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Issue 27 - Autumn 2019

Your stories, your news, your Blackpool. The Heritage Blackpool Newsletter is compiled by Heritage volunteers to celebrate, embrace and promote Blackpool’s past.

A Wilde night in Blackpool… as Oscar comes to town

Oscar Wilde as seen by a ‘Punch’ cartoonist c 1883.

When the great Oscar Wilde visited Blackpool in 1883 much of his notoriety lay in the future. He was, however, already a wellknown and controversial figure having come down from Trinity College, Dublin, and Magdalen College, Oxford, and then having cultivated literary and artistic society in London. “I often have the most beautiful people to tea,” he wrote to a friend on 23 December 1879 and he had developed a reputation for being the leader of the aesthetic movement that indulged itself in all things beautiful and artistic. Richard D’Oyley Carte had written of him in 1881“his name is often quoted as the originator of the aesthetic idea, and [he is] the author of a number of poems lately published, which have made a profound sensation on English society”. It was with such a reputation that he was engaged to give a lecture

on ‘The House Beautiful’ at the Assembly Rooms in Talbot Road on Wednesday 12 December 1883. This followed a successful tour of America arranged by Colonel W F Morse and Wilde returned from it a richer man, so the Colonel suggested that a lecture tour of the United Kingdom would perhaps be equally successful. Wilde agreed and he proudly declared to his friend the actress Lillie Langtry that he would “get rich quick on the proceeds”. He was to visit 50 venues and his fees were to be between 10 and 15 guineas per performance. The tour began in September 1883 and Wilde, as he had done in America, found himself wandering from city to city, town to town across the country with successive lectures at one point being delivered in Glasgow, London and then Newcastle upon Tyne! By this time Wilde had cast aside the velvet breeches and silk stockings of the American tour. He had adopted short curly hair and had announced, “We are now concerned with the Oscar Wilde of the second period, who has nothing whatsoever in common with the gentleman who wore long hair and carried a mayflower down Piccadilly.” He duly arrived in Blackpool on a wet and windy day for his 12 December appearance with the advance word on his lectures to that date being that his “performance lacked the lustre and exuberance that he had displayed in America” and the word was that some halls had been only half full for his performances. All three local newspapers commented on his forthcoming

visit. The Gazette & News stated, “Blackpool will, next week, have an opportunity of seeing and hearing Mr Oscar Wilde, poet, playwright, and leader of the now almost defunct aesthetic movement” but pointed out that the verdict so far was “In many towns Mr Wilde’s lecture has been attended more as a ‘show’ than as a literary entertainment.” The Blackpool Times was a little more enthusiastic, even if the writer was not an Oscar Wilde fan. In the newspaper’s Echoes column the view was “I am not a great admirer of Mr Oscar Wilde but he is one of the ‘stars’ now ‘on tour’, and it is decidedly plucky on the part of anybody to bring to Blackpool anything big at this dull part of the year. I hope there will be a large attendance at the Assembly Rooms tonight. The ‘Apostlethwaite of Aestheticism’ has talked a lot of nonsense in his time, but the lecture he is to deliver this evening on The House Beautiful is, I believe, both instructive and entertaining.” The Blackpool Herald simply commented, “In view of Mr Wilde having provoked such attention both in England and across the Atlantic, it is probable that there will be a large attendance of those whose curiosity had thus been aroused.” In the event there were only “about 50 persons” present in the Assembly Rooms and as a consequence it was the considered view “the number of Aesthetics [sic] in Blackpool must be extremely limited”. But the Blackpool Times did admit, however, that those who did attend were “well entertained” and that they “received not a few hints on which they will probably

