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Witch Ducking and Three in a Bed March 12, 2014

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
Witch Ducking and Three in a Bed

This may not be the last witch killing in Britain, that seems to have taken place some months before. But this is my candidate for the last attempted witch ducking in the UK in 1880! Susan Sharpe, the ‘witch’ apparently brought the case to court because she was frightened that the local community, or elements […]

Immortal Meals #13: Buttock Eating in Milton (Berkshire) March 10, 2014

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
Immortal Meals #13: Buttock Eating in Milton (Berkshire)

Patriotism is a very fine thing, but it can also make men and women act like asses: or even worse, chop off parts of their rumps and eat their own cooked flesh…. This patriotic feast, the latest in our immortal meals series, took place in 1650 or possibly in 1649 at Milton in Berkshire. Five […]

Brazen Heads and Medieval Robots? March 7, 2014

Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval, Modern
Brazen Heads and Medieval Robots?

In the Middle Ages there emerged two kinds of artificial humans into the Christian imagination: the real thing needs, unfortunately, to be dismissed with Aztec jet planes and Pharonic nuclear bombs. First there were moving statues, brass and gold figures that were somtimes found guarding treasure hordes or, what might loosely be called, fairyland. These […]

Fairies, Arson and Banknotes in Co. Donegal March 6, 2014

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern
Fairies, Arson and Banknotes in Co. Donegal

One of the great things about fairies in traditional communities is that they make for the perfect alibi. If someone pushes down the landlord’s fence then, of course, it was the fairies that did it. If a man is a beaten out walking along a midnight lane then the fairies did it. If a boy […]

Whose Child? March 4, 2014

Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Modern
Whose Child?

The machinery of human reproduction means that (save in exceptional circumstances) there may be doubt about the father, but there can be no question as to a baby’s mother. But the whole doubt about the father thing is a serious issue, particularly if you live in a society where blood lines are taken seriously. This […]

American Indian Map Making: A Rare Talent? March 3, 2014

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
American Indian Map Making: A Rare Talent?

Mapmaking is often seen as a modern, even a western preoccupation. But, of course, map-making, albeit with rather different rules, has existed in other cultures from the earliest times. This is true even in hunter-gatherer societies where permanent records are slighter and more difficult to achieve. After all, the hunter-gatherer depends more on knowledge of […]

The Index Biography #4: Prize = A Good Book February 28, 2014

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
The Index Biography #4: Prize = A Good Book

***It took 15 hours but KR got it: for answer scroll down*** The Index Biography is a new form of biography pioneered by this blog and introduced in a previous post. The creator must find a biography of a famous individual from history, they must turn to the index and write down eight peripheral facts about […]

Colonel Fowler and the Mammoth, 1887 February 27, 2014

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
Colonel Fowler and the Mammoth, 1887

Col. F. Fowler lived for 12 years in Alaska, from c.1877-1889. On finishing his time there he was asked by a reporter about the most interesting thing he had seen there. He answered as follows: Two years ago last summer I left Kodiac for a trip to the head waters of the Snake River, where […]

The Most Beautiful Folk Cure: An Epilepsy Ring February 25, 2014

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
The Most Beautiful Folk Cure: An Epilepsy Ring

***for Tacitus on sabbatical*** There is a little to be said for many folklore cures in terms of efficacy unless we call out placebo. However, some cures are winners, even spectacular winners in an aesthetic sense. I recently ran across this very curious nineteenth-century Welsh cure for epilepsy (‘the cure of fits’): it appeared in […]

The First New Orleans Mardi Gras: Bears and Transvestites February 24, 2014

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
The First New Orleans Mardi Gras: Bears and Transvestites

The relevant Wikipedia page dates the first recorded Mardi Gras to 1835. However, there was certainly a small Mardi Gras held a long century before. Indeed, possibly our earliest Mardi Gras description from the city was written out in 1730. In that year a Company of the Indies official Marc-Antoine Caillot, who had been in […]

Review: Walter Starkie, An Odyssey February 23, 2014

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern
Review: Walter Starkie, An Odyssey

Walter Starkie is an in between figure. Born to the last of the Anglo-Irish in 1894, he added to his initial liminal state by: marrying an Italian (one of his better decisions); living abroad in Spain, Italy and the US; dividing loyalties between some of the twentieth-centuries less attractive regimes (Fascist Italy and Franco’s Spain) […]

History and Earthquakes February 21, 2014

Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval, Modern
History and Earthquakes

I’ve recently been wasting my time reading about earthquakes in British and Irish history. This does not reflect a new interest in geology, or local plate tectonics. It has rather to do with my perennial fascination for the way that historical sources are utterly unreliable and utterly skewed. When do earthquake records begin? Well, as […]

Finns, Magic and Murder February 18, 2014

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
Finns, Magic and Murder

***Dedicated to Leif who always gets me good Viking stories!*** There are Viking traditions dating back into the Middle Ages about the magic abilities of Finnish sorcerors (almost certainly Lapplanders). It is, though, bewildering to find a version of this belief surviving as late as the 1860s. This from a British newspaper. On Friday, Kar […]

Tomatoes and Poison: Humanity’s Innate Conservatism February 17, 2014

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
Tomatoes and Poison: Humanity's Innate Conservatism

Tomatoes are one of the fundamentals of modern cuisine in all continents. Yet just five hundred years ago they were a practically unknown Andean plant of the nightshade family that, when grown in New England or French or Italian gardens, were labelled as ‘ornamentals’: i.e. no one put a tomato near their mouth. Why were […]

A Forgotten (Fairy?) People: the Ranties February 16, 2014

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
A Forgotten (Fairy?) People: the Ranties

Early medieval historians estimate that there were perhaps two hundred separate tribes or kingdoms in Ireland c. 500 but that these tribes were slowly subsumed or at least yoked to the growing Irish monarchy (and foreign successors) that reached an apogy under Brian Boru in the eleventh century. However, long after those times, the memory […]

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