Nº. 1 of  4

The Oddment Emporium

A Cornucopia of Eclectic Delights

Posts tagged Britain:

Abdication Blotting Paper
A piece of blotting paper used to dry the ink of the signatures of Edward VIII and his three brothers on the Instrument of Abdication in 1936. Seven such documents were signed but only one piece of blotting paper survives having been kept by Edward as a momento. 

Abdication Blotting Paper

A piece of blotting paper used to dry the ink of the signatures of Edward VIII and his three brothers on the Instrument of Abdication in 1936. Seven such documents were signed but only one piece of blotting paper survives having been kept by Edward as a momento. 

Pteridomania
Sometime in the midst of the Victorian era the prim, priggish society was gripped by a craze, or obsession even, for … ferns. Everything from ornaments to gravestones from the mid to late 19th century bear the decorative motif of the fern plant. Victorians just bloody loved ferns.
The term pteridomania, meaning fern craze or fern madness, was coined by a Charles Kingsley in 1855 to describe those whose ‘daughters, perhaps, ha[d] been seized with the prevailing ‘Pteridomania’…and wrangl[ed] over unpronounceable names of species (which seem different in each new Fern-book that they buy) … and yet [it cannot be denied] that they find enjoyment in it, and are more active, more cheerful, more self-forgetful over it, than they would have been over novels and gossip, crochet and Berlin-wool.’
As an activity in which people from all social backgrounds could partake, fern collecting is believed to have helped form many unlikely friendships across the class spectrum - everyone could take part, from the serious scientist to amateurs who enjoyed collecting merely as a hobby. Fern plants would be pressed into albums, kept alive in wardian cases, painted, sculptured, used as stencils, and affixed to objects as decorations. As interesting as the everyday fern plant evidently was to the Victorians, odd-looking monstrosities, as they were called, such as the curled up Polystichum setiferum, were always of particular interest.
The sport was also potentially dangerous as people risked life and limb to get their hands on rare breeds. The body of William Williams, a botanical guide, was found at the foot of a cliff in Wales in 1861 after he attempted to collect Alpine Woodsia. The zealousness of the Victorians has also left a number of species in danger of extinction.
[Sources: Image: "Gathering Ferns" by Helen Allingham, from The Illustrated London News, July 1871 | Pteridomania]

Pteridomania

Sometime in the midst of the Victorian era the prim, priggish society was gripped by a craze, or obsession even, for … ferns. Everything from ornaments to gravestones from the mid to late 19th century bear the decorative motif of the fern plant. Victorians just bloody loved ferns.

The term pteridomania, meaning fern craze or fern madness, was coined by a Charles Kingsley in 1855 to describe those whose ‘daughters, perhaps, ha[d] been seized with the prevailing ‘Pteridomania’…and wrangl[ed] over unpronounceable names of species (which seem different in each new Fern-book that they buy) … and yet [it cannot be denied] that they find enjoyment in it, and are more active, more cheerful, more self-forgetful over it, than they would have been over novels and gossipcrochet and Berlin-wool.’

As an activity in which people from all social backgrounds could partake, fern collecting is believed to have helped form many unlikely friendships across the class spectrum - everyone could take part, from the serious scientist to amateurs who enjoyed collecting merely as a hobby. Fern plants would be pressed into albums, kept alive in wardian cases, painted, sculptured, used as stencils, and affixed to objects as decorations. As interesting as the everyday fern plant evidently was to the Victorians, odd-looking monstrosities, as they were called, such as the curled up Polystichum setiferum, were always of particular interest.

The sport was also potentially dangerous as people risked life and limb to get their hands on rare breeds. The body of William Williams, a botanical guide, was found at the foot of a cliff in Wales in 1861 after he attempted to collect Alpine Woodsia. The zealousness of the Victorians has also left a number of species in danger of extinction.

[Sources: Image: "Gathering Ferns" by Helen Allingham, from The Illustrated London News, July 1871 | Pteridomania]

Corpse Road

In medieval Britain, corpse roads provided a practical means for transporting corpses from remote communities to cemeteries in larger towns, that had burial rights. Concomitant expansion of church building throughout the UK during the late medieval period inevitably encroached on the territories of existing mother churches or minsters. Demands for autonomy from outlying settlements made minster officials feel that their authority was waning, as were their revenues, so they instituted corpse roads connecting outlying locations and their mother churches that alone held burial rights.
For some parishioners, this decision meant that corpses had to be transported long distances, sometimes through difficult terrain: usually a corpse had to be carried unless the departed was a wealthy individual. Many of the corpse roads have long disappeared, while the original purposes of those that still survive as footpaths have been largely forgotten, especially if features such as coffin stones, on which the coffin was placed while the parishioners rested, or crosses no longer exist.
Such corpse roads have developed a great deal of associated folklore. The essence of spirit lore is that spirits, that is, spirits of the dead, phantasms of the living, wraiths, or fairies move through the physical landscape along special routes. Such routes are conceived of as being straight and by the same token, convoluted or non-linear features hinder spirit movement.