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act in the matter of the beautifying of their dwellings”. The Gazette and News’ critic shared this view but added, “taken as a whole, Mr Wilde was an agreeable disappointment”. He did, however, rather contradictorily acknowledge that the lecture was “excellent in substance and agreeable in delivery” and was “of the first order” with “many of the points made being instinct with genius”. “A more sympathetic audience than that of Wednesday night it would be impossible to bring together, and this in itself must have been gratifying to the lecturer” the same critic wrote. And he added, “If he ever chances to come to Blackpool again he may rely on a fuller appreciation.” According to the Blackpool Herald, Wilde advised those present on the decoration of their homes, something, incidentally that he did not do for himself, and set down two rules laid down by William Morris. He told his audience “to have nothing in your house that you did not know to be useful, or thought to be beautiful” and “to have nothing in your house which had not been a joy to the man who bought it”. If these rules were followed he felt people would “get rid of a good deal of bad art that has crept into our houses”. Sadly Wilde never did return to Blackpool, but if he had done so after his later literary success and various other escapades there would undoubtedly have been more than the 50 hardy souls who turned out to listen to his House Beautiful lecture in 1883. Gerry Wolstenholme

John Hodgson’s Belle Vue Strawberry Gardens John Hodgson was born in Little Bispham in and John’s family lived there until the 1880s. He 1821, the son of a yeoman farmer. While he also built a row of cottages nearby. Some he grew up rented, but one he saved for Hopping Billy, a to be to an a typical Victorian gentleman, gardener and at one time his handy man. There he was born in the reign of George IV, lived were also stables for his horses, and carriages through the reign of William IV and would to bring people to his strawberry gardens. be 16 years of age at Victoria’s coronation. He Soon John’s gardens prospered and became died during the reign of Edward VII. a great attraction. When more adjoining land John worked alongside his father at the family became available, he bought it and with nearly farm until his mid-20s, until he had his own farm seven acres, he created tea rooms, a willow of seventeen acres, also in Bispham. In 1851 he walk, croquet lawns and bowling greens. There married Mary Ann Ainsworth of Blackburn, were nurseries, hot houses, a maze, a lake, an but tragedy soon followed as their first child orchard, a music hall and a dancing platform George died just a few months old. The couple that held two thousand people and a succession then had three daughters, Clementine, Betsy of bands that would play all day. He started and Mary Ann and another George, but this with a quadrille band and progressed over the boy sadly died at 4 years of age. years to the Blackpool brass and finally his own John was an honest man, very upright and Belle Vue band. Then, just as his new music hall moral. A non-conformist and a liberal. He was due to open, it was set on fire in 1870. John would have been looked up to and esteemed but not, I feel, greatly loved. John worked hard and expected others to do the same – it was reported he could be found in the gardens at dawn, along with his wife and children. By 1855 he had taken over running The Number 3 pub and made great improvements on the strawberry gardens and bowling green, becoming very successful. However, by 1860 he had fallen out with the owner. As a result, he took umbrage The Belle Vue and Whitegate Lane. Albert Eden Collection. and when land became available further up the lane, he purchased one and a half acres and began to build a rival hotel was in the midst of a twenty year feud with the and pleasure gardens of his own. At this time landlady of The Albert, Sarah Hawkes and it Whitegate was Blackpool’s countryside with was her son, Richard Hawkes who was accused around seventeen farms, The No 3, The Saddle of the crime and taken to court. But at Lancaster and around three houses. Crown Court the case was thrown out due to This venture was really the start of John’s too much circumstantial evidence. And to fortunes. He began building his hotel and really rub salt in John’s wounds, Richard sailed worked on the gardens, which was always his back to Blackpool and was met at the pier by first love. He was a farmer’s son through and his friends who carried him on their shoulders through and was at his happiest on the land. round the town in triumph. John’s reactions can To celebrate its opening in1863, John hosted a only be guessed at. dinner at The Number 3 for 40 guests. He dared John, however was a fighter and within six to advertise his property as the new Number 3 months he placed an advert stating the grand and Strawberry Gardens. Shortly afterwards it reopening of the hall so maliciously burned became The Albert. down in May, and the cottage recently vacated John’s health took a turn for the worst, no doubt by the landlady of The Albert, had been from all the trials and excessive work he had incorporated back into the Belle Vue Gardens. put in to complete the gardens. A landlord ran Mrs Hawkes had the last laugh however, as she The Albert rather than John himself, but he did ended up running The No 3 and became John’s carry on with the gardens, making an orchard main rival for some time. and planting strawberries. There was a family What followed was a very prosperous few house with ten rooms built behind The Albert years, until Raikes Hall opened. John had to

