Wednesday 31 January 2018

Three Ways To Achieve Lasting Fame In An English Village

The village in question is Histon and Impington, just outside Cambridge. OK, I know, that's two villages, but two that are so conjoined and intermingled that most of those who live there don't know where one ends and the other begins, or even which one they live in.

Elizabeth Woodcock

If you travel the new busway from Cambridge you may spy, as I did, this simple memorial standing in a field just outside Histon. When I got home I did a bit of research which unearthed this remarkable tale:

On February 2nd 1799 Mrs Elizabeth Woodcock went to Cambridge Market to sell her eggs and butter. On her way home it was snowing heavily and she stopped at the Three Tuns Inn and refilled her flask with brandy. When she was almost home she was thrown from her horse and was unable to remount. Shaken and cold she had the good sense to seek shelter by a hedge but the snow drifted and buried her. In the morning she made a hole in the snow above her and fashioned a flag from her red handkerchief to try to attract attention. It was not seen till eight days later when at last she was rescued.

The story spread rapidly and Mrs Woodcock's ordeal became the subject of a broadside ballad:

For she was all froze in with frost,
Eight days and nights, poor soul!
But when they gave her up for lost,
They found her down a hole.
Ah, well-a-day

Sadly she only lived for a few more months and some sources believe that her death may have been hastened by the amount of brandy sent by well-wishers. Her cottage stands to this day.

Elizabeth Woodcock's cottage today, complete with straw pigs on the roof-ridge. 

Moses Carter (1801-1860)

Like many villages around here Histon has a village sign which stands by the green.

It features, amongst other things, the silhouette of a man wearing a top hat who looks as if he's about to brain you with a huge rock held above his head. That's Moses Carter. If you'd met him in the flesh you'd be even more concerned for he stood just under seven feet (2.13 m) tall and weighed in at around 23 stone (322 lbs or 146 Kg). But you needn't have been worried, for Moses, who was also known as the Histon Giant, was a kindly man who was much loved by the local children.

The rock, which he is depicted holding above his head, he carried across the village for a bet and left outside The Boot pub where it remained for many years. The rock has now been moved to the back of the pub....

When not engaged in carrying huge boulders Moses lived a simple life in a hut in the village. He grew vegetables which he sold from a barrow. He was said to have dragged a set of harrows over his field - "I don't need no hoss", he told his astonished neighbours. There is also a story that he once visited Stourbridge Fair where there was a boxing booth. He soon defeated all the men there and then set about the proprietor when he refused to give him the promised prize money!

Moses was buried in Histon churchyard, a stone of similar shape to the one he once carried for a wager bearing a small commemorative plaque.

Moses Carter's top hat and huge boots can still be seen exhibited in the Cambridge Museum.

Tony Hillier (d. 2014)

When Tony Hillier retired from his post as a University Lecturer in Physiology he started making his iron sculptures which accumulated in his front garden which he called Histon Sculpture Park.

People are welcome to wander around, take as many pictures as they like and are not asked to contribute towards anything, charitable or otherwise. Children are especially welcome and are encouraged to climb on the backs of some of the animals. 

The record for the number of children on the pig is eleven, including one boy on the tail!

None of these works is for sale, though he donated many works to local schools and playgrounds.

Since his death in 2014 the garden has been kept open in his memory.

If anyone had ever been appointed as Children's Sculpture Laureate it should have been Dr Tony Hillier.

More pictures and information can be found on Tony Hillier's website.

Take care.

Tuesday 30 January 2018

Doodles On The Dockside

The riverside at Ely used to be a dock area with boats bringing goods into the city from far and wide. Nowadays it provides moorings for pleasure boats, though I noticed that one was advertising itself as a "hotel barge". While waiting for the dancing to commence on Saturday (see here if you missed the last post) I wandered up and down taking a few photos of the boats, rather like I used to draw little doodles in my exercise books while awaiting the beginning of school lessons. 

Take care.

Sunday 28 January 2018

Molly Goes To Ely

(You will see that some of the dancers depicted in the post have blacked-up faces. This was done historically as a form of disguise so that people would not know who it was begging for money. There was never any real attempt to imitate black people; the ears, neck and hands are never blacked-up. Many modern dance sides are aware of possible misunderstanding and have changed their facial make-up, to bright colours, strange designs or just a few smears to make them look more like Victorian chimney-sweeps. One or two sides are determined to stick to the traditional black faces. 
I hope this explanation will be accepted, but also apologise to anyone who may be upset by the inclusion of these pictures here).

And I went to Ely too. Here's what I went to see...

Ouse Washes Molly Dancers 
The Ouse Washes were the hosts yesterday to the Mark Jones Day of Dance in and around Ely. It's held every year in memory of one of their past members and is attended by many Molly dancing sides, the traditional dance of Cambridgeshire and the fen country. I caught up with them outside the Cutter Inn in the morning, they then went on to other pubs in the area - and I went home to get warmed up! Here are the host side kicking off the day...

Good Easter Molly Gang
Good Easter look a lot more like the farm workers who traditionally performed these dances in winter. At least one of these dancers would dress as a woman while another would be referred to as the Lord and might wear a top hat. Maybe they were mimicking the local aristocracy, if so that might explain the blacked up faces which would help to disguise them. The Good Easter Gang don't take themselves too seriously - the man with the splendid beard in the bottom photo is wearing a badge on his hat which reads, "For maximum attention nothing beats a good mistake!" 

Gog Magog Molly
These were the first Molly dancers I ever saw and they're probably still my favourites. Their style is joyful, playful and definitely colourful! Their dances are lively and quite complex...

Old Glory
At first glance these menacing, unsmiling men are about as far removed from the Gogs as you can get. They stomp about in hobnailed boots - the footwear of choice for farm workers until the arrival of rubber Wellington boots. (The Gog Magog dancers wear brightly coloured Doc Martens and that's all you need to know about the differences in their dancing styles! Incidentally I've tried DMs for farm work - absolutely useless!) Although the Old Glory dancers are all men - though one is a highly unconvincing female - their musicians are women. Their dances are slyly entertaining and humorous....

The Norwich Kitwitches
There's something of the Pantomime dame about the Kitwitches - over-the-top, outrageous and larger than life. Maybe that's what traditional dancers were like too; the inventors of the Panto must have got the idea from somewhere....

Seven Champions
The Champions - and yes there are a lot more than seven of them these days - are something different again. They often perform to a single musician or unaccompanied singing with their precise stepping adding the rhythm. Yesterday I saw them dance to an accapella version of "Fever" - yes, the old Peggy Lee song - and then a traditional English song, but one from didn't ought to work but it does....

Misfit Molly
Back to the exaggerated absurdity and crazy dress-sense of Misfit Molly...

Mepal Molly
Based in the little village of Mepal, just a few miles from Ely, they always seem to me to be closer to what traditional dancers must have been like - but of course I may be wrong....

Oxblood Molly Dancers
Last and by no means the least colourful are Oxblood Molly Dancers who come from Suffolk. As you can see there's no shortage of originality and variety in the wild world of Molly dancing.....

Take care.

I didn't take any videos but you can find most if not all of the people above if you look on YouTube.

Friday 26 January 2018

"...A Wild Time..."

A selection of shots taken on a walk around Sandy Warren, an RSPB bird reserve in Bedfordshire.

Take care.