Unusual names

I came across the unusual name of Windrum in a churchyard in Somerset, and wrote about it a couple of years ago:

I came across the name Windrum and wondered where a family with that name might have originated; it was so unusual, I’ve never heard of it or seen it anywhere before.

I looked back in the nineteenth century censuses and the first time it appears in 1851; in Scotland there was a family of Windrums, the father William was a fisherman and he and his wife Mary had two little girls, Helen and Jennet, pretty names. Jennet is obviously a Windrum family name, because in the same place is another family, a Chelsea pensioner named George, and his wife Jane, and their children, Jane, Peter, and another Jennet. There is another family of Windrums in Pailey and they work in the textile industry; however in the workhouse in Anwick it is a different story, poor Harriet Windrum and her five children are in the workhouse, described  as paupers – it doesn’t mention whether she is a widow, but nor does it mention a husband. There are Windrums in subsequent censuses, but never very many of them; it is indeed an unusual name!

I’ve returned to this lovely sounding name a few times, but have not really found an answer to its origin, although it may be Scottish. In the early censuses, all the families lived in Scotland or North-east England; in later censuses there were a few families in southern England, mostly London. I did find there were quite a number of Windrums in Canada; when I looked at some nineteenth century shipping lists there were indeed a number of Windrum passengers to Canada, but also a great many to Boston, and also New York. I guess from these North American Atlantic ports people would travel into the west and would probably settle all over the place. It wasn’t unexpected to see a lot of people had also gone to Australia and New Zealand, and a few to South America which may have been on business rather than to settle. My own grandfather travelled to Brazil, for example, but not to settle or live there. There were a lot of Windrums, particularly men from Ireland who served in the forces, but I also found another statistic which showed that many people with that name worked in agriculture.

Having an unusual name myself, first name, last name, married name, I guess I am interested in other people with distinctive names. I think the Windrum’s are even more distinctive than mine!

On this day…

October 14th was my mother-in-law’s birthday; she was born in 1914, a significant year for many reasons, and probably most remembered as the start of WW1; on the very day she was born  the Canadian Expeditionary Force arrived on thirty-two ocean liners into Plymouth Sound to take their part in the conflict.

Before I ever met my mother-in-law, I associated today’s date with another time of conflict for our country – with maybe an even greater effect on our lives – even though ti took place nearly a thousand years ago… I’m thinking of the Battle of Hastings. The effects of the Norman conquest on ordinary people all across these islands was profound and affected all the countries of what became the United Kingdom for centuries afterwards, and even today some of the difficulties faced have roots going right back to the defeat by William of Normandy’s forces of those of the English king.

Looking over a list of significant events on particular days, and looking down those for October 14th, there do seem to be a preponderance of negative rather than positive events:

  • 1066 – Norman Conquest: Battle of Hastings: In England on Senlac Hill, seven miles from Hastings, the Norman forces of William the Conqueror defeat the English army and kill King Harold II of England.
  • 1322 – Robert the Bruce of Scotland defeats King Edward II of England at Byland, forcing Edward to accept Scotland’s independence.
  • 1582 – Because of the adoption of the Gregorian calendar this day does not exist in this year in Italy, Poland, Portugal and Spain.
  • 1586 – Mary, Queen of Scots, goes on trial for conspiracy against Elizabeth I of England.
  • 1773 – Just before the beginning of the American Revolutionary War, several of the British East India Company’s tea ships are set ablaze at the old seaport of Annapolis, Maryland.
  • 1882 – University of the Punjab is founded in a part of India that later became West Pakistan.
  • 1913 – Senghenydd colliery disaster, the United Kingdom’s worst coal mining accident claims the lives of 439 miners.
  • 1926 – The children’s book Winnie-the-Pooh, by A. A. Milne, is first published.
  • 1939 – The German submarine U-47 sinks the British battleship HMS Royal Oak within her harbour at Scapa Flow, Scotland.
  • 1940 – Balham underground station disaster in London, England, sixty-six people in the station were killed during the Nazi Luftwaffe air raids on Great Britain

So The University of the Punjab is founded – hurrah! Winnie-the-Pooh is published – hurray! My mother-in-law is born – happy birthday!!

The bowman, the tusked creature and the three diamonds

I guess like lots of people who are not superstitious and don’t believe in fortune telling or horoscopes or spiritualism, I still have an interest in it! I haven’t yet written anything which has a story line to do with other worldly things, but I think one day I might.

