Time for a few more snaps of odd things seen on my travels, interspersed with some snippets of news from The Norfolk Annals published in the nineteenth century.
In the small Cambridgeshire village of Wicken there stands this stone pillar, all that remains of the market cross which has stood on this site since 1331, when one Humphrey Bassingbourn was granted the right to hold a weekly market on the green.
It is thought that in earlier times markets had sprung up around the old preaching crosses which were erected as places of worship before churches were built. I suppose that these would have been in central places within the community where a number of people could congregate, so it made sense for trade to occupy the same sites.
However as religion and trade became more organised it became desirable to separate the two activities. The surprising thing is that such a small settlement should have had a market at all.
Aug 16 1854.—On this date was published an extract from the “New York Express,” giving particulars of a confession of murder by a soldier named Thomson, then stationed at Halifax, North America. He stated that when at Norwich eight years previously he was on terms of intimacy with a woman named Ann Barber. A quarrel had occurred between them, and he had thrown her into a canal. The crime had so preyed upon his mind that he determined to give himself up to justice and allow the law to take its course. Two police-officers came to Norwich, investigated the affair, and elicited the following remarkable facts: Thomson had indeed had an affair with Ann Barber and thrown her in the canal. However they also had occasion to interview a local man who told them that in the month of August, 1846, he was fishing for eels in the river when he heard a scuffle, a shriek, a splash, and the sound of retreating footsteps. He immediately rowed to the place and assisted out of the water a young woman, who refused to give him her name. She went away, and no report was made to the police. In 1850 Anna Barber was again seen in Norwich. It was evident, therefore, that the remorse which impelled Thomson to make his confession was groundless.
When we wandered through Babraham recently we saw a field of sheep, but I failed to mention the importance of the village to the development of sheep-farming.
In 1822 Jonas Webb became the tenant of Church Farm. He acquired a small flock of the then rare Southdown sheep. He began a programme of selective breeding to develop a larger, heavier animal with a better fleece. These were exported widely and a statue of Webb now stands in the village, paid for by friends and farmers across the world.
This pioneering farmer was also a noted breeder of Shorthorn cattle.
Fittingly the Babraham Institute, just down the road, which carries out research into molecular biology, has a building named after him.
July 27 1868.—Mr. Simmons ascended in his large balloon from the Victoria Gardens, Yarmouth, and descended at Caister. On August 6th he made an ascent from the Greenhill Gardens, Norwich, and descended in Horstead Park. Mr. Simmons, on August 13th, exhibited the balloon in Norwich Market Place, where, in a captive state, it made several ascents. The aeronaut, accompanied by Mr. William Maris, then ascended to the height of 10,000 feet in the space of two minutes, when the balloon drifted away in a north-easterly direction. The passengers made a perilous descent near the sea coast. They narrowly escaped with their lives by jumping out. The balloon, blown out to sea, fell into the water two and a half miles off Sheringham. The voyage from Norwich lasted only fifteen minutes.
The photo on the left, looking straight up from Senate House Passage in Cambridge, showing the gap between the Senate House and Gonville and Caius College, will have to serve as an illustration of a phenomenon which I can not show you in any other way.
In the 1930s a book was written under the pseudonym of Whipplesnaith. It was called The Night Climbers Of Cambridge and detailed climbing routes up various college buildings and across the rooftops. It included the Senate House Leap, the jump between the two buildings in the picture.
A secret society existed (and still exists) within the University, which dedicates itself to such nocturnal acts of derring-do. It's easy to imagine how this all started: the college gates are locked at night, but this would prove little deterrent to high-spirited and imaginative young men who sought ways to climb back in. The secrecy was to protect them from the college authorities.
If their identities remain secret their exploits are occasionally very public. Who else would be responsible for decorating the four spires of King's College Chapel, 150 feet (45 metres) above the ground, with Father Christmas hats, as happened in 2009?
Aug 28 1826.—Ten thousand persons were attracted to the neighbourhood of St. James’s Hill, Norwich, to witness the performances of “Signor Carlo Cram Villecrop, the celebrated Swiss Mountain Flyer from Geneva and Mont Blanc,” who was to exhibit “with the Tyrolese pole, 50 feet long, the most astonishing gymnastic flights never before witnessed in this country.” It was a hoax.
High on a wall in Cambridge's Regent Street is the carved stone on the right, unseen by 99% of those passing by.
Between the dates 1851 and 1934 is a representation of an owl perched on the side of a pestle and mortar. Beneath is an inscription which I think reads "Sciendo et Girando". I can't remember much of my schoolboy Latin but I think it's something to do with "knowledge" and "stirring", which would make sense since this was once the premises of an apothecary or pharmacist.
Jan 12 1827.—A bull driven along St. Martin’s Street, Norwich, entered the Bess of Bedlam public-house, and rushing upstairs made its way into a room where a musical party was held. The animal was dislodged with great difficulty.
This house in Great Abington, Cambridgeshire, has the name of "Jeremiah's Cottage" and is said to be named after Jeremiah Blagden who lived there.
According to legend Jeremiah was a well-known highwayman who operated along the road which runs through the parish.
All this sounds highly unlikely to me - I've never read the book Highway Robbery for Dummies(!) but I'm sure that anonymity, or at least elusiveness, was a requirement for being a highwayman. Having all and sundry knowing your name and address would have surely led to an abrupt curtailment of ones career and prospects.