Sunday, 30 October 2011

My new book: Paranormal Staffordshire

With Hallowe'en celebrations in full swing I thought it the perfect time to look at my latest book, Paranormal Staffordshire, released last week. One story comes from Ipstones, an incident reported almost a century ago during the dark days of the First World War.

The Hermitage
While thousands of individuals faced each other across the trenches of Europe, a reporter for a Matlock newspaper crossed the county boundary and brought his notebook to the Staffordshire Moorlands.
By this time the place was the property of a Colonel Beech under the tenancy of Bennett Fallowes. Together they had run this place for some twelve or thirteen years, yet the reporter was showing interest in the previous owner who seemed reluctant to leave his old home. The resident Fallowes family had admitted to becoming hardened to their ghostly guest and hardly troubled them.
During his lifetime the earlier owner of the place earned a reputation over a sizable area. A miserly little man, whose permanently bent back made him seem even smaller, despite never being seen without his trademark top hat. Disliked by all who knew him, he was reputed to have amassed a small fortune with his miserly ways. The Fallowes family, who had never met him as he had died before they arrived, were sure he was still there. They often felt the draught as they passed him on the stairs, accompanied by the sound of rustling, yet nothing could be seen.
One day Edward Wheeldon, Mrs Fallowes brother, brought his wife to stay for a few days. They lasted just one night, a night when they were unable to sleep for the sound of someone running up and down the stairs all night. They tried to call out to the rest of the family in another part of the house, but were unable to make themselves heard. When daylight broke next morning and Mr Wheeldon managed to rise from his bed he saw how his hair was standing straight up and neither he nor his wife ever stayed another night at the farm.
A servant girl here, another relative of the Fallowes family, would often hear ghostly screams from beneath her bedroom window. A form of serenading which she could certainly do without. Richard Fallowes, a cousin of the man of the house, stayed one night when he not only heard the American organ playing in the sitting room but could recognise the tune, yet nobody was downstairs at the time.
A bed in an unoccupied room was heard to be sat on, yet nobody was there nor could they have exited without being seen. A pile of planks created a tremendous noise as they were heard to come clattering down one evening, however armed with lanterns the family discovered not a single plank was out of place. Yet none of the incidents were as worrying as that experienced by Jane Fallowes, who felt the unmistakable touch of a human hand against her face.
Their visitor had become a regular at the farm. However they had noticed he seems to like specific times in the calendar, appearing at Good Friday, Easter, Whitsuntide, Christmas, and the summer and winter solstice.
The large black dog, said to have glowing red eyes and equal in size to a donkey and which may or may not be related to the other phenomenon, has been seen in the road around here. One man kicked out at the fiercesome beast, only to see his foot pass straight through the animal which seemed not to notice.

Published by Amberley Books Paranormal Staffordshire is my fourth book on this subject. Copies are available by contacting the author.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Alfred Watkins, Ley Lines and Me

