Category Archives: A story is told

From The Weekly Telegraph 1905

I must admit that I do not know the actual source of the following but it is from a very reliable friend of mine who ‘published’ it in our Family History magazine quite some time ago.

Issue no. 2272 – Estab. 1862      Saturday 28th October 1905     Postage One Penny

                                                               Deceased Wife’s Sister
He: “I can’t understand why an Englishman always wants to marry his deceased wife’s sister”

She:  “Why? I should have thought anyone could see.  It saves him the bother of breaking in a new mother-in-law.”


Today is Michaelmas day – the day of St Michael and All Angels.

29th September is one of the four days of the year on which quarterly rents are/were traditionally paid. For many it was also the day when Goose would be served for dinner. It was thought that eating goose on St Michael’s Day would bring financial prosperity in the year to come. The geese were fattened for the table by allowing them to glean fallen grain on the stubble fields after the harvest – and are often referred to in past-times as a “stubble-goose”.
Allegedly this tradition stems back to the practice of giving one’s Landlord a goose as a gift on this rent day – either in lieu of money or to keep him at ease with you.

In 1575 George Gascoigne wrote ‘The Posies of George Gascoigne’ which includes:

And when the tenants come to pay their quarter’s rent,
They bring some fowl at Midsummer, a dish of fish in Lent,
At Christmas a Capon, at Michael a goose,
And somewhat else at New-year’s tide, for fear their lease flies loose.

There is another perk if you are interested: by tradition one may sleep late on St Michael’s Day! The tradition says that ‘Nature requires five, Custom gives seven; Laziness takes nine, and Michaelmas eleven.’


PS: There is a local link for some readers of these blogs: Most of Gascoigne’s works were published during the last years of his life. He died on 7th October 1577 at Walcot Hall, Barnack, near Stamford, England, where he was the guest of George Whetstone.  He was buried in the Whetstone family vault at St John the Baptist’s Church, Barnack.

A lady records a wartime scene in England’s conflict in 1941

Mrs Nella Last of Barrow-in-Furness was one of the many volunteer members across Britain of the Mass Observation Archive team – a community that had been set up in 1937 to observe British life by recording a day-to-day account of their everyday lives. These archives now give us a unique insight into the stories and experiences of British civilians going through a time when their country was at war.

This is from her diary for Saturday 13th September 1941 and Nella simply records seeing a child:

‘He was undersized, dirty, tousled and ragged. His poor little eyes were nearly closed with styes and when I touched his cheeks, his flesh had the soft, limp feeling of malnutrition.’

The war was having an impact on people no matter what their age.

The Diary of a Farmer’s Wife 1796-1797

August 21st 1796

Up yester morn att 4 off the clocke, and carters wife cumming we to the washing; getting all reddie for the hangeing out before breakefuste.

John in to saye Dollie the red cow be sicke, so me to make a drink for her good, it bein chill.  I did warme sum milk, to which I do put a spoon full of breesed appel pips and 2 egges, all shook upp with a glass of brandie, which John do give her.  Later she much better, and John did give her milk to the calfs.

2017 version
I was up yesterday morning at 4 o’clock because the carter’s wife was coming. We were going to do the washing so that it was all ready to hang out before breakfast.
Dollie, the red cow, was sick and John asked me to make a drink for her.  Being chill I warmed some milk and added a spoon full of breezed apple pips and 2 eggs, all shook up with a glass of brandy, which John gave her.  Later she was much better, and John gave her milk to the calves.

Just in case it rains on 15th July this year

15th July has a rhyme: St Swithin’s Day, if it does rain; Full forty days, it will remain; St Swithin’s Day, if it be fair; For forty days, t’will rain no more.

Celebrated (or berated as the case may be!) on July 15th, weather sayings pertaining to St. Swithin’s Day are probably the most famous or infamous in the UK.  St. Swithin died in 862 and was buried outside Winchester Cathedral so that he could ‘feel’ the raindrops when he was dead. However, when he was canonised a tomb was built inside the cathedral and July 15th 971 was the day his body was to be moved. Legend has it that a storm broke on that day ending a long dry spell.  Not only that – it continued to rain on each of the subsequent 40 days. As a result the monks took it as a sign of ‘divine displeasure’ and` left his body where it was.

Since 1861 there have never been 40 dry or 40 wet days following a dry or wet St. Swithin’s Day. In fact, on average, about 20 wet days and 20 rain free days can be expected between July 15th and August 24th. The summers of 1983, 1989, 1990 and 1995 were, however, near misses. During these summers July 15th was dry over southern England, as were 38 of the following 40 days. As for wet weather, BBC Meteorologist Philip Eden presented a report that on 15th July 1985 it rained in Luton and then rained on 30 of the subsequent 40 days.

The creators of the St. Swithin’s Day sayings during the Middle Ages would be aware that summer weather patterns are usually quite well established by mid-July and will then tend to persist until late August. It is not just England though; similar sayings exist for the same time of year in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and France. If we modernise the sayings surrounding St. Swithin’s Day perhaps the sayings should be updated to read:

St. Swithin’s Day, if it does rain, 40 days staying unsettled, St. Swithin’s Day, if it fair, 40 days staying settled.

