The Sorcerer

Experts have placed the drawing to the end of the Ice Age within a period between 15,000 to 10,000 BC.
The Stag was clearly venerated by our ancestors, not just for its meat, but as a symbol suggesting masculine force, a powerful energy that exudes life energy, virility and fertility.
Thus the sorcerer’s dance portrays raw force and connection with humankind’s most ancient beliefs. Only a powerful shaman and elder would be entitled to wear such costume, using it as part of a ritual to enter the spiritual aspect of the natural world of the Stag and internalize aspects of this powerful animal’s character.

cave painting found in the cavern known as ‘The Sanctuary’ at the Cave of the Trois-Frères, Ariège, France, made around 13,000 BCE.

Thus the portrayal of this Shaman tells us that he aspired to, or was, the equivalent in his community: a proven, fertile father, a noble hunter, a defender of his herd – and in tune with the life and world of the forest. As the king of the forest the Stag also represents hierarchy, and a Shaman wearing this costume would be acting out leadership – his authority made the first laws.

Jon wears The Sorcerer

In Tarot this image corresponds with the Emperor.
This ancient drawing instantly connects us to Shamanism, spirituality, and the dance rituals of our ancient forefathers and gives us insight into their world. It reminds us that humans have always had a fascination for the spiritual, and a respect for nature.


Winchester Cathedral, Home of Medieval Tiles

Google search for images of Winchester Cathedral Tiles

Medieval floor tiles from the 13th century abound in Winchester Cathedral. They form the largest surviving spread of medieval decorated floor tiles inside any building in England. Find them in the Retrochoir at the far end of the Cathedral.

Winchester Cathedral

It is one of the largest cathedrals in Europe, having been dedicated in the deep past to Saint Swithun.

An ancient place indeed, Winchester was the capital of Anglo Saxon Wessex, now in Hampshire, and Winchester Cathedral is a grade 1 listed building.

Winchester Cathedral, home of medieval tiles

In 635 Cynegils, the king of the West Saxons, was baptised as part of Christianity coming to Saxon England. The original cathedral was founded in 642 and built just north, outside the current west door of the present day site, this first church became known as the Old Minster.

Saint Swithun, the first bishop of Winchester, was first buried near the Old Minster, as were the West Saxon kings, as in 899 Alfred the Great was buried there and King Eadwig and his wife Ælfgifu. The bones of Saint Swithun were famous and pilgrims flocked to his shrine.

By 971, the Old Minster formed part of a Benedictine monastic settlement.

In 1070 Stigand, the Saxon bishop, was replaced by Walkelin, the first Norman Bishop of Winchester and work began on the new, Norman Cathedral in 1079. Limestone was brought from the Isle of Wight, hauled along a Roman trackway to the sea, then taken by barge across the Solent and on to Winchester.

On 8 April 1093 the monks from the Old Minster moved into the new building we know as Winchester Cathedral.

The Annals of Winchester say, “in the presence of almost all the bishops and abbots of England, the monks came with the highest exultation and glory from the old minster to the new one”

Fleur de Lys, iconic symbol found on Medieval Tiles

The monk’s procession took place on the Feast of Saint Swithun and they carried the saint’s ornate reliquary with great ceremony to a new place of honour, behind the high altar in the cathedral. The following day work began to pull down the old minster.

The legend, that if it rains on St. Swithun’s day, it will continue for forty days, could be based on the day that the saint’s reliquary was moved from the Old Minster to the new High Alter. A violent storm is believed to have occurred, but for how long, is not known.

Pilgrims flocked to Winchester Cathedral in droves, enticed by the belief in the healing power of St Swithin’s bones. A tunnel beneath his shrine was named the ‘Holy Hole’, and pilgrims crawled in to be even closer to the holy relics. This continued until 1456, when an even more elaborate shrine of gold, silver and gems, was built at the opposite end of the church.

Griffin, iconic symbol found on Medieval Tiles

Walkelin’s site for his new cathedral was quite unsuitable. The marshy land meant that thousands of wooden piles had to be driven into the ground to sure up the new building. Even today, the cathedral’s crypt can easily flood. But much remains of Walkelin’s building : the crypt, transepts and nave. The original crossing tower, however, collapsed in 1107 and many thought it may be a sign of God’s disapproval for the burial of William Rufus (William II) which was right beneath it, for he was an unpopular king, murdered in the new forest in 1100.

