Saturday, 31 March 2012

The Queer Old Dean

           At half-past six in the evening of Tuesday January 22nd 1901, Queen Victoria died. She was 81 years old, and had been Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland for sixty-three years and seven months. At her bedside were her son and successor, King Edward VII, and her grandson, Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany.

I’ll write more about her death and funeral at a later date, but here is the Illustrated Mail for January 26th 1901, with a photograph of her on the front, under the headline “The Empire Mourns Its Loss”. Her life and legacy are described in full inside, with some remarkable facts and figures about her reign.

Her funeral was on Saturday February 2nd 1901. She was laid in state for two days and was then interred in Frogmore Mausoleum, Windsor Great Park, beside her beloved husband, Albert.

Commemorative services were held in churches throughout the Empire, either on the same day as the funeral, or on a convenient day within the next week and one day. An order of service was published, and here are scans from the original issued for England and Wales - and the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed. 

Berwick lies on the border between England and Scotland, and control of it has alternated between the two over the centuries. The 1502 Treaty of Everlasting Peace between the two countries placed Berwick, "Of England, but not in England", and so Berwick-upon-Tweed was always mentioned separately in Acts of Parliament. A local myth was that when Britain issued the declaration of the Crimean war, in 1853, Berwick was specifically mentioned, as per the norm, but for some reason was omitted from the 1856 Treaty of Paris, which ended the war, meaning that, technically, Berwick was still at war with Russia. And once again, we come to something that people believe, but isn't true. The 1746 Berwick and Wales Act made it clear that any reference to England included Berwick, and so Berwick had not been included in either the declaration of war or the later treaty. The myth was probably started in the early 20th century by a local clergyman.

Friday, 30 March 2012

If at first...

     Tried again with the mantis. Still getting plastic/scratches in the way, but you don't need to squint quite as much.

En Passant

        I have a set of chessmen which I keep in this box. The box is Indian, highly carved with birds and foliage, came from a charity shop in Clitheroe, and cost £4.

The chessmen are a miniature set, based on the Lewis chessmen, and I bought them for £5 at a car boot sale in Clitheroe, about ten years ago. They are not small sized replicas of the original Lewis set - there are several differences, other than the size.

In 1831, a crofter Malcolm 'Sprot' Macleod, from Pennydonald on the Isle of Lewis, was at Uig bay on the west of the island, when he found a stone box (or cist) in a sand dune. In it were 92 items; a carved buckle, 14 plain, round pieces from a game called tables, and 77 chess-pieces (a further bishop was found later - making 78 pieces in total). The chessmen were carved from either walrus ivory or whale teeth, and probably come from five different sets. It is likely that they were made in Norway in the 12th century, (Norway ruled the Outer Hebrides and other Scottish islands at the time), with evidence pointing to Trondheim.

The originals have kings, queens, bishops and knights which are similar to mine, although there are variations in the details. In my set the rooks are towers, but in the Lewis set, the rooks are warders or warriors, and the original set has small, geometric obelisks for the pawns, whereas my set has miniature versions of the warders.

The Lewis chessmen are now split between the British Museum, London, and the Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh. They are well worth seeing.

I have some latex moulds somewhere for a larger set, which I hope to get around to casting one day.

Did you know ? If you click through any of my photos, and then right click on the resulting picture and select 'View Image', you can get an enlargement big enough to read any text.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Bits and Bobs

      I was going through some old papers, looking for something else, when I found two postcard sized photographs. 

This one shows a group of Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) soldiers. On the back, written in pencil, is, "Whalley Hosp. 1915". The soldier on the end right of the middle rank (next to the little girl), is my maternal Grandfather, Thomas William Dickinson. I am guessing that they were sent to the hospital at Whalley for training, before being sent to serve abroad. The hospital at Whalley became Bramley Meade Maternity Home, (before it closed in 1992), and my late wife, Judith, went there to convalesce after the birth of Charlotte, our daughter.

