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Unique perspective of World War II

A new book called Monica was launched on Saturday 7th October at Cowbridge Town Hall in South Wales. It tells the story of a family who fled grinding poverty and endless wars in 1920s Poland to start a new life in France. France had suffered heavy losses in World War I and needed immigrant labour to work in the mines. This family were part of that solution but shortly after moving found themselves living under German occupation in World War II.

The story is told from the perspective of the youngest member of the family.  A little girl known as Monia at home, but Monique to her French school friends. She finally becomes known as Monica when the family settled in the South Wales coal field after the war. She recounts day to day life under occupation and beyond. She also embodies some recurring themes throughout the story. The mass movement of people across war torn Europe and the breakneck pace of change in the 20th century. One of her uncles glibly comments over dinner that he was born before the Wright brothers had achieved flight but had lived to see a man land on the moon. A remark which so aptly sums that up.

At the launch, the author Graham Loveluck-Edwards talked about the very real people the book is based on. A little-known history which is part of our story of diversity in Wales.

At the end of the second World War, it was Britain which had lost so many men that additional workers were needed to fill jobs in the mines. Soldiers of the Polish Free Army had fought alongside the British. After the war they were given a choice: Return to their country of residence or stay in the UK to work in the mines here. And that was the story of this family. So, the book also deals with first impressions of South Wales in 1948, and the uniquely Welsh things which made it feel like home.

Graham also revealed at the launch that he is a lot closer to the story than people might realise. “The principal character; Monica is based on my own mother. And this is all based on the history of her family”. He went on “people who knew her from the days when she ran Sacha Boutique in Bridgend in the 1970s and the Elle Dress Agency in Cowbridge in the 1990s may remember her as a rather glamorous and flamboyant lady. They might be surprised at her humble origins in a family of Polish peasants whose existence was so precarious, they measured a good winter by the fact that everyone in the household had survived”.

Even without any personal connections, readers will find the book absorbing and the story it tells fascinating and at times, amusing. Graham who is better known for writing about ancient Welsh legends and stories about pirates and highwaymen said “you will find the stories in this book every bit as entertaining as anything I’ve ever written about pirates or mythical beasts. The difference is, there are plenty of people dotted around the UK who share this history and will see their own family history reflected in what I have written”.

Monica’ is now available to buy from this website as well as on Amazon and all good book shops.

Watch a video of the book launch event in full

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New book out in October | ‘Monica’

I am excited and at the same time, intrepid about the release of my latest book.

So, what’s it about you may well ask?

Well in summary, it charts the movement of a family across Europe as they try to escape from war but who inadvertently keep getting caught up in it. They start off in Poland, settle in France, then some of the men go to fight in Spain, then France,  Africa, Italy, France again and eventually Germany. Then after the war end up in Pontypridd. Meanwhile the women of the family try and maintain some semblance of normality in the wake of disappearances, food shortages and the oppression of living in an occupied country.

The central character and narrator of the story is a character called Monica Devilliers. Her story begins by charting the unique set of circumstances that led to the family ending up in France in the first place. It introduces the reader to each member of her family of larger-than-life characters and the part they played within the family and her upbringing. It also covers what it was like day to day, living under occupation for a family of ordinary working-class people. All of whom were quite resourceful.

Her father and uncle managed to get out of France, and both fought in the Polish Free Army. A perspective of World War II which is rarely told so the book also deals with what they had to face and the impact it had on the war and more significantly on them as individuals.   We also get to relive what it was like for a 10-year-old girl to come to Britain for the first time after the war and somehow make a new life for herself in the mining communities around Pontypridd and Caerphilly in South Wales, and how she used her academic capabilities to escape everything that entrapped her.

So why the intrepidation?

Well as much as this might sound like a whim of fantasy, the fact is, this is a true story and 90% of what you read in this book, no matter how spectacular, actually happened. The other reason for the sleepless nights, is that unlike my folklore and history books where I am recording the fruits of research, on this occasion I have some skin in the game. Because the life of Monica is based on the memoirs of my own mother. And the revelations in this book lay bare to the world not just a lot of interesting and amusing stories but also a lot of skeletons and scandals.

