I have spent Lockdown 2020 writing about all that wonderful history hiding in plain sight. There were 25 posts in all. Here are a few snatches of conversation from some of the ghosts raised – one from each post. For some New Year’s fun, since you can’t go out, how about seeing if you can you answer their questions?
1 – “I brought my nephew with me to these strange islands at the edge of the world, to trade for tin. But he’s just not cut out for it. He’s going back to work with his father in the carpenter’s shop. Everyone will know my nephew’s name, but what was mine?”
2 – “Champagne! At least one thing those Frenchies do well. Best thing for buffing one’s boots. Be so kind as to tell me my name”.
3 – “My people call me Boudicca, the Victorious One. I addressed the troops from my chariot and roused them to annihilate these hated foreign invaders. But first, we needed to see if the gods would favour us. So I pulled the creature out from under my cloak and let it run, so the druids could interpret the signs. What was the creature?”
4 – “My name’s Mary – I hail from Exeter. The Luftwaffe had the cheek to bomb my home, but I carried on with my war work regardless. I even got a medal for it!. What sort of creature am I ?
5 – “The name’s Tam O’Shanter, and I had a near escape.I swear to you, the witch was dancing in the moonlight with her coven, dressed in nothing but the skimpiest nightie. Then they saw me and I fled like the wind. What do we Scots call such a wee garment?”
6 – “You couldn’t make it up – a nautical man like me, and they put my statue in the English town furthest away from the sea! My name is John Smith, but what was the name of the ill-fated ship I commanded?”
7 – “Heh heh, they think I’m out hunting in the forest, but I sneak away to visit Bessie and little Harry. No one suspects a thing. Shouldn’t a Tudor king do what he likes, anyway? What was the name of my place of ‘Pilgrimage’? ”
8 – “I didn’t do so bad for a poor, disabled Irish boy. I took my pipes over the Irish Sea to England and played in music halls all over the place. My name became famous, although no one remembers who I was. What’s the universal expletive that keeps my name alive?”
9 – “I led a high old life, robbing and pirating on the high seas. But they done for me in the end at Wapping, and I finished up as a Thames Tassel. Whats my name?”
10 – “There’s an entire herd of chalky horses across the west country, but I’m the only one to carry a human. And a royal one, at that. What was the name of my rider?“
11 – The stingy old sod wouldn’t pay us a decent wage for bringing in his corn – so me and a few lads from the inn thought we’d pay him back, with a little prank. Next thing we knew, it was in all the London News Sheets. Who did they say had cut the old sod’s corn?
12 – “My name is Guillaume le Conquerant, although that’s not what you Saxons call me behind my back. I had only recently subdued the country, and things were still unstable. So it paid off, for the sake of peace, to grant the strange request of this ill-sorted band of Kentish natives. What was the name of the old Jutish law they wished to preserve?”
13 – “My name is Anne Askew, and that is my own name, not my husband’s. I stood firm for my beliefs, even when that evil, ill-faced servant of the king broke my poor body on the rack, and suffered me to burn at the stake. He will have to face the fires of hell for his sins. What was the name of my tormentor?
14 – “The old pagan gods and goddesses are never destroyed. The new religion just borrowed us and gave us different clothes. Look at me, from dreaming by a well in Ireland, to having a shiny new church in Fleet Street. My celtic name was Bree. What’s my name in the new religion?”
15 – “My name is John Snow, and I am a practitioner of medicine. Yes, you could say technically that it was theft – but I was desperate to save lives. Too many people getting sick, drinking that bilge. Well, it worked! What was it I stole?”
16 – “It’s not such a bad life. They gave us these little leather shoes to wear. We walk all day, and have lots to eat in the fields at night. What’s not to like! It’s a grand life for a – what?”
17 – “It’s a bit cold, in this god-forsaken northern land. But to be fair, the soldiers have built a very nice temple in my honour, at the side of a little brook that runs into the great river. After all, my cult is the secret society of the military, it’s the least they could do for me, as their preferred god. What is my name?”
18 – “I am Horatio Nelson, Admiral of the Fleet and peer of the realm. It was not the end to life I expected, after dying a hero’s death on deck, and after a life dedicated to serving my country. What did they do with my body?”
19 – “I’m lucky to get such a good spot here, by the Balkern Gate. Camulodunum’s a good garrison town, and I get a lot of passing trade from the emperor’s squaddies, going in and out of the town. Seafood always goes down well with ‘em. What am I selling?”
20 – “I don’t know what the fuss was about, it wasn’t much to ask of Patti, who is a talented horsewoman of course. Just a swarm of bees around her neck, and the horse going at a nice gentle canter. We are the Astleys – what’s our claim to fame? ”
21 – “What a journey it was! To the other side of the world, where my great idea took shape on the long voyage. My name, Charles Darwin, is now known by all. But my dear old ship, my home for so long, ended her days unloved and forgotten on an Essex mudflat. What was her name? ”
22 – “I’ll be damned if I let one of my dreadnoughts be named after that king killer! I am the fifth George to reign in England. Whose name did I refuse to have adorned on one of my battleships?”
23 – “My name is Mary Frith, although you’ll probably know me by my street name, Moll Cutpurse. Who says I can’t smoke and drink and dress like a man? And I don’t care a fig if women are banned on the stage – I’ll carry on acting – it’s a play written about me, after all. What was the name of the play?”