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fight to get a spirit licence to compete with Raikes Hall and booked the most amazing circus and vaudeville acts to his music hall. Every year he found something new to coax people to come to his celebrated gardens. By 1874 he was manufacturing gas on the premises so the gardens could be illuminated by lamps every evening at dusk. In 1875, John brought William Cooper and his family up from London. William was a firework maker and a display was programmed for three times a week. The headline of artists performing were second to none, all for the princely sum of 4 pence. John must have found competition from Raikes Hall very hard and put the gardens up for auction twice. Unfortunately, it did not make the reserve and he kept control until the late 1880s when it was bought by a brewery. He did, however put in a manager. John then retired with Mary Ann to Birch Villa on Bloomfield Road. Possibly the strangest and saddest thing was after his wife died and his villa was purchased for the new railway bridge, John, now in his 80s, came back to Whitegate and took residence in his house at Strawberry Bank within sight of the Belle Vue. Every day he must have watched the gardens being destroyed, Newcastle Avenue being driven right across the strawberry gardens and his orchard and the rest pulled down to build houses. It makes you wonder how he could have borne it. John was 86 when he died, leaving substantial sums of money to local churches, the hospital and dispensary. The rest of his fortune was split between his three daughters and his grandchildren. It was noted what an upright and retiring gentleman he was. At his funeral, when the cortege left Strawberry Bank for All Hallows, bringing up the rear was his basket phaeton pulled by his faithful horse, Jimmy and sitting beside the driver on a cushion was his pet dog, Bessie.

Stella Siddall Join Stella during Heritage Open Days for a walk down Whitegate Drive – a fascinating heritage tour. See our brochure for more details –

The Imperial Hotel (Part Two) More changes happened quite rapidly within the walls of the Imperial - 1958 ladies powder room, 1961 new cocktail bar, 1963 the old billiards room and bar known as the Old Snug were amalgamated to form a new bar called the Oregon. With the passage of time more and more visitors were arriving by motor car and the more than 200 parking spaces were ideal; A 1930s conference. Image courtesy of a private collection. in former days this land had During the Second World War the been used for lawn tennis, Imperial Hotel was taken over by the croquet and bowls. government, as were many of the other It is worth recalling that the Imperial in Blackpool hotels; when the directors its early days as a hotel often found its regained possession 11 years later many guests and visitors coming to stay for a costly improvements were required month, or even 7-8 weeks. These early (including over 7 miles of carpeting!) holidaymakers would often would arrive These improvements were carried out at with a large entourage of staff, including a total expenditure of over one hundred ladies’ maids, nurses for the children, thousand pounds. coachmen, carriages and horses. They With renovation and regeneration, the were often people of great wealth and Imperial re-established itself as a firstthe private nature of Claremont Park class hotel and venue for social events where the hotel was situated provided a and conferences; every bedroom in the distinctive charm for them. Those who hotel now had its own bathroom suite, wished to visit Claremont Park found toll each with telephone, television, radio gates by Carlton Terrace and by the Gynn, and fire alarm. The old banqueting hall with a charge made to pass through. The at the north end of the basement, which toll houses were abolished under the was created in 1904, was transformed into Blackpool Improvement Act of 1899. a full Masonic suite with an appointed In 1961 the first meeting of the George temple. In addition to the temple this suite Formby Society was held at the Imperial comprised a dining room, lounge, bar with just 56 members, moving later to the and two changing rooms, and a few years Winter Gardens and then going back to later another dining room (the Rutherford the Imperial in 1990; the meetings are still Room) was added. held today and are very popular. The unused old Turkish baths in the south By the 1970s the Imperial had its own wing of the basement were dealt with in night club called Trader Jacks (the author two phases: in 1956 the area was cleared remembers this vaguely!) It ran until the and equipped as a children’s play area mid-1980s and even boasted Polynesian and in 1962 it was changed into five stock theme nights and early 2am breakfasts. rooms called the ‘Ducal rooms’ which had I seem to recall this taking place around direct access to the car park. In 1965 two a swimming pool and worrying that if further well-furnished meeting rooms people got drunk they might fall in. In were added behind the site of the old 1977 AC/DC played at the Ballroom on Turkish baths. The end of 1958 saw the 20 February as part of their High Voltage whole of the hotel provided with central tour of the United Kingdom, some say heating, the old coal-fired boilers in the their first proper tour. In 1987 the Imperial underwent one of her basement being replaced by modern biggest face-lifts, with a £700,000 cleanoil-fired boilers. Another added bonus up involving re-pointing brickwork, was the installation of a new modern windows and guttering replaced, and passenger lift for the guests.

