Dorset Buttons – Saving a lost craft

Lady Lees couldn’t stop looking at it, a large, button, unlike any she had ever seen before, it seemed to have been created by sewing. The farmer’s wife, saw where she was looking.

“Funny old button isn’t it. They used to make them Shaftesbury way, but no one knows how to make them anymore. Have it.” She bent, and cut it from her apron.

She sought out more buttons, and at last a frail old lady, who said.

“Buttony, of course my dear.” And picked up a needle and a tiny brass ring. The lost craft was saved.

A follower of Lady Lees, practicing Buttony

The true tale of how the craft of Buttony, making Dorset Buttons, was saved. This is in response to Charlie Mills flash fiction challenge, in 99 words (no more, no less) write a story including buttons. Hope you enjoy it.

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A Hospital Sketch

The title might suggest something from a Carry On film, but instead tells of an amazing collaboration between two of the greatest Victorians.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel

‘I will bring a sketch’, he said.
The train left Bristol, maximum speed, the genius on board could command anything. But now he would be tested to the limit.
‘A hospital, prefabricated, weatherproof, well ventilated, easily heated’, designed by the time he reached London. By Bath he had the idea, by Swindon he was drawing, in London he rushed to her house, papers in hand.
“Mr Brunel”, Miss Nightingale.”
“Perfect, this is more than a sketch. When can you have them ready? The ship sails in six weeks.”
“They will be ready in five.”
They saved hundreds of lives.

 

 

Yet another true story. After seeing conditions in the Crimean War, Florence Nightingale returned to London to get the supplies she needed for her hospital in Scutari. This included prefabricated hospital buildings, she wrote to Isambard Kingdom Brunel asking him to design them. As soon as he received the letter he went straight to London, designing the hospital on the way.

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Kitty Come Down the Lane Jump up and Kiss me, or England’s strangest flower

Walking through the wood at the back of the house today, I came across large numbers of Lords and Ladies, which I hold to be England’s strangest wildflower. Read on and see if you agree with me.

The appearance of the Cuckoo Pint is undoubtedly odd, no colour just shades of green and brown, the only other colour appears in the autumn with the appearance of the bright red berries, which every country child is taught to avoid as they are poisonous.
With no colour Dog Bobbins doesn’t attract bees and other similar pollinators, rather Sucky Calves is pollinated by imprisoned insects! If you try and smell Parson’s Billycock, take care the smell can be rather unpleasant, like rotting meat.

 

As an aside a tropical relation of the Wild Arum has not only the largest, but also the smelliest, flower in the world. In the late nineteenth century Kew gardens managed to get one to flower. The directors immediately contacted Marianne North, the great explorer and botanical artist, as she had never managed to see the flower in the wild and was excited to get the opportunity to paint the flower. Spending several days in an enclosed, very hot, glasshouse the smell almost killed her, she took nearly six months to recover!

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Small flies are attracted to the smell of the Moll of the Woods, and creep down into the swollen part at the bottom of the flower. Here they find some parts of the Dog’s Dibble that they can feed on, but if they try to leave they find downward pointing hairs that prevent them from getting out. After a few days the flower wilts and the flies that are still alive can escape, covered in pollen. These little arthropods are rather lacking in intelligence and are attracted to the nearest Toad’s Meat, descend into the swollen base again and pollinate the Babe in the Cradle, before they die, apparently no fly survives two visits to a Fairies Fly Catcher.

 

You would think that people must have found many uses for Bloody Fingers, but I only know of one. In the late eighteenth century the Society of Arts offered rewards to people who could help solve various practical problems, such as waterproofing leather or mapping the country. One such problem was finding an alternative source of starch, used for stiffening clothes, rather than using foodstuffs such as grain or potatoes. The prize was won by an innkeeper on the Isle of Portland who described how she used the aptly named Starchmore to make starch for her clothing. Unfortunately it was soon realised that the roots of Standing Gusses were also rich in crystals of silica which both made the laundrywoman’s hands red and sore, as well as the necks of those unfortunate to wear collars starched with Cow’s Parsnip.