24 – “My name is Ensfrid, and I am Dean of Cologne cathedral. I had to think quickly when one of our guests found a foreigh object in the potage, and on a fast day as well. What did they find?”
25 – “I was baptized Virginia, and I was named after the place where I was born in this strange New World. My parents came across the ocean from another world, from a country I Dare say I shall never see. What is my claim to fame?”
- Joseph of Arimathea, who according to legend, brought his nephew Jesus, to Britain – allegedly to Cornwall, to trade for tin. That legend inspired William Blake to write the poem Jerusalem. Posting: William Blake
- Beau Brummel, leader of fashion, who allegedly had his valet polish his boots with French champagne. Britain was at war with the French at the time. Posting ”Who’s your fat friend?”
- Hares were released on the eve of battle, so that druids would divine the likely outcome of the battle, from their tracks. Posting: Easter bunnies and Eostre’s hares.
- Mary of Exeter, carrier pigeon, who carried secret messages over enemy lines. Her pigeon loft was bombed by the Luftwaffe. She was given the Dickin Award, awarded to animals for gallantry. Posting: To the fallen
- It’s a Cutty Sark – or “short shirt”, in other words. Tam O’Shanter, according to the poem, came across witches dancing in the moonlight, one very scantily dressed in only her “Cutty Sark”. The famous tea clipper was named after line in the poem. Posting: Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme
- The Titanic, captained by John Smith. His statue stands in Lichfield, 84 miles from the sea, because the citizens of Stoke, his own town, did not want to share his shame. Posting: Liberties with Statues
- Jericho Priory in Blackmore, Essex. Henry VIII visited Bessie Blount and their son, Henry Duke of Richmond at Jericho, whenever he hunted in Writtle Forest. Everybody knew! Posting: “He’s Gone to Jericho”
- Blind (or Blimey) O’Reilly, the expletive that many believe was named after Martin O’Reilly, the Irish pipes player, who toured the music halls in late Victorian times. Posting: The wreck of the Hesperus
- Captain Kid the pirate. Hanged at Execution Dock at Wapping, and then gibbeted at Tilbury. The gibbeted bodies along the banks of the Thames were called “Thames Tassels”. Posting: A tale of suspense
- George III, the only human character depicted on a chalk horse (at Osmington, in Dorset). Posting: Horse Whisperers
- “The Mowing Devil” was accused of mowing a farmer’s corn overnight. The farmer had said he’d rather pay the devil than pay the locals their requested fee. Most likely a bunch of likely lads were responsible for the prank. Posting: UFOs, Aliens and the Mowing Devil.
- Gavelkind, a Jutish system of inheritance, where land was distributed amongst all heirs, not solely the eldest. At Swanscombe in Kent, William I, the Conqueror, granted a delegation of Kentish locals the right to continue with this ancient system. Posting: Invicta
- Richard Rich, who personally tortured Anne on the rack at the Tower of London. She refused to betray her friends, and was burnt at the stake, at Smithfield. Rich went on to prosper – in this life at least. Posting: Essex Bad Boys: Richard Rich
- Brig or Bree, Celtic goddess, who morphed into Saint Bridget. Her church is the Wedding Cake church in Fleet Street. Posting: Swan Songs
- John Snow removed the handle to the water-pump in Broadwick Street, Soho, to prevent the spread of cholera and typhoid, through the contaminated water. People had to walk to the water conduit half a mile to the north, which was not contaminated. Posting: Street Life
- A Norfolk turkey, unwittingly taking its last walk, 80-odd miles to Smithfield in London. Posting: Now bring us some figgy pudding
- The god Mithras, whose temple in London still stands (but now underground) by the Walbrook, hidden river, in the City of London. Posting: Going Underground
- After his death at Trafalgar, Nelson’s body was shipped back to England, preserved in a tub of brandy. Posting: A drop o’ Nelson’s blood.
- Oysters. A great dump of shucked oysters, dating to Roman times, was excavated just outside the the Balkerne Gate, in Camulodunum, which later became Colchester, in Essex. Posting: The Romans in Britain: Salt and Oysters.
- Philip Astley and his wife Patti are credited with setting up the first commercial circus in the UK, near present day Waterloo Station. The long-suffering Patti performed in the ring, on horseback. With bees. Posting: For the benefit of Mr.Kite
- The Beagle, nautical home to Charles Darwin, whose voyage on HMS Beagle to the Galapagos Islands triggered the writing of The Origin of Species. The Beagle was broken up in Paglesham boatyard, out on the Essex marshes. Posting: Hearts of Oak
- George V refused Winston Churchill’s request to name a dreadnought after Oliver Cromwell. Posting: Oliver Cromwell: God’s Englishman
- The play was The Roaring Girl, by Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker. Mary Frith, aka Moll Cutpurse, led her own cross-dressing life, and allegedly played herself on-stage in the Jacobean play written about her life. Posting: Dress Code
- A pig’s ear. Ensfrid had been caught out, serving food that should have been only fish, during a period of fasting. A guest had found a pig’s ear in his supposed fish supper. Ensfrid’s riposte was: “Of course sturgeons have ears!”. Posting: Tales of the Ostrich
- Virginia Dare, the first person of European descent to be born in the New World, in the colony of Roanoke, Virginia, in 1587. She, along with the rest of the colony disappeared in mysterious circumstances. Posting: Young Americans