The other shows a crowd of soldiers. In the bottom left corner are the words, "(17th Lancashire Fusiliers )" and at the bottom right, " THE 'BOBS' BATTALION.". The 17th Lancashire Fusiliers were the 1st South-East Lancashire (Service) Battalion, based at Bury, Lancs., and the postmark on the back is from Bury, dated 23 Jan. 1915. 

Field Marshall Frederick Sleigh Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts, Bt, VC, KG, KP, GCB, OM, GCSI, GCIE, KStJ, PC, was born in India in 1832. Known to his admirers (but never to his face) as 'Bobs', Roberts has been described as, "... the most popular man in the British army", and was seen as all that was good about the traditional view of the British army officer. He served in India (where he won the Victoria Cross, the highest award for bravery in the British Army), Abyssinia (now Ethiopia), Afghanistan and South Africa. He rose to become the last Commander-in-Chief of the Forces, (before the post was abolished). Rudyard Kipling wrote three poems inspired by Roberts; the first was a jokey satire called A General Summary, the second, called 'Bobs', is written from the viewpoint of a seasoned veteran soldier in India, and the third, General Roberts, is a memorial ode. He died from pneumonia while visiting Indian troops on service in WWI in France, in 1914. The 'Bobs' battalion was named in his honour.

Here is a picture of two copies of Black and White Budget from 1900 on my magazine table. The bottom one has a special report on 'Bobs' who, at the time, was serving in South Africa, during the second Anglo-Boer War. Here are some scans from the magazine.

And now, some other bits and bobs. I've been worried about my mantis for a while. I haven't seen it feed, and it just stays in the same place all the time. I cleaned the jar today, put in fresh foliage and flies, and some fruit, and when I put the mantis in, it grabbed on of the fruit flies and began to eat it. I grabbed my camera, tried to get some shots off, but they aren't all that good. The mantis is only about five or six millimetres long, and I was trying to focus through the plastic of the jar. If you squint, you might be able to make out the fruit flies in its grasp.

And just to show that I can focus my camera, here are a few pictures of the locusts. One of them had just shed its skin, so they must be growing.

Out of his skin ...
That white thing on the right is the shed skin.
Note the wings - underdeveloped in the nymph.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Great Balls of Smoke

      On the shelf above the bureau is a collection of medical curios. I have not consciously gone out to collect medical equipment, I’ve just accrued a selection over the years. The brass mortars and pestles I bought originally to use in the kitchen, for grinding spices when making curries. I’ve no idea what the Arabic-looking script says, and I’ve asked people I know who read Arabic, and they couldn’t read it either. I picked up the measuring glasses piecemeal – I was probably about fourteen or so when I got the first one, and wouldn’t have paid more than a few pennies. I used to help out in an antiques shop at that age, it was just down the road from my school and I would go to shows and fairs and markets with the owners at weekends. They were getting on a bit, and I would carry their boxes in and out for them. I would also get a ‘trade’ pass, so I’d get a dealer’s discount on any stuff I bought for myself.

In the large glass are some dentist’s tools. I got these when I was studying sculpture, and used them for carving fine detail in plaster and soapstone. The scalpels date from the same time, and were used to cut cardboard mounts for paintings and prints. The scales came from a charity shop about twenty years ago, again for a few pennies. The skull was given away with a children’s magazine. It has eyes, but they look a bit creepy, so I keep them in the cranium. The anatomical figure was picked up from somewhere, but goodness knows when or where. It’s certainly quite old, possibly 40s or 50s.

There are two printed pieces at the back. One is an old advertisement for Birley’s Phosphorus. Here is a scan of it.

 It was in one of the copies of my Cassell’s Popular Educator, so dates from around 1905. These quack medicines were very popular in the days before the foundation of the Nation Health Service (1948), when people would treat themselves rather than pay a doctor’s fee. A report on quack medicine in the British Medical Journal dated Oct. 24th 1908 states that the “…price is ls. 1½ d. per bottle, containing nearly 3 fluid ounces.” After a chemical analysis of the ingredients, the article concludes that no ‘free phosphorus’ could be found and the “…Estimated cost of ingredients for 3 fluid ounces, 4d”. That’s quite a mark up.