 

Now you will have noticed that I have not used any one name for this plant twice, this is because there are so many to choose from. It has more names than any other English wildflower, 102 according to Geoffrey Grigson in The Englishman’s Flora, though my favourite is the one I started this piece with – Kitty come down the lane jump up and kiss me.

 

So that is my candidate for England’s strangest flower, what do you think?

 

And here are all the names!

Adam and Eve
Adder’s Food
Adder’s Meat
Adder’s Tongue
Angels and Devils
Aron
Arrowroot
Babe in the Cradle
Bloody Fingers
Bloody Man’s Finger
Bobbin and Joan
Bobbin Joan
Bullocks
Bulls
Bulls and Cows
Bulls and Wheys
Calves’ Foot
Cocky Baby
Cow and Kies
Cow’s Parsnip
Cuckoo Cock
Cuckoo Flower
Cuckoo Pint
Cuckoo Point
Dead Man’s Fingers
Devils and Angels
Devils Ladies and Gen’ilemen
Devil’s Men and Women
Dog Bobbins
Dog Cocks
Dog’s Dibble
Dog’s Spear
Dog’s Tassel
Fairies Fly Catcher
Frog’s Meat
Gentlemen and Ladies
Gentlemen’s and Ladies’ Fingers
Gentleman’s Finger
Great Dragon
Hobblegobbles
Jack in the Box
Jack in the Green
Jack in the Pulpit
Kings and Queens
Kitty come down the lane jump up and kiss me
Knights and Ladies
Ladies and Gentlemen
Ladies’ Lords
Lady’s Finger
Lady’s Keys
Lady’s Slipper
Lady’s Smock
Lamb in a Pulpit
Lamb’s Lakens
Lily
Lily Grass
Long Purples
Lords and Ladies
Lords’ and Ladies’ Fingers
Mandrake
Man in the Pulpit
Men and Women
Moll of the Woods
Nightingale
Old Man’s Pulpit
Oxberry
Parson and Clerk
Parson in his Smock
Parson in the Pulpit
Parson’s Billycock
Preacher in the Pulpit
Priesties
Priest in the Pulpit
Priest’s Pilly
Priest’s Pintle
Poison Fingers
Poison Root
Pokers
Ram’s Horn
Ramson
Red Hot Poker
Schoolmaster
Silly Lovers
Small Dragon
Snake’s Food
Snake’s Meat
Snake’s Victuals
Soldiers
Soldiers and Angels
Soldiers and Sailors
Stallions
Stallions and Mares
Standing Gusses
Starchmore
Starchwort
Sucky Calves
Sweethearts
Toad’s Meat
Wake Robin
White and Red
Wild Arum
Wild Lily

 

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The Wonderful Flowers of Mary Delany or Age is no Impediment to Art

This week’s Charli Mills’ prompt is; in 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about fingers that fly.

So an historical tale about a delightful lady;

Mary Delany

“That’s beautiful my dear”

The girl placed the flower beside the old lady, her great grandmother’s dear friend

“Look, it’s the same colour.” She held a coloured paper beside the geranium.

“I wonder?” she mused, the little girl watched entranced as Mary Delany’s fingers flew over the paper, cutting and trimming, then other little bits of paper were expertly added. To her amazement a perfect paper flower grew in front of her, just like the real one.
The old lady smiled gently, admiring her flower, the most multi-talented artist of the eighteenth century had just invented a new art form.

Believe it or not this picture is made of pieces of coloured paper

This is the story that the delightful Mary Delany (1700-1788) told about how she invented her ‘paper mosaics’ of flowers. She was seventy-one when she first created her wonderful flowers, at the time they made her famous and now they are rightly one of the treasures of the British Museum.

