Travel Trales

A journey through time across United Kingdom & Ireland

‘Two Pounder’ – the Romeo Ram

Most of the hundred million sheep in Australia and the 30 million in New Zealand are of British heritage and the chances are that they can be traced back to one special ‘father’. Known for being a bit of a Romeo this famous ram was called ‘Two Pounder’.  He was part of a new breed called the New Leicestershire which was created by Robert Bakewell at end of the 18th century.  He was the first farmer to inbreed sheep to enhance their traits of meat and wool quality.

‘Two Pounder’ had a bit of a celebrity status too.  One summer he was leased out for 400 guineas to help a farmer improve his stock.  This was of course a very large amount of money in those days. But ‘Two Pounder’ did lead the ‘life of Riley’ as he got to spend a lot of time with many, many lady sheep and kept the purity of the Leicestershire breed going until after the death of Bakewell.

The artists of the day were commissioned to paint sheep and cattle to advertise their value – a bit like the Facebook of the day. Their painting style was deliberate. The farmer got the artists to exaggerate the animal’s best features – a straight back, thick wool and a meaty body. And the most famous painting of ‘Two Pounder’ was by Digby Curtis in 1790 and this portrait is currently at the Royal Agricultural College:

Click to see a picture of 'Two Pounder'.
Click to see a picture of ‘Two Pounder’.

What a handsome ram he is!


Irish Polio Epidemic

In 1956  polio broke out in the city of Cork. There was great panic as the first case was reported in June.  By early July six more cases made the news and the reports used the word ‘epidemic’ for the first time, but stressed that there was ‘no occasion for alarm’.

This understatement increased fear, even though the people of Cork were assured this was only a ‘mild outbreak’.  By the middle of July four people per day were being admitted into the fever hospital in Cork, and the the authorities issued orders to curtail the spread of the disease.  These orders included threatening people swimming in the River Lee, which runs through Cork, with prosecution.

Polio in IrelandA month into the epidemic many were convinced that the outbreak had been deliberatly suppressed in Cork which was the main cause for polio spreading to Dublin, where people were dying in ‘like flies’ in their fever hospital.

Fortunately this outbreak was one of the last in Western Europe.  A polio vaccine had been approved the year before and when the oral vaccine became available in 1960, mass vaccination programmes where employed in all developed countries. The number of cases dropped to nearly zero where the programmes were deployed and the fear and memory of polio rapidly faded away.

But polio wasn’t gone – it was just not visible in rich countries and it sadly became a ‘disease of poverty’.

The good news is that only three countries in the world now have polio – Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria, and every effort is being made to eradicate this silent disease from the world over the next few years, which includes vast funding from the Bill and Miranda Gates Foundation.

Women at British Universities

How education has changed! There was a time when women only made up only 10% of the student body at tertiary institutions in Britain.  Although women often aspired to professional careers most women were expected to teach or take secretarial classes after graduation and many employers were reluctant to take women and some even refused to accept them for employment if they were married.

Positions for women at universities were thus rare and were of course privileges that few got to enjoy.  This small percentage of women found great freedom intellectually, but socially they were still carefully supervised – they could only visit a male with a suitable chaperone who would’ve been vetted by the college authorities.

In 1882 it was decided that women who completed their course would receive a certificate but would not be awarded the title of a degree.  It took almost 50 years before they were allowed to actually receive a degree, but of course the certificate was different to the one the men received. The ladies were also not allowed to participate in graduation or any other university ceremonies; they were not allowed to wear academic gowns and were not given the opportunity to sit on any of the university’s governing bodies.

GraduationThe University of Cambridge had in fact considered full female membership in 1897. The women would be awarded a B.Tit – a titular degree.  This would be a degree in title only and the ladies would not enjoy the privileges of the qualification. This proposal was rejected and the Cambridge authorities reported that this vote was the largest “ever taken upon an academic subject with the history of the University”.

But that same year, all other British universities started to accept female students as equals in all aspects of university life (except Oxford and Cambridge). Seven years later Trinity College Dublin opened its doors to women for the first time.

It took Oxford University another 15 years to admit women, and a further 2 years before a Grace was passed at Cambridge admitting women to study as well as take up positions as lecturers.

Over the next 10 years and into the 1930s, female students made up a quarter of the student body at universities in England, except, Oxford and Cambridge, where females only made up 10% of the student numbers.

Finally in 1948, women were given full membership to study at the University of Cambridge, and they were given the opportunity to upgrade their degrees to full status.  Many did so with pride and pleasure!

Cnut on Marriage and Adultery

Cnut, also known as Canute, the grandson of Harold Bluetooth, was the first Dane to be crowned King of England in 1016.

He was a practising Christian and his laws seemed to show him expressing his strong beliefs relating to marriage and adultery.

www.traveltrales.wordpress.comOne of these laws stated that a widow could only remarry a year after the death of her husband.

But one of his most interesting was a law that ordered an adultress to have her nose and her ears cut off, ensuring she remained celebate for eternity.

But then of course, the king does not have to follow his own laws, does he?  He had a recognised English mistress, called Aelfgifu, with whom he had two sons – Harald and Svein. Altogether with his wife Emma and his many mistresses, he had three sons, a daughter and countless illegitimate children.

The life of a king, eh?