In 1921 Alfred Watkins published a theory. In truth others had had the same idea before but Mr Watkins was the first to put his thoughts into print. Thus the world was introduced to ley lines.
So what is a ley line? There is some disagreement as to exactly what ley lines are, yet all agree they are lines and what is more they are straight lines. Mr Watkins was the first person to give these alignments a name. The word is taken from the Saxon leah meaning 'a woodland clearing' and appearing at the end of innumerable place names, such as Hanley, Hinckley, Dudley and Rugeley. However the accepted pronunciation for the line is now as in 'lay'. Many cultures have shown an interest in straight lines, the most famous and enduring being the Nazca lines of the high plateau in Peru.
A more recent theory suggests these lines mark the paths of an earth force, intersecting points of two leys are said to release a special psychic or magical energy. This energy is not only said to be beneficial but a vital source of positive energies. There are also those who maintain they are able to trace leys using dowsing rods. I have seen this happen more than once, with different people holding the rods, yet have never managed to get any movement at all from the dowsing rods myself.
Any credence I could give to the more supernatural explanation evaporates with the claim that leys can be traced by dowsing, this time using a plumb line, over a map. In order to accept that this is possible, we would also have to assume that the tool (either the plumb line or the plumb bob) can read. Otherwise how would the tool recognise that it was a map - complete with contours, names and features - rather than a piece of paper with a few random letters, and straight and curved lines scribbled on it (or even an old cigarette packet)?
Other properties attributed to leys include the power to heal, a magnet for ghosts and anything supernatural, geomancy, the explanation for the existence and creation of crop circles, and signals to UFOs. There is even an account of an alignment being found on Mars, leading to (or from, depending upon which version you read) the phenomena which has become known as the Face of Mars. Apparently this is the only proof required to show that leys are common to every planet in the galaxy. My only acceptance of leys is the same as the man who named them, Alfred Watkins.
Watkins proposed that the straight lines were ancient trackways, laid down by those who settled in the British Isles when it was largely forested. As the ley was created a number of markers were created to enable the traveller to follow the track even though he was out of direct line of sight of both his point of departure and his objective. It is these tracks that my book Ley Lines Across the Midlands examined.
Obviously the first time anyone travelled from point A to point B there was no marked path to follow. Therefore someone had to find a way of marking the shortest route and also making sure there was no error otherwise all that was being created was a road to nowhere. The method used to ensure a straight and true path was simplicity itself and the same basic system is still used by surveyors today.
Few tools are required to produce a perfectly straight line over unlimited distances. Three wooden staves are all it takes. Whilst both his point of origin and his target were in sight he would secure his first stake in the ground at a point where it stood on a direct line between the two. The second stake would be placed further along this same line thus creating two certain points of reference. His third stake would be aligned at a point as far away from the first two as it was possible to see and maintain the accuracy. Now the first stake can be removed and aligned at the front, thus effectively becoming the fourth stake. Alfred Watkins referred to these surveyors as dodmen, citing the gait of the elderly being referred to as 'doddering' and the Welsh dodi meaning to place or to lay.
Some have pointed to the staves or stakes being carried by the chalk figure of the Long Man of Wilmington in Sussex, suggesting the figure may have been created to acknowledge the invaluable contribution these men made. This 69 metres (227 feet) long figure carries two long poles or staves. Like the other human figure of the Giant at Cerne Abbas, these are considered ancient. However no record of either figure has ever been found dating from before the 17th century. Considering the planning and the huge effort which would have gone into the construction, it seems unlikely that either would have avoided any mention for well over two thousand years.
The only thing left was to create markers. These would have stood out from everything in view like the proverbial sore thumb. Each marker had to be within sight of the previous one as there was no path underfoot to follow. Markers were originally simply a pile of stones, or a burned tree, or a purpose-built ford. Later some of these sites took on more significance and became tumuli, cairns, pagan places of worship and sometimes even new settlements.
Obviously not all of the permanent markers were contemporary. Indeed, those who doubt the existence of leys point out these great differences in age as evidence that the ley could not have been marked out using the marks cited, for originally many of them could not have existed. This cannot be disputed, however perhaps the way to look at it is that the modern evidence was erected on the track already in existence. Even today any construction work grows alongside an existing road, so it is a safe assumption that this has always been the case. Besides there would be no point in creating a sacred place which was quite literally off the beaten track for nobody would ever be able to find it.
The Romans, famous for their straight roads, would undoubtedly have taken advantage of the trackways already in existence. They used the same method to mark out their own roads which, although they were not significantly wider, were vastly superior underfoot. Furthermore, no markers were required here for the road itself was evidence enough. Today these former markers can still sometimes be seen in the names of the settlements, indeed such is often the only clue we have.
It should be noted that skeptics have discounted the idea of ley lines as fanciful archaeology. Quite rightly they point to the comparatively large number of settlements in Europe and, seeing these as dots on a map, conclude that there is no deliberate alignment. The fact that there are so many dots means it is inevitable that some will fall in a straight line. Alfred Watkin himself pointed this out in his book The Old Straight Track.
My book accepts that ley lines do exist and takes the reader along a number of these ancient routes across the counties of the Midlands. While the different leys have similar markers in a general sense, each has its own individual story to tell and is a different piece of the whole incomplete puzzle. Incomplete because the several leys can be traced across distances much greater than just central England. Not only will we discover something of the places and the markers, but will look at the possible reasons and uses for the trackway, and the people who have followed these same paths.
Although they lie outside the area covered by Ley Lines Across the Midlands, the stone circles of Avebury and Stonehenge in Wiltshire are well-known as focal points for a number of trackways and importantly can be dated. These two religious sites are over five thousand years old. Clearly they were built on trackways existing beforehand, hence the leys themselves are older and likely very much older. Since the original markers have long since disappeared it is difficult to know exactly when any particular track was created. Indeed it is virtually impossible to say just how old any of the leys are.
Therefore we must guess as to the age of these tracks and for this we need clues. The only ones we have are the people, and when they first settled into permanent homes rather than leading the life of hunter gatherers. The only other really relevant factor are the forests, which severely hampered the vision of those people of the British Isles and created the need for marked trackways. This all happened closer to ten thousand years ago.
Whether any of the routes covered in my Ley Lines Across the Midlands are among the original tracks of ten thousand years ago is unknown and never will be known. However it is safe to assume they date from at least the pre-Roman era of two thousand years ago and are likely to be twice that age.

