Sunday, 25 April 2010

Roman God to Icelandic Witch

For those who were caught up in the travel problems caused by a cloud a volcanic dust, there’s not much consolation in being told it could have been worst.

The term “volcano” was first used by the Romans to describe Mount Etna, the mountain they believed to be the forge of Vulcan, their god of fire. It was Vesuvius in AD 79 that devastated the towns of Pompeii and Heracleum. Vesuvius, classified as a dormant volcano, last erupted in 1943.

Active volcanoes erupt on a regular basis every so often; some are permanently active. Dormant volcanoes have not erupted for 25 years or over; they will erupt again soon or may be classed as extinct if they have not erupted for centuries; extinct volcanoes have come back to life after centuries of inactivity.

Volcanic activity is associated with movements of the Earth’s tectonic plates. Volcanoes occur within zones within or at the edge of the tectonic plates. About 90 percent of all volcanoes exist in the so-called Ring of Fire along the edges of the Pacific Ocean.

Iceland’s Mid Oceanic Ridge volcanoes occur where two tectonic plates are diverging and form along a line of fissures. Laki, in 1783, came from a 15-mile long fissure. The eight month eruption of lava, dust, acidic and poisonous gas killed almost all of Iceland’s sheep and cattle. One-quarter of the population died of starvation or were killed by the toxic fumes.

The Laki eruption resulted in what has been called Britain’s greatest natural disaster. Dust clouds obscured the sun during the summer, flash floods occurred and there was an increased number of deaths. The bad summer was followed by one of the coldest winter on record.

If Laki was a killer it was dwarfed by Tambora in Indonesia in 1815 when an estimated 92,000 died. Its effects were felt as far away as Europe and North America. The devastating effects of Tambora are said to have inspired Bryon’s gloomy poem “Darkness” and Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.”

More people witnessed Tambora than any other eruption but Krakatau, also in Indonesia, in 1883 generated the loudest sound from the release of an estimated 200 megatons of energy, the equivalent of 15,000 nuclear bombs.

The late Bronze Age eruption of Santorini off Greece was very similar to that at Krakatau; the central highland of the island collapsed to generate the modern caldera which forms the three island archipelago of Thera, Therasia and Aspronisi. The myth of the lost city of Atlantis may be based on the collapse of Santorini.

Air passengers who doubted the wisdom of the flying ban following the April 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull should be reminded of what has happened before. On 24 June 1982 a British Airways 747 flew into an ash plume from Indonesia’s Mount Gulanggung. All four engines failed in turn, the plane lost 23,000 feet in height. Fortunately all four engines restarted after it glided clear of the ash cloud. Three weeks later three of the four engines shut down on a Singapore Airlines 747 in the same area.

In December 1989 a KLM 747 flew into a volcanic ash cloud from Mount Redoubt in Alaska The aircraft entered the cloud at 25000 ft; all four engines failed. The plane descended for more than 14000 ft before the crew managed to restart the engines.

But perhaps what we should fear most is the larger and more dangerous Katla volcano, named after a witch in Icelandic legend, adjacent to Eyjafjallajökull. In the past 1,000 years, all three known eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull have triggered subsequent Katla eruptions.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

North Yorkshire Village Dogs - Poppy

The West Highland Terrier in this series was given the name of Poppy because she was bought near to Armistice Day from a County Durham breeder, the last of the litter to be sold. Her new lady owner had just retired from teaching at a primary school and her retirement gifts included sufficient funds to buy the puppy at twelve weeks old.

At night she sleeps in a basket with a duvet in the kitchen; she has a ‘day’ bed too in the lounge next to the radiator, of course. Poppy is a downstairs dog as she will not venture up the open-tread stairs. She does not enter the ground floor bathroom of the lady of the house –she knows this is not allowed.

Poppy is the best friend of Bracken, the Jack Russell earlier in this series. Although she tolerates other dogs she is not that keen on Bertie, a visiting Yorkshire Terrier, - she protects her large bag of soft toys from him. Her favourite toy is a squeaky orange ball which she can just get her mouth around and with which she loves to play. To gain Poppy’s attention for anything like being photographed – you just have to squeak the ball and her ears prick up, so typical of a ‘Westie’. She immediately becomes photogenic, watching to see what will happen next.

She is a fan of Belgian chocolate and likes to finish off a Magnum on a stick. Poppy is a good eater being fed on IAMS Complete; however she will also polish off vegetables and grapes and best of all some lettuce.

Although Poppy, now twelve years old, has a good pedigree she has never been a show dog due to the kink in her tail that she has had from birth. She would not agree with her master who says, “She does nothing useful”. After all she stands on her specially made armchair, looking out of the window at the road outside. How would he know that there is anyone about if she did not growl quietly at them? He has even made her a small platform so that she can clamber up on her chair now that she is older and has stiffness in her joints. For the same reason Poppy appreciates the non-slip mat on the step up to the front door of the house she protects from her chair.