I can’t remember where I saw it now, but I saw an image which had lots of funny little symbols all over it, and in my almost OCD way, I noted down the different images and gave them names. I guess I was thinking they were similar to runes, maybe. I have no idea now what the image was or where I found it, or even if it was something significant or just random scribbly patterns on wallpaper for example. I was looking through some old things, and came across the list of symbols, although not the images:

  1. Seated bowman
  2. Bowman
  3. Bow
  4. Pattern
  5. Simple pattern
  6. Diamond
  7. Squirl
  8. Deer
  9. Buffalo
  10. Jellyfish
  11. Scorpion
  12. Turtle
  13. Standing man
  14. Pushing man
  15. Speaking man
  16. Crane
  17. Vulture
  18. Square
  19. Tusked creature
  20. Three diamond
  21. Leaf
  22. Goat
  23. Frog
  24. Concentric squirl
  25. Fork
  26. Nothing

There is no significance in the order, or the number beside each, it was just as I jotted them all down at random. Now I have found the list I am intrigued by the idea of it, and I’m beginning to think of ways I could use something like this in my writing… Something to play around with… hmmm… some ideas are swirling…

Goose on the menu?

It’s Michaelmas today, the Feast of St Michael the Archangel; it is one of the quarter days of the year which mark the changing seasons, but I’m not sure it is much celebrated or even noted any more. No doubt this autumnal celebration dates back to pre-Christian times, but was grafted on to the Christian calendar. Traditionally it is the 29th September, but in Suffolk it’s the 10th of October, and in Norfolk the 11th of October.

Michaelmas is very near the autumn equinox which is of course, harvest time, and particularly in the Middle Ages and through to Tudor times, was a reason for great celebration. it was also when farmers paid their rents and tithes, when servants were hired or paid off,  and customarily  animals, including and particularly geese were given in part payment. The reason geese were exchanged in this way was that this time of year was when they were fattest, having been put out in the fields after the drops had been gathered. Geese weren’t just given as payment, they were eaten at feasts and this was supposed to bring luck to the household or farm:

He who eats goose on Michaelmas day,
Shan’t money lack or debts pay.

Goose fairs have been held in various places, including Nottingham, since these times

archive_7025_TheLloydGillGallery-1A painting by Frankie partridge of Goose Fair

There are other traditions and superstitions connected to Michaelmas; apparently 29th September is also called ‘devil’s spit day’ – after this day blackberries shouldn’t be picked or eaten as the devil had breathed and peed on them! Charms and amulets to ward off evil were best made at Michaelmas, as St Michael was the warrior archangel, and a protector against evil… This surely must be a superstition left over from pre-Christian times!


Return to the Bone Cave

People often ask why do I blog… well, there are lots of reasons, but the simple one is that I like writing, and blogging is a way of practising, sharing, and having fun with my writing! I often find that things I use here become the basis for something else.

I visited somewhere very interesting which made a big impact on me. I wrote about it a couple of times, and now I have brought those different pieces of writing together and it will form part of something else… Here is the first draft:

The Mendip Hills of Somerset are riddled with caves, potholes, underground streams and lakes, created millions of years ago by the action of water on limestone. … no-one actually knows the extent of the system or systems, but each in its own way is a marvel. Tens of thousands of years ago some of them were inhabited by people; before that animals sought shelter within or came to die or had their bones washed into the caves by torrential rains or melting ice.

The minerals within the hills have been exploited for thousands of years, and in the Banwell area there are seams of yellow and red ochre; the yellow is a hydrated iron hydroxide known as limonite, the red is from iron. It was used as a dye and colouring agent going back to the earliest human activity when people decorated their caves and no doubt themselves with the brilliant colours.

In Banwell, near the end of the Mendip chain, there is a cave open periodically to the public, which is called the Bone Cave. The Bone Cave was called the Bone Cave because of the vast quantity of bones found inside it when it was discovered in 1824; it was an accidental discovery because a nearby cave full of stalactites which had been found fifty years before, was a popular tourist attraction; a charity dig was mounted to open it up into another part of the system, to raise money for the village school; a tunnel was dug and this broke into the Bone Cave.

