Friday 20 December 2013

A little Christmas story from The Borough Boys series....

‘Twas the night before Christmas...’

Copyright (c) Phil Simpkin December 20th 2013.

Beddows and Shepherd sought shelter in an alleyway threading between Gallowtree Gate and The Market Place, as the snow increased in intensity. Christmas Eve, December 24th 1851 - and yet another Night duty was under way.

The Town was busy, as the traders from the bustling markets earlier in the day had delayed breaking down their stalls, and the area between the Market Place and the South West quarter of the Borough was only just starting to empty. Every penny counted and every vegetable or bit of produce left unsold was the makings of a bad day for the hardy traders, so every opportunity was being taken to empty their stalls. The poorest, scrawniest, rottenest remnants were being picked over by a horde of late comers, all looking for some Christmas treat.

Assorted animals including Horses, Mules and Oxen pulled what remained of their depleted loads back to their yards or farms outside the old walls of The Borough, or further out into the County, and the noises and smells were now being concealed by the heaviest fall of snow that Beddows could remember for all of his years.

Tracks rapidly vanished under the white deluge, and both Beddows and Shepherd gave the appearance of rather well designed Snowmen, their blue uniforms totally concealed beneath the thick white blanket that had coated them from head to toe.

‘Time for a puff on the old pipe,’ said Beddows, leaning back into the recess part way along the alleyway, brushing as much snow as he could from his cape, and reaching beneath into his tunic pocket for his pouch, pipe and matches. ‘Nobody will notice us up here.’

‘I thought you had given that up?’ replied Shepherd, wiping snow off his sideburns and fashionable moustache - in doing so, managing to dislodge the snow off the brim and body of his stovepipe hat, which fell and replaced that which he had just brushed off.

‘No,’ said Beddows, ‘a pipe makes a man, I think. My missus always says a pipe smoker is clearly a more thinking and considered man, and that it is an added attribute to a natural investigator, such as I am.’

‘A natural investigator?’ chuckled Shepherd. ‘Are you suggesting that detectives are born then, and not educated to be detectives?’

‘I was born to be a detective, young Shepherd. What with my pronounced nose and its smell for villains, and my desire to see them receive the maximum justice the courts permit, how else could it be construed?’

‘I wouldn’t consider that I was born to be a detective, Beddows, but you have taught me so much that I now feel more qualified to be so, so I have learned it, not been born with it.’

‘But how do you know that it wasn’t already there – lying dormant – waiting for you and I to become the Borough’s top crime fighters?’ 

‘One day, Beddows, someone will probably publish something spectacular about how policemen are born policemen, but I don’t think the size of your nose or your desire to see someone hung is a sign of birth right. You just don’t like villains, although you do have a remarkable sense of smell for detecting them,’ replied Shepherd, shaking his head.

‘I smell a lot of them about tonight, Shepherd. My eyes detect the ones who scurry after our well rewarded traders, a few yards behind them, just waiting for a chance to pounce and strip them of their takings. Once I’ve had a puff, we’ll lurk about in the shadows a while, and I predict we’ll likely feel a collar fairly quickly. Give someone our own special version of a Merry Christmas.’

‘You’re all heart, Beddows. It’s Christmas Eve, and we should be full of joy and Christian spirit.’

‘The only spirit the buggers around here are full of tonight is Mother’s ruin or other such mind numbing grog, and they will be full of violence or mischief, to be sure. They won’t want to come quietly, tonight.’

‘Even the ones who know us? Who would want to tangle with Leicester’s finest - Beddows and Shepherd? Now if I was born to be anything, then that is where my pugilist comes in. I love to box - It’s very manly, and good for the heart and soul.’

‘Well, just keep your fists clenched and your feet on firm ground, which will not be easy with all this snow. I might need to call upon your natural skills, given the faces I have seen so far. Some of our hardest skulls are lurking, and may be our most valued prize of the night.’

At that precise moment, the growl of a Police rattle and shouting could be made out, somewhere towards the conduit in Cheapside. Both men knew this was a call for assistance, and any thoughts of a puff on Beddows’ pipe were rapidly quelled as the two men made their way into the open space of the Market Place and on towards Cheapside.

Stood at the foot of the Conduit was Constable Jeremiah Cook, an elder of the Borough Constables, and a nervous man by nature. Too many beatings had left him without any appetite for conflict or either brave or foolhardy deed. He was hastily waving his wooden rattle, high above his head, and shouting up towards somebody or something on the rooftops of premises between The Market Place and Gallowtree Gate. A crowd of passersby and traders was stood around him looking upwards, following the pale beam from his lamp, barely illuminating anything other than the thick, falling snow.