Poppy loathes having a bath but suffers its indignation as she knows that she will be rewarded with her favourite jelly baby treat. She is permitted to have one of these a week with or without the bath. Because of an occasional skin disorder she uses Malaseb special shampoo at ten times the price of that used by her master!

Good with children Poppy shows no sign of aggression in any situation. She tolerates a collar when out on a lead in the lanes around the village but really likes the freedom to run around in the local park and on a North East beach; she will go in the sea as far and as long as she can keep her feet firmly on the ground.

Friday, 16 April 2010

The Valiant Dragoon

The 25th June this year is the 300th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Brown, Yarm's valiant dragoon,

Elements of mystery surround his life and death. The exact location of his grave is still unknown. In 1968 the Queen’s Own Hussars presented a memorial headstone which stands in the Yarm graveyard of St Mary Magdalene’s Church. The inscription on the headstone, erected in 1969, reads:








27TH JUNE 1743

The citation describing Brown’s heroic actions says:

“He distinguished himself in a most extraordinary manner at the Battle of Dettingen.

He had two horses killed under him, two fingers of his bridle hand chopped off and, after retaking the standard from a gentleman at arms, whom he killed, he placed it between his legs and the saddle and made his way 80 yards through a lane of the enemy, exposed to fire and sword, in the execution of which he received eight cuts in his face, hands and neck, 2 balls lodged in his back, 3 went through his hat, and in this hacked condition he rejoined his regiment, who gave him three huzzas on his arrival.”

At Dettingen King George II became the last English monarch to lead his army into battle. The heroic Tom Brown, a private in the 3rd Hussars, commanded by Brigadier Bland, became the last man to be knighted on the battlefield.

Tom was born at Kirkleatham but accounts of his life give different dates for his birth. However researchers at the Teesside Archives have found a baptism record for Thomas Brown on June 25, 1710. Brown’s father had a cottage in Kirkleatham close to Sir William Turner’s Hospital which had been founded in 1676.

Two years after Dettingen the people of Kirkleatham planted an elm tree outside the hospital gate with a plaque commemorating Tom’s exploits. When this tree died an oak was planted in its place and the plaque disappeared. The plaque has since been replaced, thanks to a vicar in the 1940s.

Despite many references to Brown being knighted doubt remains about this honour. The caption on a 1746 engraving by Louis Boitard refers to him as Mr Brown. The oldest regimental records of the Hussars do not refer to the knighthood either. Twentieth century books on the history of the 3rd Hussars do not mention it. Even the College of Arms can find no record in the grants of Arms or in the standard printed work, “Knights of England.” However there is a written account of Brown’s knighthood in “Battle Honours of the British Army,” published in 1911.

An oil painting by James Princep Beadle shows Brown kneeling in front of King George after the battle hangs in the Queen’s Royal Hussars Officers’ Mess. Beadle specialised in military paintings; he produced the Brown work in 1904 but his source for the knighting of Brown has not been established. A copy of this painting, presented by the 3rd Hussars in 1993, on the two-hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the battle is in Yarm Town Hall.

Tom Brown’s story appears in a typewritten poem entitled ‘The Song of the Silver Nose’ in the Middlesbrough archives – possibly a modern transcription of the 18th century original.

In old Kirkleatham stands a tree

They planted to the memory

Of a bold dragoon named Tommy Brown

Who helped to beat the Frenchies down.

Refrain (to be repeated after each verse)

And this is the song of the silver nose

Of our hero, Tommy Brown.

The French were holding German Lands

When George of England made his plans.

To help his friends he crossed the sea

With Tom Brown in his company.

In June of seventeen forty three

King George marched into Germany.

He led his men across the Main

But the Frenchies drove him back again.

King George, he’d lost near half his men

When he made his stand at Dettingen.

But when they tore his flag away

He feared he’d lost the day.

But bold Tom Brown, he seized his chance

And galloped through those men from France.

He fought and swore and cut and tore

Till he’d won the English flag once more.

He place that flag between his thighs

And thundered back through the battle cries,

The Frenchies tried to cut him down

But they couldn’t stop our Tommy Brown.

They slashed his face, they slashed his neck,

They lodged two bullets in his back.

In fighting off King George’s foes

Tom lost two fingers and his nose.

But when Tom raised the flag again

King George’s soldiers cheered and sang.

And proved themselves true Englishmen

By winning the battle of Dettingen.

King George was pleased with Tommy Brown.

He gave him a pension of thirty crown,

A walking stick with a golden head

And a silver nose to wear instead

In a High Street inn of old Yarm Town

As landlord Tommy settled down

With his silver nose and walking stick

Till they buried him in forty-six.