 

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Carrot Cake or A Bloggers Dilemma

This week’s prompt from Charli at the Carrot Ranch is;

March 16, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about carrot cake. It can be classic or unusual. Why is there cake? How does it feature in the story. Go where the prompt leads.

Now readers of my blogs know that, as far as these challenges are concerned, I tend to go for an historical take. But this prompt gave me a great deal of difficulty, for Carrot cake is not an old variety of cake, it is very modern being first recorded in the early twentieth century (1903 to be precise). So what was I to do, clearly I had to mix carrots with another sort of cake, in this case a phrase (also modern, dating from 1538 – I am an archaeologist and for us modern, technically early modern begins in 1485). Hope you like it. In case you’re wondering the speakers are talking in Dutch.

Some old varieties of carrots.

Carrot Cake

 

“People lost so much money with those Tulips, no one is going to want to invest in a plant again.”

“But this is different.”

“Forget it, you can’t have your cake and eat it, as the English say.”

“But you can eat it, it’s delicious.”

The banker looked up, the gardener continued.

“What’s the full name of our king?”

“William of Orange.” The banker replied, puzzled.

He pulled a cloth off his basket, inside were carrots, not white or purple, but orange.

“A patriotic vegetable – we will certainly have our cake and eat it, we will make a fortune!”

 

Originally carrots came in a whole range of colours, then, in the late seventeenth century Dutch plant breeders developed the orange variety we have to day. It caught on because the colour was linked to the Dutch Royal Family, the House of Orange

 

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A Balloon Tragedy – The First Air Accident

This week’s prompt from Charli at the Carrot Ranch is

March 8, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features a balloon. It can be a party balloon or a hot air balloon. How does it add to your story? Go where the prompt leads.

 

As readers of my blog will realise, I am fascinated by the early history of flight, so could hardly pass on this prompt. However instead of an inspiring, or amusing, tale, I have decided to retell the story of the first air accident and it’s tragic aftermath.

V0040874 A hot-air balloon in flight with a fire burning. Coloured en

“I’m frightened.” She looked up at the strange shaped balloon, rising over Calais.

“Don’t worry, he is the most experienced balloonist in the world.”

“But to risk everything, especially now.” Her hands moved automatically to her swelling belly.

Then above, in terrible silence, the balloon seemed to break apart.

She cried out and collapsed, by the time they found his body she, and her unborn child, had died.

The death of the first man to fly, in the first fatal air accident, had destroyed his entire family.

From now on the pioneers could not dismiss the dangers they faced.

 

Terrible and true, Pilâtre de Rozier had made the first flight in a balloon on November 21st 1783. On June 15th 1785 whist trying to cross the English Channel his balloon broke up in flight and he became the first man to be killed in an air accident. His death was witnessed by his pregnant fiancée who died shortly afterwards.

 

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The Village Snowbound – The Marlpit Oak Gibbet

A little while ago my brother posted one of our father’s poems, illustrated with some recent photographs, I have decided to do something similar, as our village is snowbound like the village in the poem – there the similarity ends – I hope!

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The Marlpit Oak Gibbet

 

For many years, according to an old New Forest Legend, there stood at the crossroads, known as Marlpit Oak, on the high plain between Sway and Brockenhurst, a great double-armed gibbet. Visible for miles around, and frequently bearing a grisly load, it must have been a fearful sight, brooding over the remote and lonely countryside. It was, therefore, a matter of widespread satisfaction when, in the early part of the nineteenth century, the gibbet was at last demolished.

However, superstition was very powerful in those far-off days and strange stories soon began to circulate among the Forest people.

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When I was young and not long from school
Like all braggart youth I was brazen and brave,
And I laughed him to scorn and called him a fool
Who spoke of the dead that returned from the grave.

 

‘When they are dead, they are dead -so much mouldering day’
‘And he who says not is drunk or insane!’
And the wager seemed nought in the bright light of day
To spend that night, alone, by the knoll on the plain.

 

By the time evening came and the winter sun set
In a great blood-red glow over Wilverley Hill,
Every soul in the village had heard of the bet,
And my arrogant heart had felt the first chill.

