Wednesday 20 May 2015

The 199th blog post special!

Being only one post away from 200 I thought I would devote this post to the posts that never were. The potential posts about the interesting things that I have seen but for whatever reason (usually lack of time or significance) missed out on being featured on the site. So permit me (if you will) to restore the balance and add these to the fold.

The skull of the ‘Witch’ of Wookey Hole, Somerset.
What is there not to like at Wookey Hole? Limestone caverns of special scientific interest in both biology and geology, evidence of human activity from the Palaeolithic period through to the time of Roman Britain. The caves are filled with delicious, maturing Cheddar cheese, caves that were used in the making of Revenge of the Cybermen in 1975! (yes, I am aware that they used in the new series too)  They also have a dinosaur park!  And of course, (as the heading would suggest) they have one "Witch of Wookey Hole”. The actual witch is a stalagmite in the first chamber of the caves with its own legend, as usual with these legends the tale tends to vary but the general story goes that a man from Glastonbury was engaged to a girl from Wookey. A witch living in caves (Jealous having been jilted herself) cursed the romance to fail. The man now a monk seeking revenge on the witch followed her into the cave. As she hid from him in the dark the monk blesses the water and splashed it al around the cave. The blessed water petrified the witch on impact, and she remains in the cave to this day. Long after, in 1912 archaeologist Herbert Balch (1869 –1958) discovered the 1000-year-old remains of a woman in the fourth chamber along with the skeletons of a goat and kid, a dagger and a polished alabaster ball. She was automatically linked to the legendary witch. Her remains resided in the Wells and Mendip Museum, (founded by Balch) until Wookey Hole requested that she be returned she is now on display at their impressive museum, her alabaster ball remaining by her side.

The Ten Bells pub, London 
On the corner of Commercial Street and Fournier Street in Spitalfields stands the Ten Bells pub. This public house has existed since the mid 18th century but is better known for its association with two of its former regulars Annie Chapman (c. 1841 – 8 September 1888) and Mary Kelly (c. 1863 –1888). Both women, shortly having left these premises had the misfortune of running into Jack the Ripper.

Lord Uxbridge's wooden leg,  Anglesey
Henry Paget (1768 –1854), 2nd Earl of Uxbridge, commanded 13,000 Allied cavalry and 44 guns of horse artillery at the Battle of Waterloo and on the 18th of June 1815 a cannon hit his right leg the Earl who declared, "By God, sir, I’ve lost my leg!" To which Wellington replied, "By God, sir, so you have!" Uxbridge was carried off the field to Dr Hume, Wellington’s personal physician who carried out an above-knee amputation. The leg was removed without antiseptic or anaesthetics and legend has it that Uxbridge never made a fuss during the operation only mentioning at one point that, “The knives appear somewhat blunt.” After the operation was over and he was satisfied that the leg was no longer fit for use he was reported to have said,  “Who would not lose a leg for such a victory?” Five days after the battle the Prince Regent created him Marquess of Anglesey and made him a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath in recognition of his bravery. He was offered an annual pension of £1,200 in compensation for the loss of his leg, but refused. Uxbridge was fitted with an articulated above-knee artificial leg invented by limb maker, James Potts of Chelsea. It had a hinged knee and ankle and raising toes and was patented as the ‘Anglesey Leg’, after his marquisette. (The amputated leg went on to become a relic for the owner of the house where the amputation took place, tourists could visit the garden and see the leg’s ‘tombstone’) With his new leg he rose to become a Field Marshal and Knight of the Garter, twice serving as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and twice as Master-General of the Ordnance. One of his legs (he had 3 made) can be seen at Plas Newydd (the other two can be seen at Household Cavalry Museum in Whitehall, another at Museé Wellington, in Waterloo village).

The ‘Chained Oak’, Staffordshire.
It was Zombies from Ireland director Ryan Kift that told me about this legend, anyone that has been to see Alton TowersHex attraction will know of it. The story goes that the Earl of Shrewsbury returning to his home, Alton Towers encountered a witch in the road that placed a curse on him telling him that for every branch of an old oak tree that fell a member his family would die. The next day a branch fell and his son died and so the Earl had his servants chain every branch of the oak to prevent other branches from ever falling! A great story, I love trees especially if they have lore and legends about them and so last year after visiting Alton Towers we stopped off to visit the tree on our way home and it didn’t disappoint.
The Chained Oak B&B can be found beside the road just outside the village of Alton and the tree can be located along the footpath from the B&B.  No actual hard facts have been presented as to its authenticity and the legend tends to vary from person to person but true or not, the tree and it’s chains (that seem to have genuine age to them) remain. Interestingly, on April 9th 2007, one of the tree's main branches fell (the Talbot family shortly assured the press that no one in the family had died when the branch fell) and it remains on the ground in front of this marvellous tree. We may never know the actual truth as to why the tree was chained in this manner (The Victorians would chain trees to preserve the branches, see my previous post about the Major Oak)