It’s amazing what you can find in old files

I’ve just been looking at the contents of one of my old files and came across this.  Where the heck I got it from I do not know but this is it; it’s called:-

The Value of Old Age

Remember that old folk are worth a fortune with silver in their hair, gold in their teeth, stones in their kidneys and gas in their stomachs.

I am quite a frivolous old girl you know.   I am seeing five gentlemen each day:-
As soon as I wake up Will Power helps me out of bed; then I go to visit Lou.

Next its time for Mr Quaker who gives me my oats.

They leave and Arthur Ritis shows up and stays the rest of the day.  He doesn’t stay in one place very long, so he takes me from joint to joint.

After such a busy day I am ready for bed with Johnny Walker.
What a life!
Oh yes – I am also flirting with Ai Zymers.

The Vicar came the other day and said: “At your age you should be thinking about the hereafter.”  I told him: “Oh, I do.  No matter where I am, in the lounge or upstairs; in the kitchen or in the basement, I ask myself: “Now, what am I here after?”

Fact or Fiction? True or False? You’re the decider!

Arthur Furguson (1883–1938) was (or may have been) a Scottish con artist who allegedly became known for “selling” English national monuments and other government property to visiting American tourists during the 1920s. 

His moment happened in Trafalgar Square, one bright and sunny morning in 1923 – the source of his revelation being a rich American from Iowa, who he found staring reverently at Nelson’s Column.  The American was interested and inquired as to the price. Furguson mused and explained that it was to be sold for just £6,000. Obviously, it would have to go to the right buyer: someone who would protect and appreciate a monument of this scale. Furguson decided to appoint himself as the official guide to the Square and, speaking to the American, he explained that the statue at the top the column was of Admiral Lord Nelson, one of Britain’s most famous seafarers and naval heroes. He had died in during the Battle of Trafalgar, after which the square was named. ‘Such a terrible shame’ he sighed, ‘the square wouldn’t feel the same without it. However, it all had to go, lions and fountains included. Britain’s debts were sky-high, and the government had decided to sell off the landmark to the highest bidder.’

By a curious coincidence, it was Furguson himself who had been entrusted by the government with the task of organizing the sale, which had to be kept top-secret. The American pleaded with Furguson to allow him to jump the queue. At last Ferguson relented and telephoned his employers for instructions. He returned within a matter of minutes and advised his buyer that it was decided that Britain was prepared to accept a cheque right away, to complete the deal as soon as possible!  Furguson, amazed at his own cunning, immediately went off and cashed the cheque while his customer got in touch with some contractors. They were extremely reluctant to accept the job and told him why. It was not until he received an official assurance from Scotland Yard that he would believe that he had been conned. The police however, were far from happy.

That summer was a good one as far as Arthur Furguson was concerned. One American complained that he had paid £1000 for Big Ben while another had made a £2000 down payment on Buckingham Palace!

While visiting Paris, he managed to sell the Eiffel Tower for scrap at an unknown price to yet another American. Since Americans had all been his best customers, he decided to continue his work in their country. In 1925, he leased the White House to a Texan cattle-rancher for 99 years at $100,000 a year, with the first year’s rent payable in advance.

Furguson’s bank balance was now sufficiently large for him to consider retiring but his vanity got the better of him.  He wanted to end his career with a grand finale and emigrated to the USA in 1925.  There he sold the White House to a rancher on the installment plan of yearly payments of $100,000.

However, his most perfect victim seemed to be an Australian from Sydney. Furguson told him that the entrance to New York harbour was to be widened and, unfortunately, the Statue of Liberty was in the way. Sentimental attachments was not going to stop the path of progress, and the US State Department was prepared to sell it to anyone who would to take it away.  Would his visiting Australian like to buy the Statue of Liberty?

The Australian attempted to raise the £100,000 deposit over the next couple of days with Furguson practically glued to his side, carefully steering him away from anyone with whom he might be tempted to boast about his venture. Furguson kindly allowed himself to be photographed with his buyer, arm in arm in front of the Statue of Liberty. Unfortunately, there was a delay in getting the money through; Furguson grew impatient, and the Australian became suspicious and took the photograph of himself and Furguson to the police.

It was exactly the breakthrough the police wanted. They already knew about the salesman of monuments, but he had always managed to escape them. The Australian led them straight to Furguson, who was promptly arrested.  Furguson was jailed for five years, a rather small price to pay for the fortune he had made. He was released in 1930, and moved to Los Angeles where he lived in a lap of luxury (paid for by a few more convenient tricks) until he died in 1938.

BUT – subsequent research suggests that the existence of Furguson himself was a hoax and that the earliest known reference to Furguson dates from the 1960s.  Is this true?  Who knows?  True or false – it doesn’t really matter; it still makes an interesting story!