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14 new bedrooms created in old staff quarters on the top floor. A £5m revamp took place in the early 90s, including a new health and fitness club. Around 10 years ago work was carried out on the hotel to restore it to its former glory, including work on the front façade, the stunning carved ceiling in the Washington Suite, and the oak panelling and fireplace discovered in the Churchill Suite. Over the years there have been a whole host of famous faces staying at the Imperial. They have included various politicians and prime ministers – Harold Wilson, Winston Churchill, Anthony Eden, and John Major, Fred Astaire, the Beatles, Princess Margaret and Princess Anne. Royalty such as the Queen Mother stayed here, not to mention film and pop stars including actress Gracie Fields, at Christmas 1955, and singer Harry Belafonte.

Harry Belafonte at The Imperial. Image courtesy of a private collection.

In 2015 Blackpool Civic trust volunteers started work to uncover the hidden tiling in the former Turkish Baths. The ornate ceramics have been revealed, which in their heyday were a magnet for wellto-do Victorian holidaymakers wanting to partake of the benefits of Blackpool seawater. Today tours can include a visit to this area of the hotel to give visitors a glance at what guests would have enjoyed. The Imperial hotel is a true reminder of Blackpool’s Victorian heyday, combining 19th century opulence and glamour with contemporary style and modern facilities, popular restaurant, health club and conference facilities. This historic hotel has done much to put Blackpool on the map. Juliette Gregson

Heritage Open Days 2019 – discover something new There’s a word for people who love cemeteries, and it’s “taphologists”. Chances are you’ve never come across it before! It comes from a Greek word – “tafos” meaning “grave”. So, are there any taphologists (beside myself) reading this article, I wonder? Please come and see us at Layton Cemetery during Heritage Open Days if you are! Until fairly recently, people going into graveyards and cemeteries for interest and pleasure were thought of as being “weird”, “bizarre” or simply short of something better to do. But in recent years there’s been a massive growth of interest in cemeteries from people of all ages and from all walks of life and nationalities. I regularly receive requests for information about Blackpool cemeteries, particularly from the English-speaking world, but from other countries as well. Usually it’s an enquiry about the location of the final resting place of a deceased relative – but not always so. Some cemeteries of course have always been essential places to go to - Highgate, Kensal Green, Brompton and Golders Green cemeteries in London for instance. A visit to Paris is incomplete (in my view) without a visit to the Pere Lachaise Cemetery – final resting place of Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Chopin, de Musset, Berlioz and many more. It is also worth mentioning the Commonwealth war graves that can be found all over the world and are visited on a daily basis across 23,000 locations. These commemorate individuals

of the Commonwealth forces who gave their lives during World War I and II. According to, Layton Cemetery holds 138 of the Commonwealth war graves. I’ve been a Friend of Layton Cemetery Blackpool now for about five years, and when people come into the office they are usually looking to trace the grave of a friend or relative, or be taken on a tour of the graves and memorials of famous individuals who pioneered the resort’s development from being just a few houses and hovels by the coast into a thriving, bustling holiday destination beloved by millions. Top of the bucketlist is usually Sir John Bickerstaffe’s magnificent grave by the Mortuary Chapel on millionaire’s row. The Bickerstaffe grave is one of the tallest and grandest of all the memorials present, which is entirely appropriate as the Mayor of Blackpool, Director of the Blackpool Tower Company and the man behind Blackpool Tower. Pleasure Beach pioneers William Bean and John Outhwaite both have wellvisited memorials in Layton Cemetery and William Broadhead, who owned eighteen theatres and gave Blackpool the Alhambra (later the Palace of Varieties on the Promenade), has a magnificent grave there as well. In Layton Cemetery you can also find the graves of the Burton’s Biscuits and Breadmakers’ family, Lionel Franceys who brought Victoria Hospital to Whinney

