Map of the month – Botchergate, Trollope and the Bellman

First Postbox - CarlisleBotchergate, Carlisle (MAP: OS Town Plans 1:500 – published in 1865)

vertical-pillarbox

Thirteen years after Sir Rowland Hill, Secretary of the Post Office, introduced the Penny Post that the first mainland Pillar Box was erected in Botchergate, Carlisle in 1853.

The advent of the British wayside letter box can be traced to Sir Rowland Hill and his Surveyor for the Western District, and noted novelist, Anthony Trollope (known for The Warden, Barchester Towers and the Palliser novels).

Before 1853 it was customary to take outgoing mail to the nearest letter receiving house or post office, where the Royal Mail coach would stop to pick up and set down mail and passengers. People would take their letters in person, or in some areas they could await the appearance of the Bellman. The Bellman wore a uniform and walked the streets collecting letters from the public while ringing a bell to attract attention.

In 1852 Anthony Trollope was sent by Rowland Hill to the Channel Islands to ascertain what could be done about the problem of collecting the mail on the islands. To post a letter in Jersey or Guernsey, the post had to be taken down to the quayside and handed to the Master of the Royal Mail steamer in person. This was a somewhat inconvenient practice, subject as it was to the uncertainties of weather and tides.

Trollope’s recommendation back to Hill was to employ a device he had probably seen in Paris: a “letter-receiving pillar”. The first pillar boxes was brought into public use on Jersey in late November 1852 and they were an instant success.

By the next year the idea had spread to mainland Britain, with England’s first pillar box erected at the corner of Botchergate and South Street in Carlisle. In basic form all boxes were vertical cast iron ‘pillars’ with a small vertical slit to receive letters, but by 1857, after experimenting with various designs, horizontal, rather than vertical, slots were taken as a standard. The Committee responsible for the standardisation designed a very ornate box festooned with Grecian style-decoration but, in a major oversight, devoid of any posting aperture, which meant the slots were chiselled out of the cast iron by local craftsmen, usually destroying the look of the box.

Prior to 1859 colours varied until a bronze green colour was chosen as the new standard, which was to last until 1874. Initially it was thought that the green colour would be unobtrusive. Too unobtrusive, as it turned out — people kept either walking into them or past them. Red became the standard colour in 1874, although ten more years elapsed before every box in the UK had been repainted.

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Map of the month – Tunnels and a World Changer.

Welbeck Abbey  (MAP: OS County Series 1:2500 – published in 1886)
Welbeck Abbey

Welbeck Abbey in North Nottinghamshire was the site of a monastery which, after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, became the country house residence of the Dukes of Portland.

William Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck (1800-79), the 5th Duke of Portland, built a 10km-long network of underground corridors on his Welbeck Abbey estate in part of Sherwood Forest.

Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck instructed his builders to construct pathways under the 69sq km of landscaped grounds. Tunnel No. 1 was about 500m long, wide enough for two carriages and had gas lamps installed overhead and led to a 2km pathway connecting the lodge and the south lodge, where the duke’s carriage was kept. The 910m-long Plant Corridor ran between the main house and riding house and was wide enough for several people to walk side by side. Running parallel to the Plant Corridor was a longer, narrower, rougher-hewn tunnel, which the duke had built for the servants, to ensure they never met.

There are many smaller tunnels including a grotto corridor and corridors with narrow-gauge rails on which warm food could be brought on trolleys to the main house. The Horse Corridor leads to an underground ballroom, the largest private room in England at the time – 50m long and 20m high. All these projects were funded by the duke’s properties in London around Portland Square and other properties in the West End.

Many rumours surround the eccentric 5th Duke. He is said to have spent most of his life in a small five-room suite within Welbeck and that he required that a fresh roasted chicken was available at any time, day or night. On the few occasions he left his house to walk in the extensive park, it was only at night and accompanied by a servant, who carried a lantern 30m in front of him and he was observed to only leave the house concealed under an umbrella, two large overcoats, a two foot high top hat, and a double ruff – even in fine weather.

In 1913, Archduke Franz Ferdinand accepted an invitation from the 6th Duke of Portland to stay at Welbeck Abbey and arrived with his wife, Sophie, by train at Worksop on the 22nd November. This was almost a year before his assassination, which triggered off the First World War.

The Archduke narrowly avoided being killed in a hunting accident during his stay. The Duke of Portland was out shooting pheasants with Franz Ferdinand when: “One of the loaders fell down. This caused both barrels of the gun he was carrying to be discharged, the shot passing within a few feet of the archduke and myself. I have often wondered whether the Great War might not have been averted, or at least postponed, had the archduke met his death then and not at Sarajevo the following year.”