So why have I written about them?

Good question. And I need to pause for a moment before answering. There is an oft quoted maxim that runs at the heart of the answer. And that is; if every time you read about history you feel pride then you are not reading a very thorough history. In fact, it sounds like you might be reading propaganda. Yes, history contains lots of victories, successes and heroes. But they are all equally balanced by pain and disgrace and other things that are not quite so positive.Every family tries to hold up a veneer of respectability. But the truth is every family has its fair shares of alcoholics, depressives, criminals, and vagabonds. And I really mean EVERY family. So why would it come as a surprise to anyone that mine does too?

Having said that, I have changed every body’s name in this book so none of the characters share the name of who they are based on. I also may have merged a few relatives into one or attributed what happened to one person to another. Basically, because as much as I wanted to tell this story, I do not want to embarrass or humiliate any relatives or their descendants. And for that reason I moved a few villages to neighbouring villages too. Just to make sure.

If you want to know more about the book, and the stories, people, and history in it, I am holding a public event where I will discuss all and take questions from the audience. It will be held in Cowbridge Town Hall on Saturday 7th October 2023 starting at 6pm. Tickets are £5 each but that includes entry, a glass of wine and a buffet so pretty good value I’m sure you’ll agree. Tickets are available here.

The book is now available to buy here, and at Amazon and all good bookshops.

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The Wreckers of Dunraven

One of my all time favourite Welsh legends this.

Dunraven Castle used to stand on the Glamorgan coast of the Bristol Channel. Not far from Bridgend on the Heritage Coast by Southerndown beach. It has a fascinating history dating back to the Iron Age but nothing is more spectacular about this place than this legend. It is the story of the wreckers of Dunraven. The Lord of the Manor; Walter Vaughan saw his life fall apart when two of his children and his wife died prematurely. He turned to drink and gambling and squandered his fortune away. Then, when at his lowest ebb he turned for help to a henchman, a local pirate, smuggler and wrecker called Matt of the Iron-Hand who had a score to settle with his new partner in crime.

Together, they terrorised sea farers in the Bristol Channel in the sixteenth century.

They would tie lanterns to the sheep grazing on the cliff tops to mimic the lights of Newton, to lure ships onto the jagged teeth of Tuskar Rock. It kept the scavenging, coastal-living folk of the Vale of Glamorgan in a plentiful supply of plunder, washed up on their beaches from the wreckage of numerous merchant ships.

In this video I tell the best-known version of the legend. It deals with grief, greed, avarice and the final tragic outcome when all these things are allowed to come together.

I also answer the obvious question; is this a true story? What sources do we have for it? And where does Iolo Morgannwg fit into all this?

This was all filmed on location at Dunraven Castle on a cold but clear day.

If you want to read more about this story, I wrote about it in my book ‘Legends and Folklore of Bridgend and the Vale’. Also now available for Kindle Download.

In this video I tell the story of Walter Vaughan, the Wrecker of Dunraven and examine the likely truth of this story.
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The mysteries of Ewenny Priory

Ewenny Priory is recognised by countless textbooks as the finest example of unmodernised, Norman ecclesiastical work in Britain. But despite its renown, it still holds many secrets. Not least of which, why a place supposedly built to house just 12 monks and a prior is quite so big? And given that the principal pursuit of those monks was study, scribing and worship, why was it built like a mighty fortress?

To get to the bottom of all that, we need to know something about its benefactor; Maurice De Londres and what he is likely to have had in mind when he commissioned it.

Even by the standards of other Norman, warrior knights, De Londres was a brute. He had a fearsome reputation which was dramatically encapsulated when he decapitated Princess Gwenllyan of Dehaubarth in Kidwelly. He was certainly not known to be a godly man.

He had always intended to build a mighty castle in Ewenny to provide the local Norman lordships with what scholars have ever since described as a “quadrilateral defence” of the main crossing points of the Ewenny and Ogmore rivers. With Coity and Newcastle to the North, and Ogmore and Ewenny to South. But if that was his plan, what persuaded him to instead build what we still describe today as “a priory”, a place fundamentally intended to be “a house of God”?