‘What is the matter, man?’ shouted the approaching Beddows.

‘Up on the roof - I heard someone – and bells...’ spluttered Cook.

‘Where have you been drinking tonight?’ Beddows quipped. ‘Too much spirit, I’m sure.’ 

Cook had a reputation amongst his colleagues of a man eager to imbibe, anything and anywhere, providing it was offered as a gratuity. 

‘I’ve not had a drop, Beddows, honest. I heard bells, and when I looked up, just as the snow started, I saw a man up on the roof.’

‘Perhaps it’s Old Father Christmas, come early?’ laughed Beddows.

‘And the Ass and cart parked over there by the Conduit is really his sledge and reindeer? Do you think I’m that stupid?’ asked Cook.

‘I saw him, too,’ called out an old man, stood in a doorway to the side of the group. Out stepped Matthias Issitt, the disgraced schoolmaster.   

‘Good evening, Sergeant Beddows and Constable Shepherd. Compliments of the season to you both.’

‘And prey, what did you see Mr Issitt?’ asked Shepherd.

‘Just like in the carol, Mr Shepherd, from up on the rooftop there came such a clatter, which caused me to look upwards, and there he was, tiptoeing along the rooftop towards the large chimney above The National Provident Bank.’

‘Who? Old Father Christmas or one of his reindeers, Matthias?’ said Beddows.

‘Sergeant Beddows, sarcasm does not become a man of your status. This was no Old Father Christmas, nor one of his reindeer, but a very large looking drunk, bearded man, carrying several articles which gave the impression of sleigh bells ringing as they rattled together,’ said Issitt.

‘How do you know he was drunk?’ said Shepherd. ‘It’s dark; it’s snowing heavily, and it must be forty feet up to the roof of the bank.’

‘He was already drunk when he fell out of the Hare and Pheasant on High Street, a short time ago,’ replied Issitt.

‘And how did he get on the roof?’ asked Beddows.

‘I would conclude that he has climbed up using one of the ladders he fetched from the building on the Corn Exchange,’ suggested Issitt.

‘You saw him fetch a ladder and climb up?’ said Shepherd.

‘Have I ever lied to you, Constable Shepherd? Therefore, why should I start now? I would not call it a climb, more a fumbled ascent.’

‘The reindeer didn’t drop him on the roof then?’ said Shepherd, winking.

‘Matthias Issitt, you are an old rogue. It’s Christmas Eve, and I would not be surprised to see you conspiring with the fine folk of Leicester, to engage us in some tall tale. Especially one that entails Old Father Christmas, sleigh bells and rooftops,’ hissed Beddows.

At that moment, a young boy ran from an alleyway at the rear of the National Provident, dressed in a long coat over what appeared to be a nightgown and sleeping cap.

‘Come quickly, constables. We have somebody stuck in our chimney,’ squealed the boy, anxiously. ‘Look well if it is Old Father Christmas. We shall get no presents.’

Beddows looked at Shepherd, with large wet flakes of snow rapidly engulfing his view. ‘I don’t believe this can be our luck. Tonight of all nights - and we get Old Father Christmas stuck in a bleeding chimney.’

‘I hope it’s not lit,’ said Shepherd.

‘It is, sir,’ squealed the young boy.

Beddows and Shepherd followed the boy back down the alleyway and into the rear of the bank, into what must have been the living quarters for the Manager and his family. Beddows recognised the yard when the snow eased enough to take stock.

Stood in the doorway and illuminated by lamps within the ground floor, stood a red faced man of about fifty. ‘We appear to have somebody stuck in the chimney on an upper floor,’ said the man, announcing himself as Edward Markley, Manager of said National Provident Bank.

‘What has happened?’ asked Beddows.

‘We were just getting the house ready for the morning, and we heard a scream, and then soot and debris came flying out of a fireplace on the first floor, in one of the children’s bedrooms.’

‘Is the fire in the room alight?’ asked Shepherd.

‘It was, but we have doused it,’ said the distressed man - his son clinging to his arm. ‘Father, what if it is Old Father Christmas?’ said the young boy, anxiously.

‘Old Father Christmas? Blooming Old Father Christmas?’ growled Beddows. ‘Bah, humbug!’

‘It’s too early for Old Father Christmas,’ said Shepherd, in a reassuring tone. ‘He doesn’t come until all of Leicester is asleep in their beds.’

‘Then who is it?’ asked the young boy. ‘I heard bells jingling, and then a man shouting that he was stuck.’

‘How can we possibly get him out?’ asked Markley.

