In Newstead Abbey stands a wonderful monument - to a dog. The dog was Boatswain, Lord Byron’s devoted Newfoundland who died of rabies on 18th November 1808 age 5. Some people say that he is still seen in the Abbey grounds particularly running along the roof!
My Dad died when I was 14. After his death I began seeing blackbirds everywhere, they never flew away, one even used to perch on the windowsill outside my bedroom most days. I took comfort in hoping that the blackbirds were my Dad keeping an eye on me. Fast forward years later, I was happily married and living in Essex and had been on a visit to Dover, Kent where I was doing some research on Victorian architect Arthur Beresford Pite. We were looking for the church where Arthur married and driving round as we couldn't find it. We passed a blackbird sitting in the road and I said to my husband, "He's not moving; he'll get run over so I'll put him in a safe place". When I picked him up I saw a pool of blood so I decided to take him with us. I figured he wouldn't last the 80 mile journey home, but would at least die in comfort. I wrapped him in a jacket and we set off with the bird sitting on my lap. After an hour we got stuck in a long traffic jam. Astonishingly he perked up and climbed on to my finger where he remained for the rest of the journey.
When we eventually arrived home I put him in a spare cage opposite my cockatiel. He appeared to have been hit by a car but had stopped losing blood and was more alert. I called him Magic. The following day Magic was doing great he made the cutest noise, it sounded like a cross between a squeaky toy and a whistle. Magic was fit and well and ready to be released a week later. He could hear other blackbirds outside most mornings and was chirping back at them and jumping around the cage. Although it was sad to see him go it would have been cruel to keep him any longer than necessary. I released him early one morning, strangely I didn't see him soar into the sky, he just vanished. I like to think maybe my Dad came back for a visit.
I was inspired to write a series of children's book about Magic loosely based on the story and now have a small blackbird tattoo on my wrist to remind me of my Dad and my angel bird. See Lulu shop on Home page for books.
Mary Nichols, the sleeping angel.
Arthur Beresford Pite's Grave Restoration Project
Arthur Beresford Pite is buried in West Norwood cemetery, London. His grave has sustained much damage due to subsidence and the original copper inscription plaques are missing. I have set up a fund to carry out the necessary repairs to restore his monument. All donations to the Pite Memorial Restoration Project will be gratefully received. For more information see website above.
In November 2009 Jeane unveiled a plaque marking the 75th anniversary of Pite’s death (photos below.) Wearing traditional Victorian mourning dress she delivered a speech at the graveside about his life and works. Jeane stated “As there are currently no visible inscriptions or identifying features on the grave, I wanted people to be able to find it easily and the name Arthur Beresford Pite architect and educator to once more be known.”
When I started work at 30 Euston Square in London I was told that the building was supposedly haunted by its architect Arthur Beresford Pite (1861 – 1934) inexplicably I felt right at home and encountered many strange things over the years, particularly after I carried out extensive research into his life and work. I became fascinated with Arthur and visited and photographed other buildings he had designed and collected many of his sketches.
Arthur Beresford Pite was born on 2nd September 1861 in Newington London and educated at Kings College School. In 1877 he entered the office of The Builder’s Journal doing mainly literary work; he also attended the Royal Architectural School. In 1878 he became a partner with the notable architect John Belcher. In April 1887 Arthur married Mary Kilvington Mowll at the Parish church of Whitfield, Dover and they had four children. Arthur continued working on his commissions including the Burlington Arcade Piccadilly, Christ Church Brixton, Holy Trinity Clapham, Kampala Cathedral Uganda, a hospital in Jerusalem, Doctors offices in Marylebone and the West Islington library. He also served as professor of architecture at the Royal College of Art and Cambridge University where he was considered a gifted teacher and speaker. In 1889 he built Earlywood a large family house at Frinton, Essex. Here he enjoyed many happy holidays with his wide circle of friends and relatives.
In 1906 Pite began his commission to build the headquarters of the London, Edinburgh and Glasgow Assurance Company at 30 Euston Square. It was a magnificent building of Portland stone, Grecian in style and spanning seven floors. As the building manager I felt Arthur looked after me as I looked after his building. I would often hear footsteps on the floor above when I was there with only one security guard who was sitting opposite me! Workmen often said they wouldn’t go to the basement areas as they felt someone was watching them. An architect refused to return after I contradicted his unsympathetic plans for refurbishment; an extremely heavy oak door behind us suddenly slammed shut. It had been propped open with a weight. Needless to say his plans were never carried out and I then had the building Grade 2 Special listed due to its significant architectural importance. One of my most memorable experiences was when Arthur stopped me from falling headfirst down a steep flight of stairs. I was carrying a heavy box which I couldn’t see over the top off and slipped off the top step. Suddenly I was pulled back up by my shoulders. I turned around to thank who ever had saved me, but there was nobody there. No one could have passed me on the staircase without my seeing them. One of my new security guard’s witnessed something strange too. He had heard the stories about Arthur and mentioned he'd love to ‘see’ him but quickly added that he didn't believe in ghosts or such like. He arrived early one morning and was walking through the office to open the back door for the builders when he noticed someone sitting at a desk. Puzzled as he was the only one in the building at the time, he turned around to put on another light and when he turned back there was no one there. I think that convinced him that Arthur was not happy with those particular builders!