“Random encounters with the unusual” is a repository for the oddities that me and Mrs J have encountered on our travels, which we find interesting or amusing in some way. Have a look, maybe you will find something interesting or amusing herein.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

The Wheatley Pyramid

The pyramidal structure pictured below can be found in the Oxfordshire village of Wheatley at the junctions of Church Road and Holloway Road. The pyramid is built from locally quarried limestone and is about 1.8m square at the base and around 2.5m high. The only visible opening in the structure is a sturdy wooden door in the front that is secured by a padlock.   The pyramid was built in 1834 and is not some oddly located mausoleum, but is instead the old village lock-up.

In the 19th Century most villages had lock-ups which enabled local criminals to be detained for short periods prior to them being taken away to the nearby court to be dealt with. Village lock-ups were routinely used until around 1839, after which each county was allowed to create local paid police forces bringing with them police stations and holding cells. This creation of local police forces led to the decline and neglect of these unique structures. A number of village lock-ups still survive however and can often be found hidden in plain sight.

Wheatley lock-up.

Here are two more less impressive examples of lock-ups, the first is in Lyme Regis in Dorset and can be found in what is today the Guild Hall. The second is in Devizes in Wiltshire and is hidden at the rear of the Town Hall.

Lyme Regis, Dorset

Lyme Regis Guild Hall, the site of the old lock-up.

The entrance to the old lock-up.

Devizes, Wiltshire

The old lock-up, hidden at the rear of the town hall. 

So keep an eye out for local lock-ups hidden in plain sight! And I will post more as I find them.

Pictures: Oxfordshire (April 2015), Dorset (September 2013) and Wiltshire (August 2014).

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Saturday, 18 April 2015

The Elephants in the Church

So far on my wanderings I have happened across a number of unusual things in churches and churchyards, some of my favorites to date being The Depressing Chair of Bishops Cannings, The Nether Wallop Pyramid, A Brief History of Bread Prices, A Church Load of Virgins and Finding Sweet FA. Given churches offer such a rich source of oddities I make sure to take a peek in as many churches as I can.

Recently I visited Wickham in Berkshire (not to be confused with Wickham in Hampshire - which is the home of The Shop that Fought in the War of 1812) and had a quick look around St. Swithun's Church.

St. Swithun's Church is notable as its tower dates from the Saxon era and is possibly the oldest example in the country. The church is located near the site of an ancient Roman camp, and recycled Roman tiles and columns can be seen incorporated in to the tower's construction. It is thought that this tower was originally built as a free-standing watch tower, with access to the first floor provided by a ladder that could have been pulled up when the need arose. The main body of the church would have been a later addition to the tower.

The main oddity of interest lies within St. Swithun's Church. As you enter the nave of the church carved angels can be seen decorating the roof beams, which seems to be a fairly standard type of decoration for a church. However, when you move into the north aisle, which houses the church's organ, the roof beams are unusually decorated by eight large golden elephants.

It seems that between 1845 and 1849 the church underwent extensive refurbishment and that the nave, chancel and both the north and south aisles were effectively rebuilt. The person responsible for this work was a William Nicholson, and it was during a visit to an Exhibition in Paris that he is said to have impulsively bought four papier maché elephants to decorate the church. Needing four more elephants to complete the task, Nicholson apparently had another four specially commissioned to finish the new look of the north aisle.

I am guessing that a village church decorated by golden elephants is a bit of a rarity in the United Kingdom, but if you know of another, please let me know.

St Swithun's Church, Wickham, Berkshire.

Angels decorating the roof beams in the nave. The north aisle's elephants can be seen though the archways.

The golden elephants.

Pictures: Berkshire (April 2015).

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Friday, 10 April 2015

A Royal Death in the New Forest

In my last few blog posts I have looked at oddities that can be found in and around the New Forest in Hampshire, such as the Brockenhurst Snake Catcher and the Portuguese Fireplace. No tour of the New Forest would be complete however, without mentioning the Rufus Stone.

The Rufus Stone is a small monument which can be found in the forest between the village of Brook in Hampshire and the A31 trunk road, near to the Sir Walter Tyrrell pub. The stone commemorates the death of William II of England (known as William Rufus) and the inscriptions on the three sides of the stone reads:

Here stood the oak tree, on which an arrow shot by Sir Walter Tyrrell at a stag, glanced and struck King William the Second, surnamed Rufus, on the breast, of which he instantly died, on the second day of August, anno 1100.

King William the Second, surnamed Rufus being slain, as before related, was laid in a cart, belonging to one Purkis, and drawn from hence, to Winchester, and buried in the Cathedral Church, of that city.

That the spot where an event so memorable might not hereafter be forgotten, the enclosed stone was set up by John Lord Delaware who had seen the tree growing in this place. This stone having been much mutilated, and the inscriptions on each of its three sides defaced. This more durable memorial with the original inscriptions was erected in the year 1841, by WM Sturges Bourne, Warden."

William Rufus was the third son of William the 1st of England (better known as William the Conqueror) and he was born between 1056 AD and 1060 AD (the exact date is not known). William Rufus had three brothers, Robert and Richard who were older than him, and Henry who was his junior.  In 1075 AD his brother Richard was killed whilst hunting in the New Forest and in September 1087 his father William the Conqueror died. Upon the death of his father Robert was bequeathed Custody of Normandy, William became the King of England, and the young brother Henry received an inheritance of money.  The division of William the Conqueror’s titles between Robert and William ultimately led to the brothers coming into conflict, a conflict that William won. William remained the King of England until his death, but during his rule he was considered to be an unpopular and wicked King and he would have fostered a number of enemies including from within the Church.

As the inscription on the Rufus Stones recounts, the commonly accepted account of William’s death is that whilst hunting in the New Forest on the 2nd August 1100 AD that he and a Walter Tirel (also referred to as Tyrrell) became separated from the rest of the hunting party (which included William’s brother Henry). It is said that Tirel shot an arrow at a stag and that the arrow deflected off of an oak tree, striking William in the chest and killing him instantly. Tirel is said to have fled the scene of the accident and made his hasty escape to France, to evade any re-percussions of his actions and before he could be questioned about what had happened. Upon hearing of the death of this brother, Henry wasted no time in getting to Winchester to secure the royal treasury and then in travelling to London, where he was crowned within just a few days of his brother’s passing.

Whether the exact details of the story are true or not are uncertain, especially as there may have been only one witness to the event (Tirel) who is unlikely to claim that the event was anything other than an accident. But given William’s unpopular rule and given his rivalries with his brothers, Robert and Henry, it is more than possible that he was a victim of murder - an idea that is explored in Andrew May's book Conspiracy History: A History of the World for Conspiracy Theorists.

Whether the event was an accident or not is not the only area of uncertainty. There also seems to be some uncertainty of the exact location of William’s death with some accounts suggesting that the events unfolded nearer to what is today Beaulieu.

The Rufus Stone.

The inscription, side one.

The inscription, side two.

The inscription, side three.

Pictures: Hampshire (February 2015).

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