Published by The History Press Ley Lines Across the Midlands was the first of my books on ancient routes and trackways.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

A Writer's A-Z of Sex

Last week's look at slang terms for drink and drunks meant I had to thumb through my Penguin Dictionary of Historical Slang in order to fill in the gaps. In doing so I noticed one subject appeared again and again, often many times on each page. Whilst I could have guessed the most common reference was to sex, even I was amazed by the quantity (but certainly not the quality) of the terms.

At first I intended to look at female references in one post with male to follow. However in this politically correct world half of the terms would have offended somebody and the other half likely everybody. Hence I opted for the following, written from the etymological viewpoint and not just for a cheap laugh (well mostly).

A is for ankle sprain, derived from the French avoir mal aux genous, it describes successful seduction.

B is for brim meaning to copulate and once the correct terminology in describing the mounting of the sow by the boar.

C is for cleave, used to mean 'to be wanton'.

D is for dark cully, a man who visits his mistress only under cover of darkness.

E is for ewe-mutton which is defined as 'an amateur prostitute', (an oxymoron if ever I heard one).

F is for firkytoodle, a delightful word originating in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries and which is probably best defined here as foreplay.

G is for gay which, in the late nineteenth century, was actually used to describe heterosexual activity.

H is for hoddypeak, another word for a cuckold

I is for itch-buttocks, not what it seems but used from the sixteenth century for what is sometimes referred to as 'the missionary position'.

J is for Judische-compliment, a strange early nineteenth expression for it describes a well-endowed man with no money.

K is for keep-down-the-census, which is easy enough to understand when we know if refers to pleasuring oneself.

L is for leather-stretching, the act of intercourse.

M is for machine, a reference to the male organ and derived from the French machin, or 'thing'.

N is for Nebuchadnezzar, a late nineteenth century reference to the male organ and related to "take Nebuchadnezzar out to grass", a rather wordy alternative to the three-letter word 'sex'.

O is for orchestra, thyming slang 'orchestra stalls' being 'testicles'.

P is for pestle, the male organ (no prizes for guessing what a 'mortar' was)

Q is for quicumque, a very young woman of questionable morals.

R is for rigsby, another young woman of questionable morals.

S is for scolopendra, yet another woman of questionable morals and apparently named for the sting in the tail of a centipede.

T is for table-end, describing a couple whose desires are so great they are unable to wait until they have 'climbed the stairs'.

U is for under-petticoating, quite simply is soliciting but applied to either sex.

V is for vrow-case, a brothel and probably derived from the Dutch vrouw 'a woman'.

W is for whipperginnie, a woman of ill repute

X, Y and Z had me beaten

Sunday, 9 October 2011

A Round of Drinks

Being partial to a drink now and again, I overhear some unusual slang terms when ordering at the bar. This is particularly true when travelling around the British Isles, closer to home they are more familiar and mostly ignored. Words such as bevy, tipple, wallop, grog, etc., are known to all and require no explanation.

However it was when I picked up my Dictionary of Historical Slang I discovered just how many slang terms there are in the English language for the demon drink, for those who enjoy same, and everything related to it.

A is for ANOTHER ACROBAT meaning 'another drink'. Tumbler being another word for an acrobat and also a glass.

B is for BLACK POT meaning 'a toper' (one who enjoys his drink a little too much). A black pot was a beer mug in the days when bottles and tankards were made of leather and sealed with tar.

C is for CANTEEN MEDAL, describing a military man who wore a beer stain on his tunic. A persistent drunkard (today we would say 'alcoholic') was similarly described as a Canteen Wallah.

D is for DEADY meaning 'gin' and thought to have originated from a proprietary name of a distiller.

E is for ELBOW-CROOKER, a nineteenth century term for a heavy drinker and for obvious reasons.

F is for both FELLOW-COMMONER an 'empty bottle' and FIDDLER'S BITCH one who is 'very drunk'. While we know what they mean, where the come from is a mystery.

G is for GASP meaning to 'drink a dram of spirits', presumably from its possible effect.

H is for HEAVY BROWN, describing porter. The first beer aged at the brewery and despatched to the inns ready to drink, it was a kind of stout.

I is for INDENTURED, meaning 'to stagger under the influence of drink'.

J is for JACK SURPASS, rhyming slang for 'a glass (of liquor)'.

K is for KILL-PRIEST, a slang term for port wine.

L is for LUSHING-KEN, a very run down and dirty public house.

M is for MOPPY, another word for 'intoxicated'.

N is for NANCY DAWSON, a naval term for the rum ration.

O is for O-BE-JOYFUL, a public house.

P is for PAINT, to drink something very strong.

Q is for QUANTUM, a late nineteenth century term for an ale.

R is for RUSH-LIGHT, any strong liquor, from the late eighteenth century.

