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  • Immortal Meals #18: Breakfast in the Forbidden Palace December 17, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Immortal Meals #18: Breakfast in the Forbidden Palace

    The month is March 1912, the day unspecified, but you walk into the dining room in the Forbidden Palace in Peking and one breakfast is much like any other. The sole guest is about to have breakfast and the twenty five dishes for this important meal have just been laid out by the eunuchs. Beach […]

    Buying Flying Rocs and Sailing Ships December 15, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Buying Flying Rocs and Sailing Ships

    There is always a joy in imagining yourself in those fabulous nineteenth-century pantomime production where glitz, technology and spectacle came together and left audiences in London, New York, Chicago and Manchester speechless. It is only rarely though that we get to look behind the magician’s curtain, to see how things really worked, with very few exceptions […]

    Earth Light in Norfolk December 13, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Earth Light in Norfolk

    This site has sometimes given space to earth light stories. This particular example is perhaps the best Beach has come acros read. The author is rather verbose – ‘the hours sped by on rosy wing until the humming tongue of the great church clock told all the drowsy Market-town that it was midnight’ – and […]

    A Dead American and A Riot in County Cork December 12, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    A Dead American and A Riot in County Cork

    This one’s a gem and reminded Beach of that great Limerick custom of beating up families who dare to bury their dead on the same day. Here we are a bit further to the south, near the normally more sensible Cork, but the problem is still a death. The year is 1867. A riot, originating […]

    Devil on the Trans-Siberian Railway December 8, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Devil on the Trans-Siberian Railway

    Beach has previously celebrated strange railway superstition stories, the simple and unsurprising fact that innocent peoples faced with long lines of track and steam behemoths running across country naturally mixed up science and superstition and interpreted the train as a demon or bogey. Most strikingly there is the fate of the Plains Indians in their battle with […]

    Was Leonardo’s Mother a Slave (Chinese or Otherwise)? December 6, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
    Was Leonardo's Mother a Slave (Chinese or Otherwise)?

    Madness on the internet in the last few days with the announcement that Leonardo da Vinci’s mother was a Chinese slave and that she is the Mona Lisa. Many readers will have stumbled upon this theory and enjoyed its improbability, but they may not know that there has been almost ten years of similar theories […]

    Interview: The Quack Doctor December 3, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern
    Interview: The Quack Doctor

    Caroline Rance set up her website, The Quack Doctor, in 2009 as a way of cataloguing historical medical advertisements and stories of health fraud. Since then, her book The Quack Doctor: Historical Remedies for All Your Ills has been published by The History Press and she also recently compiled a pocket trivia compendium, What the […]

    Why Didn’t Others Try Before Columbus? November 29, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
    Why Didn't Others Try Before Columbus?

    Beach has been much struck by two separate accounts that seem to suggest that people from one side of Euro Asia made their way to the other side of that landmass by sea: one of the accounts is Roman and one is early Medieval and Arab. Now there are very simply speaking three possibilities for […]

    Written Gibberish and Magic November 16, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Written Gibberish and Magic

    Keith Thomas includes in his classic Magic and the Decline of Religion a few precious pages on gibberish charms that were sometimes given out by ‘cunning men and women’ (aka witches) to those who wanted protection. These were typically worn about the neck of someone who wished for help against demons or better health. Some […]

    The Biography of a Difficult to Bury Witch November 10, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    The Biography of a Difficult to Bury Witch

    Here is a little bit of gossip from Cornwall 1880 and a dose of human misery. An extraordinary but well authenticated instance of belief in witchcraft comes from St. Blazey, Cornwall. A woman named Keam, who died the other day, was believed by her neighbours to be a witch, and great difficulty was experienced in […]

    The Dominions and WW2 November 6, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern
    The Dominions and WW2

    The Dominions were a precise administrative category within the British Empire. They referred to the territories that had reached, according to omniscient London, the ability to govern themselves with minimum interference from the motherland. With many of the racist assumptions of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries it was believed that only white populations […]

    The Ripper and Thieves’ Candles November 4, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    The Ripper and Thieves' Candles

    The thieves’ candle is a longstanding tradition in Britain, America and, indeed, throughout the western world. Usually the candle was the hand of a dead man with one or more of the fingers made into candles. These candles were supposed to provide safety, invisiblity and be able to cast sleep spells on victims. For example, […]

    Mussolini’s Secret Weapon: Castor Oil November 3, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Mussolini’s Secret Weapon: Castor Oil

    Castor oil is a vegetable oil that in Beach’s parent’s generation was used as a panacea for problems of the digestive tract. Unlucky children who had complained of a poorly stomach, perhaps with the foolish idea of missing school, were given a table spoon. Castor oil has no miraculous effect on the body but it […]

    Who Was the First Victim of a Machine Gun? October 30, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Who Was the First Victim of a Machine Gun?

    The machine gun was one of the most vicious military innovations of the late nineteenth century; and in the twentieth century, it slaughtered more individuals than the motor car, Ebola and ISIS put together. However, who had the honour of being first penetrated and killed by a machine gun bullet? The answer depends, of course, on […]

    The Poison Duel 11#: Poison Duels in Plays and Conclusion October 29, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern
    The Poison Duel 11#: Poison Duels in Plays and Conclusion

    Woe, the poison duel series is over, at least till someone else finds some new evidence. Here though are two bits of supplementary evidence, poison duels in plays. This slightly bitchy review appeared in 1835. Another new burletta, entitled An Affair of Honour, was also produced during the week at this theatre. The main interest […]

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