Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Highwayman's Lair

Hounslow is a London borough. Hounslow Heath is a public open space of about 200 acres. It is all that remains of the original 4000 acres or so that was once open land there.

I was reading that in the olden days, I'm guessing 1600's and 1700's, there was a place there known as Highwayman's Lair. This was, I think, probably not a motel or tourist attraction, but rather something quite different. More "Hole in the Wall Gang" -like, I'd reckon.

Back before the Great War, Heathrow was a ... row... of cottages located on the NW edge of the historic Highwayman's Lair of Hounslow Heath. Just to get your bearings, Highwayman's Lair was located approximately where terminal #3 is today. Or at least Heathrow was. From recent photographs, it appears they have torn down the row of cottages and heaved them handily into the hoary heath hereabouts. If there are residual panhandlers, they may be descendants of the original highwaymen. It could happen! Today I picture them living with their belongings stuffed in plastic bags hogging two rows of seats in the gate waiting areas. Or perhaps not. I don't see why not, though.

As a side note, in case you are tempted to go out there thinking you can catch a flight, this blog's official research scientist, A., whom I trust without question on all matters pertaining to, ummmm, blog research, has advised me that Heathrow has been converted from an airport into a madhouse. So, think "Amsterdam" unless you live in Kansas.

An extra bit of information - a reward for reading this post - that I just read not 10 minutes ago was that apparently Shakespeare named one of his plays after the original Heathrow. At least, the article I read called it a Hamlet. So I assumed. And now you know too.

Well, I don't know much about London, except that one doesn't need to wear a watch downtown, but I assume where Heathrow is now would have been quite far out from the city then. And if it was quite far out from the city THEN, by god it is probably quite far out from the city NOW. There must have been a main road there, though, so the highwaymen could ply their trade, and lucrative enough to have enough money left over to construct a lair. One assumes rather poorer airport security back in the 1600's.

Now, this is just an idle thought, but it seems to me that if there were so many of them that they had their own watering hole, lair, whatever, that this might have been a tip-off to police. This was pre-bobby era but surely they had SOMEthing back then. Or maybe you just had to bring your own guards. Probably the redcoats came out with their Brown Besses later on and maybe cleaned them out from time to time. The highwaymen, I mean, not the Besses. One pictures "nests" in the lair to clean out.

Arrrrr! "Why join the navy when you can be a pirate?" —Steve Jobs.

Which reminds me of one of my favorite Highwayman-Brown Bess-Ghostly Galleon poems, but don't worry, I have no intention of inflicting it upon you right now.

This started out to be a post about how Heathrow got it's name, but that got pretty evident rather early on, and as soon as I started reading about highwaymen, it was so much more interesting than airports that I followed up and found out that there were more lairs about. Like "Peak". Do you know of that? It's a good way for me to learn your geography, too - though little of it is likely to be retained.

Today they say the Peak District is very safe indeed. Right. All the tourist brochures say that. Now, again, I don't know as much of your geography as I should, but there is a dot on the map that looks to be to the north of London. Admittedly, so is Scotland - but I mean just a LITTLE north of London.

Have you ever heard of Baslow and Wigley? Me neither, but somewhere in between the two is a pub called The Highwayman. They say this is on the eastern end of the Peak District, but that is an embarrassment to me as well. I'm not sure what that is all about. Peak of what? How can a district be peaked? Ah, well. I'm counting on Expat Mum to tweak my peak knowledge, but this place may be after her time. I don't mean after her time as in dead, but rather after her time as in it may have been built after she left England. Fled England. Whatever. It won't be a total loss, even so, because she will come and read this post if there is a link in it to her blog. So there's that.

The brochure says there was a Peak Panic. I'm assuming levity. This was back even earlier than I thought, like 1500's and 1600's. So apparently highway robbery is hardly something new in England. My own levity bubbles to the surface here. Well. The mystique is shattered somewhat by them calling that scary road the A619, which, I'm almost sure, it wasn't called that in the 1500's. But it is a long and winding road (are you a Beatle's fan, dear reader?) and the brochure author says the road triggers (conjures up, I'm thinking he means) images of innocent travelers (only he called them travellers) being robbed and then butchered on the highway. And, being who I am, I immediately think that if you are going to butcher them later anyway, why not do it right at the very beginning and then just rob the unresisting bodies? So I'm guess he is telling a TALL one about the butcheries. This is not Scotland-in-famine we are talking about, after all.

Later he called them "innocent civilians" which doesn't make sense unless the brochure writer is a Major General or something. Perhaps he is.

"The roads linking Chesterfield with both Manchester and Derby represented veritable goldmines for the outlaws of yesteryear." Couldn't prove it by me; I am still struggling with Buzlow and Wiggerley... BUT then this ersatz (a SoubyWord) military brochure narrator bastid goes on to say:

"Difficult to believe now, but 300 years or so ago the Peak District resembled the wild west." [Sorry Toni. Definitely NOT after your time.]

Hey! Hey hey hey hey! Unless you are talking about the Pirates of Penzance, let's leave the "wild west" out of this! We've done nothing to deserve comparison to your pussy highwaymen! I was going to try to work in the word "besmirch" here, but the time for it came and went and here I am two sentences later and unable.

So where is this Derby Manchester place anyway? Do they have a football team? If so, is it called The Highwaymen?

Animal House; supermarket cucumber scene; with Otter and Mrs. Dean Wormer; Mrs. Dean Wormer: "Doubtful."

Well, then, maybe Manchester DOES have a soccer team today. If so, it is probably called the 'Coonians. The 'Coonites. The 'Coonsters. Or similar. Oh, Toto, I seem to have wandered off the highwayman highway again.

There is SO much information in the Peak Panic brochure that I could barely read it all. Could barely TRY to read it all. But there was a mention of highwayman punishment called Gibbeting and you KNOW how Max loves your odd-yet-fair punishments! So I am going off now to study this, hoping it was in addition to execution, which most of yours were.

I am tempted to talk about a gang of highwaymen headed by a guy named Pym who ruled them from a stone chair, but if I did I would have to talk about yet another town in the area called Braxton, and, frankly, the story sounded too much like a ripoff of Peter Pan combined with Lord of the Flies, and I am, sincerely and respectfully, your obedient servant, etc. etc. totally confused already. No, "Buxton," I mean. No help there, though.

I am starting to think that dot on the map is a heaphell more north of London that it looks though.


  1. So what you are saying is that the English were bandits and pirates from the beginning? That explains the prices at shops in Heathrow then.

  2. Well now, I don't know that Amsterdam has all that much advantage.

  3. PS I think I may have flown in one of those stratocruisers. I think I may have had one of those badges. I definitely did have one of those passport things. If only I'd known how much it would be worth I'd have kept good care of it.

  4. I love that poem. As soon as you began on highwayman, I began to imaging plaiting a blood red love knot into my long black hair - though, of course, my hair is brown. Still, it should look good, shouldn't it? I have a book with that poem in it, that includes a picture of the landlord's daughter (the landlord's dark-eyed daughter) standing at attention with the rifle beneath her breast which only serves to demonstrate how impossible it is for her arm to have possibly reached the trigger given that it was at about shin height.

    Still, it SOUNDS great, doesn't it?

    All this talk of highwaymen also reminded me of that fabulous exchange from the movie (and presumably the book?) Tom Jones:

    HWM: Stand and deliver!
    Matron: What did you say?
    HWM: Stand and deliver!
    Matron: I am no traveling midwife, sir. Deliver what?
    HWM: Stand...
    Matron: I will not stand for you, sir, nor for any man. Driver, move on!



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