Godfrey de Luci was bishop in 1189 and added a retrochoir in the Early English style. No other re-building occurred until the mid-14th century bishops Edington and Wykeham. Edingdon (1346–1366),William of Wykeham (1367–1404). Much was transformed, and the wooden ceilings were replaced with stone vaults.

It is believed that the Black Death halted the reconstruction of the west end of the cathedral in 1349. The level just above the three door arches was resumed about twenty five years later with less skill than previously. In the Middle Ages the cathedral was often used for royal court functions.

Henry of Beaufort (1405–1447), William of Waynflete (1447–1486), Peter Courtenay (Bishop 1486–1492) and Thomas Langton (1493–1500), all added to cathedral, with Richard Foxe (bishop between 1500–1528) being the last bishop to extend and add features in 1525.

Lion symbol, found on Medieval Tiles

Henry Beaufort was a half-brother of Henry IV and the richest man in England. On his death he left a fortune to the cathedral, which helped pay for the Great Screen, an ornately carved stone screen behind the high altar. Originally decorated with beautifully carved and painted statues, these were removed during the Reformation.

Henry VIII destroyed the cult of St Swithun in the Reformation. His commissioners entered the cathedral during the night on 21 September 1538. They destroyed the shrine, breaking it up and stealing the valuable pieces. The saint’s bones were lost and the Holy Hole was stopped up.

Despite the reformation, the cathedral maintains it’s medieval carvings, especially in the 14th century choir stalls. Some of these seats are called misericords, meaning ‘mercy seats’ for the monks to use during long services. It is said that the Winchester collection of misericords is one of the largest in England.

In modern times Historic England works to preserve the cathedral.

Oak Tree, iconic symbol from a Medieval Tile


References and links:


The Long Man of Wilmington, A Chalk Figure

The Long Man of Wilmington is a chalk picture that was made upon the Sussex Downs. Sometimes called the “Guardian of the Downs”, mystery surrounds his origin. Once believed to be drawn by William Burrell (from a record of 1766), this was disproved when an earlier drawing was discovered, made in 1710 by surveyor John Rowley.
The Long Man of Wilmington, guardian of the Sussex Downs

Thus debate continues, some are sure that he is prehistoric, others think he was made by a monk at the nearby priory some time between the 11th and 15th centuries. Yet others believe the Long Man is depicted in Roman coins from the fourth century.
He is certainly difficult to ignore, being 235 feet high on the steep slopes of Windover Hill.
Just like anything else from antiquity, he has been the subject of many theories. The latest idea from the experts is that he was originally just a shadow or indentaion in the grass rather than a solid line.

It is believed that he once had facial features, and that his head was once the shape of distinctive helmet. So the original figure may have represented a warrior, or a war god.

Over time steps were taken to preserve him, as by the 19th century he was only visible in certain conditions, such as when there was a light fall of snow. In 1874 his outline was marked by yellow bricks and it is said his feet were re- positioned!

Luckily he has survived and reminds us that in ancient times a chalk hill figure could indicate much to the traveller. Perhaps it denoted a territory, givign the message that there was a community or tribe in that area, and that there were fighting men, capable of defending their homeland! There may have been more to his story, but we must be content to admire his elegant pose and recognize that there was a purpose for his his presence on the Sussex Downs.

Is this a man holding two spears?

Or is this a man standing in a doorway?

Perhaps, beyond the threshold!

Like this image on a T Shirt?

A literary look at Witchcraft in the 17th Century

Surely the most notorious Reckless Relics must be witches? Shakespeare’s famous play, Macbeth, gives insight into how these characters (not always women) were viewed in the first decade of the 1600s and the subject continued to be popular throughout the whole of the 17th century, the Salem Witch Crisis occurring in America in 1692.

17th Century Woodcut – Dancing to the Devil’s music!