‘It sounds like he is nearer the bedroom than the roof. Shepherd, poke your head up under the fireplace and have a look. See if you can see him,’ said Beddows, pulling rank.

‘Mind all of the stockings, constable, as they shall be needed and ready for our visit from Old Father Christmas,’ said the young boy, indicating three brightly coloured woollen socks, hanging from hooks along the mantel shelf.

Shepherd took a lit, mirrored, candle lamp on a sturdy base, and leaned under the mantel shelf, and up into the dark void. He was immediately covered in a fall of dark, oily soot, dislodged by the intruder.

‘His legs are swinging, about four feet up from the mantel shelf. I can try and reach him and pull,’ said Shepherd, squeezing his strong but sizeable frame into the void, still hot from the earlier fire.

‘He’s stuck fast, and I can only just touch his boots with my fingertips. We will have to break open the wall over the fireplace,’ shouted Shepherd. As he did so, a dark, vile smelling liquid emanated from above and cascaded over Shepherd’s head and face, down onto his tunic, which now steamed in the light of the candle lamp.

‘I think the bugger’s just pissed himself,’ offered Beddows, chuckling at his decision to send Shepherd in as his junior.

‘Mr Markley, I think we need to knock down your wall,’ said Beddows.

‘Can’t you just leave him in there until he can climb out?’ asked Markley.

‘We could, sir, but the smell would be horrible. I suspect he is stuck fast, and with that residual heat from the fire, and all that soot, he may expire quite quickly, otherwise,’ said Beddows.

‘We could light the fire again, Beddows, and that would shift the bugger,’ suggested Shepherd, wiping the foul mess from his face and hair.

‘We shalln’t be doing that Mr Shepherd - not with children present,’ Beddows assured the occupants.

‘Who is going to pay for the damage?’ asked Markley.

‘We will have to seek damages from the Justices,’ suggested Beddows.

‘Is the bank not insured for such events?’ asked Shepherd.

‘I have no idea,’ said Markley. ‘I know there would be hell to pay if someone died and we did nothing, or if you lost your prisoner.’

‘In that case,’ said Beddows, ‘do you have a large hammer or similar?’

‘I know where there is a railing pole,’ said Shepherd, scurrying down from the room, returning a few minutes later with a long iron pole, with and ornate spike on the top.

‘Remind me to put it back when we have done,’ said Shepherd. ‘It’s from the new ironwork on the Corn Exchange.’

‘Mr. Markley, your permission to break open the chimney?’ said Beddows.

‘You will have to, Sergeant. Please minimise the mess you make.’

‘Shepherd, if you would be so kind?’ said Beddows.

Shepherd struck the wall with the spiked end of the railing, breaking through the thin plaster and striking the fire bricks behind it. Several such blows and the first brick was dislodged, and then, brick by brick, the dark form of a man’s legs, flailing wildly, came into view. Long leather boots now clearly visible to the occupants of the room.’

‘It is Old Father Christmas, look, Father,’ said the young Markley boy. Mrs Markley holding a young baby now joined the group.

‘Get me out; Get me out,’ the voice inside the chimney cried out. ‘I can’t breathe.’

‘Shouldn’t have climbed down in the first place then, should you?’ replied a less than sympathetic Sergeant of Police.

A few more bricks removed, and a dark, sooty sack fell from the void and onto the floor in the room, the sound of bells jingling, filled the air.

‘Bloody hell, it could be Old Father Christmas,’ said Shepherd.

‘Old Father Christmas be blowed,’ said Beddows, reaching down and opening the neck of the sack. Out fell a collection of small items of silver, small glass jars, trinkets and two empty gin bottles.

‘Looks like this Old Father Christmas has been collecting presents, rather than being intent on delivering them,’ said Beddows, laughing loudly. ‘Looks more like one of our perishing Burglars, to me.’

A few more bricks, and Shepherd and Beddows could grab a leg each, at which point they pulled together. Screaming and profanities bellowed from the chimney, as the body of the miscreant was dragged into view, exposed reddened flesh around the man’s copious waistline scraping against the hot bricks. As the loosened bricks above gave way at the motion, into the room fell the remainder of the very large framed, bearded man.

‘Father, he really does look like Old Father Christmas to me,’ said the young Markley boy.

‘This is not Old Father Christmas,’ said Beddows, ‘but is none other than one Cornelius Moore, a well known felon, and not that long released from Her Majesty’s pleasure as I recall.’

‘Is that you, Beddows? I owe you a broken bonce, you devious bleeder,’ swinging out violently with his fists which were now flailing in an attempt to free himself from the strong hands, pinioning him to the wall. It appeared that the man and Beddows had a ‘History’ and had crossed paths –professionally – so to speak, in the past.

