Welcome to our blog, ‘Patterns of the Past’. We are historians and archaeologists, and on this blog you can read short features about all sorts of fascinating topics. We write them in the same way as our books, but instead of keeping to a particular theme, we wander wherever we wish. You can read more stories by going to ARCHIVES or CATEGORIES on the right. Do please leave comments (just click on the title of the post, which will bring in the ‘comments box’).
The 2016 summer in Britain has been somewhat indifferent – very few scorching hot days, much cloud and below-average temperatures. Exactly two centuries ago, the weather was far worse. As Jane Austen died in July 1817, her very last full summer in 1816 was a wretched one, and she refers to the rain and the cold in a few of her surviving letters. ‘I begin to think it will never be fine again,’ she lamented in early July. On 1st September 1816 William Holland, the vicar of Over Stowey in Somerset, wrote in his diary: ‘The weather has continued in the same uncertain state that it has done for sometime past. Indeed properly speaking we have had no summer, for we scarce have been a week without [a] fire throughout, I have now this very day a fire in the parlour.’ For much of the year his diary had been a litany of bad weather and dashed hopes. In his rural community, he was keenly aware of the effects of the weather on the crops. The constant rain had delayed the hay harvest considerably, and two weeks earlier he had written: ‘Rainy, windy weather confined William [his son] & I within doors – nay we had a fire tho’ in the midst of August. What will become of the corn I know not, for it does not ripen.’
Flooded and frozen
This exceptional weather was not confined to south-west England, but was felt right across the northern hemisphere. Continue reading
Found mainly in England, teasels (also spelled teazles) commonly grow on damp grassland, at the edges of fields and on waste ground. They are tall plants with prickly stems and leaves, reaching about 1.8 metres in height. It is difficult to believe that this strange-looking wildflower was once grown as a commercial crop, known as the ‘fuller’s teasel’.
Picture of a wild teasel plant
Teasels for textiles
Teasels were cultivated because they played an essential part in woollen cloth manufacture, Continue reading
A tale of two villages
When talking of Georgian town architecture in Britain, places like Bath, Cheltenham, Buxton and even parts of London spring readily to mind. Melcombe Regis in Dorset is very little mentioned, not even as part of the port of Weymouth, yet King George III often spent his summers here. Weymouth is actually made up of two smaller ports, originally villages, that sit on either side of the mouth of the River Wey – with Weymouth on the south bank and Melcombe Regis on the north. Both were medieval settlements that competed as ports until 1571, when they were legally joined under a charter of Queen Elizabeth I and took the overall name of Weymouth. The first bridge linking the two parts was not built until 1597.
A statue of George III (who died in 1820) close to the seafront of Melcombe Regis (Weymouth), Dorset. It is now part of a traffic island
Regis derives from the Latin ‘rex’ meaning ‘king’. ‘Regis’ means ‘of the king’, and many places in England have that name, such as Lyme Regis. Melcombe Regis did not acquire this name because of George III staying there Continue reading
Attention is now keenly focused on the presidential election campaign in the United States of America, but over 200 years ago differences of opinion were decided in more traditional ways. On Saturday 11th August 1804, The Times newspaper in London carried the following story:
‘We yesterday received sets of the New York Papers up to the 14th of last month. The intelligence which may be considered of most importance in them respects the death of General Hamilton, who was to have succeeded the present American Ambassador at Paris [Robert Livingston]. He died on the 12th of July, at two in the afternoon, in consequence of a wound received in a duel on the morning of the preceding day. His antagonist was Colonel Burr, who fills the office of Vice-President of the United States. The causes which led to this unhappy catastrophe are not stated in the American newspapers.’
The American newspapers also lacked precise information, though there was a great deal of speculation. Continue reading
The stretch of water between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean is known as the Strait of Gibraltar, separating Spain and Gibraltar from north Africa (Morocco). The southernmost tip of Spain (and of Europe itself) is at the town of Tarifa, and here the African coast is only 10 miles (16 km) away. Gibraltar lies some 15 miles (24 km) north-east of Tarifa, and the African coast is almost 14 miles (22 km) away. Even though the distance to Africa is greater here, the promontories of Calpe (Gibraltar) and Abyla (Ceuta in Africa) were significant in Greek and Roman mythology, as they were believed to be the mythical ‘Pillars of Hercules’.