This article is about the literature that dealt with the subject of witchcraft, what academics of the day believed and how they influenced public opinion about witchcraft. The seventeenth century began with the Gunpowder Plot followed by the English Civil War, a particularly volatile time for the population of England. People genuinely feared witchcraft at the start of the seventeenth century, influenced by the religious beliefs of the Puritans, but opinions changed. Literature about witchcraft evolved, giving a fascinating glimpse into our ancestors psychology. As time moves on the subject has become mythologized. This article shines some light on how attitudes changed and why most of us love the idea of Halloween today.

What was the fascination with ‘OLD NICK’? How could anyone believe they were BEWITCHED? Common culture scapegoated many a poor unfortunate old woman years ago, and yet there were others who readily admitted to practising witchcraft, although they may have done this under torture. Let’s see what facts survive in the context of the times.

Charles 1st came to the throne in 1625 and triggered instability in England due to his relationship with parliament. In 1642 the King’s wife, Henrietta Maria, moved to the Netherlands with the crown jewels and the English Civil War was underway. Battles raged between Cavaliers and Roundheads for years, until, on 30th January 1649, Charles 1st was executed.

One may wonder if the growing interest in witches and witchcraft during the years of the English Civil war reflected the strain of living through such unstable times? Villager’s experiences were already precarious – life could be threatened by plague and other diseases and the possibility of famine. Soldiers were known to abuse communities as they passed through and families were forced to supply their menfolk for the armies. For those with battle injuries, treatment was little more than folk cures. Superstition seemed to be second nature and it is no wonder that people sought unfounded reasons for their problems. Unfortunately the most vulnerableusually took the blame for a community’s angst, and fearful people fed with silly ideas were easily persuaded.

Looking at the literature about witches in the 1600s

King James, wrote “Dæmonologie” which was re-published in London when he ascended the English throne in 1603 and there were others who wrote on the subject of witchcraft. William Perkins wrote, “Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft”, published in 1608. Perkins was a fellow of Christ’s College at Cambridge and an eminent preacher respected by the Puritans. His sermon on witchcraft, given sometime between 1584 and 1597, reflected a strong belief in the reality of witchcraft, probably prompted by Reginald Scot’s work, “Discoverie”.

Perkins used a biblical argument for the existence of witches, but repudiated the power of witches to transform human beings into other shapes. Neither did he believe in the scratching of witches or testing them by water. Perkins was unclear about bodily marks, which King James found significant. Perkins did believe in the death penalty, if based on good evidence and was cautious about accusations against “good witches”. He condoned torture in extreme instances.

Ring Dance

John Cotta from Northampton appears as a “Doctor in Physicke”. He studied at Cambridge and in 1612 he published “A Short Discoverie of the Unobserved Dangers”, with a chapter about the relationship between witchcraft and sickness which he elaborated upon in his “The Triall of Witchcraft” published in 1616. He, too, disapproved of trial by water and the search for evidence of marks on a witches body, but believed there could be contracts with the Devil, using Merlin and Joan of Arc as examples. He dismissed the idea of possession, probably due to the case of Mistress Belcher. She was believed to be bewitched, but after the two supposed witches were hanged at Northampton, their victim fell ill again.

Yet Cotta continued to believe that witches were real, being difficult to discover unless they confessed. Even then there may be, “meane, poore and uncertain proofe,” because the Devil could induce a false confession. Cotta believed that people could be over-imaginative in their observations and that coincidence could play a part in a witch’s predictions. Real cases of witch induced possessions, Cotta believed, could be detected by the “Physicion”, not the clergy.

In 1616 Alexander Roberts emerged as “minister of God’s word” at King’s Lynn in Norfolk. His literary contribution was called “A Treatise of Witchcraft” which gave an account of the trial of Mary Smith and a justification of her punishment.

1617 saw the publication of “The Mystery of Witchcraft”, by the Reverend Thomas Cooper, who believed he had discovered “the practise of Anti-Christ in that hellish Plot of the Gunpowder-treason“. Reminiscent of sensational journalism, he brought out the same work five years later under another title, “Sathan transformed into an Angell of Light, … [ex]emplified specially in the Doctrine of Witchcraft” .

