Echo Memories tells why the Crimean cannon in South Park symbolises a double humiliation for the pacifist Quaker Pease family of Darlington.

THE double-headed eagle on the browngrey gunmetal has been worn shiny and almost smooth by generations of young hands and feet that have clambered on the Crimean cannon in Darlington's South Park.

It was captured in the heat of bloody battle and transported home in triumph. But the cannon's arrival in Darlington fired the first shot in a bitter political battle that lasted longer than the Crimean War itself.

It was in late 1853 that war clouds began to gather over Europe. Tsar Nicholas I invaded southwards into what today we call Romania, but in those days was Moldovia and Wallachia - two provinces of the failing Ottoman Empire of Turkey. He even destroyed the Turkish navy at the Battle of Sinope.

The French and the British piled in on behalf of the Turks, sending ultimatums to the tsar and more than 50,000 troops to the Black Sea.

The Sardinians and then the Austrians came aboard with the allies, and in August 1854 the Russians withdrew.

Yet the allies had all their boys bobbing about in the Black Sea spoiling for a scrap.

So they decided to destroy the Russian naval base at Sebastopol, on the Crimean peninsula. They argued that Sebastopol was a threat to the Mediterranean and, anyway, the tsar had to be taught that his expansionism would not be tolerated.

The allies landed on the Crimea on September 14. Six days later they won a battle at Alma, which meant 25,000 Russians were besieged in Sebastopol.

As winter set in, the Russians tried to break out, drawing the allies into battles at Balaclava and Inkerman.

It was at Balaclava, on October 25, that the infamous charge of the Light Brigade took place which, 150 years later, is still a byword for military stupidity and blind obedience.

Lord Raglan ordered Lord Lucan to stop the Russians from removing cannons they had captured up on some high ground. So Lord Lucan sent Lord Cardigan's Light Brigade charging down a valley, where they ran into a wall of fire from a Russian stronghold. A third of the 673 British cavalrymen fell as casualties.

Despite this shocking incompetence, in October 1855, with the tsar dead, the Russians abandoned Sebastopol - and their expansionist ambitions for at least a generation.

They also abandoned their cannons and, in 1857, the British Government offered these spoils of war to any British town wanting a war memorial.

In August 1857, the Darlington Board of Health voted to request two cannons. It was a poorly attended meeting, with many of the town's ruling Quakers absent, and the motion passed with a majority of one.

The Quakers, led by the Pease family, were implacable pacificists, and would never have voted for a memorial to a war.

The Government sent a single cannon. Some wanted it displayed in the Market Square; others, in the churchyard, as Middlesbrough had.

During the debate, the Quakers regrouped and ensured the cannon was quietly forgotten about in a corner of South Park.

There it remained until June 1860, when the cannon, fed up with its lot, wrote remarkable letters to local newspapers.

"The reptiles of the Earth take up their abode in what was once my chamber of destruction, " it thundered.

"Birds twitter saucily and with inquisitive eye peer into the dark recesses of my interior, and the worms hold nightly revels in the hollow region of my iron heart.

"Now, Mr Editor, who could stand it? I won't; I can't. . . if they don't move me soon, I'll blow up!"

The issue blew up at the next board of health meeting.

Fourteen members were present, at least nine from the Quaker camp including, in the chair, their leader Joseph Pease.

The non-Quakers, led by John Wrightson, landlord of The Sun Inn, in Prospect Place, said the cannon's condition was an insult to all our brave boys who had sacrificed their lives in the Crimea. Pease disagreed.

"Laying where it was, the chairman said he thought it was a most beautiful emblem of peace, for he had actually seen lambs feeding close to the muzzle of the gun, a remark which was received with loud laughter, " reported the Darlington Telegraph - an avowedly anti-Pease weekly paper.

But the cannon remained surrounded by sheep. The following spring, in exasperation, it wrote once more, telling of the gruesome sights it had witnessed at Sebastopol.

"After many ups and downs I landed in this country, " it wrote.

"I heard a delightful home had been provided for me in Darlington, which so pleased me that for a time I considered myself the most fortunate of cannons. How sadly I was mistaken. The cruel neglect has wounded me to the quick, for although made of iron, my heart is not so hard as that of some human beings."

The May 1861 board meeting discussed the cannon's predicament. Its supporters were outraged that the Peases could block a democratic decision for four years simply because they didn't like it.

John Pease, Joseph's elder brother, was mocked when he said that mounting the cannon in the park would be an insult to every Russian.

Before the matter could be put to the vote, Joseph Pease "vacated the chair". No vote could be taken.