This picture shows the Strait of Gibraltar, looking westwards. The African coast with the promontory of Ceuta is on the left. Next comes the seaway of the Strait of Gibraltar that opens into the Atlantic. The right-hand half of the picture portrays the coast of Spain, with the distinctive darker outline of the Rock of Gibraltar in front.
The Pillars of Hercules looking westwards from the Mediterranean towards the Atlantic
The myth of the Pillars of Hercules originated with the ancient Greeks and was adopted Continue reading
The Romans liked to eat well, and some of their choices of food are still regarded as wholesome today, particularly the staples of bread, olives and wine. They also had a liking for pungent fish sauces such as liquamen, muria and – the best-known one – garum. The production of these sauces was a by-product of the fish-processing industry, mainly in Roman settlements along the Atlantic coasts of Spain, Portugal and north Africa, where there was an abundant supply of fish. Fish sauce, especially garum, was so popular that it was exported across the Roman empire as an expensive delicacy. Doubtless in far-flung garrisons on the edges of the empire, many ex-patriot Romans found garum a welcome reminder of home comforts back in Italy.
Raw materials for a Roman meal
Garum was produced on an industrial scale in purpose-built factories. One factory Continue reading
London has always been a city through which to travel to other places, as well as a destination in its own right. Nowadays, the airports, railway stations and coach stations are the transport hubs, but when travel relied on horses, coaching inns performed this function. These inns stabled teams of horses so that stagecoaches and mail coaches were provided with fresh animals along their route after travelling around 7–10 miles. They also offered food and drink to travellers. Some visitors used coaching inns as hotels, renting a room for the duration of their stay and taking some meals there. One of the most famous was the Belle Sauvage, also known as the Bell Savage, on Ludgate Hill.
An American in London
In 1805 Benjamin Silliman, a 25-year-old American, arrived in England to further his science studies. He had read law at Yale College and then studied chemistry and natural philosophy, and he was destined to become a foremost figure in science. On returning to America, Continue reading
It’s good to talk – isn’t it?
In days long past, while working as archaeologists in London and Surrey, we were regularly asked to give talks, sometimes as the main entertainment or as part of a programme of talks with several speakers. Rather than simply describe our discoveries, we had to illustrate them with 35mm slides, so there was a lot to prepare, especially if we had to take our own projector equipment, such as screen, projector, projector stand and extension leads. The talks were hosted mainly by local and county archaeology societies, most of whose members enjoyed archaeology as a hobby and quite often worked as volunteers on excavations. Because archaeologists were public servants (and therefore poorly paid!), we were expected to give talks as part of the job, usually with no remuneration, but we did enjoy doing them. The most memorable one was to a packed hall somewhere in the City of London, and afterwards they took us off to an old pub, leading us down dark alleyways and pointing out parts of the city that we never knew existed. That was quite magical. Continue reading
Our research recently took us to the seaside town of Selsey in West Sussex on the south coast of England, at the tip of the low-lying Manhood Peninsula, some 8 miles due south of the cathedral city of Chichester. Bounded by the sea on two sides, with fertile farmland to the north, Selsey was once virtually an island. Even now, there is only one main route into the town – the road from Chichester. It was on Selsey island that Christianity was introduced to Sussex around AD 680 when St Wilfrid was driven ashore during a storm and subsequently founded a monastery and cathedral there. Both have long disappeared beneath the sea due to coastal erosion.
Today, Selsey is part-seaside resort and part-dormitory town for Chichester. For centuries the main occupations were farming, fishing and smuggling, but in the 19th century Selsey began to thrive as a seaside resort. During the 1930s, when holiday camps were becoming popular, Broadreeds Holiday Camp was built, designed on a Spanish theme. In World War Two, the camp was used as accommodation for handicapped children evacuated from London, though its location right on the south coast made it a target for attack. Continue reading
St Valentine’s competition
In our last newsletter, we had a competition ending on St Valentine’s Day that asked for the surname of the character Emma in Jane Austen’s romantic comedy Emma. The answer was Woodhouse. Congratulations to the two winners, who have been sent a hardback copy of our book Jane Austen’s England (the American version of Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England ).
200 or 201 years?
Emma has caused problems with anniversary celebrations. It is 200 years old, but should the bicentenary celebrations have taken place all through 2015 or in 2016? Continue reading