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Water Babies and an exclamation!

Westward Ho!, Devon (MAP: OS Town Plans 1:10,000 – published in 1903)
Westward Ho!
Westward Ho! is a seaside village near Bideford in Devon, England and faces westward into Bideford Bay.

The village name comes from the title of Charles Kingsley’s novel Westward Ho! (1855), which was set in nearby Bideford. The book was a bestseller, and entrepreneurs saw the opportunity to develop tourism in the area. The first hotel built was named the Westward Ho! Hotel, and the adjacent villas were also named after the book. As further development took place, the expanding area incorporated the name of Westward Ho!

During WWII Bailey Bridges were tested at Westward Ho! as part of the Mulberry Harbour project, as well as the The Great Panjandrum. The Panjandrum is probably best know for being depicted in the Dad’s Army episode, “Round and Round Went the Great Big Wheel”, about a large, rocket-propelled, explosive-laden wheel. Unfortunately the real wheel had as many problems as the tv version and the idea never saw service.

Westward Ho! is also home to the Royal North Devon Golf Club, the oldest golf course in England and Wales.

The exclamation mark is obviously an intentional part of the village’s name. It is the only such place name in the British Isles, but although it may be unique in the UK Westward Ho! is out-exclaimed by Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha!, Quebec, which has the distinction of having two exclamation marks in its name.

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Map of the month – The Moon, Eclipse and Sun Rising

Moon, Shetland Isles Mainland – Map: Revised New Series 1:30,000 1911
Moon, Shetland Isles

The proportion of the sun covered by the moon in the Shetland Isles was expected to be 97% in today’s eclipse – not far off a total eclipse and was measured as the darkest place in the UK. The perfect place to have watched would have been Moon on the west coast of Shetland Mainland.

Records of solar eclipses have been kept since ancient times. Eclipse dates can be used for dating of historical records. A Syrian clay tablet records a solar eclipse which occurred on March 5, 1223 B.C. while a stone in Ireland is thought by some to record an eclipse in 3340 B.C. Chinese historical records of solar eclipses date back over 4,000 years and have been used to measure changes in the Earth’s rate of spin.

Places in the UK that reflect the main elements needed for an eclipse include the previously mentioned Moon in the Shetland Isles, Sun Rising in Warwickshire and Eclipse Street in Cardiff.

The UK will not experience a solar eclipse on this scale again until 2026 and there may be a lucky few, who are already born, who will live to see the next total eclipse in the UK in the year 2090.

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Gretna Green, or is it Headless Cross?

Main Map: Ordnance Survey County Series 1:2500 – 1899*
Gretna Green
Gretna Green – the village famous for runaway weddings.

Gretna Green is a village in the south of Scotland famous for runaway weddings, hosting over 5,000 weddings each year in the Gretna/Gretna Green area, and according to the BBC, one in every six Scottish weddings.  It is situated in Dumfries and Galloway, near the mouth of the River Esk and was historically the first village in Scotland, following the old coaching route from London to Edinburgh.

It has been reported that Gretna’s famous “runaway marriages” began in 1754 when Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act  became law in England. Under the Act, if a parent of a person under the age of 21 objected, they could prevent the marriage going ahead. The new law tightened up the requirements for marrying in England and Wales but did not apply in Scotland, where it was possible for boys to marry at 14 and girls at 12 with or without parental consent. By the 1770s, with the construction of a toll road passing through the hitherto obscure village of Graitney (Gretna), that Gretna Green became the first easily reachable village over the Scottish border. The Old Blacksmith’s Shop, built around 1712, and Gretna Hall Blacksmith’s Shop (1710) became the focal points for the marriage trade. The Old Blacksmith’s opened to the public as a visitor attraction as early as 1887.

The local blacksmith and his anvil have become the lasting symbols of Gretna Green weddings. Scottish law allowed for “irregular marriages”, meaning that if a declaration was made before two witnesses, almost anybody had the authority to conduct the marriage ceremony.
To seal the marriage the blacksmith would bring down his hammer upon the anvil. The ringing sound heard throughout the village would signify that another couple had been joined in marriage.
The blacksmiths in Gretna became known as “anvil priests”, culminating with Richard Rennison, who performed 5,147 ceremonies.

Since 1929, both parties in Scotland have had to be at least 16 years old, but they still may marry without parental consent. In England and Wales, the age for marriage is now 16 with parental consent and 18 without.

