“Meet me at your bank – and bring your cheque-book”

Drummonds Bank, London
Drummonds Bank, London

On a trip to London last week I made a detour via Trafalgar Square to take these photos of Drummonds Bank.  Why?

Because the bank was already in existence on this site when Charles Deville Wells was active in London during the 1890s.  Wells, known as a “gambler and fraudster extraordinaire”, persuaded one of his victims – the Honourable William Trench – to back him in a phony patent scheme.  After handing over the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of pounds, Trench started to have doubts about the project, and when Wells asked for a further advance of money the young aristocrat hesitated.

Finally they agreed to meet at Drummonds Bank, where many wealthy people, including members of the royal family had accounts.  This was also where Trench banked.

Trench was persuaded to hand over a further large sum of money, but demanded that Wells provide security.  Wells offered two of his steam yachts and a smaller vessel as collateral, claiming that they were worth a substantial sum.

Predictably, Trench later discovered that the two yachts were virtually worthless, while the smaller craft had disappeared.  In company with Wells’ many other victims, Trench became resigned to the fact that he would never regain any of the money he had put into the scheme.  Twenty years later, however, in an extraordinary twist of fate, the situation changed dramatically …

A gleaming brass plate outside Drummonds Bank, Trafalgar Square. This almost turned out to be a selfie, but I thought I'd spare you that!
A gleaming brass plate outside Drummonds Bank, Trafalgar Square. This almost turned out to be a selfie, but I thought I’d spare you that!

 

Heinz Sielmann – Wildlife Films

Zoologist and film-maker Heinz Sielmann (1917 – 2006) was the German equivalent of Britain’s David Attenborough.  His extraordinary life and accomplishments are celebrated in a documentary on the NDR TV network this evening at 19.15 British time (20.15 German time).

Sielmann served in the German army during WW2 and was taken prisoner by British forces immediately after the German surrender in May 1945.  He spent a short time in a POW camp in Egypt before being brought to the UK.

As author of Hitler’s Last Army, I was invited to take part in the programme to speak about Britain’s treatment of German prisoners of war in the immediate post-war years.  Evidently the British considered him to be a reliable person who could be trusted to play a role in a new, democratic Germany.  He was repatriated relatively early to a country which at the time was still under Allied control, and this probably gave him a career advantage which served him well a few years later in the new West Germany.

A Family Connection

lee radziwill
Lee Radziwill, younger sister of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

I’m currently enjoying A Tale of Two Sisters on the Yesterday Channel.

To quote the listing,

This brand new and exclusive three-part series delves into the relationships of six prominent women from world history – sisters by birth, all enjoying very different relationships with each other. The series explores the fascinating but sometimes fractious lives of aviation hero Amelia Earhart, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, and the infamous Mitford sisters.

I’m especially keen to watch the third instalment when I’ll be able to learn more about Lee Radziwill, sister of the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.  She was married in 1959 to Stanislaw Radziwill (1914 – 1976).

My interest in the Radziwills stems from the fact that Louise Blanc – daughter of François Blanc, the former owner of the Casino at Monte Carlo – married Prince Constantin Radziwill in 1876.

It seemed evident that Stanislaw and Constantin were from the same family, but what exactly was the connection?  I set myself the task of finding the link.  Using a number of sources online, including Wikipedia, geni.com, and thepeerage.com, I finally had to reach back as far as the 16th century to discover that both men were indeed descended from a common ancestor – Aleksander Ludwik Radziwill (1594 – 1654).

 

Aleksander Ludwik Radziwill

The Man who Broke the Bank – new audio edition

The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo - Audiobook (8 audio CDs or 2 MP3 CDs)
The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo – Audiobook (8 audio CDs or 2 MP3 CDs, or download)

A new audio edition of The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo has been released by Oakhill Publishing Ltd.  This is a complete and unabridged version of the book, with a playing time of around 9 hours 40 minutes.  The reader is award-winning actor Jonathan Keeble, who has recorded over 400 audio books and is the voice of the disreputable Owen in long-running radio drama, The Archers.

The audio book is available as a download; as 2 MP3 CDs; or as 8 audio CDs.  For further info, please click here: http://www.oakhillpublishing.com/bookinfo.asp?id=1816

The Beatles Tune In

I’ve just finished what I can safely say is one of the most enjoyable and informative books I’ve ever read.  It’s not a particularly new work – in fact it came out in 2013.  I cannot recall another book which compares with its fantastic wealth of information and detail.  The Beatles: All These Years: Vol 1 – Tune In is a long book at about 800 pages; and Volume 1 only takes us as far as the beginning of 1963.  The rest of the story will occupy two further volumes and is intended to complete the entire story of the Beatles.

Fo me simply to rave about the vast amount of info between this book’s covers is to do the work an injustice .  The writer, Beatles expert Mark Lewisohn, has accurately captured the spirit of the era (the 1950s and early 60s – from when John and Paul first met to the earliest chart successes of The Beatles as a group).  Reading Lewisohn’s work not only took me back to an era I just about remember – he also evokes the unique “feel” of post-war Liverpool, the stamping-ground of John, Paul, George and Ringo.

The author scotches several myths: for example, how Parlophone’s George Martin came to record the Beatles when every other label had turned them down; and the truth behind the sacking of Pete Best.  At last, these stories begin to make sense, thanks to the writer’s extensive investigations – (which I imagine must have taken years).

https://www.amazon.co.uk/d/Books/Beatles-All-These-Years-Tune/0316729604

 

A Mine of Information

I’ve just discovered the website of Stephen Liddell, who is – like me – a writer with a strong interest in history.  He also organises guided tours in many parts of the country under the banner of ‘Ye Olde England Tours’.  His URL is: www.stephenliddell.co.uk and I promise you will find many topics of interest there.