Heys, George Washington Williams, the American Civil Rights Pioneer, John Grime who founded the Gazette, Ada Boswell Queen of the Gypsies, football legend Gyp Cookson, and many, many more famous and fascinating people from Blackpool’s past. Layton Cemetery has also the resting places of over twenty past Mayors of Blackpool, who all have a fascinating story to tell. I think it was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in the introduction to one of his Sherlock Holmes stories, who wrote: “the most horrific and heinous crimes of all lie unknown, and will ever remain undiscovered”. So, what exactly is this dark and grisly heritage of Blackpool which hides in the shadows and is hardly ever talked about? Some of the “accidents” which happened in Blackpool were of course in order to mask a crime, and probably Blackpool’s most wellknown example is the story of the “Brides in the Bath” victim Alice Burnham who lies buried in an unmarked grave in Layton Cemetery. To learn more, you’ll have to join a tour!

Heritage Open Days 2019 Free Talks and Workshops An Introduction to the history of the Grundy Art Gallery – Thursday 19 September, 2-3pm Grundy Art Gallery, Queen Street, FY1 1PU The Plight of the War Memorials – Thursday 19 September, 3pm Masonic Hall, Adelaide Street, FY1 4LU Heritage Blackpool: Preserving your Heritage – Thursday 19 September, 5.30 -7pm The History Centre, Blackpool Central Library, FY1 1PX The History of Blackpool Football Club – Friday 20 September, 2pm Brunswick Room, Blackpool Central Library, FY1 1PX The History of Stanley Park – Friday 20 September, 2pm Visitors Centre, West Park Drive (next to the Art Deco Café) Lancashire Memories: The Power of Reminiscence – Saturday 21 September, 11am – 12pm Brunswick Room, Blackpool Central Library, FY1 1PX Cinema Heritage – Saturday 21 September, 12.30pm The Regent Cinema, Church Street, FY1 3NY

Denys Barber Free Heritage Open Days tours of Layton Cemetery will take place at 11am, 1pm and 2pm from Thursday 19th September until Sunday 21st September. No booking is necessary. For the full programme of Heritage Open Days events, pick up a brochure at Blackpool Central Library or visit www.heritageblackpool.

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Tram Talks: The History of North Pier – Saturday 21 September, 1.30 -4.15pm (short talks on the hour and half hour) Blackpool Promenade (talks will take place on the top deck of a stationary heritage tram parked outside North Pier) Pre-booking is not necessary for any of the above talks but will be on a first come, first served basis.

The Golden Era of Blackpool Paddle Steamers Pleasure steamers operated in Blackpool for over a hundred years from the 1840s to the mid-20th century. Services started to flourish on the opening of Blackpool Pier (now North Pier) in 1863 and South Jetty (now Central Pier) in 1868. However, the heyday of the Blackpool paddle steamer began in the late 19th century when the first major vessel to ply her trade was the Bickerstaffe. The Bickerstaffe was built in 1879 at the Laird Brothers’ shipyard in Birkenhead for the Bickerstaffe family (hence the name), who were at that time owners of the South Jetty; she sailed mainly on the Isle of Man route, some sixty-three miles distant from Blackpool. The fare in those days was six shillings first class (30p) and four and sixpence second class (22½p). It is said that the Bickerstaffe’s popularity lay in her afternoon daily sailings, which always coincided with the shout of “Time gentlemen, please” by the local publicans, and which was followed by a mad rush to the jetty. In those days, after a sea going vessel passed the three-mile limit, the bars were open for the duration of the voyage until the three-mile limit was reached at the destination port of call. In 1915 the Bickerstaffe was requisitioned by the Admiralty for war service as a minesweeper. On return she continued her pleasure cruises until 1928, when she was broken up at Garston Docks on the banks of the River Mersey. The only surviving artefact of the paddle steam era is the Bickerstaffe bell that was for many years on display at Blackpool Central Library. It is now in storage at the library awaiting restoration. In 1895 the paddle steamer Queen of the North, also built at Lairds Shipyard Birkenhead for the Blackpool Steamship Company, began sailing from the Central Pier. She was larger and an improvement on the somewhat smaller and austere Bickerstaffe, being 220 feet in length and reaching speeds of 20 miles per hour (17 knots). She was the star of the silver screen - the very first film to be shown in Blackpool was in the Tower Ballroom when a three-minute silent film called The Queen of the North flickered across the screen. The paddle steamers’ range of excursions was Morecambe, Barrow, Southport, Liverpool, Llandudno (forty-six miles), Menai Bridge (sixtyone miles) and the Isle of Man (sixtythree miles). It wasn’t always plain sailing - sometimes it took over an hour to secure steamers to the jetty