But, mysteriously, the Sebastopol gun was soon - quietly and without ceremony - sited in the park. There it stands today, with the tiniest of plaques to tell its story - possibly because the leading townspeople thought its story was too bloody, or possibly because it reminded them of their embarrassing defeat.

THIS was the second humiliation heaped upon the Peases by the Crimean War. When the 1850s began, Europe had been largely peaceful for nearly 40 years since the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte at Waterloo.

Then, in 1852, Bonaparte's nephew, Louis-Napoleon, seized control of France. The British people believed an invasion was imminent and roused themselves into a jingoistic war frenzy.

But, when Russia invaded the Ottoman Empire, Louis Napoleon supported the Turks.

The British clearly could not allow the French to fight alone, so did an amazing about-turn and suddenly became LouisNapoleon's ally.

The Quakers despaired.

When no one in this country heard their protestations of peace, they sent three of their leading members on a desperate 3,600-mile dash through the snow to see if the tsar would listen.

Their emissaries were Joseph Sturge of Birmingham, Robert Charlton of Bristol, and Henry Pease of Pierremont, Darlington, the younger brother of Joseph.

With the war clouds looking ominous, they set off from England in January 1854 in a horsedrawn carriage. From Dusseldorf, they travelled by train to Berlin, covering 375 miles in 13 hours - Henry, who built the railway line from Barnard Castle over Stainmore to Tebay, and who founded Saltburn as a railway resort, was mightily impressed by the "strict punctuality".

From Berlin, the train took them a further 400 miles to Konigsberg (now Kalingrad).

This must have felt like frontiersland for, approaching Konigsberg they discovered the railway bridges over the frozen River Vistula had yet to be built, and so they had to take a horsedrawn detour.

The line terminated at Konigsberg. A carriage pulled them a further 300 miles to Riga, the capital of Latvia, which was winter's iron grip.

The three Quakers were astonished to see sledges zipping through the icy streets - each sledge with a bell on it, the "tintinabulations" keeping them awake at night.

The Quakers' carriage was lashed to a sledge and, pulled by up to seven horses as the snow became deeper and fresher, they slid into Russia.

In 400 miles they left the carriage just once, snuggling down under layers of clothing and halting every three hours at staging posts for boiling water and milk.

Once the sledge, at 1am, nearly overturned and they were catapulted out through the door into a snowdrift.

They arrived in St Petersburg on February 2 and stayed for a fortnight in Miss Benson's Hotel, Miss Benson being a Sunderland lass.

Eventually Tsar Nicholas, resplendent in his military uniform, granted them an audience. They told him that God wanted peace; he told them that he wanted peace.

"The tsar then shook hands very cordially, and accompanying them to the door shook hands again, " says Henry's wife, Mary, in her account of his life.

"His heart was evidently full of conflicting thoughts and emotions, but he merely said: 'My wife wishes to see you'."

With that, it was off through the Imperial Winter Palace for a ten-minute conversation with the tsarina.

But the Quakers left St Petersburg "with feelings of foreboding anxiety". They returned home across the snowplains, enduring another ejection into a snowdrift when their sledge capsized.

"It was not till they reached their native land that they fully understood how utterly fruitless their mission had been, owing to the war spirit which had taken possession of the people, " wrote Mary.

While they had been away, the allies' troops had set sail. It was now only a matter of time before the war clouds broke.

"They also found themselves assailed by a storm of ridicule and abuse, " said Mary.

This was an understatement.

It was alleged that, by their talk of peace, they had convinced the tsar that Britain would back down. They were accused of making the war inevitable.

Even The Times thundered hurtfully about their betrayal of their country.

After the war, Joseph defended Henry.

"Well, do you think the tsar of Russia acted as a wise man in not taking my brother's advice to make peace with old England?" he asked of the late Nicholas I.

"Was he wise or foolish? Let the 200,000 or 300,000 who are now with him in eternity answer. Where would our brave infantry and cavalry have been had he taken that advice?

Where, the 8,000 English widows and the 25,000 orphan children had he taken that advice?

"My brother chose to strive by those arguments known to every man's bosom, those propositions which must be dear to every Christian mind, to save the tsar from a conflict in which he was sure to be worsted, and to save his men as well as ours.

"Was there anything irrational in this?"

Little wonder, then, that the Peases were very reluctant to erect a cannon glorifying a war they had so passionately opposed.

If you have any information about the South Park cannon please write to Echo Memories, The Northern Echo, Priestgate, Darlington, DL1 1NF, e-mail chris. lloyd@nne. co. uk, or telephone (01325) 505062

Published: 04/08/2004

Echo Memories, The Northern Echo, Priestgate, Darlington DL1 1NF, e-mail or telephone (01325) 505062.