There is a commonly held belief that at some point, De Londres built the priory as a way of atoning for his former sins (just as Richard De Glanville did when he financed the Abbey in Neath). Call me cynical, but I am not altogether convinced by that theory. I believe that instead, his true motivation was a decree issued by Pope Honorius II himself, dated 12th April 1128 (six years after work had begun on the site). It threatened De Londres that if he did not “restore and make good whatever lands, tithes, obligations, or other valuables he had appropriated from his mother church…” – that he would be ex-communicated. In other words, De Londres had clearly plundered a pre-existing monastic building on the site and had already begun building a castle on it. But the Pope wanted it back.

There are records of this older site. The 12th Century “Book of Llandaff” lists a Celtic cell dedicated to the early Welsh saint, St Eguenni in the area. The fact that the pope had threatened De Londres with ex-communication, a fate of social disgrace from which a nobleman could not recover meant he had made De Londres an offer he could not refuse.

To say that De Londres was reluctant would be an understatement, so he built what was fundamentally the fortress he was going to build anyway but to appease the Vatican, annexed it to a priory cell and turned over its custody to the Benedictine order of St Peter at Gloucester Abbey. Hence its size. It needed to be big enough to house 13 monks to keep the pope happy, plus a detachment of men-at-arms to help De Londres subdue the troublesome Welsh.

It seems that beyond the Vatican, there was little pretence of what he had done. King Edward I stationed troops at the priory to assist with his invasion of West Wales, so he clearly knew of its intended purpose. And nearly 200 years later, when Owain Glyndwr laid siege to Coity Castle in 1405, King Henry IV stayed and launched his counterattack from Ewenny Priory. So even he knew that this priory was a castle really and only a priory in name. There is evidence to suggest that the King was also compliant in the deception as he went on to nominate Hugh Morton, the Prior at Ewenny at the time, to be appointed the next Abbot of St Peter’s Gloucester. A huge promotion for him and doubtless a reward for maintaining the pretence of what Ewenny Priory really was if the Pope ever asked.

Graham Loveluck-Edwards (published in the Glamorgan Star newspaper 18 November 2021)

If you are interested in the history of the Bridgend and Vale of Glamorgan area, why not give my book a go? It’s all about the history, the many legends and the abundance of folklore of the area and is called ‘Legends and folklore of Bridgend and the Vale’. Available from all good independent book shops, Amazon, or direct from the author at http//

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From alms to ales – A potted history of the oldest pub in Swansea.

Thanks to the combined efforts of the Victorians and the Luftwaffe, most of the old inns in Swansea city centre are gone for ever, but the Cross Keys (pictured above in 1880, 1926 and now) has survived them all and has antiquity by the spade full.

The name is a nod to the legend that St Peter held the keys to the gates of heaven. A clue to its godly past. The building it self was built by Bishop Henry de Gower (Bishop of St Davids) in 1330, not as an inn but an almshouse and early hospital annexed to a monastic cell. The charter of 1332 says that it was established for ‘the support of other poor chaplains and laymen deprived of bodily health.’ It was not only there to look after people taken ill or injured, but to support the destitute, poor and starving.

The institution must have had some significant patronage, as it survived right up until the Reformation and the dissolution of monasteries in 1536. It was then confiscated by the Crown and sold to Sir George Herbert, who was a very powerful and rather unscrupulous man, descended from a family of ‘Marcher’ lords. And to make matters worse, he was from Cardiff.

He was a man of very different moral fibre to Henry de Gower, and as there was no money to be made from feeding the starving or tending to the sick, he closed down the hospital and almshouse and broke the estate up, turning the old buildings into shops and an inn. Later all the other buildings were demolished, but the inn thrived.

By the beginning of the twentieth century the pub was very dilapidated and run down. and its origins had largely been forgotten, so it was a very brave undertaking to get it all restored and renovated. But when the rendering got stripped away, to the delight of the owner who oversaw the work, a lot of the original features, like the stone arched windows and medieval timber, were re-discovered. The two bays on the St Mary Street side were added onto the original building in the seventeenth century, and it is believed that when they were built, they contained two narrow shops separated by a passageway which ran to the back of the building.

Inside there are some lovely features. The massive ceiling beams tell a story of all the walls and partitions that have been added and taken away in the last 700 years, and there are fragments of medieval roof trusses on either side of a small seating area in the lounge.

The layout of the pub today suggests that this part of the original building had two uses. The old hall would have been located on the first floor, which would have been a cleric’s living accommodation. Meanwhile below would have been part of the old hospital, possibly a ward.

This exert is taken from a new book, out now, called “Historic Pubs of Wales” by welsh author and historian; Graham Loveluck-Edwards and published by Candy Jar Books. It charts the history, folklore and incredible stories that are tied up in 89 historic pubs from all over Wales. Everything from royal patronage and assassination attempts to ghosts and priest holes. Even one which claims to have an elephant buried under the beer garden. It is available from good, independent book shops, WH Smiths, Amazon or direct from the author at a discounted price at

A crowd of regulars outside the Cross Keys in Swansea in 1880. Historic pubs of Wales.

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When Monmouth’s oldest pub held secret masses in the attic

The Tudor arched doorway at the Robin Hood Inn, Monmouth

The Robin Hood Inn is claimed to be the oldest pub in Monmouth, and the Tudor arched doorway built in dressed stone suggests that this claim is not without merit. When I investigate the history of old pubs like this one I am always amazed by two things which keep cropping up. The first is that there is an intrinsic link in Wales between pubs and the church. The second being that pubs have always been prominent in the country’s storied history of rebels, outlaws and underdogs. Never was this truer than in the case of the Robin Hood.

In the sixteenth century, Britain was wrestling with the ramifications of the Reformation. Being a practising Catholic became a very risky business. It was viewed as seditious, and followers were persecuted.

Despite the great personal risk, the landlord of the Robin Hood allowed the inn’s upper room to be used as a safe space for Monmouth’s Catholic community. There is even evidence that it was used to celebrate Mass in secret and remnants of religious paintings where discovered when an area was replastered in the latter part of the 20th century.

Had he been caught he would have instantly been shut down and imprisoned, possibly executed. However, there is no doubt that these secret  gatherings continued for more than 100 years, because by 1778 religious tensions had cooled sufficiently for parliament to pass the Catholic Relief Act, in which places of Catholic worship were given licenses to exist. It took the council in Monmouth fifteen years to act on this reform, but when they finally did, they granted the Robin Hood Inn a license to act as a ‘Publick Catholic Chapel’.

It was a condition of the license that the building could not be made to look like a place of worship and that worshippers could not enter from the main street. Once the restriction on Catholic worship was lifted, a lot more people felt comfortable turning up to Mass, and the upper room of the Robin Hood Inn quickly became inadequate to support their numbers. Instead, the landlord of the Robin Hood at the time, a man called Michael Watkins, financed the building of a purpose-built chapel.

This exert is taken from a new book called “Historic Pubs of Wales” by Welsh author and historian; Graham Loveluck-Edwards and published by Candy Jar Books (Cardiff) LTD.

The book charts the amazing haul of history tied up in 89 historic pubs from right across Wales including 21 from the Monmouthshire/Gwent area. It is available in WH Smith and other good book shops and on Amazon or at a £2 discount on the author’s own website at

Historic Pubs of Wales by Graham Loveluck-Edwards
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“Historic Pubs of Wales” by Graham Loveluck-Edwards reviewed by the South Wales Argus.

An AUTHOR has published a book telling the historic tales of 89 pubs across Wales – including Newport, Caerphilly, and several cross Gwent. 

Graham Loveluck-Edwards has announced the release of his new book ‘Historic Pubs of Wales’ where he relishes in some of the more colourful myths, legends and stories from Wales’ ancient past and oldest pubs. 

Included in the book is an entire chapter dedicated to Gwent, titled ‘Monmouthshire and the ancient kingdom of Gwent’ which includes pubs such as The Hanbury Arms in Caerleon, The Murenger House in Newport, The Robin Hood Inn in Monmouth and several more.

“For example, the pub which claims to have an elephant buried under its beer garden, or the pub where funeral parties take a short cut to the cemetery through the bar to keep an ancient right of access alive, or the pub that claims to have invented pancake day and so many more. 

“In all, I’ve compiled over 100 incredible stories based around 89 amazing old pubs – is there any truth to them?

“Some for sure, but this book captures them and puts them in the context of history so you can be the judge.”

The book also contains a travel guide so readers can go on a tour around Wales and visit all the pubs in the book.

You can find out more at  

“As you can imagine for such a book the research was relentless and thorough, and a lot of fun,” he added.

“Pubs have had such a tough time in the last year with us going in and out of lockdowns and with the introduction of social distancing measures. 

“Sixteenth century inns are usually a warren of tiny rooms so being two metres apart has made opening and trading near impossible for many. 

“So, a book which celebrates all that is great about our old pubs, which tells people their history, where to find them and what to expect when you get there has been welcomed by all landlords.”

Link to live item:

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“Historic Pubs of Wales” by Graham Loveluck-Edwards reviewed in the Denbigh Free Press

THE medieval town of Ruthin has a turbulent past. But did you know that there are phrases in common use in the English language today that originate from one of the town’s gorier traditions?

As much as the thought of a public hanging might turn our stomachs today, back in the 18th century they were considered good, clean, family entertainment.

In Ruthin, the gallows stood in the medieval market square at the top of the hill that leads up from the town’s old gaol. The route between the two places back then is as short and direct as it is today.

However, Ruthin continued a tradition that was echoed in towns across the country. The condemned man was never taken directly. Instead, it was customary for the condemned man to be placed in a cart or wagon and be taken on a zig zag route throughout the entire town, stopping at every pub in the town on his way.

The journey would begin at the gaol and the condemned man would travel in this wagon with an entourage of guards, a chaplain, and the executioner himself. Every time they stopped, the condemned man and his guards would dismount, go in the pub, have a few drinks, and then stumble back out to move on to the next one.

The only people who could not join them were the two men who still had a job to do, namely the executioner and the chaplain. So, if you ever offer to buy someone a drink and they reply, ‘Not for me, thanks. I’m on the wagon,’ now you know the tradition they’re referencing. It’s these two abstaining souls who could not join in the revelry.

And that is not the full extent of language that is derived from this tradition.

On its journey, the wagon transporting the condemned man used to start and stop so often that the lunging motion of the horses’ jerking the wheels into rotation earned the nickname ‘the lurch’. So, when the executioner and chaplain remained on the cart, while everyone else went into a pub, they were ‘left in the lurch’.

There are even suggestions that the term ‘pub crawl’ refers to the pace of the cart moving along the streets. Meanwhile, having ‘one for the road’ is another, self-explanatory reference.

This and many other fascinating revelations like it come from a new book which has just been published by Candy Jar Books, called “Historic Pubs of Wales” by Welsh author and historian; Graham Loveluck-Edwards.

Graham said: “When it comes to history, the humble pub has always punched well above its weight. Some of these wonderful old buildings have been at the heart of some very significant history as well as colourful events and imaginative folklore down the centuries. Yet when it comes to reading about local history, as much as there is no end of books about castles, stately homes, churches, and cathedrals, there is precious little about our pubs. They are so often overlooked. And that is something I am keen to put right”

“I have always loved old pubs. I am one of those people who cannot pass by an old and decrepit-looking pub without popping in for a pint and asking the landlord, ‘What’s the story behind this place then?’ This book is the fruit of a good 30 years of such conversations.”

The book charts the amazing haul of history tied up in 89 historic pubs from right across Wales. Capturing the history, the stories, and the folklore. Nineteen of the 89 are pubs are in North Wales and they include the Morning Star in Ruthin (at the heart of the tradition we were just looking at), the Ty Mawr in Gwyddelwern, The King’s Head in Llanrhaeadr and the Guildhall in Denbigh.

Historic Pubs of Wales is available from the author’s website just click here.

Link to live item:

The Denbigh Free Press

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New book full of parables and pints.

Today in Rhoose, local author: Graham Loveluck-Edwards announced the release of his new book “Historic Pubs of Wales” to follow up the regional best seller Legends and Folklore of Bridgend and the Vale which came out last year. “I was overwhelmed by the demand for my first book” said Graham. “Over 2,000 copies sold in the first three months of release alone and I was inundated with messages asking when the next one would be out”.

Graham is best known for writing historical non-fiction but with a tongue-in-cheek view of some of the more ridiculous aspects of it. As such he has earned himself the nickname of “the Bill Bryson of history books”. He relishes in some of the more colourful myths, legends and stories from Wales’ ancient past, and this latest book, about Wales’ oldest pubs, is crammed with fascinating, historically based stories and facts.

“I have always loved old pubs, and we are blessed to have so many belters here in Wales. There are many amazing stories associated with them. For example, the pub which claims to have an elephant buried under its beer garden, or the pub where funeral parties take a short cut to the cemetery through the bar to keep an ancient right of access alive, or the pub that claims to have invented pancake day and so many more. In all, I’ve compiled over 100 incredible stories based around 89 amazing old pubs. Is there any truth in them? Some for sure, but this book captures them and puts them in the context of history so you can be the judge. And what about the age-old question of which is the oldest pub in Wales? We have eight different establishments all claiming it’s them, so which one is right?”

The book also contains a travel guide so readers can go on a tour around Wales and visit all the pubs in the book. They will then be able to check out all the secret passage ways, smugglers’ hides, priest holes and ghosts for themselves.

As you can imagine for such a book, the research was relentless and thorough… And a lot of fun.

Pubs have had such a tough time in the last year with us going in and out of lock downs and with the introduction of social distancing measures. Sixteenth century inns are usually a warren of tiny rooms so being two metres apart has made opening and trading near impossible for many. So, a book which celebrates all that is great about our old pubs, which tells people their history, where to find them and what to expect when you get there (with full colour pictures) has been welcomed by all the landlords Graham spoke to when doing his research.

Historic Pubs of Wales is published by Candy Jar Books (Cardiff) on ISBN 978-1-913637-75 and is available to buy direct from the author today on his website for the discounted price of £12 plus P&P. Just type into your web browser. It will also be available on Amazon and in most good, independent bookshops from Friday 17th September 2021 but at the cover price of £15 (plus P&P if bought online).

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Hanging upon your every word

As some of you may know, I am currently working on my third book called “Why Santa might kill you”. It’s about all the things we accept in modern day life as innocent enough but which in reality have pretty dark origins. You only have to scratch the surface of innocuous characters like Santa Clause or some of our best loved fairy tales and nursery rhymes to discover that under the modern day veneer are some pretty hair raising earlier incarnations.

One of the chapters deals with all those expressions we use in common, every day language which are derived from unsavoury episodes in our history. To give you a taster I thought I would share with you some colloquialisms we still use that have their origins in the practise of public hangings. Gallows humour is one thing. This is gallows linguistics.

This particular segment follows a contemporary account of what happened at a public hanging in London in 1726 by a visiting French cleric called De Saussure.

It was a tradition, especially in York and London that the wagon (carrying the condemned man, the executioner and his entourage) would stop at every pub between the jail and the gallows and this has given us a host of language, mainly associated with excess consumption of alcohol. 

Whenever the wagon pulled up outside another pub, the condemned man and all the guards would dismount, go in the pub, have a few drinks and then stumble back out to move on to the next one. The only people who could not join them in this binge drinking extravaganza were the two men who had to stay sober as they still had a job to do. Namely; the executioner and the chaplain. So, if ever you offer to buy someone a drink and they reply “not for me thanks. I’m on the wagon” they are referencing exactly that phenomenon. Staying “on the wagon” meant that you were unable to join in the drinking on the way to the gallows. Because you were the executioner or chaplain. 

