Friday, 8 April 2016

30 By The Roadside

There's never a chance that I'll exceed the thirty-mile-per-hour speed limit as I pedal my bike through the lanes of East Anglia, seeking out interesting items to tell you about. It seems that these posts, featuring random snippets of curious information from odd corners of our history and landscape, are always popular with readers. Some have demanded that I come up with more of this stuff, though unfortunately it's not always as easy as that.

However this is now the thirtieth such post - hence the roadsign on the left. If you click on the 30 at the end of this post you can read all of these should you want to see the pearls of wisdom that you've missed.

The Royal Arms

In the village church at Therfield I discovered this royal coat of arms. As I've mentioned before every church in the country is supposed to display the royal arms of the current monarch who is, nominally at least, the head of the Church of England. In most cases the churches fail miserably at this; many have no royal crests on display while others are hopelessly out of date. This only makes it even more fun to look for them.

You can tell the date by the changing designs of the arms. This one seems to come from the time of James I (1603-1625), though these particular arms were revived by Charles II after the restoration of the monarchy, and were again used by Queen Anne. Despite the intricate carving of the arms there is, unusually, a spelling mistake on the garter - "PEИES" rather than "PENSE" just below the unicorns hoof.

Will Kempe

A while ago I told you the extraordinary tale of the Shakespearean actor Will Kempe who Morris danced his way from London to Norwich back in 1600. I said that I didn't know if he'd done it for a bet or out of sheer exuberance. It turns out, according to a report on a local BBC TV programme, that the truth is even more remarkable. He did it in a fit of pique after - wait for it - an argument with William Shakespeare about the lack of funny bits in Hamlet !

You see, Kempe was a member of Shakespeare's theatre troupe and was famous for portraying Sir John Falstaff and other comic characters. His fame was such that he felt people came to watch him rather than listen to the bard's versifying. He was so put out that no comic role existed in Hamlet that he left the company and, in an attempt at self-publicity, embarked on his epic dance to Norwich.

Even in those days before social media, or any sort of media for that matter, he attracted huge interest and, although he called his trip The Nine Day's Wonder, it took him rather longer than that. He found there were many excellent inns and pretty serving-maids between London and Norwich and these understandably delayed his progress.

Hodson's Bathing Temple

This odd-looking building (or is it just part of a building) stands beside the River Cam on the outskirts of Cambridge. I remember glancing at it as I punted past in my youth but never knew what it was, or cared what it was if I'm honest. However, recently it was proposed to knock it down which inspired someone to create an on-line petition which I, and lots of other people, signed. It's still there so maybe it's been reprieved. 

In fact it should have been knocked down years ago or should never have been allowed to be built in the first place. The land on which it stands was annexed from a piece of common land by the local builder, John Hodson, in 1887. He enclosed the area with a high wall, which still stands, and built the summer-house above which bears his coat-of-arms. From here he could supervise his daughters swimming in the river.  

Hodson lost most of his money when the railway speculator, Whittaker Wright, fled to America taking the cash with him.

Tough, Rugged Polar Explorer

No, not the old chap with the whiskers, that's just me showing you how small the boat is. It's the boat that's the star.

The exploits of the Antarctic explorer, Ernest Shackleton, are rather eclipsed in the English-speaking world by the legend of Scott's tragic expedition. Once Amundsen had reached the South Pole, Shackleton set his sights on crossing Antarctica via the pole. Shackleton's ship, Endurance, became stuck in pack ice and it was decided that the only course of action was to wait till the ice thawed in the following spring.

When the ice began to break up it exerted so much pressure on the ship that it began to sink. The crew set up camp on a large ice floe and hoped it would drift towards Paulet Island where they knew that supplies had been cached. However the ice floe began to disintegrate and the men took to the three lifeboats and began a five day journey to Elephant Island where the exhausted men set up camp.

Here the ship's carpenter made some modifications to one of the lifeboats and six men were selected to attempt to get help. They travelled 800 miles through mountainous seas and hurricane force winds in their little lifeboat - yes, just like the one above - and somehow navigated their way to the island of South Georgia. The three fittest men then had to cross 36 miles of mountains to the whaling station to get help. How they achieved this in their exhausted state, with nothing but a length of rope and a carpenter's adze to serve as an ice axe, I don't know, but achieve it they did. Eventually all the men from the expedition were saved.

Name That Parson

Back to Therfield Church and one of those boards that list all the former vicars, reaching back to Medieval times. For some reason you can't help but stand and read some of the names. There's no point whatever in this exercise - it's hardly likely that you knew any of them after all! However some do have unlikely names, so I leave you in the pastoral care of:

Almeric Shylond
though he dates back to the 1300s when you'd expect names to be a little different.

But even within the last hundred years we find the economically named
Humphrey Humphreys

as well as the extravagantly monickerred 
Harlovin Harwood ffolliott Eliot
one would have liked to have known him 
even if he turned out to be a lot more staid and conventional than his name suggests.

Click on the number below if you want to read all the "snippets" posts 

Take care.


  1. Spelling - the bane for so many back then and now.I recently heard of some fraudsters who were nabbed due to a spelling error.
    Wonderful names. Feel a bit sorry for Harlovin. Imagine in primary school having to write that out all the time.

  2. I did enjoy those snippets. The Inns and serving-maids were particularly appealing, and the handsome dude beside the boat!

  3. I've read about Shackleton's epic adventures - he was one amazing man!

  4. That sure was an amazing story about Shackleton

  5. Wonderful! Love the stories of Will Kempe and Ernest Shackleton. If an author created any of those names for fictitious characters they wouldn't ring true but there they are, I wonder what they were all like? How fascinating:)

  6. There's so much to discover!

  7. I think I like the name Almric Shylond best John. I think if he was announced into a room it would certainly stop everyone talking for a few minutes. Somehow you can't help imagining a face to all your names can you?

  8. I love these walks down the lanes of history. I especially like the story of Will Kempe's dancing to Norwich.

  9. Fun! I can imagine Mr Hodson with his feet up, reading a book, while his daughters chattered and giggled in the water. And those names -- gems! Very observant of you to spot the misspelling.

  10. Have a great weekend and thanks so much for your comments on my blog. I love all the history but especially the part about Shackleton. I also liked seeing you by the small boat! Really great posting with some good info. cheers.

  11. There is always so much more to discover ... thanks for putting this post together.
    Wasn't the film of Shackleton good with Kenneth Branagh.

    Hope you have a lovely weekend

    All the best Jan

  12. Great snippets, fascinating and fun.
    Perhaps I like the name Humphrey Humphreys best, because I love Sir Humphrey.

  13. Interesting stuff..I need to find time to click on your other '30' posts.

  14. I love your 'snippet posts' and am delighted to learn about William Kempe's journey. Thank you John

  15. Harlovin Harwood ffolliott Eliot......that must have been a tricky name to learn how to spell at school!!!

    A great post of your 'snippets' posts John! Here's to many more!

  16. Very interesting post John, Shackleton and his crew were very brave. I like the dancing Will Kempe, and the inns and pretty serving wenches delaying him! Oh my word those names! I'm doing catch up at the moment, your tulips are gorgeous and I really enjoyed the dancing videos, particularly the Beltane Border Morris dancers.

  17. These posts are always so much fun. I doubt I would think to dance my way between towns, but I do suspect that comely serving maids might delay me a bit.


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