From a fleece to a coat in 24 Hours

NewburyCoat

Newbury, Berkshire – Map: Ordnance Survey Old Series 1817

In June 1811, John Coxeter,  a well-known cloth manufacturer, the owner of nearby Greenham Mills, took on the challenge of the making of a legendary coat for Sir John Throckmorton.

Coxeter, is reported to have said “So great are the improvements in machinery I have lately introduced into my mill, that I believe that in twenty- four hours I could take the coat off your back, reduce it to wool, and turn it back into a coat again”.

So impressed was Sir John with Coxeter’s claim that not long after the conversation had taken place, Sir John Throckmorton laid a bet of a thousand guineas that at eight o’clock in the evening of June the 25th, 1811, he would sit down to dinner in a well-woven, properly-made coat, the wool of which would come from fleeces still on the sheeps’ backs at five o’clock that same morning. Most thought the feat impossible and it was not long before his bet was eagerly accepted.

Promptly at five o’clock operations commenced, and no time was lost in getting the sheep shorn, the wool was washed, spun, and woven. The cloth was manufactured, dyed and prepared by four o’clock in the afternoon. Just eleven hours after the arrival of the two sheep in Coxeter’s mill-yard. The cloth was now put into the hands of the tailors. Mr. James White, together with nine of his men, began the process of turning the cloth into a “well woven, properly made coat”. For the next two and a quarter hours the tailors were busy cutting out, stitching, pressing, and sewing on buttons and at twenty minutes past six Mr. Coxeter presented the coat to Sir John Throckmorton, who, before over five thousand people who had gathered to watch, put on the coat and sat down to dinner with 40 invited guests in time for dinner to be taken at eight o’clock that evening.

Throckmorton won his 1000 guineas and John Coxeter had the sheep roasted for the crowds that had gathered to see the fun, as well as donating 120 gallons of beer in one of the greatest publicity stunts of the age.

The original coat is still displayed at Coughton Court near Alcester the seat of the Throckmorton family since 1409.

Newbury, however, has its own version of the coat, produced when the feat was repeated in 1991 – knocking a further hour off the record!

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Map of the month – Rugby, men and odd shaped balls.

Rugby School

Rugby School, Warwickshire (MAP: OS Town Plans 1:500 – published in 1887)

Nearly two centuries of Rugby’s history are written in the stones that stand around Rugby School, where in 1823 William Webb Ellis is said to have first picked up the ball and run, hence inventing the game of rugby football.

Although the evidence for the story is doubtful, it was immortalised at the school with a plaque unveiled in 1895.

Webb Ellis was born in Salford, Lancashire in November 1806. After the death of his father, his mother decided to move to Rugby, Warwickshire so that William and his older brother Thomas could receive an education at Rugby School with no cost as a local foundationer (i.e. a pupil living within a radius of 10 miles of the Rugby Clock Tower).

After leaving Rugby in 1826, he went to Brasenose College, Oxford. He played cricket for his college, and for Oxford University After graduation he entered the Church and became chaplain of St George’s Chapel, Albemarle Street, London and then rector of St. Clement Danes in The Strand.

He never married and died in the south of France in 1872. His grave in “le cimetière du vieux château” at Menton in Alpes Maritimes was rediscovered by Ross McWhirter in 1958 and has since been renovated by the French Rugby Federation.

The players then were more numerous: in 1839, when Queen Adelaide visited the School, it was School House versus The Rest.  The School House team numbered 75 boys and The Rest 225.

A significant event in the early development of rugby football was the production of the first written laws of the game at Rugby School in 1845, which was followed by the ‘Cambridge Rules’ drawn up in 1848 leading to the formation of the Rugby Football Union in 1871.

The code was originally known as “rugby football”; it was not until after the schism in England in 1895, which resulted in the separate code of rugby league, that the sport took on the name “rugby union” to differentiate it from the league game. Despite the sport’s full name of rugby union, it is known simply as rugby throughout most of the world.

Despite the doubtful evidence, the current Rugby World Cup trophy is named after Webb Ellis.

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The Scriptorium & the birth of the OED.

Main Map: Ordnance Survey County Series 1:2500 – 1886
(Frederick Furnivall on the left, James Murray top right)
Oxford English Dictionary
In 1884 the first section of The Oxford English Dictionary was published.

Work on the project had begun in 1857, when members of the Philological Society agreed that existing dictionaries of the English language were far from adequate. Three members of that learned society were the great drivers of the idea in its early days: Herbert Coleridge; Frederick Furnivall; and Richard Trench. In June 1857, they formed an “Unregistered Words Committee” to search for unlisted and undefined words lacking in current dictionaries.

After Richard Trench’s appointment as Dean of Westminster and the death of Herbert Coleridge, Furnivall became editor. Furnivall believed that since many printed texts from earlier centuries were not readily available, it would be impossible for volunteers to locate the quotations that the dictionary needed. As a result, Furnivall founded the Early English Text Society in 1864 and the Chaucer Society in 1868 to publish old manuscripts. Furnivall’s preparatory efforts, which lasted 21 years, provided numerous texts for the use and enjoyment of the general public, but did not actually involve compiling a dictionary.