The Waverley Novels

‘Waverley’ is a historical novel by Sir Walter Scott that was published anonymously on Friday 8th July 1814.  It was Scott’s first publication of straight forward prose fiction and is now often regarded as the first historical novel of its kind.  The successful impact of the book led to his later novels being advertised as “by the author of Waverley” and to his following, similar, books being known as ‘The Waverley Novels’.

The stories are based on the Jacobite uprising of 1745 when supporters set about restoring the Stuart dynasty to the throne in the person of Charles Edward Stuart, known as “Bonnie Prince Charlie” and tell the story of a young English dreamer and soldier, Edward Waverley, who was sent to Scotland that year.

Here is not the place to expand further on the story but, suffice to say, Edward has many ups and downs in his time in the Highlands.  Why not have a look in your local library and find out more about Baron Bradwardine, the beautiful Flora Mac-Ivor, the Battle of Prestonpans and Edward’s meeting with Bonnie Prince Charlie himself.


A new track for exciting races

It was on this day in 1907 that the Brooklands 2.75 mile motor racing track opened for racing.  It was the world’s first purpose-built motor racing circuit as well as one of Britain’s first airfields.  This airfield would become Britain’s largest aircraft manufacturing centre by by the end of the First World War, producing military aircraft such as the Wellington bomber and civil airliners like the VC-10.  The circuit hosted its last race in 1939 and is now the Brooklands Museum – a major aviation and motoring museum.  It is also still a track for fun with many vintage car, motorcycle and other transport-related events taking part.

We shall return to Brooklands as its story grows.

Today is Tynwald Day – 600 years since the Lord of Man ordered the Law

It was Sir John Stanley, Lord of Man, who ordered the 1417 Law to be set down, and it is right and poignant that his descendant, Edward Stanley, the 19th Earl of Derby, should have kindly accepted my invitation to come as a guest on Tynwald Day to help us mark the 600th anniversary and celebrate our long unbroken history of parliamentary tradition.’

From the first recorded Tynwald Day in 1417, the Day had traditionally been held on 24th June, which is the feast day of St John the Baptist and also Midsummer’s Day.  However, in 1753, the Isle of Man legislated to replace the Julian Calendar with the Gregorian Calender after Great Britain had done so in the previous year: making a difference of 11 days. However, the legislation retained the Julian Calendar for the purpose of determining Tynwald Day stating that “Midsummer Tynwald Court shall be holden and kept … upon or according to the same natural Days upon or according to which the same should have been so kept or holden … in case this Act had never been made.” Hence Tynwald Day occurred on 24 June in the Julian Calendar, but on 5th July according to the Gregorian Calendar. It was not subsequently moved back to 7th July, even though the Gregorian Calendar is now 13 days ahead of the Julian Calendar as the Gregorian Calendar had no Leap Day in 1800 or 1900. As a result – if Tynwald Day occurs on a Saturday or Sunday, it is normally commemorated on the next Monday as it was in 2008 and 2009.

Each year on Tynwald Day the Tynwald Court participates at the Tynwald Day Ceremony at St John’s.  After a religious service in the Royal Chapel, the members of Tynwald process to Tynwald Hill, one of the ancient open air sites of Tynwald. Following the proceedings on Tynwald Hill, presided over by the Lieutenant Governor, the members of Tynwald return to the Royal Chapel where a formal sitting of Tynwald takes place.  By statute, each Act of Tynwald must be promulgated on Tynwald Hill within eighteen months of enactment or it ceases to have effect. Promulgation of the Acts takes place on Tynwald Day and the promulgation is certified at the sitting of Tynwald at St John’s.

Any person may approach Tynwald Hill on Tynwald Day and present a Petition for Redress. If the Petition is in accordance with the Standing Orders of Tynwald, any Member of Tynwald may subsequently request that Tynwald consider the substance of the petition. Matters are indeed redressed by this simple but ancient procedure which can lead directly to the enactment of legislation.

Today – Wednesday July 5th 2017 – will serve as an occasion to welcome two visiting units from the Royal Air Force as they perform their ceremonial roles and add to the colour and spectacle of the formal proceedings.  Manned exclusively by officers and airmen of the RAF Regiment, which this year celebrates its 75th anniversary, the Queen’s Colour Squadron will form the guard of honour. The squadron is the RAF’s only dedicated ceremonial unit, but also has an operational role as 63 Squadron, Royal Air Force Regiment.

Joining the squadron will be the Band of the Royal Air Force Regiment which, in additional to its ceremonial duties, undertakes operational support roles around the world.

The proceedings will also serve as an opportunity to recognise the 600th anniversary of the Customary Law Act. The President of Tynwald, Steve Rodan MLC, said: ‘The Customary Law of 1417 is the earliest Manx statute we have in writing. It is significant because it sets out in detail the Tynwald Day ceremony itself – the very pattern which we follow on Tynwald Hill in St John’s to this day. Even back then it was referred to as “the constitution from old times” so we can see that our ancient ceremonial was already rooted in the distant past way back then.