The other is a reprint of another advertisement, for The Carbolic Smoke Ball. This supposedly efficacious remedy claims to ‘positively cure’ all manner of ills, and carries endorsements from the great and the good of the day. The Carbolic Smoke Ball, or rather another advertisement for it, was the cause of a famous legal challenge. In 1890 and 1891 an influenza epidemic killed over a million people, and, from November 1891, the company began a series of advertisements in the Pall Mall Gazette and other newspapers, offering £100 reward to anyone who contracted influenza, or related complaint, after using the smoke ball three times a day for two weeks. A Mrs Louisa Elizabeth Carlill bought one of the balls, used it as instructed, but nonetheless began to suffer from influenza on Jan. 17th 1891. Her husband, a solicitor, sent two letters to the company, claiming the reward. These letters were ignored, but they sent an anonymous reply to a third, claiming that the advertisement was not a serious contract. The case went to court, the company lost at the Queen’s Bench and immediately appealed. The Court of Appeal, heard by three judges, also found against the company. They dismissed the argument that the advert was ‘mere puff’ and judged that it satisfied the conditions of a legally binding contract. Mr Roe, who owned the company, started a new company with limited liability and began advertising again, this time offering £200 reward (but with small print attached), claiming that thousands had used the product and, as only three claims for the reward had been made, this was conclusive proof of the effectiveness of the remedy.

Mrs Carlill lived on to 1942. Her doctor put her death down to old age (she was 96), but noted one other cause. Ironically, that was influenza.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

On Your Own Head

           At the beginning of Charles Dickens’ novel Hard Times, the hard-headed Mr Gradgrind demands that the schoolmaster, Mr. M'Choakumchild, give his charges,  “Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!”

The Victorians were passionate about scientific enquiry, the search for knowledge and the quest for facts. Explorers and collectors travelled across the Empire, mapping, logging and recording information. They brought back plants and animals, specimens, accounts of other lands. In addition to the world around them, they looked to understand the nature of man himself, by any means available. One such route was phrenology – from the Greek phren – ‘mind’ and logos – ‘knowledge’ – which sought to explain the nature of human characteristics by studying the shape of the head. Phrenology was developed in Germany during the 1790s by Dr Franz Josef Gall, who pioneered the idea that mental functions were localised in the brain, and that mental and moral character could be determined from the appearance of the skull. He called this cranioscopy, although his assistant, Johann Spurzheim, later renamed it as phrenology.  Gall and Spurzheim quarrelled and went their separate ways, lecturing and spreading the study of phrenology across the intellectual salons of Europe. It became incredibly popular in France and Britain, and Spurzheim took the practice to America. He died there during his first tour, but not before the fashion was established there too. The brothers Orson and Lorenzo Fowler set up a phrenological business in New York, publishing books and pamphlets, and Lorenzo went on to establish L N Fowler and Co. in London. Fowler’s china head, printed to show the position of the various mental faculties, became the popular symbol of phrenology. Most modern reproductions bear his name.

The phrenologist would run his fingers over a subject’s head, and note the various lumps and bumps. These were thought to indicate which characteristics and propensities were prominent or absent, by showing which of the ‘organs’ of the brain were developed or underdeveloped. Gall had identified 27 of these ‘organs’ but others added more over time. Having your bumps felt was quite the thing.

As advancements were made in scientific knowledge, particularly in neuroscience, phrenology began to fall out of fashion, and eventually it was dismissed as a pseudoscience. It enjoyed a slight revival in the early 20th Century, but has never regained its former esteem. One reason may be that it was misused by some to ‘prove’ the superiority of Europeans over their colonial subjects. A very good account of this practice, by the Europeans and the Americans, can be read in Stephen Jay Gould’s book The Mismeasure of Man.

As with the Angel of Mons mentioned earlier, I like this as another example of what some people will believe is the truth. Some astute entrepreneur has latched onto the money-making popularity of the Fowler head as a decorative piece, and has made a matching palmistry hand. Palmistry is yet another example of the woo-maker’s art.  


