Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The Pedaller's Tale

A few more curiosities spotted while pedalling my bicycle along the highways, byways and sly ways of East Anglia. While the west and north of the country have been subjected to rain and floods, the weather here in the east has been perfect for getting out and about. And so that's what I've done. And here's what I've seen.

Hares On The Roof

Talk about mad March hares! As you may have guessed from the unlikely location and the rather stiff pose these are not the real thing but imposters made of straw, the artistic creation of the thatcher. Some say that they're the thatchers trademark but more likely they've been requested by the householder. While it's true that some regard the hare as a lucky omen there are just as many, if not more, who associate the hare with bad luck.

An Unfinished Castle

In the mid-twelfth century England was in a state of anarchy. Henry I died and left his daughter Matilda as his successor but she was usurped by her cousin Stephen of Blois. Eighteen years of fighting ensued during which time the barons caused endless trouble. One Geoffrey de Mandeville, once a supporter of Stephen, based himself in Ely in the Fens and made a great nuisance of himself by raiding the fen-edge towns and villages. The fenland was an undrained marsh at that time making Geoffrey's stronghold impregnable. King Stephen ordered that the Fens be surrounded by castles, one of which was to be at Burwell. But before the castle was completed Geoffrey was mortally wounded in a raid, so work ceased. You can still see the mounds and earthworks of the castle to this day. 

"Checkpoint Reality"

Way back in the 1960s this lamp post, which stands in the centre of Parker's Piece in Cambridge, was painted boring local-authority green. Persons unknown, who were definitely young and quite possibly students, decided  to paint it in "psychedelic colours". They made a wonderful job of it and added the name "Checkpoint Reality" which sounded suitably meaningful without actually meaning anything at all! After a while fashions changed, the lamp post was returned to a more sober hue and that, as they say, was that. But folk memory is long, if not always completely accurate; amazingly someone has recently scratched "Reality Checkpoint" on the paintwork (bottom right). Did someone's mum or dad tell them about it? We shall never know.

Dutch Houses

There are several such houses with Dutch gables and altogether foreign-looking architecture in and around the fens. They are probably associated with the Dutch engineers who oversaw the draining of the land for agriculture.

Beware Ye Beggarly Vagrants

Spotted high up on a cottage wall in Langley Upper Green.

"NOTICE..by order of  the Magiftrates all Perfons found begging in this Parish will be taken up by the Vagrant ACT and Punifh'd as the Law Direct"

Just a reminder that it wasn't always possible to wander aimlessly from village to village. All "off-comers" were regarded with suspicion if not downright hostility. The first people to walk for recreation, probably the romantic poets and friends, were often thought to be spies or else insane, an allegation which they did little to refute by reciting poetry at the top of their voices during their perambulations.

Take care.


  1. Great tour, John. Love the hares on the roof and poets shouting poetry as they walked. Jim

  2. A fine tour, John. I like the hare pair, but what I like best is the dolphin Lamp post. Maybe we have some errant baby boomers recalling the mischief of tHeir youth.

  3. This is an excellent post! I love your curiosities and your explanations. Really fascinating and fun!

  4. I would kill to have those hares on my roof!
    ( sounds an odd phrase)
    Great travelogue

  5. Makes me wish I had a thatched roof so I could have something suitably appropriate to Roundtop Mountain up there--though in my case that would probably be something like the vultures that sometimes roost there.

  6. This was a great posts. I have to agree the poets shouting at the top of their voices would have seem quite insane...even in this day and age. But all the same, that's my favorite story.

  7. Loved all of them-but especially the hares on the roof : )

  8. Thank you all. Glad you liked this post as I have at least enough material already for another "roadside history" post. I'm sure our local thatchers could make a vulture for you Carolyn, I've seen pheasants and cockerels decorating rooftops.

  9. I've eally enjoyed your Pedaller's Tale - I like the hares on the thatched roof. Having found records of a couple of ancestors being moved back to their original parish because they needed poor relief and found settlement papers for others I can relate to the vagrancy sign:)

  10. I like to have a bit of extra time to spend on your blog--your photos are lovely. When I went through this post previously the "vagrants" sign stirred my recollections of the New England practice of "warning out" individuals or families moving into a town. [late 1700's-early 1800's] It was a curious practice in that a family didn't need to be indigent or have a history of 'vagrancy' to be warned off. It seems to have been a way in which the town fathers made it clear that should a family become needy due to illness or misfortune they mustn't expect the town to come to their aide.
    In getting side-tracked to that bit of history I didn't post my intended comment.
    Your photos taken on various walks and bike rides would make wonderful displays for a library or on the wall of a local eatery--they deserve a public viewing!

  11. just found this blog and i love the fighting hares and the wonderful sign. thanks. i love the twists on reality found around the countryside.


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