The stalactite cave still exists but no-one can visit without proper caving. However the Bone Cave can be visited, and as you enter you will see it is just a big, roundish cave, but stacked neatly along the walls are piles of bones from the creatures which had died there. The eighteenth and nineteenth explorers working for the Bishop of Bath and Wells who owned the land, tidied it up for visitors to the caves. Outside there were gardens and buildings, grottoes, an osteoicon (bone house – museum) and tower, were all part of what might be called a Victorian ‘theme park’.

In the cave was found a wondrous mixture of skeletal remains of wolves, wolverines, bison, reindeer, other deer, and a bear; these had arrived quite naturally, washed in nearly a hundred thousand years ago during the Ice Age. Many of them had, as I mentioned, been gathered and neatly stacked to form exhibits for the nineteenth century tourists; however, many thousand upon thousand remain beneath the floor of the cave. The Bishop of Bath and Wells, George Henry Law, had a residence built there and he believed that the bones were evidence of the Biblical flood which had engulfed the world.

When I visited, I was led down into the darkness, treading carefully on roughly hewn steps. The cave is extraordinary, and extraordinarily atmospheric. Some of the bones had been left in a heap and the guide picked some up and I was able to handle and hold them. They were mostly bison and reindeer, but I also saw mountain hares, red foxes, otters and wolverines. These bones give an interesting picture of life then; wolves for example were less hunters as we think of them, and were scavengers; the predominant predator species then was the bear.

The guide handed me a huge, yellowing hip bone; a gigantic bear thought by scientists to be a not a cave bear but a species related to polar bears, and one of gigantic proportions. These creatures could be up to twelve feet tall… imagine that… a twelve-foot tall carnivorous bear…

As I stood in the flickering candlelight, holding this massive hip bone, I had a really curious, almost overwhelming sensation… which I can’t really explain. It was only a momentary sense of something, but I can really understand how people feel that objects contain power. Holding the bear bone in that cave was an unforgettable experience.

© Los Elsden 2017

Wondering where she went…

This is a true story but as usual I have changed the names identities, circumstances and locations.

Lily left her small junior school and moved onto a secondary school on the other side of town; it was a well-thought of school and children came from all over the area, some catching buses just after seven in the morning and not getting home until six at night. There was a group of children from Lily’s junior school all going to this school, so she had a few friends already; however the three year seven classes were arranged in alphabetical order, so the people she knew were in different classes.

It wasn’t long before Lily knew all the people in her class and soon made friends; she got on well with most of the others, some she liked more, some she liked less, but no-one was horrible, so all was well. There was one girl Lily was secretly fascinated by; Lily was one of the tallest in the class, but Nancy was the tallest. Nancy wasn’t just tall but she was big as well – broad-shouldered, big hands and feet, and was strong and athletic.  She had red curly hair cut in an unfashionable style, freckles all over her pale face and was always very cheerful and happy, but to Lily she seemed to have a lumpy awkwardness about her, as if she didn’t quite fit somehow.

Lily knew little about Nancy’s home or background, which was the case with quite a lot of her classmates – they knew everything about each other in school, but not necessarily anything about their other lives. Lily and Nancy were in the same class for most things, and although they always got on, they weren’t really friends – Lily’s friends were what you might call ‘characters’, and looking back she realised  they were strong-minded, intelligent, and with an off-beat sense of humour.

A compulsory class which everyone had to do was ‘dance”; the children wore tunics and what I guess you might call knickerbockers, in primary colours – how foolish and embarrassed they all felt.  A middle-aged woman played a piano and they were instructed by a shouting teacher  in this terrible free-dance class which was just awful… years and years later they would reminisce with horror about it!! Lily had a blue tunic which her mum had bought second-hand. Nancy had a green tunic which actually complimented her hair and complexion. They all leapt about, the teacher shouting instructions at them, and the biggest person in the class, Nancy, leapt and bounded  the most enthusiastically – for she was a ‘good sport’. Lily always felt sorry for her – not pity, but sorry that she was so big and… well, lumpy.

Nancy was such a nice person, everyone liked her… but years later Lily couldn’t remember who her particular friends were.  When they were in their last year at school, studying for their English exams, they were given past exam papers to practice with. When they had finished the particular question, they got into groups to read out what they had written, the first time they had done something like this. Lily as amazed at the story Nancy had written – it was brilliant!! It was really, really good! She had never realised how good Nancy was at writing, how imaginative and creative.! That was the last real memory Lily had of Nancy at school… she left, moved away, and eventually settled down with a family, a career and all she wanted.

