Seeking Out ‘The Man Who Never Was’

by Lester Hillman, Academic Adviser Camden Tour Guides Association

The Somers Town Community Centre hosted a talk about a famous individual who passed through Somers Town but who never actually lived and nobody knew!  Tuesday 24th April 2018 saw a 75th anniversary of a World War II deception plan. It was put into operation locally and ultimately credited with saving many lives in the allied invasion of Sicily four months later in July 1943.

The talk by Lester Hillman, author of ‘A Walk in the Past – A churchyard tour of St Pancras Old Church’ outlined the story of Royal Marine officer and how the Coroner’s Court, Coroner Bentley Purchase, St Pancras Hospital and local undertakers Leverton & Son played a part in creating a fictitious courier (Bill Martin) who washed up on a Spanish shore with papers pointing to landings other than Sicily. To help with the deception he even carried treasured personal papers from a fictitious girlfriend who lived at the Spaniards.

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Goon but not forgotten

Neighbourhood links, colourful personalities and surprises continued in the decades following, inspiring articles, a film, books and even comedy programmes. Three Goons Shows were broadcast in the 1950s with local links to programme producer Charles Chilton MBE and script writer Larry Stephens who assisted Spike Milligan. A plaque at KoKo’s Mornington Crescent commemorates the last Goon Show, recorded 30th April 1972. The week leading up to the Somers Town ‘We Are Ageing Better’ event had seen commemorations of the centenary of Spike Milligan’s birth 16th April 1918.

Marking a 75th anniversary

Following the talk, and fortified with delicious refreshments, a short guided walk to St Pancras Gardens offered the chance to see where the drama played out exactly 75 years ago.

  St Pancras Gardens with the Coroner’s Court in the background   Photos courtesy Louis Berk

St Pancras Gardens with the Coroner’s Court in the background Photos courtesy Louis Berk

Coming Soon

‘We Are Ageing Better’ has two events coming up soon exploring a local landmark and extreme weather.

7th August 2018 Living Centre 10.00am – St Pancras Station

This year is the 150th anniversary of the building of St Pancras Station. There will be a talk over coffee with the chance to join a short guided walk to the Station. It was a colourful time locally. Just two days before the Station opening St Matthew’s Church Oakley Square was constituted as a Parish. Benjamin Disraeli, who was born down the road in Holborn, was Prime Minister in his first administration.

21st August 2018 Living Centre 10.00am – Extreme Weather in and around Somers Town

Informal discussion over coffee about extreme weather. As St Swithin-tide 2018 draws to a close, come along and over coffee share any of your memories of extreme weather. Do you remember the Great Smog of 1952, the local deluge of 1975, Somers Town in the big freezes of 1962 and 1987 or even 2018? Two centuries ago weather events globally are believed to have influenced local author Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and there are records much further back. St Pancras is an ‘ice saint’ and the ancient local church took a battering in 1362 when devastating storms swept England.  

To get involved contact We Are Ageing Better Project Coordinator Jess Grieve by telephone 07919 598 375 or email jess@weareageingbetter.org.uk.