His blog is a veritable mine of information, with articles on the mystery of King Arthur’s birthplace; the Battle of the Somme; the Knights Templar; not to mention a welcome review of my book, The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo!

Fake News or Fact?

The "Salle Mauresque" (Moorish Room, so-called because of the style of decoration used). In this room Charles Deville Wells broke the bank several times.
One of the gaming halls at the Monte Carlo casino.

On 18 August 1913, players at the casino in Monte Carlo were astonished when the ball landed on black no fewer than 26 times in succession.  Believing that this run could not last, many punters had convinced themselves that red must come up next.  They lost their money.  Others reasoned that as black had been lucky so many times it would continue that way.  They, too, lost when the series finally ended.

The story appears on numerous websites, and for many years it has been included in books on gambling and the laws of chance.  But is it true?

I was determined to find out more, and to discover who had been the winners and losers.  So I searched a number of sources including the Times Digital Archive, The British Newspaper Archive and Google Books.  Surprisingly, I was unable to find any contemporary account of this event from August 1913 – or indeed any mention of it whatsoever until many years after.  Having trawled through numerous articles and books I located what I believe to be the first published account of it – in a book published as late as 1959.  This work is entitled ‘How to Take a Chance – a light hearted introduction to the laws of probability’ and was written by Darrell Huff.  (Note the phrase ‘light hearted’).  The author of this volume presumably invented the story just by way of example and now it appears in reputable publications as though it were an established fact.

But if it had really taken place, what would have happened if a gambler had bet on black starting with a stake of £1, and then left their winnings to accumulate on the same colour for 26 spins of the wheel?  A quick calculation shows that in theory they would have finished up with over £50 million!  This would have been something of an inconvenience to the casino, to put it mildly.  To prevent any player from winning sums of this magnitude, the casino’s rules at that time limited the maximum stake to about £250, a measure which would have reduced the total win to about £9,000 – still a good return on an initial investment of £1 !

By the way – if you know of any source for this tale which pre-dates Darrell Huff’s 1959 book, I’d be delighted to hear all about it.  info@robin-quinn.co.uk

 

Maps as research tools

In 1910 the British government decided to carry out a detailed survey and valuation of every building in the country.  It was an enormous task and involved hundreds of surveyors up and down the land.  The records of the survey can be inspected at the National Archives, which means that they are available to researchers, historians and anyone wishing to find out more about the places where their ancestors lived more than a century ago.

I used these records to find out more about the large business premises occupied by Charles Wells (the man who broke the bank)  at 152-156 Great Portland Street, London.

Each building or plot of land was assigned a reference number, and these were marked on a large-scale map. It is necessary to find the district and reference number before locating the detailed survey of any individual property.
Each building or plot of land was assigned a reference number, and these were marked on a large-scale map. It is necessary to consult these maps first in order to find the district and reference number, before locating the detailed survey of any individual property.  (Crown copyright).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The individual entries contain written information about occupiers of buildings; value; rent paid and many other details of interest to historians. In some cases, such as this one, the surveyor has included a sketch plan of the building. Since it was possible to establish that the building was largely unchanged since Wells occupied it twenty years earlier, this helped me to put together a written description of the business premises and living accommodation he occupied in the 1890s.
The individual entries contain written information about occupiers of buildings; value; rent paid and many other details of interest to historians. In some cases, such as this one, the surveyor has included a sketch plan of the building. Since it was possible to establish that the building was largely unchanged since Wells had occupied it twenty years earlier, in the 1890s, this helped me to put together an accurate written description of the business premises and living accommodation when he was based there. (Crown copyright)

 

The building in which Charles Wells had his offices and workshops had been converted into a car showroom by about 1912. It was subsequently demolished. Yalding house (pictured) stands on the site of Wells' HQ and adjoining properties. (McAleer & Rushe)
The building in which Charles Wells had his offices and workshops had been converted into a car showroom by about 1912. It was subsequently demolished. Yalding house (pictured) was built on the site of Wells’ HQ and adjoining properties. For many years Yalding House was occupied by the BBC, and the studios of Radio 1 were there between 1996 and 2012.  (McAleer & Rushe)

 

The Man who Broke the Bank lived here

This property in High Road, Broxbourne, was the Wells family home when Charles Deville Wells was born in 1841. As most children were born at home this was almost certainly his birthplace.
This property in High Road, Broxbourne, was the Wells family home when Charles Deville Wells was born in 1841. As most children were born at home in that era, this house was almost certainly his birthplace.

Charles Deville Wells, later to achieve fame as ‘the Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo’, was born in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire in 1841.  He was baptised by the Rev. Francis Thackeray, the uncle of author William Makepeace Thackeray.  Wells’ own father was also a literary man – the poet Charles Jeremiah Wellls.

Photographic Memories

More from the photo album …  These pictures were taken on my 2014 visit to France as part of the background research for The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo.  Bank-breaker Charles Wells lived in Marseille from about 1850 (when he was 9 or 10) until around 1879.

The La Joliette docks, Marseille, where Charles Deville Wells worked as an engineer in the 1860s-70s ... before breaking the bank at Monte Carlo.
The La Joliette docks, Marseille, where Charles Deville Wells worked as an engineer in the 1860s-70s … before he broke the bank at Monte Carlo.
The docks at Marseille - a present-day view
The docks at Marseille – a present-day view

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