Similarly, corpse roads would run in a straight line over mountains and valleys and through marshes. In towns, they would pass the houses closely or go right through them. The paths end or originate at a cemetery; therefore, such a path or road was believed to have the same characteristics as a cemetery, where spirits of the deceased thrive. As such, corpse roads became intrinsically associated with fairy roads and the supernatural entities which reside there. 
[Image Source]

Corpse Road

In medieval Britain, corpse roads provided a practical means for transporting corpses from remote communities to cemeteries in larger towns, that had burial rights. Concomitant expansion of church building throughout the UK during the late medieval period inevitably encroached on the territories of existing mother churches or minsters. Demands for autonomy from outlying settlements made minster officials feel that their authority was waning, as were their revenues, so they instituted corpse roads connecting outlying locations and their mother churches that alone held burial rights.

For some parishioners, this decision meant that corpses had to be transported long distances, sometimes through difficult terrain: usually a corpse had to be carried unless the departed was a wealthy individual. Many of the corpse roads have long disappeared, while the original purposes of those that still survive as footpaths have been largely forgotten, especially if features such as coffin stoneson which the coffin was placed while the parishioners rested, or crosses no longer exist.

Such corpse roads have developed a great deal of associated folkloreThe essence of spirit lore is that spirits, that is, spirits of the dead, phantasms of the living, wraiths, or fairies move through the physical landscape along special routes. Such routes are conceived of as being straight and by the same token, convoluted or non-linear features hinder spirit movement.

Similarly, corpse roads would run in a straight line over mountains and valleys and through marshes. In towns, they would pass the houses closely or go right through them. The paths end or originate at a cemetery; therefore, such a path or road was believed to have the same characteristics as a cemetery, where spirits of the deceased thrive. As such, corpse roads became intrinsically associated with fairy roads and the supernatural entities which reside there. 

[Image Source]

Plague Village

In order to satisfy our morbid curiosity my friend and I visited Eyam plague village today. It has quite a fascinating story:

Eyam is a small village in DerbyshireEngland, also know as the “plague village” which chose to completely isolate itself when the plague was discovered there in 1665.

The plague was brought to the village in a flea-infested bundle of cloth delivered from London to the tailor, George Viccars. Within a week, he was dead. Within two months 28 others also died. It was suggested that the villagers flee to the nearby city of Sheffield, however the rector, Rev. Mompesson, feared that they would spread the disease to the North of England which had, for the most part, escaped the plague.

Instead, the village decided to cut themselves off completely from the outside world, introducing a number of precautions to prevent the spread of illness, for instance, people were to bury their own dead and church services were moved from the local church to field area called Cucklett Delph, which meant villagers could separate themselves.

The village was supplied with food by [outsiders]. People brought supplies and left them at the [boundary stone] that marked the start of Eyam. The villagers left money in a water trough filled with vinegar to steralise the coins … In this way, Eyam was not left to starve to death [and] Those who supplied the food did not come into contact with the villagers.

The plague raged in the village for 14 months and when the first outsiders visited Eyam a year later, they found that around a quarter of the village had survived the plague. The church in Eyam has a record of 273 individuals who were victims of the plague.

Images: [1-3 are my own] 1: Plague Cottages: This was where the plague began, the righthand cottage was where the tailor, Viccars, lived. 2: The Riley Graves: Situated in a field just outside Eyam (in order to prevent the spread of infection) these are the graves of the Hancock family. Elizabeth Hancock buried her husband and six children within eight days of one another but survived the plague herself. 3: Shows what is inside the walls in image two. 4: [Source] The boundary stone where food was left for the villagers.

Peter the Wild Boy
Amongst William Kent’s depiction of George I’s court, which adorns the King’s Grand Staircase at Kensington Palace, is the above image of a smartly-attired but bushy-haired youth: the mysterious Peter the Wild Boy. Peter’s story is as sad as it is curious.

In Germany, in 1725, a ‘naked, brownish, blackhaired creature’ was found living in a woods near Hamelin. He walked on all fours and exhibited uncivilised behaviour. As an honoured guest at a banquet of George I, this feral boy aroused the curiosity of the king by gorging on vegetables and rare meats and eating noisily with his hands – behaviour which had him attributed with his title of Peter the Wild Boy. By royal request he was taken to England where he became an instant sensation, providing a remedy to the tedium of court life and inspiring such satirical works as The Most Wonderful Wonder that ever appeared to the Wonder of the British Nation (attrib. Jonathan Swift).

