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  • An Eagle, A Basket and A Boy January 12, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    An Eagle, A Basket and A Boy

    Beachcombing probably owes his ever patient readers an apology today. This post hardly counts as bizarre history: but there are eagles (much visited in previous posts, particularly involving children being carried away) and a young man’s hair turning white and a classy illustration to go with it. The story relates to the West of Ireland […]

    Medieval Dog-Heads: An Eye-Witness Report January 9, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Medieval Dog-Heads: An Eye-Witness Report

    An interesting passage from the Itinerarium of Friar Odoric (obit 1331), a pioneering Italian traveller in Asia: Odoric may have been the first European to reach Lhasa. He certainly stood before the great Khan and penetrated China. He also visited the south seas. The island of Moumoran has never been satisfactorily identified but probably lies […]

    A Six Mile Stride December 30, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    A Six Mile Stride

    A gentle post today as we near year’s end. Beachcombing has spent an unaccountable amount of time in Cornwall (south-west ‘England’) in the last week, looking at nineteenth-century infanticide (as you do). In his many wanderings through the meadows of Cornish books he stumbled upon the tale of the giant Bolster striding from St Agnes […]

    What do fairies smell of? December 23, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    What do fairies smell of?

    Beachcombing knows that not everyone appreciates his endless posts on fairies, but here is – he promises – the last one for 2011. He might even wait a week before he starts again in 2012. Anyway, apologies apart, he recently stumbled on a rather beautiful book about Yorkshire in the late nineteenth century, one that […]

    The Bearded Princess December 17, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    The Bearded Princess

    A day of freedom: 77 exams graded, course readers prepared, translations refined, goodbyes given… It is all over, at least, until, in January, the whole merry dance begins again. In the meantime, Beachcombing thought that he would go back to an old love of his, some of the more unusual saints in the Christian pantheon. […]

    Cannibalism and Syphilis December 16, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
    Cannibalism and Syphilis

    Syphilis (unless, of course, you have the misfortune to be a sufferer) is one of the most interesting of illnesses. Historians still, for example, argue about whether it crossed from Europe to the Americas or whether, on the contrary, it was a gift from the New to the Old World: the balance of opinion seems […]

    Christian Cannibalism in the Middle Ages December 14, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Christian Cannibalism in the Middle Ages

    Beachcombing sometimes begins his posts with naff excuses about why he can’t write much on this or that occasion, but today the pressure is really on: exams to be marked, the ill to be visited, books to be sent, syllabi to be written, course packs to be checked, the trauma of saying goodbye to much […]

    White Horses, Sex and Sovereignty December 12, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval
    White Horses, Sex and Sovereignty

    Inspired by Southern Man’s comment on yesterday’s post Beach thought he would today quote from some of the passages relating to Irish sovereignty. There was in pre-Norman Ireland the idea that the land is a woman, Sovereignty, who must be courted and seduced by the successful king. Take, for example, this rather tame passage relating […]

    The Everliving Child December 9, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    The Everliving Child

    Exams are pressing and so a short African post from an early nineteenth-century British adventurer: In Cromantine [Ghana?] there exists a tradition, or rather a tale, to deceive strangers, that they have still in their possession a male child, who has existed ever since the beginning of the world. This child, they declare, neither eats, […]

    The Zambian Space Programme of 1962 December 4, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
    The Zambian Space Programme of 1962

    One of the problems of looking for the bizarre in history is that, after a while, you’ve read everything before: mermaid funerals in the Hebrides, tick; bats used in bombs against Japan, tick; Roman legionaries in China, tick… But then every so often something comes along that is fresh and that has completely escaped your […]

    Letting Off Steam November 26, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Contemporary, Medieval, Modern
    Letting Off Steam

    All societies need moments when kings, citizens and slaves let off steam. The police in the United States allow adolescents to get away with things on Halloween that would land them in a jail cell every other night of the year. The Romans had Saturnalia when masters had to serve their slaves the dinner and […]

    DNA Champion November 24, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Contemporary, Medieval, Modern
    DNA Champion

    Our DNA is the damnedest stuff, it gets everywhere: not only forensically but also historically. Just the other day, Beach reviewed the evidence (2010) that one medieval Amerindian woman in Iceland passed on her DNA to eighty modern Icelanders. Then there are plenty of other dramatic examples of DNA spreading through history, especially now that […]

    How to Choose your Bride in the Late Nineteenth Century November 23, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    How to Choose your Bride in the Late Nineteenth Century

    The only advice Beachcombing can ever remember getting from a family member about how to choose a wife was ‘have a good look at her mother: she’ll be like that in fifty years’. The best advice he ever came across in his own reading, meanwhile, was in an Iris Murdoch novel (The Severed Head?): ‘only […]

    A List of Supercentenarians November 21, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern

      The following list of long-living folks crops up in a book from the very early twentieth-century. Different versions of this same list had already appeared in various publications through the nineteenth century and names seem to have been added and dropped as easily as editors clumped decades onto the supposed Methuselahs: John Effingham, for […]

    Big Bones in Churches November 19, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
    Big Bones in Churches

    At the end of the nineteenth century the Reverend Wilkins Rees put together a short collection of examples of enormous bones that had found their way into English and Welsh churches. He mentioned five impressive instances, four of which he seems to have seen himself. 1) Foljambe Chapel, Chesterfield Church: ‘This bone, supposed to be […]

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