Monday, 18 June 2018

Mary And Dan

A chance today to go back to the lives of two people we heard about in previous posts, two people who led entirely different lives, separated by three centuries but just a few miles geographically.

Mary Plomer (1575 - 1605) 

If you read the post "Pastoral Scenes" you may remember the little church at Radwell which, I said, had an interesting memorial to Mary Plomer inside. Well, lets pop inside and see it.

And here it is standing in the chancel. Mary died, aged just thirty, shortly after the birth of her eleventh child. Ten of her children are represented kneeling at her feet, boys on the left of the picture, girls on the right. Two of the boys are set back a little behind the others which was the conventional way of showing that they had pre-deceased their mother. 

The eleventh child was depicted by an effigy held in Mary's arms, old photos show it, but it's now been removed for safe-keeping. This child was shown wrapped in a Chrisom cloth, which babies wore for a month after their baptism to protect the mark of the cross which had been made with the Chrisom oil. This practice ceased in 1552 when the Church decided that it was just a superstition, though it clearly carried on a few more years in this part of rural Hertfordshire.

Mary is shown holding an hourglass, a symbol of mortality and passing time. Sad that Mary's time passed all too quickly.

Dan Albone (1860-1906) 

Some of you may remember the remarkable, though largely unknown, Dan Albone from Biggleswade, inventor of the modern bicycle and the agricultural tractor. After introducing him to you I found myself in Biggleswade again while walking the valley of the River Ivel and here I found another memorial to him and what's more I came across more information about the man and it seems I sold him short as he achieved even more in his short life than I knew.

You see I have a strong childhood memory of crouching down by the back door of my childhood home while my Dad fixed his bike. First he turned the bike upside down, which in itself was something I'd never seen before. Then he got some spanners and proceeded to take the wheel apart - and there they were, something I'd never suspected before. Little shiny silver balls called ball-bearings. Fascinating to a small boy. Of course I didn't know at the time but that was one of Dan Albone's ideas; he invented the ball-bearing, without which the cyclist's life would run a lot less smoothly.

In his youth Dan broke many records on his innovative bikes and later went on to form one of the first cycling clubs. His home in Biggleswade became a gathering point for cyclists from all over Europe who came to see the latest inventions and get advice and help.

The world's first tandem.
Designed by Wilson & Albone 1886
As well as the child-seat that I mentioned a few weeks ago he also invented the parcel carrier for the postal service. Oh, and he was one of the first people to tinker with the idea of fitting a motor to a bike, even coming up with a motorised bike especially designed for female riders - it had the power source mounted on the back wheel, well away from the voluminous skirts of the day.

And one day, while looking at one of his agricultural tractors it suddenly struck him that such a machine could be covered in iron plates for use by the army. Thus was born the first armoured car.

While cyclists, farmers, military men, motorists, motorcyclists, mums and postal workers had much to thank Dan for, there was one person who didn't always appreciate Dan's sudden inspirations - his wife was often awakened in the early hours of the morning by him leaping out of bed to rush down to his workshop to try out some new idea!

Take care.

Based largely on the internet article:


  1. The admission that the church “decided it was just a superstition” strikes me. Time to admit the rest of the nonsense is also “just superstition.”

  2. Eureka! A true inventer! Thank you for sharing.

    Mary’s 11 children by age 30 is remarkable too!

    1. Would love to know how they children were cared for after her death. Compelling story.

  3. What a beautiful and poignant memorial.

  4. Interesting history, especially about Dan.

  5. Different eras, I know, but this just made me think that more women would have invented cool things if they hadn't been so busy having all those children!

  6. Eleven children? Yikes.

    And Hartford was the early center of bicycle manufacture in America, and there are some very old ball bearing manufacturers around here. I suspect some might dispute Dan's claims.

  7. Time passes, - people come and go, and everyone has a story to tell...poor Mary, - I hope her children "done her proud" - she hardly had time to accomplish anything else in life but giving them the opportunity! One of my great-great grandmothers has seventeen children!!!!!!

  8. I hope Mary Plomer had some happy times in her short life. Great to know more of Dan Albone too, so many good ideas:)

  9. I can't imagine 11 children, that is more than enough but in those days it was probably very common.
    What a creative inventor Dan was. Those are the kind of people who would jump out of bed to get their ideas down before they forget them. Wonderful little nuggets of history.

    Thank you!

  10. Beautiful church and wonderful effigy inside. I never knew of the child being stepped back as one who died before the parent, I'll look out for that from now. Interesting about Dan Albone a person I never heard of but have come across his inventions

  11. Gosh eleven children.. I can't even imagine the toll that would take on a woman's body, and way back then even more so, I imagine Mary had to keep the house and family in order also.. Dan the man was an inventive fellow, he would be so pleased at how popular cycling has been over the ages since!

  12. Husband Jim [who has an ever-changing collection of tractors] began reading this post over my shoulder. You find and describe so many interesting things on your rambles! Thank you for sharing with us.


Thanks for taking the time to comment. I'll try to answer any questions via a comment or e-mail within the next day or two (no hard questions, please!).