There are other references to these two abstaining souls elsewhere in commonly used expressions. Because the wagon transporting the condemned man used to start and stop so often on its journey, it earned itself the nickname “the lurch”. Describing the lunging motion experienced by all on board when the horses initially pull the wheels into motion, and again when the breaks were applied. So, when the executioner and chaplain stayed on the cart, while everyone else went into a pub, they were “left in the lurch”, an expression often used even today to describe someone who has been abandoned or excluded.

There are other expressions associated with excess alcohol consumption derived from this wagon ride. When recovered alcoholics revert back to drink they are sometimes refered to as having “fallen off the wagon” and there are even suggestions that the term “pub crawl” refers to the pace of the cart moving along the west-ward road out of London to Tyeburne. Conversely, having “one for the road” is also a direct reference to having a drink in a pub before being carted down the road to the gallows.

Du Saussure also refers to the fact that friends and relatives would grab hold of the condemned man’s legs and hang from them with all their weight to make the rope pull tighter and help them to die quicker. So, they did not suffer so much. Sometimes however, the condemned man might not have friends and family in the place where he is due to be executed. If that was the case but he had access to money, he could pay a guard at the prison to do that job instead. So, if you’ve ever wondered why a celebrity surrounded by freeloaders might describe his entourage as “hangers-on” – that’s where the expression comes from. Its people who were not your true friends, who you could pay to hang from your legs to help you die quicker in an execution.

You might get unlucky trying to find a “hanger on” and choose an unscrupulous guard who would take your money and agree he will hang on to your legs, but in reality, all he will do is go through the motions. That means that rather than hang on to you, he will just “pull your leg”. And that is where we get the expression of “he’s just pulling your leg” meaning “he’s just messing around – he’s not being serious”.

Du Saussure also mentions that the condemned man would be wearing a black covering over his head. This was partly to spare the crowds the sight of his contorted face when his eyes started to pop out of their sockets and partly to save the condemned man himself seeing what was coming. It meant that when the cart pulled the floor away from under their feet, that they were taking “a leap into the dark”. Again, a common expression used for venturing into the unknown.

It is true that any property of the condemned man (such as his clothes) if not claimed by a relative, became the property of the hangman. It was one of many ways the executioner got to cash in on his grizzly profession. Another was to take advantage of the regulation that dictated that a hang man’s rope could only be used once, to guarantee it had the integrity not to break during the execution. This meant that after an execution the hang man could retrieve the ropes he had used and sell them on the market. Given that he had not had to outlay any money, it meant that any money he made on the sale was pure profit. Leading to the expression “money for old rope” used to describe any scheme to make easy money or disproportionately high profit margins.

I am sure at some point or another you have heard a man who is well blessed in the trouser department, be referred to by an onlooker as “well-hung”? Apparently, the act of strangulation has the incongruous side effect of making the male organ engorged. Something that was very apparent to crowds who turned out to watch public hangings. It led to us getting this quaint compliment.

You may also have heard someone describe a project which failed or a plan that never came to anything described as having “gone west”. This refers to the route taken from the jails of London to Tyeburn, which was located on the other side of the city’s west gate.

Of course, executions did not always run as smoothly as the one De Saussure witnessed. There were times when they went spectacularly wrong. One of the most famous of all time was the execution of a man called Goodale. When he was hung, due to a freak set of circumstances that were not obvious at the time, when the rope tightened around his neck it jerked his head clean off his shoulders. Like a champagne cork popping from the bottle, sending showers of blood and gore spouting all over the gathered crowd. This turned so many stomachs that questions were asked in parliament and a full enquiry was launched by hangmen and other government officials concerned. The whole nation was transfixed with the story as it appeared in newspapers everywhere for a number of weeks. The incident was nicknamed “The Goodale Mess” – undoubtedly the origins of the expression “God awful mess” used to this day to describe any seen of destructive carnage.

So what do you think? It is intended to entertain as much as educate but this is pretty much the level of the whole book. Give me your thoughts:

Cover mock up of “Why Santa might kill you” by Graham Loveluck-Edwards