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The Cutty Sark, a witch and a horses tail

Map: Ordnance Survey Old Series 1866
Cuttysark
The tail of the Cutty Sark

The Cutty Sark is a British clipper ship. Launched at Dumbarton on November 23 1869 for the Jock Willis shipping line, she was one of the last tea clippers to be built and one of the fastest, coming at the end of a long period of design development which halted as sailing ships gave way to steam propulsion.

The opening of the Suez Canal (also in November 1869) meant that steam ships now had a much shorter route to China, so Cutty Sark spent only a few years on the tea trade before turning to the trade in wool from Australia, where she held the record time to Britain for ten years. In 1954 she had ceased to be useful, even as a cadet ship, and was transferred to permanent dry dock at Greenwich, London where she is on public display.

The name Cutty Sark comes from  Robert Burns poem ‘Tam O’Shanter’.
Cutty-sark (hyphenated) was a nickname given to the character of the witch Nannie Dee, after the garment she wore – Cutty (short) and Sark (Nightshirt). The figurehead of the tea clipper Cutty Sark is named after the character and yes, for all of you who are wondering, the Tam o’ Shanter hat is also named after the poem.

The story goes that the hero Tam, while riding home from the pub on his horse, happens upon strange goings-on in a church yard. Among the dancing figures is a particularly beautiful young witch named Nannie Dee. She is described as wearing a harn (linen) sark (nightshirt) which fitted her as a child but is now rather too short for her. Tam is so enthralled by the erotic spectacle that he cannot contain himself and, not knowing her name, yells out “Weel done, Cutty-sark!”. The witches on hearing his cry turn and pursue him and Tam flees, heading for the River Doon as, according to folklore, witches cannot cross running water. He makes it across the bridge to safety, but not before Nannie has torn the tail from his horse. To this day Nannie, the figurehead of the Cutty Sark, can be seen with a horses tail hanging from her hand.

If you have an interesting story and would like to see a historical map of your area then why not let us know by emailing us.

Map of the week – The hottest town and the biggest bang!

Map: Ordnance Survey Old Series 1:50,000 – 1805
Faversham, Kent

Faversham in Kent. The hottest town on record and the biggest bang in history.

As summer looks to have finally arrived we decided to look at Faversham, which holds the record for the highest temperature ever recorded in the UK. A temperature of 38.5C (101.3F) was recorded at the Brogdale Horticultural Trust, on the southern edge of the town, on the 10th August 2003.

Faversham (shown on this map of 1805 as Feversham) is a market town and civil parish in the Swale district of Kent. Faversham is one of the few UK places with a hybrid Latin/Anglo-Saxon name: Favers (Latin faber = blacksmith) + ham (Anglo-Saxon ham = homestead).

The building of Watling Street, soon after the Romans arrived in 43AD, led to the growth of small settlements along-side the road with the first in this area being built at Ospringe. Not long after, the small town of Durolevum (meaning stronghold by the clear stream) was established nearby and grew to become modern day Faversham. In 811AD the name of ‘Fefresham’ was first recorded in a Royal Charter calling it “the king’s town”. Faversham is the only town in the UK to use the Royal arms of England as its own heraldic emblem.
The town also became known as the birthplace of the explosives industry in England. 

The first gunpowder plants were established in the 16th century, The early factories were small, but by the early 18th century these had formed into a single plant, later to be known as the Home Works. A second factory was started by Huguenot settlers towards the end of the 17th century, and became known as the Oare Works. The third and last gunpowder factory to open was the Marsh Works, built by the British government 1 km northwest of the town and opened in 1787.

When the First World War started in 1914, the two original factories were requisitioned by the Admiralty. Production facilities were expanded and many new staff recruited from Faversham and elsewhere in east Kent.

At 2.20pm on Sunday 2 April 1916, a huge explosion ripped through the Marsh Works gunpowder mill, when 200 tons of TNT ignited. The blast killed 105 people and was recorded as “the worst ever in the history of the UK explosives industry”. The munitions factory was in a remote spot in the middle of the open marshes, next to the Thames coastline and was heard across the Thames estuary as far away as Norwich, Great Yarmouth and Southend-on-Sea, where domestic windows were blown out and two large plate-glass shop windows shattered.

All three gunpowder factories closed in 1934. ICI, the then owners, sensed that war might break out with Germany, and realised that Faversham would then become vulnerable to air attacks or possibly invasion. Production was transferred to Ayrshire, Scotland.

If you have an interesting story and would like to see a historical map of your area then why not let us know by emailing us.

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