“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.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

England's "Forgotten" Empress

I currently live in a town called Ludgershall on the Wiltshire/Hampshire border. Ludgershall today is a fairly unremarkable army town, but it has a recorded history that stretches back to the Domesday Book (1086) and beyond. At the time of the Domesday Book the town was referred to as Litlegarsele, which apparently translates to "small grazing area". For the majority of Ludgershall's history it has had a castle of which today only a series of earthworks and a ruin remain. Ludgershall castle is believed to have been built in the late 11th century by Edward of Salisbury and became a royal property around 1100. Over the years the castle was improved and in 1210 King John (the King who famously lost his crown jewels in The Wash) repaired and improved the castle and adopted it as a hunting lodge. This hunting lodge was subsequently used by his son, King Henry III. The castle remained in use as a hunting lodge and was frequented by royal visitors until it eventually fell into disrepair in the 15th Century.

It was whilst reading about the history of the castle I become aware of the tale of England's “forgotten” Empress, Empress Matilda.

King Henry I of England (1068 - 1135) had two legitimate children, William Adelin and Matilda (also known as Maude). William died at 17 years old (in 1120), which left Matilda as King Henry's only legitimate heir. Matilda was betrothed and eventually married off to Henry V (the Holy Roman Emperor), which resulted in her becoming the Holy Roman Empress.

When King Henry I died in 1135 a power struggle for the English crown ensued between Stephen of Blois (King Henry I's nephew) and Matilda. This civil war, known as the "Anarchy”, lasted between 1135 and 1153. After the death of King Henry I, Stephen immediately took power, and Matilda led a rebel movement to take the crown for herself. In 1141 Matilda's forces managed to take King Stephen prisoner at the battle of Lincoln, and she effectively deposed him from rule. This situation only lasted a few months however and whilst trying to be formally crowned in London in June 1141 she was evicted from the city by the populous. Worse still for Matilda in September 1141 the army of imprisoned King Stephen defeated Matilda's army who were besieging them at Winchester. Following this rout Matilda had to flee to Gloucester and en-route she sought refuge at Ludgershall castle. Eventually Matilda had to release King Stephen in exchange for prisoners taken in the rout at Winchester and following further defeats Matilda eventually fled back to the continent. However, after the death of King Stephen's son (Eustace), Matilda's first son (Henry) become recognised as King Stephen's heir and eventually became King Henry II of England.

So even though Matilda is often forgotten from the list of British Monarchs, she was effectively England's first female ruler few a months in 1141.

Remains of the castle's Royal Apartments.

Looking along a ditch.
View from the outer bank, looking North. 
Explanation of the layout of the site.
Artist impression of the Royal Apartments.

Pictures, Wiltshire (November 2013).

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Friday, 15 November 2013

Sin City's Mormon Fort

The Mormon faith has always held some Fortean interest for me, especially the story behind how the religion was created by the enigmatic Joseph Smith (1805 – 1844). In his early life Smith supplemented his income by searching for lost items and buried treasure, using seer stones as his method of detection. In his twenties Smith claimed to have been visited by an angel who revealed to him the location of a buried book made from golden plates (amongst other artifacts). Smith was charged by the angel not to show the plates to anyone and to translate them. Smith used a seer stone to translate the golden plates and he subsequently published the Book of Mormon, which formed the basis of the Mormon faith. Unfortunately for the world, after completing his work Smith was said to have given the plates back to the angel and as such the golden plates were lost to history.

Today Las Vegas is known as a city where gambling, drinking and debauchery are the order of the day and I was surprised to find that this concrete metropolis was home to a 19th Century Mormon fort. It seems that the oasis that is the Las Vegas Valley was first discovered by modern day Americans in the early 19th Century, when traders trying to develop trade routes west across the country to Los Angeles happened upon it. As the Las Vegas Valley had a plentiful supply of water, the traders decided that it was good place to stop off and resupply on the journey west.

The discovery of this oasis brought the valley to the attention of others and in 1855 a group of 30 Mormon missionaries from Salt Lake City travelled to Las Vegas with a view to developing a permanent settlement there. This Mormon settlement primarily comprised of an adobe fort which was built next to a nearby creek. The fort was fairly substantial and was built as a square with walls of 46m in length and 4.3m in height.

This fort can still be found today, but the fort is now mostly a reconstruction. The original fort was built from bricks made of earth, most of which have long since weathered away.

The fort.

A 19th Century wagon.
The creek that made life at the fort sustainable.
Sorting soil to make bricks for the fort's walls.
Creating the bricks.

Pictures, Las Vegas (October 2013).

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Thursday, 7 November 2013

Notable Nuggets

Whilst on a recent trip to Las Vegas I happened to visit the Golden Nugget Casino in the Freemont Street area of the city and was surprised to find a rather large gold nugget on display inside. The nugget in question is called The Hand of Faith and claims to be the largest gold nugget on public display in the world, which I assumed to be true as it weighs 27 kg. The Hand of Faith was found in 1980 by a man from Wedderburn in Victoria (Australia) using a metal detector. The caption in the display explains:

"This magnificent gold nugget, the largest on public display in the world was discovered using a metal detector, lying six inches below the surface in a vertical position. It weighs a massive 875 troy ounces, (61 pounds, 11 ounces av.)

A man, who has chosen to remain anonymous, his wife, and four young children were prospecting behind their modest trailer home when they made this spectacular find."

The size of this nugget got me wondering if it was truly a giant of the nugget world or if larger nuggets have been found. It seems that The Hand of Faith is actually fairly small when compared to some of the giant nuggets that have been found:

- The Welcome Stranger Nugget was found at Moliagul in Victoria (Australia) in 1869 and weighed in at 2,520 troy ounces (78 kg).

- The Welcome Nugget was found at Bakery Hill in Ballarat (Australia) in 1858 and weighed in at 2,218 troy ounces (69 kg).

- The Canaã Nugget was found at the Serra Pelada Mine in the State of Para (Brazil) in 1983 and weighed in at 2,145 troy ounces (67 kg). However, there does seem to be some suggestion that this nugget was actually part of a larger nugget weighing 5,291 troy ounces (165 kg) that broke during excavations.

It seems that the Canaã nugget is currently on display in the Gold Room of the Banco Central Museum in Brazil, which seemingly makes the Golden Nugget's claim that The Hand of Faith is the largest nugget on public display false!

The Hand of Faith
The Hand of Faith
Pictures, Las Vegas (October 2013).

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