It was too dangerous to remove the bullets from Tom’s back and this may have been the reason he left the Hussars.

The house in which Tom lived out the last few years of his life still stands on the north side of Yarm High Street; it had been an inn, bearing his name, from at least his time until it lost its licence in 1908. One of his contemporaries asserted that he “did kill himself by drinking.”

Today the inn is two separate homes one of which boasts a blue tourist plaque to identifying him as the hero of the Battle of Dettingen. A small brass plate on the door identifies it as Tom Brown’s House.

The original wooden sign which was attached to the house has disappeared. After a period on show at Preston Hall museum a new sign remains in Yarm Town Hall; so far attempts of the Yarm Civic Society to have the sign returned to the front of Tom’s house have not succeeded.

The valiant dragoon was interred in Yarm churchyard in 1746. Of that there is no doubt. The church register simply states, “Buried – Thomas Brown Dragoon.”

Irish Water Spaniels

Cara, the 4 year old Irish Water Spaniel, cannot claim to be a Yorkshire dog and she doesn’t even live in a village. Her house is one of six at the end of a lane leading to the Severn river.

A Lincolnshire breeder’s dog, as soon as she was old enough she travelled to live with Milly, another Irish Water Spaniel, who had been Barnsley born and bred – so there is a Yorkshire connection after all.

At 6 months Cara was entered in what her owners thought would be a small local dog show. To Cara’s delight there were ‘hundreds’ of dogs of all breeds, shapes and sizes. In the puppy class Cara was to be handled by her owners’ 8 year old daughter.

While waiting their turn for judging Cara became distracted, slipped her lead and raced round all six judging rings. When eventually cornered and restored to her lead, everyone watched in amazement as she calmly waited; she even let the judge examine her without resorting to play or nipping him, before sedately walking round and running on her lead across the middle of the ring as was required. She did not win her class but a good time was had by all.

Milly on the left; Cara on the right.

At home Milly had the arduous task of keeping madcap Cara in check and as Cara grew stronger there were times when Milly had to remind her forcibly who was in charge. Milly was the one who led young Cara on expeditions to empty bins, including those of neighbours, where there was any scent of Milly’s favourite chicken. The pair must have had a thing about bins since they always hassled the lorry and the men who came to empty them.

‘Tug-of-war’ with an old knotted rope was their favourite game, and it wasn’t long before Cara became strong enough to hold her own and sound just as fierce as Milly. However she never became as adept with a ball as Milly who would have made Yorkshire proud of her version of Norman ‘bites yer leg off’ Hunter.

Irish Water Spaniels live up to their name; on walks one or both of them would visit any water and the river Severn to emerge coated in oozing black mud which earned them a hosepipe bath.

When Cara was 3, poor Milly died aged 9, from poisoned food discarded indiscriminately by some unknown so-and-so. The madcap Cara left alone has become a placid dog much to the surprise of everyone. Nevertheless, with only one or two exceptions, she always wants to play with any dog she meets. She was forced to admit defeat in her latest attempt to catch a lurcher - it literally ran in circles round about her.

Cara loves children and anyone who will stroke her tummy. She walks well on or off a lead, sitting down quietly to wait, tied to a bus stop, when anyone takes her shopping. She sleeps in the kitchen on a covered duvet beneath the wooden staircase; then when everyone is in bed she goes upstairs to sleep upon the landing. This is strange because the boards are bare and Cara likes comfort, especially ‘her’ couch in the conservatory.

Cara challenges anyone, and all dogs, who intrude into the lane outside the house with characteristic barks, letting them know that this is her domain.

[I wrote this some time ago. Since then Cara has been the victim of a hit and run incident and had to be put to sleep]

England's Ecological Poet

By chance I came across a copy of of the Autumn 2009 issue of Countryside Voice, the magazine of the Campaign To Protect Rural England.

This contained an interesting article, Nature's Interpreter, on John Clare. with some extracts of his poetry. Clare's cottage in the village of Helpston in Cambridgeshire is now a museum.

Details of the cottage and Clare may be found at On the home page they feature an extract of a poem for the month; it is very appropriate for this time of year:

Sweet are the omens of approaching Spring
When gay the elder sprouts her winged leaves;

When rootling robins carol-welcomes sing,

And sparrows chelp glad tidings from the eaves,

What lovely prospects wait each wakening hour,

When each new day some novelty displays;

How sweet the sun-beam melts the crocus flower,

Whose borrow'd pride shines dizen'd in his rays:

Sweet, new-laid hedges flush their tender greens;

Sweet peep the arum-leaves their shelter screens;

Ah! sweet is all which I am denied to share:

Want's painful hindrance sticks me to her stall:-

But still Hope's smiles unpoint the thorns of Care,

Since Heaven's eternal Spring is free for all.