 

For I knew the story, like all of us there,
Of the Marlpit Oak Gibbet which, many years gone,
Had stood, high and grim, in the very place where
I’d boasted I’d spend the whole night alone.

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A hillock of bare earth is all that remains
Standing just a few yards from the well-trodden way
Which, crossing the miles of gorse-covered plain,
Brings the traveller at last to the village of Sway.

 

Even in Spring, when the moorland glows gold,
And the warm-scented furze calls the foraging bees,
The ground at this place stays mortally cold
And no skylark nests here, no pony takes ease.

 

No sun-loving lizard, no close-crouching hare,
No adder, loose-coiled, seeks this chilly mound.
No beast of the Forest, no bird of the air,
No grass, gorse or heather, is here to be found.

 

And a tale was told by the old men of Sway
Of a travelling merchant who would not take heed,
Who had to reach Lyndhurst by early next day
And who swore his two pistols were all that he’d need.

 

They said he was found with his hair turned quite white,
Eyes fixed and staring, and mouth open wide,
Silently screaming at some ghastly sight,
And no mark on his body to show how he died.

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Just tales? Superstitions of foolish old men?
But my heart filled with terror that pride would not show,
And I drank deep and waited the dread moment when
Someone would say it was time now to go.

 

Too soon came the moment, and into the night
Drunken and singing we lurched through the snow,
All close round the lantern, whose pale yellow light
In the menacing darkness cast scarcely a glow.

 

And I sung the loudest of all of us there,
And shouted with laughter at each feeble jest,
And I threw out the challenge that I didn’t care
If the Devil himself came -I’d soon give him best!

 

And then we were there, and the merriment died
As, suddenly sober, we stood in the snow,
But still I obeyed my obstinate pride
And in confident tones urged the others to go.

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The sound of their voices died quickly away,
The gleam of the lantern was soon lost to Sight,
As they hurried thankfully back home to Sway,
To bolt cottage doors and to shut out the night.

 

The air, when the snow stopped, was bitterly cold,
The darkness intense, the stillness profound,
And the whole world was silent as, no longer bold,
I fearfully stood by the old Gibbet mound.

 

Trembling, I looked to the left and the right,
While the terrible cold froze me through to the bone,
Then I suddenly knew, though no soul was in sight,
That, beyond any doubt, I was not alone!

 

How can I describe that unreasoning fear,
That primitive terror no thought can prevent,
Of knowing that someone, or something, was near,
And directing at me its evil intent.

 

Filled with blind panic, I turned and I fled,
Stumbling and sobbing and cursing the night,
Until, just as my strength was beginning to ebb,
Far ahead I discerned a faint glimmer of light.

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Faltering now, and filled with despair,
Like a desperate fox hunted over the moor,
Heart beating wildly, and gasping for air,
I staggered at last to the furze-cutter’s door.

 

Exhausted, defeated, I sank to my knees,
A pitiful, tremulous, cowering wreck.
And then, with infinite horror, I felt
Long bony fingers encircling my neck.

 

I remember no more -I fainted away
With that fearful pressure unbearably tight,
And they say that I lay there, half-dead, half-alive,
Till the furze-cutter came in the grey morning light.

 

I’m told that for weeks I was kept to my bed,
Mumbling and muttering and never quite sane,
Then at last came the Spring, and with it my strength,
And I became part of the village again.

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But the fear has remained, throughout my long life,
And I sometimes awake in the depths of the night
And though it be Summer my blood turns to ice,
And I cry out in terror as reason takes flight.

 

I was only a boy but my memory stays clear
Of that dreadful night, now so far and remote.
But you don’t believe me? Then what is this scar,
This ring of dead flesh like a noose round my throat?

 

And who among you, on this black Winter night,
When the fog is so thick and the village snowbound,
Will go out from his house, leave the fire and the light,
And keep vigil, alone, by the old gibbet mound?

 

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