“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.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

A Brief History of Bread Prices

During a recent visit to the village of Great Wishford in Wiltshire I spotted a series of odd stones embedded in the churchyard wall. On closer inspection the stones appeared to be showing the price of bread since the era of the French Revolutionary Wars / Napoleonic Wars.

The bread prices listed on the stones start in 1800, and the stones read:

  • 1800 Bread 3s 4d per Gall
  • 1801 Bread 3s 10d per Gall
  • 1904 Bread 10d per Gall
  • 1920 Bread 2s 8d per Gallon After The Great War
  • 1946-48 Bread Rationed Subsidised Price 2s 1d per Gall
  • 1963 Bread 5s 4d per Gall
  • 1971 Bread 8s per Gall – Decimal Currency 40p
  • 1984 Bread £1.80 per Gall
  • 2000 Bread £3.72 per Gall

At first glance it seems a bit odd that bread was measured in gallons, but presumably this is the dry volume of the ingredients (i.e. the flour).

The history of the stones seems to be that during the French Revolutionary Wars / Napoleonic Wars the French tried to blockaded Britain by exerting control over continental ports and seizing goods bound for Britain. This virtual blockade of Britain prevented the easy import of wheat, and led to a large rise in the price of bread. In an attempt to try to ensure transparency in his pricing, it is said that the local baker put his prices in stone in the churchyard wall. This tradition of recording bread prices in stone has continued ever since.

The bread stones.
Great Wishford Church.

The bread stones in the churchyard wall (bottom right, near the sign).

 Pictures, Wiltshire (February 2014).

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Tuesday, 18 February 2014

The Nether Wallop Pyramid

Nether Wallop is a village in Hampshire (9 miles south west of Andover). The village's only real claims to fame are that it may have been the site of the Battle of Guoloph (circa 439), and that locations in the village were often used in the dreadfully dull "Miss Marple" films.

The village does however have a rather striking  feature and this can be found in St Andrew’s churchyard. The churchyard is home to an intriguing fifteen foot tall stone pyramid!

The pyramid covers a vaulted burial chamber and is known as the “Douce Mausoleum”. This Grade II listed structure was built for the physician Dr Francis Douce (1675-1760) in 1748 and was designed by John Blake of Winchester. The pinnacle of the pyramid is capped off with a flaming torch, and one side of the pyramid bears a tablet which holds a coat of arms and an inscription. As you can see from the pictures below, the pyramid looks rather out of place in a British village churchyard.

St Andrew's Church
The Douce Mausoleum.
Inscription on the side of the pyramid.
The pinnacle of the pyramid.
View from the churchyard.
The Douce Mausoleum is not the only treasure to be found at St Andrew’s churchyard. The church itself contains the remains of  frescoes, the earliest of which is believed to date from the late Anglo-Saxon period. The Anglo-Saxon fresco in St Andrew's church is believed to be the only Anglo-Saxon wall painting to survive in situ and in the style of the “Winchester School” of manuscript illuminators who worked around the year 1020. The frescoes inside the church include:

"Christ in Majesty"

It seems that in late Saxon times that it was customary to paint a “Christ in Majesty” over the chancel arch of a church, and the example in St Andrews church is estimated to date from 1025. The original St Andrews “Christ in Majesty” was a depiction of a seated Christ, with his right hand raised in benediction, and surrounded by a host of angels adorned with halos. Today the bottom two angels are still visible, however the centre part of the fresco has been destroyed. This is believed to have occurred in Norman times, when the chancel arch was widened.

Inside St Andrew's church, looking towards the "Christ in Majesty".
A description of the "Christ in Majesty"
The bottom two angels of the "Christ in Majesty". 
The "Sabbath Breakers"

The "Sabbath Breakers" is a 15th century morality painting depicting the potential religious dangers of breaking the fourth commandment: “Remember the Sabbath Day, and to keep it holy....”.  The fresco shows Christ who has been injured by a number of wounds. Christ is surrounded by the implements of different trades, which include a plough, a mill wright’s tools, a cobbler’s awl and knife, a slater’s zax, a traders scales, a saw, a bobbin of yarn, an axe, a catapult, a net, and a horse shoe. These tools are presumably the source of Christ’s wounds, as the tradesmen who own them had been working on the Sabbath day.

The "Sabbath Breakers" explained.
"The Sabbath Breakers".
Saint George and the Dragon

The church also has a fresco of Saint George and the Dragon (circa 15th century). This fresco shows Saintt George mounted on his horse fighting the Dragon outside the gates of a settlement, whilst two crowned figures (presumably a King and a Queen) look on. In this blog I have previously noted that legends of Saint George and the Dragon are associated with Dragon Hill near Uffington in Oxfordshire, so perhaps the settlement depicted in this fresco is the old Iron Age fort at Uffington?