Monday, 26 March 2012

Verdi Cries *

      Deep, deep in the wildwood, something is stirring. It moves, almost silently, through the forest, only a faint rustle of a dry leaf betraying the movement. You feel the approach rather than hear it. Hairs rise on your neck and a cold shiver spills down your spine. The breeze carries a scent so dark that you barely catch it. It is the smell of deep water, the smell of wild animal, the smell of old, old leaves. Another rustle, then silence again. The scent becomes a taste - raw meat, maybe, or rusting iron. It is faint, it comes then it is gone. The wind disturbs the tree tops behind you. You turn, confused, realise your mistake and turn back. A shadow in the distance, glimpsed between the branches, moves then vanishes. It is too quiet now. No birds are singing here. No bees bumble or buzz. And then you see gleam, two lights in the darkness, not bright like coals but faint as the moonlight through evening clouds. They are eyes, not just watching you, but looking into you, seeing inside you. There is not a moment when the face appears, you realise it has always been there, in the leaves, one with them. He is the wood, the leaves, the forest. He is the Green Man.

The Green Man has fascinated me for as long as I can remember. I use the word 'fascinate' deliberately. We use the word now in the sense of 'to delight, to attract', but it comes through Latin and means 'to charm, to bewitch', possibly from a Thracian word meaning 'to say', with links to English enchant (chant as in 'say repeatedly') or German besprechen - 'charm'  with its link to sprechen - 'to say or speak'. Spells are said, or chanted. The Green Man is an enchanter - he is fascinating.

No one can say when he first appeared, but he seems to date from about the first century, in Roman art, spreading across the Empire during the next century. He may have been a male equivalent of the female Medusa, his locks of hair tumbling into snakes, and then slowly turning into leaves and tendrils. It is tempting to see a link with the vine-leaf masks of the followers of Dionysus, god of  wine. The Green Man appears more and more in medieval Europe, his face peering down in churches, cathedrals and chapels. For some, he is the eternal male, the life-force, the growth-spurt of rebirth in Spring as the leaves return to the trees. For some, he is the trickster, a shady, untrustworthy character, he is Puck or Robin Goodfellow. For others, he is the old pagan god, here long before other gods arrived from the East, brother of the Horned god and the Moon goddess, Cernunnos or maybe Viridios. And for others, he is simply the name of the pub.

The Green Man was the obvious choice (to me) for the cushion covers. They were £4.99 each online, and I bought four.

I like the slightly sinister look of the trinket box. These are sold to the woo-merchants as Tarot boxes, for £8.99 with £2.75 p&p. The sides are nice too.

The last Green Man, for today, came from downstairs - he's grinned at me for years, and he's a benign balance to the previous one. I paid £12 for him a long time ago. I have more, and some may find their way to the study later.

* Verdi Cries - The final track on 10,000 Maniacs'  1989 In My Tribe album. Beautiful. In English, Verdi would be Mr Green.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

No Place like Holmes

      I've had a day doing other things again. But to maintain the posts, here's a couple of other bits. One of my little pictures is a view from the Sherlock Holmes museum. I got it after I'd started decorating the study and was surprised how similar both look. I had not seen this room before, but I suppose on a subconscious level I've soaked something up from watching the various versions of the Holmes stories on TV and film, and the set-dressers working on these would probably have seen the room in the museum.

The definitive Holmes, for my generation at least, was the magnificent Jeremy Brett. Mr Brett filmed 41 episodes for the four television series between 1984 and 1994. I have copies of them all on DVD, and watch them repeatedly. They were deliberately made to be as faithful to the original stories as possible, but Mr Brett's attention to detail made it hard for him to leave Holmes behind at the end of a day's filming, and his own health suffered as a consequence. I got these autographs of Mr Brett and Mr Edward Hardwicke, (who played Watson, succeeding David Burke in 1986), from someone who worked on the production at Granada Studios, Manchester.

Here is a scan of an original advertisement for the Holmes stories that came in the back of an old book - but I can't remember which. It came loose and I put it safely to one side until I framed it. It would be nice to know how much the three volume set selling for 10s 6d then (that's 52 1/2 p in decimal money), brings today - or the singles at 3s 6d (17 1/2 p) for that matter. 