‘Settle down now, there are women and children present,’ said Shepherd, narrowly avoiding a deliberately aimed elbow, targeting his face.

‘Watch yourself, Shepherd, this fellow will not come quietly - will you, Cornelius?’ said Beddows, leaning against him, restraining him forcefully.

‘What if they are wrong, Father? Are they going to lock up Old Father Christmas?’ said the young Markley boy, who was being ushered from the room by his Father and Mother, as dirt and masonry flew around the struggling men.

‘It is not Old Father Christmas, you have my word,’ shouted Shepherd.

‘There’s no such thing as Old Father Christmas,’ shouted the blackened man from the chimney. ‘Not for most people, we have to make do with what we rob, not what we get given.’

Mr Markley placed his small hands over his son’s ears.

Beddows shot back rather abruptly, and as Shepherd looked across, he saw Beddows’ distorted nose streaming with blood, the result of the man Moore head butting his Sergeant, violently.

Shepherd, realising that Beddows was now incapacitated took careful consideration of the threat to the occupants, including himself, and promptly released his grip – monetarily – before striking the large bearded man rather firmly on the chin. One excellently delivered uppercut, and the man’s teeth and jaws crashed together, as did his eyelids, before he fell instantly unconscious.

‘Told you your pugilist skills might be required, young Shepherd,’ laughed Beddows, wiping blood and snot across the back of his wrist and forearm from a rather crooked looking, freshly broken nose.

‘Your first Christmas present of the season then, Beddows?’ said Shepherd.

‘What are you on about?’ replied Beddows.

‘Your new nose,’ replied Shepherd. ‘It looks rather befitting. We have matching crooked noses now, and will be hard to tell apart, I should imagine.’

‘Has my hair turned ginger as well then, lad?’

‘Well, of course not,’ replied Shepherd.

‘Then of course they’ll be able to tell us apart still, you daft bugger,’ laughed Beddows.

‘What about your natural thief smelling abilities now, Beddows?’ said Shepherd.

‘My nose may look different, but it will smell the same,’ laughed Beddows. ‘More than we can say about you, young Shepherd. You smell like a piss pot, presently, for some reason.’

‘Are you constables alright?’ asked Mr Markley, peeping around the doorframe and back into the room, just as Shepherd finished clamping the well used ‘D ring’ handcuffs onto the prisoner.

‘Fine, sir, thank you. Sorry about the mess and the disturbance. We’ll have him away from here in a minute or two,’ said Beddows.

‘I didn’t get to tell him what we were charging him with,’ said Shepherd.

‘Don’t worry, Shepherd. It can be his present from Sergeant Sheffield, when he comes to, on Christmas morning.’

More stories in ‘The Borough Boys’ series of Novels by Phil Simpkin, together with his other work, can be found at

Clement Clarke Moore (1779 - 1863) wrote the poem ‘Twas the night before Christmas’ -  
also called “A Visit from St. Nicholas" - in 1822.  

It is now the tradition in many families to read the poem every Christmas Eve.

The poem 'Twas the night before Christmas' has redefined our image of Christmas and Santa 

Prior to the creation of the story of 'Twas the night before Christmas' St. Nicholas, the patron
saint of children, had never been associated with a sleigh or reindeers!

Clement Moore, the author of the poem, was a reticent man and it is believed that a family friend, Miss H. Butler, sent a copy of the poem to the New York Sentinel who published the 

The condition of publication was that the author was to remain anonymous.

The first publication date was 23rd December 1823 and it was an immediate success.

It was not until 1844 that Clement Clarke Moore claimed ownership when the work 
was included in a book of his poetry.

Information courtesy of

 ‘Twas the night before Christmas...’

By Clement Clarke Moore 

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds;

While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;

And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,

Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,

Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow,

Gave a lustre of midday to objects below,

When what to my wondering eyes did appear,

But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny rein-deer,

With a little old driver so lively and quick,

I knew in a moment he must be St. Nick.

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,

And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:

"Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now Prancer and Vixen!

On, Comet! On, Cupid! On, Donder and Blixen!

To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!

Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"

As leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,

When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;

So up to the housetop the coursers they flew

With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too—

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof

The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

As I drew in my head, and was turning around,

Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,

And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;

A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,

And he looked like a pedlar just opening his pack.

His eyes—how they twinkled! His dimples, how Merry!

His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,

And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,

And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath;

He had a broad face and a little round belly

That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,

And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head

Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,

And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,

And laying his finger aside of his nose,

And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,

And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight—

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

Source: The Random House Book of Poetry for Children (Random House Inc., 1983)

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