The Miraculous Drink of the Dean of St Paul’s.

As Dean Nowell carefully arranged his fishing gear, he saw the bottles.


A fortnight earlier he had drawn beer from the barrels in the Deanery, placed them in the ditch to keep cool – but the fishing was so good he had forgotten them.


“I wonder if it’s any good”


He untied the cloth round the neck, pulled out the cork and tasted – nectar!


It sparkled, bubbles burst on his tongue, no one on earth had ever tasted such a wonderful drink before.


Fishing forgotten, he walked back to London, he had a new quest – how to make bottled beer.



Another true historical tale. After much experimenting the reverend Alexander Nowell, Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, succeeded in achieving secondary fermentation in beer to give it the wonderful sparkle he had first tasted on the banks of the Thames. About eighty years later another English gentleman applied the same method to wine, he wrote about his experiments and a copy of his book made its way to the Champagne region of France – and then?


Written in response to this week’s Carrot Ranch prompt;


August 30, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a bottleneck. You can be literal or use the term to describe congestion. Go where the prompt leads.

So I have written about the neck of a bottle, if the cork hadn’t fitted it so well, the history of the world might have been different.



Filed under Historical tales

Imagination – Another strange meeting

“Then they looked out of the wood – and saw dinosaurs!”

The novelist put the papers down. “A good way of ending the episode?”

The palaeontologist nodded, “Wonderful, what an imagination you have.”

“You too must have imagination, to create lost worlds out of fragments of bone.”

“But not like you.”

As he left he thought of the bones in his workshop. His imagination had created something very special, the Missing Link, but no one would realise it wasn’t real for many years, if ever.

His friend was just a great writer, however he was the greatest scientific hoaxer ever.

The Glade of the Iguanodons, the scene described by Doyle.


In several of my blogs I have imagined several possible meetings between, possibly unlikely, characters from history, here and here. This meeting is, however, completely true. When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was writing The Lost World, he sought out advice on prehistoric life from the Natural History Museum. They passed the request to a local expert palaeontologist, Charles Dawson ‘discoverer’ of the Piltdown Man and undoubtedly ‘the greatest scientific hoaxer ever.’


This is in response to Charlie Mills flash fiction challenge, in 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes  an act of “peering from the woods.” Go where the prompt leads.



Filed under Historical Reconstructions, Historical tales, Literary puzzle

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.


Filed under Historical Reconstructions, Historical tales, Victorian

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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Filed under Historical tales, Victorian

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!


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
Babe in the Cradle
Bloody Fingers
Bloody Man’s Finger
Bobbin and Joan
Bobbin Joan
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
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 Grass
Long Purples
Lords and Ladies
Lords’ and Ladies’ Fingers
Man in the Pulpit
Men and Women
Moll of the Woods
Old Man’s Pulpit
Parson and Clerk
Parson in his Smock
Parson in the Pulpit
Parson’s Billycock
Preacher in the Pulpit
Priest in the Pulpit
Priest’s Pilly
Priest’s Pintle
Poison Fingers
Poison Root
Ram’s Horn
Red Hot Poker
Silly Lovers
Small Dragon
Snake’s Food
Snake’s Meat
Snake’s Victuals
Soldiers and Angels
Soldiers and Sailors
Stallions and Mares
Standing Gusses
Sucky Calves
Toad’s Meat
Wake Robin
White and Red
Wild Arum
Wild Lily



Filed under Wild Flower

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.



Filed under Georgian, Historical tales

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



Filed under Historical tales