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Floating Smallpox Hospitals

Probably the most feared disease after the Plague was smallpox (which means ‘spotted’ in Latin). It stuck all echelons of society – even Henry VIII’s two daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, and his fourth wife, Anne of Cleeves, contracted but survived smallpox, although they were scarred by the pox. In Victorian times it rapidly became the greatest widespread killer in the British Isles and by the end of the 19th century, the biggest problem was isolating the smallpox sufferers to prevent the highly contagious airborne disease from spreading. Hospitals were feeling the strain and so the Metropolitan Asylums Board (MAB) decided to charter two ships to ease the pressure on the medical facilities.

www.traveltrales.wordpress.comThe Atlas, a 91-gun battleship, had not had a very eventful career, as she was never fitted for sea, but the frigate, the Edymion, was an elderly warship that had seen action in the Mediterranean and journeyed to Australia.

As soon as someone started to show any symptoms of smallpox, they were taken to the wharf at Deptford Creek in Greenwich, on the River Thames, where they were assessed by a doctor. They were loaded into a converted paddle boat and taken to one of the two ships moored on the Thames. These floating hospitals were used to house the most acute cases and over 20,000 people were cared for from the London area over a 17 year period.

As the concern for the spread of the disease increased, the ships were moved in 1883 to Long Reach, near Gravesend, 17 miles down the river – a desolate stretch of the Thames, where they existed in isolation, out of sight of the city of London. Here they were joined by a third ship, a paddle steamer, the Castalia.

The three ships were connected with a gangway. The Atlas had a chapel and housed the male patients and the 150 female patients were cared for on the Castalia. The Edymion, in the middle, was the administrative centre, where the kitchens prepared the food, and where some of the medical staff were housed. Here at Long Reach the ships had access to support facilities on land which provided for additional staff housing, laundry and storage.

At the height of the epidemic, the ships each received 30 patients a day, mostly children, who were of course the most vulnerable. Of these patients, about 20% did not return to their homes in London.

As the pressures increased on the ships (delirious patients often threw themselves overboard), it was decided to move operations into land based smallpox hospitals, which could also provide more beds, but the ships remained at Long Reach until 1904 when they were auctioned off for scrap. Until then, they had served as a reminder to all ships coming into London of the horrors and continued threat of smallpox.

The world embarked on a rigorous vaccination programme in the 1970s and by 1980, the World Health Organisation declared that countries no longer needed to vaccinate against smallpox. The world today, it is believed, is smallpox free!

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Waterproofing York Minster

King George VI, who was once Duke of York, said that “the history of England was written in the streets of York”. The history of Britain’s foundations seemed to have been laid here in Roman Eboracum, Saxon Eorfowic, Viking Jorvik and finally Norman York.

www.traveltrales.wordpress.comThe city is surrounded by almost 3 miles of beautifully preserved wall, that reflect different time periods, but it is the Norman incarnation of the walls that now mostly circle York. There are four gates (or bars) in the walls that protect the city and of course the Minster, that majestically dominates the town centre. Thousands of visitors come to enjoy the city and admire and worship in the gothic cathedral, (the largest north of the Alps) and one of Britain’s most respected and admired places of worship.

But sadly, the Minster is suffering from one of the wettest summers on record in the UK in 2012. The damp is causing this stone structure to deteriorate rapidly, and acid rain is speeding this process up at an alarming rate. Modern restoration techniques may also have contributed to the building’s decay.

The stone masons who built the Minster between 1220 and 1470 used an ancient technique to preserve the magnesian limestone. They rubbed linseed oil into the blocks to help bind the calcium.

Now, a research team from Cardiff University have developed a fatty, hydrophobic, protective layer for the Minster using this ancient idea, but with a modern twist of using olive oil instead. They will coat the Minster with a layer of only one molecule, to keep the rain out as well as allow the building to ‘breathe out’ the moisture and the salts that are trapped in the walls.

This very clever technique is now being considered for preservation projects around the world and will hopefully give the city of York many more centuries with their national treasure, the York Minster.

Dawn Denton ©

Whiskey Magic

Although whiskey is only water mixed with malt (grain sugar) and yeast, it has been loved, adored, celebrated and prized for hundreds of years. It has also been linked to stories of magic and superstition, and a 17th century Scottish manuscript listed some of its most admired traits, ranking in importance.  Whiskey will:

1.  Heal all types of open wounds

2.  Polish high quality brass

3.  Sharpen a man’s wits

4.  Put a sad man into a happy mood

5.  Preserve one’s youth

6. Help a women to conceive

7.  Make good wine out of stale

And oh so many more….

Dawn Denton ©

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And Even More Christmas Bits

In 2007 3.5 million people went online to shop on Christmas Day and this Christmas it is expected that 5.24 million British internet users will surf the Net for bargains.  This is more than will attend a Christian Church service  – 4.5 million people are estimated to attend on Christmas Day.

www.traveltrales.wordpress.comSeven out of 10 British dogs will get a present this year.

Over the festive season, it is believed that the average amount of mince pies consumed in the Uk is 27!  Each mince pie has 320 calories….8,640 calories on mince pies alone! 370 million mince pies are bought in British supermarkets…now this is a market to be in! Or weight loss 😉

The British throw away about 83 square miles of wrapping paper every Christmas.
….and the average Briton gains 2kg (4.4 pounds) over the festive season! But don’t let that hold you back….Cheers!
Dawn Denton ©

Christmas Bits

www.traveltrales.wordpress.comAn English law of 1551 says everyone must go to church on Christmas Day on foot.

In 1880 so many Christmas cards were set that the Post Office made its first plea to the public of ‘Post early for Christmas’

In 1932 King George V gave the first Christmas message on the radio.  His speech was written by Rudyard Kipling!

Dawn Denton ©

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