Peter appealed especially to the Princess of Wales, who essentially kept him as a pet. Though he was inclined to sleep on the floor he was dressed in a fine suit each morning, whilst vein attempts were made to properly educated him – though physically healthy “he could say nothing but his own name and a garbled form of ‘King George’. [Thus], Peter could not to live up to the popular interest invested in him and a fickle public quickly abandoned him in favour of the next unfortunate”1. 

Consequently, in 1728 he was taken to live in the country. Here “He developed a taste for gin and loved music, reportedly swaying and clapping with glee and dancing until he was exhausted. But he never learned to speak and his lack of any sense of direction gave cause for concern”2.

He was also prone to wandering. On one occasion, in the midst of the Jacobite Rebellion, he was mistaken as a Highlander and arrested; in 1751, he went missing for such a period of time advertisements were placed appealing for his safe return. When a fire broke out in goal in Norwich, some 100 miles from the farm on which Peter lived, and the inmates were released, one aroused particular curiosity due to his remarkable appearance and the strange sounds he uttered, leading some to describe him as an orangutan. He was identified as Peter the Wild Boy, returned to the farm and fitted with a collar bearing the inscription: ‘Peter, the Wild Man of Hanover. Whoever will bring him to Mr Fenn at Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, shall be paid for their trouble.’

Peter died in 1785 at the age of about 70. A portrait of Peter as an old man was published in Caulfield’s Portraits of Remarkable Persons, and matches the last description of him as having a full beard. He was buried at Northchurch and his grave can still be seen in the cemetery of St. Mary’s Church. A modern assessment of Peter’s condition might be read here.
[I wrote this myself (for a change) however I am heavily indebted to this, this and this. I’ve also had the pleasure of seeing Peter’s portrait with my very own eyes and I recommend it very much]

Peter the Wild Boy

Amongst William Kent’s depiction of George I’s court, which adorns the King’s Grand Staircase at Kensington Palace, is the above image of a smartly-attired but bushy-haired youth: the mysterious Peter the Wild Boy. Peter’s story is as sad as it is curious.

In Germany, in 1725, a ‘naked, brownish, blackhaired creature’ was found living in a woods near Hamelin. He walked on all fours and exhibited uncivilised behaviour. As an honoured guest at a banquet of George I, this feral boy aroused the curiosity of the king by gorging on vegetables and rare meats and eating noisily with his hands – behaviour which had him attributed with his title of Peter the Wild Boy. By royal request he was taken to England where he became an instant sensation, providing a remedy to the tedium of court life and inspiring such satirical works as The Most Wonderful Wonder that ever appeared to the Wonder of the British Nation (attrib. Jonathan Swift).

Peter appealed especially to the Princess of Wales, who essentially kept him as a pet. Though he was inclined to sleep on the floor he was dressed in a fine suit each morning, whilst vein attempts were made to properly educated him – though physically healthy “he could say nothing but his own name and a garbled form of ‘King George’. [Thus], Peter could not to live up to the popular interest invested in him and a fickle public quickly abandoned him in favour of the next unfortunate”1

Consequently, in 1728 he was taken to live in the country. Here “He developed a taste for gin and loved music, reportedly swaying and clapping with glee and dancing until he was exhausted. But he never learned to speak and his lack of any sense of direction gave cause for concern”2.

He was also prone to wandering. On one occasion, in the midst of the Jacobite Rebellion, he was mistaken as a Highlander and arrested; in 1751, he went missing for such a period of time advertisements were placed appealing for his safe return. When a fire broke out in goal in Norwich, some 100 miles from the farm on which Peter lived, and the inmates were released, one aroused particular curiosity due to his remarkable appearance and the strange sounds he uttered, leading some to describe him as an orangutan. He was identified as Peter the Wild Boy, returned to the farm and fitted with a collar bearing the inscription: ‘Peter, the Wild Man of Hanover. Whoever will bring him to Mr Fenn at Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, shall be paid for their trouble.’

Peter died in 1785 at the age of about 70. A portrait of Peter as an old man was published in Caulfield’s Portraits of Remarkable Persons, and matches the last description of him as having a full beard. He was buried at Northchurch and his grave can still be seen in the cemetery of St. Mary’s Church. A modern assessment of Peter’s condition might be read here.