The Cottingley Fairies Camera the National Media Museum, Bradford
The Kodak Gallery the National Media Museum in Bradford tells the story of photography, from the earliest cameras right through to the digital cameras of today and amongst their amazing museum they have a rather special camera, the actual one used to capture the world famous Cottingley Fairies.
When 10-year old Frances Griffiths (1907–86) and 17-year old Elsie Wright (1900–88), went out into the garden with Elsie's father's camera in 1917 they returned claiming that they had photographic evidence of fairies living at the bottom of the garden next to Cottingley Beck. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle convinced that they where real used the photographs in his article on fairies in the 1920 Christmas edition of The Strand Magazine bringing the case to the world’s attention.  Both girls maintained that the photos where genuine before admitting that they had been faked using cardboard cut-outs supported by hatpins but Frances maintained that the fifth and final photograph was genuine…

Peter Pan statue Kensington Gardens, London
This bronze statue of Peter Pan is in Kensington Gardens, next to Hyde Park in a location chosen by Peter Pan's creator, J.M. Barrie (1860 –1937) himself. The statue marks the exact spot beside the Long Water lake that Peter landed having flown out the nursery in The Little White Bird. Barrie, commissioned Sir George Frampton (1860 –1928) to build the bronze statue. Frampton used photographs taken of six-year-old Michael Llewelyn Davies (1900 –1921) wearing a special Peter Pan costume as reference. The statue was erected in 1912 and now thanks to the University of Leicester the statue (and many others the country) comes to life and actually ‘speaks’ to passers-by! Arts organisation Sing London commissioned writers and actors to animate 35 public statues across London and Manchester with the use of QR codes and short URLs located next to the statues. By simply scanning the code on my mobile Peter Pan called me up to talk to me!

The Tower of London
The Tower of London, iconic, historic and very difficult to sum up in just a few paragraphs! Located on the north bank of the River Thames it was founded as part of the Norman Conquest, built by William the Conqueror in 1078. Originally a grand palace and royal residence it served as many other uses during its long history, observatory, armoury, treasury, public records office and even a menagerie (eventually closed by the Duke of Wellington in 1835 forming the basis for London Zoo in Regent’s Park). But it is perhaps more famously known as the home of the Crown Jewels and of course a prison from 1100 to 1952. As a prison it saw many come and go… the prisoners list reads like a ‘who’s who’ Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey, Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, William Wallace, Sir Walter Raleigh, Guy Fawkes, Rudolf Hess, The Kray twins… to name but a few! Even Queen Elizabeth I was imprisoned there in 1554, because her sister Queen Mary regarded her to be a threat. Execution by beheading was common place and unless they were privileged prisoners would be executed just outside the fortress on Tower Hill (the privileged where executed on Tower Green away from the gawking jeering crowds). The last man to be beheaded on Tower Hill was Lord Lovat in 1747, the execution block said to have been used can be seen inside the White Tower.
Naturally no account of the Tower would be complete without mentioning the Ravens and the ‘legend’ that accompany them that warns that the Tower would fall if the six resident ravens ever leave the fortress. Apparently it was Charles II that deemed the ravens of the Tower be protected (despite protests from his astronomer, John Flamsteed, (1646 –1719)). Interestingly, during the relentless bombings of the Blitz, the Tower took a hit in 1940 and only one raven remained and so more ravens were brought in to maintain the all important number of 6 (apparently the order was given by Sir Winston Churchill himself). There are actually 7 ravens at the tower, the seventh is an emergency ‘standby'. And not forgetting the famous Yeomen Warders or “Beefeaters” (nickname derived from being permitted to eat as much beef as they wanted from the king's table) that live on site at the Tower.  Selected for their meritorious service in the Armed Forces, to qualify they must have completed 22 years service in the Forces. Those credentials aside they are also the countries fines tourist guides, they conduct tours around the Tower every 30 mins and I highly recommend them.

Roman Army unit memorial Chesterholm Museum Hexham, Northumberland
Everyone knows about Hadrian’s Wall and the Vindolanda auxiliary fort just south of the wall. The Vindolanda has one of the finest Roman Britain museums I have ever visited, the Chesterholm Museum that displays finds from the site. They have a lovely garden there complete with a reconstruction of a Roman temple, and I was particularly; taken by this memorial remembering the Roman soldiers that served at Vindolanda between 85- 400AD. (SPQR is an acronym of the Latin phrase, Senātus Populusque Rōmānus "The Senate and People of Rome")

The Crooked Spire, Chesterfield
The Parish Church of Saint Mary and All Saints predominantly dates back to the 14th century, the largest church in Derbyshire and a Grade I listed building but unsurprisingly is better known for having a twisted spire. The wooden, eight-sided spire is believed to have been added in around 1362. Naturally folklore provided numerous explanations for the unusual shape usually involving the devil and demons
but the reason for the spire adopting this shape has been attributed to several non demonic reasons namely the absence of skilled craftsmen due to the Black Death, insufficient cross bracing, and the use of unseasoned ‘green’ timber. When the sun shines during the day the south side of the tower heats up, causing the lead on the spire to expand at a greater rate than that of the north side of the tower. Church Open Days are held each bank Holiday Monday between Easter and August with guided tours up the tower, I hope to go back there someday and do just that.

© Arfon Jones 2015. All images are copyrighted throughout the world


  1. Interesting as ever, Arfon, and thank you for even more Places I Must Visit!

    1. I am pleased that this post has inspired you, I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. Thanks for taking the time comment Moira :)

  2. Those all look like great places! You do go on some interesting journeys.

  3. Nine posts for the price of one (and entry is free anyway) - who else offers such value? Great stuff.

    1. You are very kid sir, pleased you approve and thanks for the soundbite! :)



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