When we reach the reign of Charles 1st, prior to the Civil Wars, only Richard Bernard of Batcombe was writing about witchcraft. Bernard preached in Nottinghamshire, then Somerset. Whilst in Nottinghamshire he witnessed exorcisms and at Taunton in 1626 he sought fair treatment for witches who were on trial. His book, “Guide to Grand-Jurymen … in cases of Witchcraft,” was published in 1627 which gave a “plaine countrey Minister’s testimony.”Like Cotta, he was skeptical of the water ordeal, but he accepted the use of a magical glass to discover “the suspected.” His warned courts to be careful in their methods of inquiry, reflecting caution in an age where witchcraft seemed real, but punishments were beginning to be viewed as over zealous.

Seventeen years later, John Gaule appeared more sceptical than Bernard, and challenged Hopkins the Witch Hunter in 1646, begging caution in the use of evidence. He wrote that suspicion was too lightly entertained against “every poore and peevish olde Creature.” Too many things were blamed on witchcraft, such “Tokens of Tryall” he deemed “altogether unwarrantable, as proceeding from ignorance, humor, superstition.” He was also sceptical about confession, arguing that the confessor may be diabolically deluded, or forced, or be confessing from the result of melancholy. Gaule had serious doubts about witch lore : metamorphoses, and narratives of “tedious journeys upon broomes”. Witches, he believed, could sometimes be detected, but only with exceeding caution and their discovery belonged to the province of the “Magistracy and Ministery.”

During the period of the Commonwealth Henry More and Meric Casaubon wrote against witches and Robert Filmer and Thomas Ady defended them.

More was educated at Cambridge and was an English philosopher. Grounded in Plato and Descartes, he studied Eastern Cabalistic philosophy and his ideas about witchcraft were influenced by the ‘mystic Oriental system’ . In 1653 More issued “An Antidote to Atheisme.” Saying that the phenomena of witchcraft gave evidence for the reality of the spirit world.

More heard a story about an old man of Cambridge, “Old Strangridge,” who was carried over Shelford Steeple “upon a black Hogge, and tore his breeches upon the weather-cock.” This, More believed, was absolute proof of the “nocturnal conventicles” of witches.

He was a dualist, believing that mind and matter were two separate entities, and questioned how the souls of witches could leave their bodies. He wrote, “I conceive the Divell gets into their body and by his subtile substance more operative and searching than any fire or putrefying liquor, melts the yielding Campages of the body to such a consistency … and makes it pliable to his imagination: and then it is as easy for him to work it into what shape he pleaseth.” He explained how this process differs from death by reasoning that death was the result of the unfitness of the body to contain the soul. He believed that when the Devil was operating the body it could be anointed in such fashion that the soul could leave and return!

Meric Casaubon was sceptical of More’s explanations, he wrote “Treatise concerning Enthusiasme”. Nathaniel Homes was a disciple of Perkins and believed that evil spirits performed many of their wonders by tricks of juggling, and the Devil was a presage of the last days. More, Casaubon, and Homes all offered personal explanations, and adhered to the main doctrines. The following men challenged those views:

Sir Robert Filmer was a Kentish knight and royalist who attended the Maidstone witch trials in 1652 where six women were convicted. The following year he published his “Advertisement to the Jurymen of England” where he interpreted passages in the Old Testament, declaring the Hebrew witch guilty of nothing more than “lying prophecies” and “hollow speaking”. He felt that some evidence was worthless.

Thomas Ady published “Candle in the Dark” three years later in 1655. Like Filmer, Ady was a disciple of Scot and dismissed all that came before, even refusing to believe that King James had been the author of his own work. Ady rejected the water ordeal and the evidence of marks and refused to accept that threats caused illness saying, “They that make this Objection must dwell very remote from Neighbours.” Yet Ady still believed in witches, but not in their power.

And so, over a hundred years, no author was willing to deny the existence of witches. Happily, by the end of the century, many people stopped believing in the water ordeal and the evidence of marks to prove that a person was a witch, but it was still widely believed that witches travelled through the air.

17th Century Woodcut A witch and her famiiars

Drama of the 17th Century

Shakespeare used a great deal of witch lore in Macbeth, written circa 1606, but did not necessarily believe it himself. Thomas Middleton, who wrote “Witch” is thought to have drawn on Shakespeare’s witches, as did Dekker who collaborated with Middleton when writing “The Witch of Edmonton”. It is unknown if they took the subject seriously.

