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 In most cases the churches fail miserably at this; many have no royal crests on display while others are hopelessly out of date.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.
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:
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
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