[I wrote this myself (for a change) however I am heavily indebted to this, this and this. I’ve also had the pleasure of seeing Peter’s portrait with my very own eyes and I recommend it very much]

Tipu’s Tiger

'Tipu's Tiger' is an awesome, life-size beast of carved and painted wood, seen in the act of devouring a prostrate European in the costume of the 1790s. It has cast a spell over generations of admirers since 1808, when it was first displayed in the East India Company's museum. Concealed in the bodywork is a mechanical pipe-organ with several parts, all operated simultaneously by a crank-handle emerging from the tiger’s shoulder. Turning the handle pumps … bellows and controls the air-flow to simulate the growls of the tiger and cries of the victim.

Tipu Sultan, the ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore in India for whom the automaton was built, identified himself with tigers; his personal epithet was ‘The Tiger of Mysore,’ his soldiers were dressed in ‘tyger’ jackets, his personal symbol invoked a tiger’s face through clever use of calligraphy and the tiger motif is visible on his throne, and other objects in his personal possession [Source]. The death of a young Englishman named Munro carried off by a man-eating tiger in 1792 was the inspiration … Munro was the son of Sir Hector Munro, one of the East India Company’s generals. His death was seen by [Tipu] … as divine retribution against the British invaders [Source - see also documentary].

(Source: vam.ac.uk)

Edward VIII on the right, dressed as a lady!

Edward VIII on the right, dressed as a lady!

(via vintage-royalty)

Napoleon Bonaparte: Death by Wallpaper… Maybe

Napoleon [was] banished to St. Helena by the British. He lived out his final years at Longwood House, writing his memoirs, complaining of the damp, and bitching about the quality of his living conditions and keepers. The house had been selected specifically for its remoteness, on this already incredibly remote island, because of Napoleon’s reputation for coercion and escape. St. Helena was an extremely popular place of exile for difficult people. 

While there were many escape plots during Napoleon’s time on St. Helena - mostly unrealistic and complicated affairs (submarines!) dreamed up by far away supporters - none came to fruition. By February 1821, the emperor began to show signs of declining health. By May 15, he was dead.

The official cause of death was stomach cancer [but ever] since wild theories of assassination and accidental death have abounded, including, most famously, the incredible possibility of Napoleon’s “Poisoning by Wallpaper.” It seems that the combination of the damp environment, Napoleon’s tendency to seclude himself indoors, and Longwood House’s chic green wallpaper may have been a deadly combination.

The star patterned wallpaper included the very popular color known as “Scheele’s Green” - a dye used to produce a cheerful bright green color, and, as it turns out, also to off-gas deadly arsenic vapors when damp. Modern tests of strands of Napoleon’s hair showed it to have suspiciously elevated levels of arsenic. But alas….

Recent studies show that pretty much everyone’s hair from the era [had] elevated levels of arsenic due to regular exposure to all manner of toxi[ns] common in the [period]. Although we may never be certain, the much less glamorous stomach cancer is probably what actually did him in.

[Image Sources: 1 (Portrait of Napoleon on his deathbed) : 2 (A cutting of the offending wallpaper found in a verified scrapbook from the period next to the annotation: ’This small piece of paper was taken off the wall of the room in which the spirit of Napoleon returned to God who gave it’.) : 3 (Napoleon’s Hair)]

(Source: atlasobscura.com)

Christmas Truce

The Christmas truce was a series of widespread, unofficial ceasefires that took place along the Western Front around Christmas 1914, during World War I. Through the week leading up to Christmas, parties of German and British soldiers began to exchange seasonal greetings and songs between their trenches; on occasion, the tension was reduced to the point that individuals would walk across to talk to their opposite numbers bearing gifts. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, many soldiers from both sides – as well as, to a lesser degree, from French units – independently ventured into “no man’s land”, where they mingled, exchanging food and souvenirs. As well as joint burial ceremonies, several meetings ended in carol-singing. Troops from both sides were also friendly enough to play games of football with one another.


Advent Calendar of Oddments 2012: December 2nd

Christmas Truce

The Christmas truce was a series of widespread, unofficial ceasefires that took place along the Western Front around Christmas 1914, during World War I. Through the week leading up to Christmas, parties of German and British soldiers began to exchange seasonal greetings and songs between their trenches; on occasion, the tension was reduced to the point that individuals would walk across to talk to their opposite numbers bearing gifts. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, many soldiers from both sides – as well as, to a lesser degree, from French units – independently ventured into “no man’s land”, where they mingled, exchanging food and souvenirs. As well as joint burial ceremonies, several meetings ended in carol-singing. Troops from both sides were also friendly enough to play games of football with one another.
Advent Calendar of Oddments 2012: December 2nd
David Lloyd-George and Edward VIII. 1919.

David Lloyd-George and Edward VIII. 1919.

Nº. 1 of  4