Ben Jonson however, ridiculed all supernatural phenomena and Thomas Heywood, in his play, “The Lancashire Witches” had a character say, “It seemes then you are of opinion that there are witches. For mine own part I can hardly be induc’d to think there is any such kinde of people.” Heywood, though, it is said, actually believed in witchcraft .

Three eminent writers also dealt with the witchcraft question. Burton, in “Anatomy of Melancholy” said “many deny witches at all, or, if there be any, they can do no harm.” James Howell wrote, “…he who denies there are such busy Spirits and such poor passive Creatures upon whom they work, (witches) … shews that he himself hath a Spirit of Contradiction in him.” Francis Osborne, an essayist, enjoyed disagreeing with the conventional, and it is believed that his scepticism of witchcraft influenced a generation.

At some time in the reign of James I, Francis Bacon wrote his Sylva Sylvarum and touched upon witchcraft, warning judges against believing the confessions of witches and evidence against them. “For the witches themselves are imaginative and believe oft-times they do that which they do not; and people are credulous in that point, and ready to impute accidents and natural operations to witchcraft….”

John Selden was a jurist who wrote “Table Talk” which included a paragraph on witches. He declared, “The Law against Witches does not prove there be any; but it punishes the Malice of those people that use such means to take away mens Lives….”

This view was shared by the philosopher Hobbes who issued his great “Leviathan” in 1651. He wrote,“As for Witches, I think not that their witchcraft is any reall power; but yet that they are justly punished for the false beliefe they have that they can do such mischief, joined with their purpose to do it if they can.”

Pamphlet Literature.

In 1612, the narrator of the Northampton cases wrote “many that remaine yet in doubt whether there be any Witches or no.” Mr. Potts, who reported the Lancaster cases of 1612, writes that the kinsfolk and friends of Jennet Preston, who was prosecuted at York, believed her accusation to be an act of malice.

In 1622 a Yorkshire poet and gentleman, Edward Fairfax, was concerned that his daughters were bewitched and would have had six women hanged if he had not met with great local opposition to it. In James’s reign, pamphlet-writers could meet opposition, but those of the Civil Wars and Commonwealth often met with ridicule. “There are some,” says the narrator of a Yorkshire story, “who are of opinion that there are no Divells nor any witches…. Men in this Age are grown so wicked, that they are apt to believe there are no greater Divells than themselves.” Of the sceptical public, one writer wrote that it was “very chary and hard enough to believe passages of this nature.”

The Civil Wars developed a regular London press and in 1654 the Mercurius Democritus, (equivalent to Punch) ridiculed supernatural stories that were in circulation. In 1648 a brochure appeared entitled, “The Devil seen at St. Albans, Being a true Relation how the Devill was seen there in a Cellar, in the likeness of a Ram; and how a Butcher came and cut his throat, and sold some of it, and dressed the rest for himselfe, inviting many to supper, who did eat of it.” The story was a parody of the demon tracts that appeared during the wars.

Opinion was reflecting a growing force of doubt. But the woodcut pictures of witches and devils that survive are so enthralling that one wonders what impact they made on the mostly illiterate public. Today, as we steal ourselves to watch the horror movie to the bitter end, or laugh at the zombie comedy films, we betray the fact that we share a similar psychology with our ancestors: many of us enjoy a little fear. There are still those who believe in witches and magic, and supernatural stories conjure up such delicious, edgy emotions, it is no wonder that today people just love to dress up and enjoy Halloween with it’s witchy connotations.

This Article, Reference:

Jon wearing one of our first series Halloween T Shirts, available at the Reckless Relic shop

Tally Ho

Research is a marvelous thing. Never before did I think to look at the world of opera and the Drury Lane plays which appealed to good dress-sense over circus buffoonery.
In the days after Mozart (1756-1791) and Hayden (died 1759), many who considered themselves cultured may have regarded it important to frequently bathe ones ears in the delight of music.

For country people this must have been just so, for they appreciated unadulterated birdsong from dawn to dusk. Just like music today, it was perceived to relieve melancholy. The best performers played for royalty in Vienna and Paris, and there was a healthy love of the stage by the English.