The Bickerstaffe. Image provided by the author.

because of weather and tidal conditions. On rare occasions steamers had to take their passengers to Fleetwood to disembark. The initials G.W. and W.P. often appeared on steamer handbills; the letters stood for “god willing” and “weather permitting”.

Queen of the North. Image provided by the author.

The Queen of the North retained her immense popularity right up to the outbreak of the First World War. As with the Bickerstaffe she was requisitioned for war service as a minesweeper based at Harwich. Sadly, on 20 July 1917 she struck a mine two miles off Orford Ness and sank with the loss of seven officers and twentytwo men. The elegant and stylish Greyhound was built for the North Pier Steamship Company by James and George

The Greyhound. Image provided by the author.

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Thompson Ltd of Clydebank, weighing 542 tons and with a length of 230 feet. She could achieve speeds of up to 22 miles per hour (19 knots), being the fastest ship in the fleet. On arrival in 1895 she was described as the finest paddle steamer in the fleet. Along with the snug luxury of a modern river steamboat, the Greyhound combined the stability and seaworthiness of an ocean liner. Settees in the first-class saloon were upholstered in Utrecht velvet and the floors laid with the best Brussels carpet. To complete the effect a splendid Broadwood grand piano was placed in the saloon for entertainment and dancing. For those passengers who imbibed in liquor and spirits a bottle of claret could be obtained for two shillings (10p), Bass beer, Worthingtons and Guinness Stout threepence for a half pint, and cigarettes were sold at a penny each. Quite often the ships’ captains would race to the Isle of Man across the unpredictable and turbulent waters of the Irish Sea to see who was top sea dog. In 1896 the Greyhound held the record of two hours, fifty-one minutes for the crossing. In 1915 the Greyhound was requisitioned for war service as a minesweeper. She served from October that year until May 1919. She returned to Blackpool after World War I, but was finally withdrawn from service in 1922. In 1923 she was purchased by Messrs Wilson and Read for further service at Belfast Lough in Northern Ireland. In 1925 she came under the control of Turkish owners in Constantinople (Istanbul) and was renamed Buyuk Ada. She ended her days in a Turkish shipbreaker’s yard in 1936 - a sad end for a very proud ship. The Greyhound was perhaps the greatest of the Blackpool pleasure steamers, and her withdrawal signalled the end of the heyday of the Blackpool paddle steamer. The First World War took its toll on the Blackpool paddle steamer; they never regained their pre-war eminence and, one by one, services were pruned and then discontinued. Attempts were made to revive services in the mid-1920s, with vessels such as the Minden operating from Blackpool in 1933, Jubilee Queen in 1935, Queen of the Bay in 1936 and Atalanta in 1937. None of these vessels were a great success and, with the coming of the Second World War in 1939, services ceased altogether. Barry Shaw

The team at The Imperial Blackpool are looking forward to hosting the most fabulously festive events in town this The team at The Imperial Blackpool are looking forward to hosting the most fabulously festive events in town this

From Mammy's Boys and Absolutely Fabulous themed nights, Family Panto Adventure and Classic Christmas Parties, there's something for everyone. From Mammy's Boys and Absolutely Fabulous themed nights, Family Panto Adventure and Classic Christmas Parties, there's something for everyone.


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Profile for HeritageBlackpool

Blackpool Heritage Newsletter Issue 27  

Autumn 2019. In this issue, read about Oscar Wilde's visit to Blackpool and the golden era of Blackpool paddle steamers. We also have a Heri...

Blackpool Heritage Newsletter Issue 27  

Autumn 2019. In this issue, read about Oscar Wilde's visit to Blackpool and the golden era of Blackpool paddle steamers. We also have a Heri...