Over the years, before there was the internet and an easy way to keep in touch, Lily tried to stay connected to old school friends through writing letters, but that drifted to a full stop. Lily had been happy at school and often thought back and wondered what her different friends were doing, wondering what lives they had, what choices they had made. She thought of Nancy, big, red-haired Nancy who had danced so enthusiastically in the awful short green tunic and knickers, Nancy who was such a good writer.

Many, many years passed, and there was a school reunion which Lily was very excited to attend.  It was interesting to meet other people she had known so well so many years ago…  There were surprises… a bully who had been so mean to others (not to Lily) looked a funny little soul, older than her years and  with a very staid life; a girl Lily had always admired and had secretly wanted to be friends with, had secretly thought the same about her! Three girls who had been so close, best friends since junior school – well, two of the trio had mercilessly bullied the other! Some girls, apart from obviously being grown women, looked exactly the same and seemed exactly the same, some were unrecognisable!

Lily was having a wonderful time catching up with dear friends, chatting non-stop and hearing all the news. Suddenly the door opened and in strode a tall woman; she had a flame of red hair,  confident, friendly smile on her perfectly made-up face, head up, shoulders back, fashionable clothes and high-heeled boots… it was Nancy!!

Lily rushed over to her and they immediately began to chat, catching up on each other’s lives! It was obvious that Nancy was successful and happy; she had the same lovely manner and kind way about her, the same sense of fun. She’d had a happy life, a successful and fulfilling career, was very happily married, travelled, pursued her hobbies and interests and all in all, life was wonderful for her!

As Lily drove away after a very happy afternoon, she thought about Nancy… all these years she had secretly worried about Nancy; how relieved and happy she was for her old school friend!!

Can’t see it? Don’t see it!

The Wellcome Collection is a London museum based  which is all about medicine and art… it sounds interesting, doesn’t it? It was  founded in 2007 to display and exhibit ‘ideas about the connections between medicine, life and art‘ and describes itself as ‘the free destination for the incurably curious’. It is, as you might guess,  part of the Wellcome Trust,  a biomedical research charity with the name of Sir Henry Wellcome  who endowed it to research and improve the health of both people and animals.

I had heard of the Wellcome Trust, but knew nothing about its Collection until I read a review of an exhibition it is holding, Can Graphic Design Save Your Life?.  I guess I could make a definition of graphic design very roughly, but I checked the actual meaning of it, according to Wikipedia is:

graphic design is the process of visual communication and problem-solving using one or more of typography, photography and illustration.

This exhibition looks at the connection between medicine and graphic design… and when I read about it I wondered what that could be, but once I read a review of Can Graphic Design Save Your Life? I not only understood, but thought what a fascinating exhibition it would be!

Good graphic design ensures that we can easily read and understand signs and notices, that public visual communication is clear and immediate and that we can respond to the written instruction or information given… for example on motorways. The typeface used was first seen in hospitals in 1965, and now it is used everywhere! Having the correct design on all sorts of medical things such as medication packaging, information and warning posters and health campaign material. All these things have to be unambiguous and open so that there are no mistakes or misunderstandings.

One thing the review mentioned, which I never even thought about, and I bet not many other people outside of graphic design would even notice is the reflective stripes on the side of emergency vehicles; we see these every day,  we recognise the vehicles immediately, we know almost instinctively what they are,  we understand the message, we respond – and yet we don’t actually see them. Yes, ambulances have green and yellow stripes of a certain shape, angle and size, but we don’t ‘see’ them!

On the Wellcome Collection  information page it says the exhibition includes:

over 200 objects from public and private collections worldwide to examine the often subliminal nature of graphic design in shaping our environment, health and sense of self. It also explores the role of graphic design in the frontline response to epidemics. From a 17th-century plague warning to a hand painted mural depicting the symptoms of Ebola, graphics provide an immediate and important way to convey information as medical crises unfold.  

There are also features on:

  • the Red Cross, Red Crescent and Red Crystal emblems,
  • trademarked and branded items from Burroughs Wellcome & Co, early examples of pharmaceutical industry corporate identity
  • the tombstone prop and  leaflet used in the 1980’s AIDS campaign, Don’t Die of Ignorance.
  • poster and children’s colouring book designed by Dick Brun

… and here is further information: