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  • Church Porch Devilry October 9, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Church Porch Devilry

    Midsummer’s eve doubtless had significance to our distant pagan ancestors, yoked to the land and to the seasons like oxen. What is striking is how often these traditions survived Christianity, the Reformation and even industrialisation. Take one of Beach’s favourite: looking for the dead-to-come on Midsummer’s Eve. Tradition claimed – traditions that still survive in […]

    A Phantom Inventor: Flavio Gioia October 5, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
    A Phantom Inventor: Flavio Gioia

    Who invented the compass? The Chinese, of course. Sometime between 800 and 1000 that people began to use their lodestones to navigate at sea. But the compass also appears in Europe in the eleventh or twelfth centuries and do we have a case of borrowing (from the far orient, as with playing cards) or independent […]

    Transit of Venus October 4, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Transit of Venus

    Beachcombing had some fun earlier in the summer with the most famous act of nineteenth-century spiritualism: Daniel Home’s floating escapade back in 1868. He recently came across this description of a rival levitator, Agnes Nichol Guppy (obit 1917) and her famous ‘transit of Venus’.  Note that this took place some three years after Home’s own […]

    Holy Gunpowder October 3, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
    Holy Gunpowder

    ***Thanks to Chris*** Beach was recently sent a link to Io9 and a remarkable couple of late renaissance images of devils and angels using gunpowder. As the Io9 writer notes – a writer who deserves most of the credit for what follows – the devil ‘packing heat’ is particularly delicious. We include below the wood cut and […]

    The Queen of Cuba, Mermaids and a Far-Swimming Slave October 2, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    The Queen of Cuba, Mermaids and a Far-Swimming Slave

    ***Thanks to Invisible for the gem below*** 7 August 1871 this appeared in the Brooklyn Eagle, having apparently been excerpted from the Richmond Dispatch. The story’s title was Saved by Mermaids: A Story which Lacks Confirmation, one way of being polite about an enjoyable farrago. Apologies ahead of time for the racist tone of parts […]

    The Origins of One-Foot September 30, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval, Modern
    The Origins of One-Foot

    ***Dedicated to Leif*** Humanity has the habit of peopling the edges of its maps with unusual creatures: the ‘there-be-dragons’ phenomenon. We have previously on this blog looked at dog-heads, for example, both in relation to India and Ethiopia. Dog-heads can be explained, as perhaps can unicorns and even dragons and cyclops. But how do you […]

    Lord Ferrers and the Silk Rope September 28, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Lord Ferrers and the Silk Rope

    Beach read the following description of an execution this summer and it has remained in his mind so vividly that he thought that he would share it here. Lord Ferrers (obit deservedly 1760) was a bad lot who used to put fireworks in his wife’s bed (he loathed her) and eventually shot a steward who […]

    Hell Fire and Death Bed Cobblers September 26, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Hell Fire and Death Bed Cobblers

    ***Thanks to Tom W*** Beach has lived through a couple of death bed scenes and what he remembers most from those dreadful occasions is the immense sense of peace. But in history, it seems, there is anything but peace in the final minutes of life. Indeed, the most extraordinary things are always happening to the dying. […]

    Never Fall Asleep in a Hungarian Cemetery September 25, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Never Fall Asleep in a Hungarian Cemetery

    Beach recently gave some publicity to Walter Starkie’s excellent Raggle Taggle. Here is a vampire story from the book. Our hero (Walter) has fallen asleep in a cemetery when he is woken by a man. He was a strange little old man like one of the goblins in Grimm’s fairy stories. He walked with bent […]

    Crowds #5: POWs September 22, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern
    Crowds #5: POWs

    Beach has offered several posts showing crowds: orators, crowd art, off-to-war and religion. Here is the fifth in the series, crowds of men who have just been captured by the enemy. Pictures are mostly from the two world wars, because POWs do not seem to have excited much interest prior to this and because photographs […]

    The Strange Siege of Nagy Ida September 12, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    The Strange Siege of Nagy Ida

    This is a cute little Weird War story. Beach doesn’t expect it is true as it conforms rather well to several Roma stereotypes. Though knowing humanity’s potential for stupidity… Well, let’s say that anything is possible. In the year 1557, during the troubles in Zapoly, the castle of Nagy Ida, in the county of Abaujvar, […]

    Are Societies What They Eat? September 11, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Contemporary, Medieval, Modern
    Are Societies What They Eat?

    There is no question that food and drink change us. If you begin to drink two litres of coca-cola a day, instead of a litre of fizzy water or if you start chewing on cocoa leaves instead of making banana smoothies your family will quickly notice a difference. Here there is and can be no […]

    A Fairy Encounter in Nineteenth-Century Madrid September 10, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    A Fairy Encounter in Nineteenth-Century Madrid

    ***And so it begins… first class today: unpleasant warm fuzzy feeling in stomach, awareness that no more proper research for six months*** Beach just stumbled across this curious account of a sighting of little people in Madrid in the 1860s. The witness was a nineteenth-century spiritualist: the account begins with her own curious take on […]

    Negosanu and the Countess September 7, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
     Negosanu and the Countess

    The following story relates to events in the late nineteenth century. It is about a place that Beach has visited from time to time; though no one, he is sad to report, has ever asked to feel his muscles there. The hero is a huge gypsy from Romania: Negosanu. Let’s hope that the tale is […]

    Generals, Entrepreneurs or Politicians? September 6, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern
    Generals, Entrepreneurs or Politicians?

    Paul Johnson is a journalist and historian who Beachcombing considers the single most irritating Englishman alive. However, and this is perhaps part of why Beachcombing finds PJ so irritating, he can be extraordinarily perceptive: though anyone with their finger hovering over an amazon buy button should know that this is far from an inevitable outcome. […]

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