In the 1870s, Furnivall approached James Murray, who accepted the post of editor.
Murray started the project, working in a corrugated iron outbuilding, the “Scriptorium”, which was lined with wooden planks, book shelves, and 1,029 pigeon-holes for the quotation slips.
Through newspapers Murray appealed for readers who would report “as many quotations as you can for ordinary words” and for words that were “rare, obsolete, old-fashioned, new, peculiar or used in a peculiar way”.  1,000 quotation slips arrived daily to the Scriptorium, and by 1882, there were 3,500,000.

In 1878, Oxford University Press agreed with Murray to proceed with publishing the massive project; the agreement was formalized the following year. The dictionary project finally had a publisher 20 years after the idea was conceived. It would be another 50 years before the entire dictionary was complete.

In spite of this involvement, the work was not to be known as The Oxford English Dictionary until 1895, its working title until then having been the wordier ‘A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles; Founded Mainly on the Material Collected by The Philological Society’.

The first dictionary collection was published on 1 February 1884—twenty-three years after Coleridge’s sample pages.  the 352-page volume, words from A to Ant, was finally on sale for 12s.6d

The first fully bound and complete edition of the work finally appeared in 1928, long after the three men whose original vision it was had died.

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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.

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Map of the week – A bat, ball and plenty of gas

Map: Ordnance Survey County Series 1:2500 – 1875 The Oval Cricket Ground.
The Oval Kennington

The Oval is an international cricket ground in Kennington, South London. Home of Surrey County Cricket Club and a historical venue for many other sports.

In 1844, Kennington Oval was a market garden. The Oval was then (and still is) owned by the Duchy of Cornwall. In 1845, the Surry County Cricket Club signed a lease ‘to convert it into a subscription cricket ground’, for 31 years at a rent of £120 per annum plus taxes. Additional costs included 10,000 grass turfs from Tooting Common purchased for £300 to create its first ever playing surface.

By 1868 the game and the ground had grown and 20,000 spectators gathered at the Oval for the first game of the Aboriginal cricket tour of England, the first tour of England by any foreign side. Thanks to C. W. Alcock, the Secretary of Surrey from 1872 to 1907, the first ever Test match in England was played at the Oval in 1880 between England and Australia. The Oval thereby became the second ground to stage a Test, after the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in Australia.

In 1882, Australia won the ‘Ashes Test’, at the Oval, by seven runs within two days. The Sporting Times printed a mock obituary notice for English cricket, leading to the creation of the Ashes trophy. The obituary stated that English cricket had died, and ‘the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia’. The English media dubbed the next English tour to Australia (1882–83) as the quest to regain the Ashes.

In addition to cricket, it has hosted many other important sporting occasions and can lay claim to be the most historically important general sports ground in the world. In 1870 it staged the first ever England football international, against Scotland. In 1876 it held England v Wales and England v Scotland rugby internationals, and in 1877 rugby’s first Varsity match.

It staged the first FA Cup final in 1872 when the Wanderers beat the Royal Engineers 1–0. This final was notable for the Engineers’ modern footballing style of teamwork rather than individual play. The ground hosted all subsequent FA Cup finals (1873 excluded) up until 1892.

Other events to be held at the Oval include Hockey, Australian Rules and a was even used as a training ground for a visiting American Football team.

The famous gas holders just outside the Oval’s wall are actually newer than the ground by several years, having been built around 1853. Now disused, there has been much speculation of late as to whether they should be demolished; however, many believe they are an integral part of the Oval’s landscape and therefore their future looks secure.
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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.

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Map of the week – St. George’s Chapel, Windsor

Map: Ordnance Survey County Series 1:1,056 – 1871
St George's Chapel, Windsor

 St. George’s Chapel, Windsor – burial place of Henry VIII

Henry Tudor was born in the royal residence of Greenwich Palace on June 28, 1491, son of Henry VII of England and Elizabeth York. Not much is known about his early life because he was not born first in line to the throne, a role destined for his older brother Arthur, but  in 1502, at the age of only 15, Arthur died in Ludlow Castle where he resided in his capacity as Prince of Wales. Arthur’s death thrust all of his royal duties upon his younger brother, the 10-year-old Henry.

Henry was crowned Henry VIII, king of England following the death of his father on 22 April 1509.

Besides his six marriages, Henry VIII is known for his role in the separation of the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church. His struggles with Rome led to the separation of the Church of England from papal authority, the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and his own establishment as the Supreme Head of the Church of England.

His contemporaries considered Henry in his prime to be an attractive, educated and accomplished king, and he has been described as “one of the most charismatic rulers to sit on the English throne”.
Later in life, Henry became obese, with a waist measurement of 54 inches and his physical decline can be traced to a jousting accident in 1536, in which he suffered a leg wound that never healed as well as head injuries.

Henry died in London on the 28th January 1547  and was buried in St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, next to his third wife Jane Seymour, who had given birth to Henry’s only legitimate son, Edward, the future Edward VI. Over a hundred years later, Charles I was buried in the same vault. All three still lie in the vault beneath the quire in St. Georges Chapel, Windsor.

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