“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, 28 February 2018

The London House Where Frankenstein’s Mother Died

Chester Square in Belgravia, just to the south-west of Buckingham Palace, is one of London’s most expensive addresses. Chester Square was built in the early 19th century by the Grosevenor Family and is the sister square (albeit the much less grand sister) to both nearby Belgrave Square and Eaton Square. Chester Square is home to a number of huge multi-floored town houses, all of which are seemingly uniform in decoration, with white frontages adorned with black front doors. Ever since its construction Chester Square has been the home to the rich and famous, with past residents including Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, the poet Matthew Arnold, Mick Jagger, Tony Curtis, Margaret Thatcher, Lord and Lady Lloyd-Webber, Nigella Lawson, and more recently Roman Abramovich.

Another notable previous resident of the square is Mary Shelley. Shelley was the famed author Frankenstein, a story that she conceived during her stay with her husband Percy Shelley and his fellow poet Lord Byron at his villa near Lake Geneva during the Year Without a Summer (1816). Apparently she based the novel on a vivid dream, as she explained later:

I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion... He sleeps; but he is awakened; he opens his eyes; behold the horrid thing stands at his bedside, opening his curtains, and looking on him with yellow, watery, but speculative eyes. I opened mine in terror. The idea so possessed my mind, that a thrill of fear ran through me.

Shelley’s residency at Chester Square was during the last few years of her life and ended when she succumbed to a brain tumour at the age of 53. Following her death a silk parcel was found in Mary's possessions that was said to contain some of her husband’s ashes along with the remains of his heart - which legend suggests refused to burn when he was cremated in 1822. Mary’s body along with her husband’s incombustible heart left the city of London are now buried in St Peter's Churchyard in Bournemouth.

The houses of Chester Square. 

A plaque recognising Mary Shelley's residence at number 24 Chester Square. 

Pictures, London (February 2018).

Saturday, 24 February 2018

A tour of Polperro, alias Saxton

On a very hot day last summer I made a trip to Polperro on the south coat of Cornwall. I’d been meaning to go there for a long time – not just because it’s such a picturesque place, but because it’s the main inspiration for the fictional town of Saxton in Jonathan Boakes’s adventure game The Lost Crown.

I’ve written enthusiastically about The Lost Crown before (see this blog post from 2014), so all I’ll say here is that it’s acquired something of a cult following due to its quirky storyline and characters. I suspect that anyone who enjoyed playing the game will have vivid memories of Saxton and its surroundings, so for their benefit the following pictures focus on sights that were used in the game. For everyone else – just enjoy the views!

To start with here’s Harbour Cottage, the run-down hovel rented by the game’s protagonist, Nigel Danvers. In the real world it’s a nice, well-kept little house called Studio Cottage:

And here’s Saxton Museum – just a commercial establishment in the real world (the sign that says “Harbour & Smuggling Museum” is referring to something else):

I was looking forward to visiting “Celtic Corner”, because in the game it’s just the sort of incense-burning, hippie shop I like. In the real world, however, it’s just somebody’s house:

Here’s the entrance to “Saxton Caverns” – actually just a small cave on Polperro beach:

And here’s the Net Hut, which is the scene of some gruesome goings-on in The Lost Crown:

Looking back towards the town from the Net Hut:

And here’s the little lighthouse – which as far as I can tell really is a little lighthouse!

Here’s a final piece of trivia for fans of The Lost Crown. The best character in the game (the only sane one) is called Lucy Reubens, which is quite an unusual surname. So it’s interesting to see that Polperro has a real-world Reubens Walk:

Pictures by Andrew May, June 2017.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Finding Shackleton’s Crow’s Nest in one of London’s Oldest Churches

The church shown in the below photos is All Hallows-by-the-Tower, which is located on Byward Street near the Tower of London.

Dating from 675 the church is one of the oldest in London and it still retains a number of clues to its long history. One example is a 7th-century Saxon arch within the church that was built using recycled Roman tiles – possibly from a Roman building that used to occupy the site. This Saxon arch is thought to be the oldest piece of church material still standing in London, dating from only a few years after the Saxons arrived in the city. Other examples of the church’s long history can be found in the church’s crypt museum, which is known as the "Undercroft Museum”. The museum is home to a number of Saxon and Roman artefacts, including Saxon crosses found on the church grounds as well as an impressive section of original tessellated Roman flooring which is still in situ in its original location and shows just how low ground level would have been during Roman times.

Another interesting artefact in the Undercroft Museum is a crow’s nest from Sir Earnest Shackleton’s 125-ton Norwegian Steamer “Quest”. Departing England on the 24th September 1921 Quest set sail for Antarctica on what was to be Shackleton’s last expedition. The ship ventured south visiting Rio De Janeiro and then moving onwards to South Georgia where Shackleton died on the 5th January 1922 and is now buried.

The crypt also contains an altar that is believed to have been carried on the Second Crusade to the Holy Land by King Richard II.

Unlike other churches in London, All Hallows was lucky enough to survive the 1666 Great Fire of London unscathed. Its survival was due to nearby buildings being demolished to prevent the fire from reaching the church. All Hallows' survival is just as well, as the famous diarist of the period (Samuel Pepys) is said to have used the spire of the church as a place to watch the progress of the fearsome blaze. Sadly however, All Hallows fell victim to the Luftwaffe, and the church was gutted by bombing during the Blitz and had to be extensively repaired following the war.

Pepys is not the only well-known person to be associated with the church. Due to All Hallows’ close proximity to the Tower of London it became the temporary resting place for a number of victims of the Tower’s scaffold and executioner’s block. Some of the more notable unfortunates to have visited All-Hallows post mortem include Bishop Fisher (1535), Sir Thomas More (1535) and Archbishop Laud (1645).

Other notable people associated with the church include William Penn, who was the founder of the state of Pennsylvania (one of the original 13 colonies of America) who was baptised in the church in 1644. Also, John Quincy Adams the sixth president of the United States was married in the church in 1797. Adams remains the only American President to date to be married on foreign soil!

So next time you visit the Tower of London consider a trip to All Hallows and see where an American President once got married.

The Church of All Hallows 

Shackleton's Crow's Nest

The Saxon Arch. 

The Roman Floor. 

Pictures, London (August 2016).