We had Shakespeare for goodness-sake.

Some sources say that boot-makers were commonly musicians and men of letters, and thus more susceptible to political schemes. Yet with the rise in opera fashions and celebrity actors and actresses who hung out with poets and writers, it seems possible to me that artisans had enthusiasm for this art-form.

I imagine that sometimes, stories regarding the theater, circulated the London coffee houses and chop-shops. I wonder if these stories could travel from one end of London to another in a night?

The fast pace of London, the excitement of celebrity and the sheer scream of the masked ball, (once famous in Covent Garden), transmits an emotion of Hollywood to me. Michael Kelly, the Irish actor, certainly seemed like a celebrity in his time.

That life itself becomes a play for the broadsides and fame brings riches, is a view I challenge, for Michael Kelly’s niece was on the stage from the age of ten, but seemed to rely on help from aristocratic circles to survive. What I did learn was that the actors who lived with and around Michael Kelly were unusual, possible eccentric types. Could they have been ahead of their time? Could they have contributed to what later became Bohemian subculture? I believe so.

So here is an exert of Reminiscences…, Volume 1 By Michael Kelly, Theodore Edward Hook set circa 1800, in Vienna:

“Upon my return, my servant informed me that a lady and gentleman had called upon me, who said they came from England, and requested to see me at their hotel. I called the next morning, and saw the gentleman, who said his name was Botterelli, that he was the Italian poet of the King’s Theater in the Haymarket, and that his wife was an English woman, and a principal singer at Vauxhall, Ranelagh, the Pantheon, &c.

Her object in visiting Vienna was to give a concert, to be heard by the Emperor, and if she gave that satisfaction, (which she had no doubt she would,) to accept of an engagement at the Royal Theater; and he added, that she had letters for the first nobility in Vienna.

The lady came into the room; she was a very fine woman, and seemed sinking under the conscious load of her own attractions. She really had powerful letters of recommendation. Prince Charles Lichtenstein granted her his protection, and there was such interest made for her, that the Emperor himself signified his Royal intention of honouring her concert with his presence.

Every thing was done for her; the orchestra and singers were engaged; the concert began to a crowded house, but, I must premise we had no rehearsal. At the end of the first act, the beauteous Syren, led into the orchestra by her caro sposo, placed herself just under the Emperor’s box, the orchestra being on the stage. She requested me to accompany her song on the piano forte. I of course consented. Her air and manner spoke “ dignity and love.”

A Very Fine Woman

The audience sat in mute and breathless expectation. The doubt was, whether she would melt into their ears in a fine cantabile, or burst upon them with a brilliant bravura. I struck the chords of the symphony— silence reigned—when, to the dismay and astonishment of the brilliant audience, she bawled out, without feeling or remorse, voice or time, or indeed one note in tune, the hunting song of “Tally ho!” in all its pure originality.

She continued shrieking out Tally ho! tally ho! in a manner and tone so loud and dissonant, that they were enough to blow off the roof of the house. The audience jumped up terrified; some shrieked with alarm, some hissed, others hooted, and many joined in the unknown yell, in order to propitiate her.

The Emperor called me to him, and asked me in Italian (what tally ho! meant?)—I replied I did not know, and literally, at that time, I did not. His Majesty, the Emperor, finding, that even I, a native of Great Britain, either could not, or would not, explain the purport of the mysterious words, retired with great indignation from the theater, and the major part of the audience, convinced by His Majesty’s sudden retreat that they contained some horrible meaning, followed the Royal example.

The ladies hid their faces with their fans, and mothers were heard in the lobbies cautioning their daughters on the way out, never to repeat the dreadful expression of “tally ho,” nor venture to ask any of their friends for a translation of it. The next day, when I saw the husband of “tally ho,” he abused the taste of the people of Vienna, and said that the song which they did not know how to appreciate, had been sung by the celebrated Mrs. Wrighton at Vauxhall, and was a great favourite all over England.

Signora Tally Ho!

Thus, however, ended the exhibition of English taste; and Signora Tally ho! with her Italian poet, went hunting elsewhere, and never returned to Vienna, at least during my residence.”