Saturday, 24 March 2012

The Angel of Mons

            August, 1914. The British had declared war on Germany on the 4th, and by the 9th the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) had departed for the continent. They took up position on the left of an allied line stretching from Alsace-Lorraine in the East, to the southern border of Belgium, and they stood directly in the line of the German First Army. On the 21st, a British reconnaissance cyclist, Private John Parr, became the first British soldier to be killed in the War. By the 22nd, the BEF had reached Mons, and dug in to protect the French left flank, with I Corps along the Mons-Beaumont road and II Corps at a right-angle, along the Mons-Conde canal. The BEF's commander, Field Marshall Sir John French, agreed to hold this position for twenty-four hours, to prevent the Germans attacking the flank of the French Fifth Army, following the Battle of Charleroi.  In the morning, the first substantial engagement took place, with Drummer Edward Thomas firing the first shot for the British, and supposedly hitting a German soldier. At dawn on the 23rd, the German First Army opened up an artillery bombardment on the BEF, identifying a loop in the canal as a weak point in the Allied line. At 9.00 a.m., the German Infantry advanced in close order formation, attacking four bridges crossing the canal at the loop.  

Unfortunately for them, the BEF were probably the best-trained soldiers in Europe - they were professional, long-service volunteers, unlike the conscript armies of France and Germany. In their pre-war training they had been taught rapid fire marksmanship, and it is said they could hit man-sized targets fifteen times per minute at 300 yards.  The close order ranks of the Germans were an easy target, and they suffered heavy losses to rifle, machine gun and artillery fire. They withdrew, regrouped and attacked again in open formation, widening the front to the West, along the tree-lined bank of the canal. This second assault fared better, although they again encountered fierce resistance from the defending BEF - (the first two Victoria Crosses of the War were won on this day). Superior German numbers began to tell, and by the afternoon the heavily outnumbered BEF started a tactical withdrawal, which continued into the evening. Whilst both suffering and inflicting heavy losses, the British established a series of defensive lines, but the German advance, aided by pontoon bridges across the canal, continued to press them back. News came in the early morning of the 24th that the French were retreating, exposing the British flank to the Second and Third German Armies. The BEF continued to fall back in good order throughout the day, taking heavy casualties but slowing the German advance with a series of rearguard actions.

The British 'Great Retreat' continued, but the BEF had denied the Germans their expected early victory and rapid invasion of France. The Germans had anticipated an easy victory over what they had considered to be a weaker, inconsequential British force. The tenacious, proficient defence they met, and heavy losses they suffered, dealt a severe blow to German morale. British morale, in contrast, increased greatly, and as a consequence recruitment numbers rose sharply.

On September 29th, The Evening News published a short story by Arthur Machen called The Bowmen. In it, a British soldier at the Battle of Mons calls upon Saint George for his help, and soon after sees the ghosts of British archers from the time of Agincourt firing into and destroying the German ranks. The story was written as a first hand account, and very soon people began to accept it as an authentic report of the battle. Machen, to his credit, confirmed it was indeed imaginary, and denied he had intended to create a hoax. In spite of his efforts, the tale spread, gaining momentum all the while and, in the course of retelling, the phantom bowmen were transformed into various other supernatural beings, including an army of angels. These stories became 'proof' of divine intervention on the side of the Allies. British newspapers began to feature lurid stories of German atrocities and war crimes, feeding the public's perception of the amoral hordes of the Hun violating defenceless, neutral Belgium, and promoting the moral righteousness of the Allied cause.

Contemporary illustration of an angelic army intervening against the German invaders.

The myth of the Angel of Mons spread throughout the popular culture of the time. This is the cover of the sheet music for the Angel of Mons valse, a waltz tune written by Paul Paree. I've had it framed  on my wall, for about fifteen years. I like it as a reminder, and an example, of how urban myths can quickly become popular truths.

After doing a little research for this post, I was surprised at the scarcity of information on Angel of Mons Waltz available online, so I have decided to photograph the whole thing and include it here.