Saturday, 26 May 2012

City And Country

Here's another collection of interesting details gleaned from my travels in Cambridge and Cambridgeshire; everywhere you look in England you can find these fragments of history just waiting to be noticed.

The Tale Of The Yale

What are these two strange beasts above the entrance to Christ's College? They are known as "yales" and are mythical beasts based on the tales of early travellers. Their most distinctive feature is the horns which are always shown pointing forward and back. It has been suggested that the inspiration for such an animal was the Dinka tribe of Africa who train the horns of their cattle in just such a way. Incidentally the word "yale" completely defeats all on-line dictionaries. Unsurprisingly it also baffles Blogger's spellcheck facility - but then it also fails to recognise the word "blog"!

Mapping The Land

Scattered around the British countryside are these odd-looking three-foot (1m) high concrete pillars. They are relics from the great surveys which produced the Ordnance Survey maps of the nation. The surveying equipment was attached to the top of the pillars which were designed to be as stable as possible so that the maps could be updated regularly. They are no longer in use since the advent of satellite-mapping but still make useful landmarks. I remember leading a group of walkers across a rather featureless moorland in Wales, the fog was down and it was beginning to snow. I have never been more relieved to see a lump of concrete revealing itself through the mist!

Clever Gate

A double gate that converts to a kissing-gate - now that is clever. Seen on a Hertfordshire churchyard lychgate. It can open up to allow wedding or funeral processions, can be completely closed or, in the configuration shown, allow pedestrians in and keep animals out. As far as I'm aware this is a unique piece of ingenuity.

A Cambridge Secret

How many people standing waiting for buses in Emmanuel Street in Cambridge realise that a tunnel passes under the road between the brick buildings on either side? It is used by students and staff of Emmanuel College to walk from one part of the college to another without the risk of being run down by a bus.

Coat Of Arms

Every church in England should show their allegiance to the Crown by displaying the Royal coat of arms; after all the reigning monarch has also been the head of the Church Of England since the time of Henry VIII. However many churches seem to have forgotten about this obligation and you won't see many as fine as this one in Cottenham church.

Dead Ringer!

Sorry, couldn't resist that. Another disused telephone box in the English countryside. No longer needed now everyone carries a phone in their pocket.

Take care.  


  1. I found these very interesting John. You are quite right - every area has these things, but you have to look for them. Most people pass them by without a second glance, and yet they hold - between them - clues to our history. I would like more please!

  2. John, gates similar to the Hertfordshire gate that you photographed in the churchyard are used here in the United States to deter bicyclists from using forbidden trails but allow walkers to gain access. They're never as beautiful as your gate, they are usually fixed (i.e., cannot be fully opened), and rarely deter bicyclists since the (very fit) bicyclists just lift the bike over the gate.

  3. I looked up "yale" on some name sites. From Welsh or Old English, yale means: heights, upland, fertile moor. In Israeli, yael means God's strength. I like the spots on the beasts and somehow the horns going in opposite directions is ringing a bell. I think there may be some kind of wild goat that has horns like that.

  4. Another spectacular post, John, chock full of interesting material and excellent photos. Those "yales" are new to me.

  5. I always enjoy it when you do this kind of post, so many interesting bits and pieces. The yales are great, I haven't come across them before. The coat of arms is a beauty, I had to enlarge it to see which George it was.


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