Biggleswade History Society Walk on Shortmead Street – Review

Advertised as : ‘Cracking Tales and dark Deeds in Old Biggleswade’  this walk was led by Jane Croot of Biggleswade History Society on Wednesday, 2 July 2014.


Having a busy life means less blogging – but here I am again! Recklessly writing children’s stories about my alter ego – a witch called Gwubbins, has meant slowing up on other projects. However, history will not be kept down and I could not resist a foray into the town of Biggleswade in Bedfordshire, England, for a walkabout with the Biggleswade History Society.

My connection to Biggleswade is through my grandparents who were the last of seven generations to live thereabouts. The walk was well attended and I felt at home with fellow enthusiasts as we listened to the stories Jane told about the infamous Shortmead Street, one of the oldest streets in Biggleswade.

Beginning by the modern bridge at the Dan Albone carpark, Jane related the story of a waggon that crashed into the River Ivel from the old (probably wooden) bridge that had been nearby in July 1787. Although I knew this story, she brought the incident alive and I knew that this walk and talk was going to be fun. Next she led us to the site of the old Sun Inn and explained how it would have looked and what this establishment would have meant to the coaches passing through and the employment opportunities that it gave the local people.

As we passed down Shortmead Street we were shown where the wharves for the canal goods once stood with old buildings and lost ale houses, although the Coach and Horses is still present. Jane gave an idea of where the wealthy lived and where the poor struggled. She indicated where Anchor Yard would have been, and there was no illusion, the home of my ancestors would have been rough and overcrowded. No wonder the expanding family moved out of the town, returning to the surrounding villages of Langford and Clifton.

The bell ringers were having a practice so that Jane was nearly drowned out at the grave yard of St Andrews Church, where we were shown two distinct gravestones, one of the founder of Battersea Dogs home, the other a grim reminder of an inspector of bridges who crossed to the wrong railway line one day, consequently losing his head. The papers of the day claimed he left over thirty children and there was speculation that he may have had a family at every station, as Jane had researched his records and he was never at home with his wife on census day.

The gory story of the body snatchers was retold at the other side of the graveyard and we learned that a dead body had no value, so when the thieves were caught, they were only fined, and this was probably paid off by the London School of Medicine who were often desperate for bodies to practice on…..

We learned of horse thieves who were hung, stocking stealers who brawled in the pub yard and serious rioting which was quelled with copious amounts of beer. I can honestly say that I felt well and truly connected to the Biggleswade of my ancestors for about two hours that evening.

Many stories survive despite there being no local paper until late in the 1800s. This History Society has an excellent website and a passion for the town of Biggleswade. Sharing time with this group gave me an excellent insight into the past, and like all great experiences, I made new friends.




Pigs as Horses



‘In the autumn of 1811 people doing business in Bedford market had the surprise of their lives when an eccentric farmer came to market in a vehicle drawn by four large
hogs. It had been specially constructed and was smaller than most other conveyances on the roads.

The farmer who lived outside Bedford is said to have entered the town ‘at a brisk trot’.
Crowds seemed to come from all over the place to see the unusual spectacle. He took the vehicle round the market place three or four times, then drove into the yard of the Woolpack Inn, where the hogs were unharnessed in a stable and fed well from a
trough full of beans and wash. The farmer went to do his normal market business,
returning three hours later with his purchases. The hogs were harnessed again and
the farmer set off home. He, his vehicle and his hogs drove out of Bedford to cheers of
encouragement from people lining the streets.

The farmer had only been training the hogs for this sort of work for six months. An
eyewitness commented ‘it is really surprising to what a high state of docility and tractablity he has brought them’.  A well to do man was so struck by the novelty of
what he had seen that he offered the owner of the trained hogs fifty pounds for the conveyance and the animals. The offer was indignantly refused.

The demonstration may have been in part a protest against government taxes levied on various forms of livestock to pay for the Napoleonic wars. There had been earlier protests at taxes on animals. When the horse tax was imposed by William Pitt in 1784 a northern farmer drove his cow to market to show his contempt for the legislation.’
Based on a report in the Wakefield and Halifax Journal of November 1811.

