Thane Byng Nelson.
    Bookings must be made in advance of the day. Tickets at £6.00 (excluding lunch) from Nico Rodenburg - email
  • A petition - ask Nico Rodenburg about signing it, but be quick! It will be handed in on 12 March.

  • A dramatic oratorio “The Musket Ball and the Tragic Fate of Admiral John Byng" in three parts, devised by Thane Byng and composed by David Wyllie. The European premiere will be in Brussels on 7th March and the British premiere is on 14th March 2008 at 7.30 pm at All Saints Church, Southill, Beds, in aid of the Restoration Fund. It will be performed by members of the Bedford Choral Society
    Tickets at £12.50, including light refreshments from 6.30 pm from Nico Rodenburg: e-mail

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Tent peg makers in Bedfordshire?

I was asked recently whether there were any makers of wooden tent peg working in Bedfordshire during the Second World War. There is plenty of evidence for the production of millions of tent pegs for the war effort in the woodlands of the Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Chilterns, but none so far for production in Bedfordshire, either in the Chilterns or other woodland areas.

If you know of tent peg making in Bedfordshire at any period, please post a comment.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Vale of Aylesbury

‘Tis the Far Famous Vale: National Influences on the Vale of Aylesbury

Ken and Margaret Morley
The Book Castle, Dunstable, 2007 £25.00

If you stand on the Chiltern Hills at Dunstable Downs, you will be looking across the Vale of Aylesbury. The boundary between Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire can be traced quite easily by the lines of willows beside the Ouzel river and, in fact, some Bedfordshire villages are a part of the Vale.

We live in a very small county but we have much to learn if we look across our borders. As the fly leaf to this book states, `there is an increasing realisation that local history cannot be fully appreciated unless national factors are taken into account`.

Probably the first thing to strike anyone who looks at this book is the enormous amount of detail. It is truly remarkable and, if a book could be found to give a concise history of what was happening in this country during the last few millennia, this could well be it. The list of contents leaves very few subjects untouched, from early settlers to life in a medieval village, through religious conflict to the opening up of the countryside by canals, roads and rail, to the demise of cottage industries and the establishment of new industries and education for all. The text is supported by diagrams, maps, personal recollections, pictures, many of them in colour, references and tables.

The present and future are not neglected. The last chapter is devoted to threats to the Vale. In 1969, the Roskill Commission proposed the siting of a third London airport at Cublington. Fortunately this damaging plan was rejected but now there are plans to flood the area with greenfield-brownfield housing. Again, the authors have provided considerable detail on this topical subject.

Information is provided about places to visit and the rights and wrongs of accessing the countryside and, at the front of the book, is a list of places which are `well worth a visit`. Some of these, such as Stockwood Park and Wardown Park Museum are in Bedfordshire. There is indeed a great deal to learn from looking across the county boundary.

Reviewed by Anne Allsopp