S is for SCREECH, a nineteenth century word for potent whisky.

T is for TAPE, a general term for strong liquor but most often referring to gin.

U is for UNPAVED, to be aggressive under the influence of drink.

V is for VARNISH, a late nineteenth century term used specifically for bad champagne.

W is for WET QUAKER, a man who on the surface is most pious but in secret is a heavy drinker.

X is for .... well I couldn't find one, so I thought I'd make one up. If xenophobia is the irrational fear of foreigners and oenophobia is a fear of wines, then could XENOENOPHOBIA be the irrational fear of foreign wines?

Y is for YADNAB, which should really be ydnarb because it is supposed to be brandy backwards.

Z is for .... again I couldn't find one so I've cheated and gone for ZIBIB, a colourless drink distilled from raisins.


Sunday, 2 October 2011

Etymologies of the Capital Cities of the US states. Part II

Following on from last week here are the remaining twenty-five states with the names of their capital cities defined.

Missouri - Jefferson City is named after the 3rd President of the USA, Thomas Jefferson.

Montana - Helena is a name transferred from Helena, Minnesota and brought here by a gold prospector on his arrival in 1864.

Nebraska - Lincoln remembers the 16th president of the USA, Abraham Lincoln remains one of the best known holders of the office.

Nevada - Carson City took the name of the famous frontiersman Christopher 'Kit' Carson.

New Hampshire - Concord was named such by those who settled here from Concord in Massachusetts. Previously it had been known as Pennycook, from Native American Algonquian word meaning 'descent'.

New Jersey - Trenton was named after the man who laid out the present town in the early eighteenth century, William Trent.

New Mexico - Santa Fe was founded by Spanish missionaries, the name is Spanish meaning 'holy faith'. English speakers will be glad they no longer have to address the envelope by the original name of Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asis - 'royal city of the holy faith of St Francis of Assisi'.

New York - Albany was named from the future King James II who also held the title Duke of Albany.

North Carolina - Raleigh was named in 1792 to honour Sir Walter Raleigh who strived to colonise the area he knew as Virgina.

North Dakota - Bismarck was the name of the German chancellor in the late nineteenth century, Otton von Bismarck having financed the building of the railway.

Ohio - Columbus holds no surprises in being named after Christopher Columbus, although he never saw Ohio nor did he ever learn of this honour for died three centuries before the place was named.

Oklahoma - Oklahoma City was transferred from the name of the state, itself of Native American Choctaw origin where okla homa described this as the '(territory of) the red people'.

Oregon - Salem was transferred from that in Massachussets, made famous by the infamous witch trials. Indeed these events make the meaning of the place name rather ironic as it comes from the Hebrew for 'peace'.

Pennsylvania - Harrisburg shares an origin with the state in that both are named after English Quakers. William Penn gave his name to the state and John Harris to the city with the addition of the German burg or 'town'.

Rhode Island - Providence was named by the Englishman Roger Williams in 1636, apparently acknowledging the sanctuary afforded from the hostile Native Americans by 'God's merciful providence'.

South Carolina - Columbia shares the origin of Columbus, Ohio in being named after Christopher Columbus.

South Dakota - Pierre was influenced by, but not named after, fur trader Pierre Choteau. The original name was Mahto, the Sioux word for 'bear' and mispronounced by the French.

Tennessee - Nashville adds the French ville or 'town' to the surname of the American general Francis Nash, hero of the War of Independence.

Texas - Austin takes a surname, that of the man who did much to colonise Texas, Stephen F. Austin.

Utah - Salt Lake City was named after the Great Salt Lake in 1868.

Vermont - Montpelier has French origins, as does Vermont, and was transferred from Montpellier in southern France. The French version is derived from the Latin name of Mons pestellarius or 'the woad mountain' and a clear indication this blue dye was an important product hereabouts.

Virginia - Richmond is another transferred name, this time from the town of Richmond in Surrey.

Washington - Olympia was first named Smithfield but later took the name of the nearby Olympic Mountains, the tallest of which eighteenth century Englishman John Meares had likened to Mount Olympus in Greece.

West Virginia - Charleston is really self-explanatory, all that remains is dicover who 'Charles' was. It transpires he never saw the place named after him, it was a tribute by the city's founder George Clendenin to his father.

Wisconsin - Madison is another named after a former US president, this being the 4th holder of that office, James Madison.

Wyoming - Cheyenne is a city named after the earlier Native American residents, the name of the tribe meaning 'red talkers'. Interestingly it was originally proposed as the name of the state only to be rejected as it was mistakenly believed to mean 'snakes' and deemed inappropriate. One wonders why any name thought to be unsuitable for a state would be quite acceptable for the city and state capital.