Saint George fighting the dragon. 

Saint Nicholas and a Bell

St Andrew's church also contains two other frescoes. One is a depiction of Saint Nicholas near one of the windows, the second is a bell (circa 18th century) high up near the church roof.

Saint Nicholas.
A bell.
So if you ever happen to be in the locale of Nether Wallop in Hampshire, take the opportunity to visit St Andrew's church and see a pyramid and some original Anglo-Saxon artwork for free. If you are a real anorak you can also seek out the village's "Miss Marple" heritage, just do not admit to anyone that you have done it!

Pictures, Hampshire (February 2014).

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Monday, 10 February 2014

Woking's Alien Invasion

In January I visited a friend whose house backs on to Horsell Common in Woking. During my time there we decided to take a walk on the common and to visit the sand pits for which the common is famous. For those readers who are not up on their science fiction, the sand pit on Horsell Common is the location where the first Martian tripod lands in H G Wells' “The War of The Worlds”.

The main sand pit on Horsell Common. The sand pits are not normally filled with water, but two months of near constant rain has converted the sand pits into small lakes.
H G Wells lived in Woking at 143 Maybury Road (between 1895 and 1896), and it was during his time living in Woking that he wrote his early drafts of both “The War of The Worlds” and “The Invisible Man”. Because H G Wells was a resident of Woking, it is no surprise that he would decide to use Woking as the first place that a Martian Tripod would attack and destroy. Perhaps H G Wells had a vision of what Woking would be like in the 21st Century, and knew it would benefit from a good blast from a Tripod's heat ray.

143 Maybury Road and its commemorative plaque. 
It seems that the town of Woking has decided to make the most of its link to H G Wells and “The War of The Worlds”; references to the man and his science fiction masterpiece can be found throughout the town.

The most striking tribute to "The War of The Worlds” in Woking town centre is a 7m tall sculpture of a Martian Tripod. This sculpture was installed in April 1998 and seems to be making its way from the direction of Horsell Common into Woking to lay waste to the town.  A few metres from the Tripod a metallic cylinder can be found partially buried in the pavement. This cylinder has impacted into the pavement as a result of its journey from Mars. It was no-doubt bringing another Tripod to aid in the battle against mankind.

The pedestrian way that surrounds the Tripod and the cylinder is scattered with representations of Earth-bound bacteria. It was Earthly bacteria (not man-kinds weaponry) that eventually halted the alien invasion in “The War of The Worlds”.

The Woking Tripod.

The underside of the Tripod. The sculpture is wonderfully detailed.
A dedication underneath the Tripod sculpture. 
A few meters from the Tripod, a crashed cylinder which has brought a Tripod to Earth.

Depictions of Earthly bacteria surround the Tripod and the Cylinder.

Another visually striking tribute, is the mural in the underpass which takes pedestrians under Victoria Way. The mural depicts the Martian Tripod which landed on Horsell Common and the ensuing carnage as Tripods destroy the town of Woking.

The mural in the Victoria Way underpass.

A cylinder lands in the sand pit on Horsell Common. 

Woking gets a touch of heat ray. 

More cylinders fall to Earth whilst a ship is attacked.
Even the local Wetherspoons (The Herbert George Wells) has tried to cash in on Woking's link to H G Wells. The pub has a selection of H G Wells memorabilia on display inside, and has a small window display on the outside for passersby to peruse.

The local chain boozer - The Herbert George Wells.
The Herbert George Wells' window display.
So if you want to visit the site of an alien crash landing and cannot get to Roswell or Rendlesham, then perhaps Woking is the next best thing.

Pictures, Surrey (January 2014).

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Saturday, 1 February 2014

Death Valley Crater

Death Valley is home to many interesting geological features which include the Devil’s Golf Course (a landscape of crystallised salt beds) and the famous Racetrack Playa, where the “Sailing Stones” glide along the desert floor leaving tracks behind them.

Another geological feature of Death Valley that is worthy of mention is Ubehebe Crater.

Ubehebe Crater can be found in the northern part of Death Valley, at the northern edge of the Cottonwood Mountains. The crater measures in at 1,000m wide and up to 237m deep and its estimated age lies in the range of 800 to 7,000 years of age.  Ubehebe crater is not an impact crater created by an astronomical object falling to earth, but is instead a volcanic crater. Magma rising from below ground would have come into contact with ground water, which would have explosively turned into steam.  This explosion ejected bedrock and other material which created the crater. Ubehebe Crater is not the only crater in the immediate area created by this process, but is by far the most impressive.

Pictures, California (2008).

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