Source :Bedfordshire Magazine Vol 21 No 161

© Ella Jo

Happy New Year 2013

Christmas and New Year were especially fun this year as we saw out the old 2012. I staggered up to an eminent archaeologist in the pub on Christmas Eve to give him a ‘hot archaeological tip’ which he took very good humouredly (I realized later when I totalled up the number of brandies I had consumed)…

The end of 2012 saw happy neighbourly gatherings, drinks with old friends and the opportunity to review all the hard work the year had seen…perhaps 2013 will see a reaping of the rewards! And to top it all Father Christmas popped in to say hello on his way to see a little girl down the road – making it a very special Christmas indeed!

Patronymic Family Surnames

A patronymic is a component of a surname based on an earlier male ancestor such as the father or grandfather. Conveying lineage, patronymics names are still in use world wide. Patronyms pre-date the use of family names and can be found in many Celtic, English, Scandinavian, and Slavic surnames.Other cultures formerly using patronyms now pass on the father’s last name to his children, although patronymics are still commonly used as middle names in Russia.

In England, names ending with the suffix ‘son’ were often originally patronymic. The prefix ‘Fitz’ (from French for ‘son’), appears in English aristocracy from the time of the Norman Invasion, and in Anglo-Irish names. The name Fitzroy, meaning ‘son of the king’, was used by the illegitimate children of royalty, acknowledged as such by their fathers.

‘Mac’, meaning ‘son’ was prevalent in Scottish Gaelic, Irish and Manx, occurring as ‘Mag’ in Ireland. In Ulster, the Isle of Man and Galloway, ‘Mac’ was frequently anglicisized, eg ‘Qualtrough’ meant son of Walter and ‘Quayle’ meant son of Paul,(MacPhail). In Ireland, this truncation resulted in surnames such as ‘Guinness’. Colloquial Scottish Gaelic has other patronymics, still in use. An interesting crossover variation in the use of ‘Ó’ for grandson in Irish (anglicised as ‘O’) and ‘Ap’ for ‘son’ in Welsh. Thus ‘Howell’ from West Wales was derived from Uí Mhell of old Irish, which then became O’Well, then ‘Howell’ in their Welsh relatives.Thus ‘Ap Howell’ means ‘the son of the grandson of Mell’!

In Wales, before the 1536 Act of Union, all Welsh people used patronyms and matronym as the sole way of naming people. Welsh, used ‘Map’ which in modern Welsh is ‘Mab’, in contrast to the Celtic Scottish ‘Mac’. Up until the Industrial Revolution, the use of patronyms was still widespread, especially in the west and north of Wales. A revival of patronyms during the 20th century continues today. Because Cornwall was absorbed early on into England, patronyms are less common than toponyms or occupational surnames.

Meaning literally ‘son of the uncle’ in Old English , Eames meant maternal uncle. The term fell out of use after the Norman Invasion, although in the late 14th century poem ‘Sir Gawain And The Greene Knight’, the young Gawain addresses King Arthur as ‘myn em’. (part 1 line 356)

In the aristocracy or ‘courtly society’ there was a strong bond between uncle and nephew (Nave being a surname from the latter), and the forms ‘Eames’ and in America, ‘Ames’, probably survive from the relationship as a favorite or ward of an uncle. The alternative suggestion ‘son of Emma’ has been rejected, and the surname, ‘Neame’, certainly arises from the incorrect division of the customary form of address.

Mr H P Guppy in his ‘House of Family Names in Great Britain’ (1890), recorded Eames in only two counties, Bedfordshire and Somerset. ‘Numerous entries in the telephone directory show how tenaciously it has survived, spreading into North Hertfordshire’.
Bedfordshire Magazine Vol 17 number 129 Summer 1979.

© Ella Jo

A Good Halloween

Happy Halloween!

It was a Good Halloween, but I sort of missed it. Between writing and singing and choosing music,Halloween got a bit forgotten, even though I would have loved to have thrown a party! I hope it will come together next year!

I did find some great props for a spooky picture though!

I have an Edgar Allen Poe book to go with this scene!

Time to gather fruit, walk through the swirly mists and navigate blindly through the fog! – Oh and light the fire of course!

Like an awesome Halloween T Shirt?

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