Friday, 30 March 2018

Easter Lagomorphs

Seven years ago I posted something on hares. I recreate same here, suitably amended.

While the rabbit is today considered to be lucky (as in the foot), historically the hare is anything but. Indeed so much superstition and folklore surrounds the poor creature I decided to dig a little and found the following:

As Easter is upon us, along with its association with the rabbit (ie Easter Bunnies), it came as something of a surprise to find Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands preferring an Easter Hare.

The Anglo-Saxon personification of the sun was Ostara, whose ears were those of a hare and who carried eggs on her back. This is how eggs have become associated with Easter.

Pagan followers associate the hare with the goddess Eostre, from where we get the name for Easter.

Gods in other cultures associated with hares are Hittavainen, Cupid, Aphrodite, Venus, Holda, Freyja, Andraste, Cerridwen, Kaltes,

That the creature has been considered sacred and associated with spring, and almost certainly has been since prehistoric times, is down to the hare only really being seen when they are seen boxing in the mating season. Incidentally, the long held belief these are males fighting over a female was shown to be wrong when it was realised at least one of the combatants could just as easily be female.

Several ancient cultures saw the hare the symbol of fertility, of rebirth, and held to possess supernatural powers. The genitals of the jack were carried to ward off infertility. This fertility idea has some truth for the doe can produce up to forty-two young in a single year.

Some ancient African cultures believed the hare to have a lunar origin.

The tales of Brer Rabbit, as told by Uncle Remus, were brought to North America via the slave trade and are adapted from traditional African narratives. Thus these cannot be about a 'rabbit' but a hare for Africa has no rabbits around the tropical latitudes.

In Egyptian mythology Osiris is also known by other names and is then depicted with the head of a hare, as was the goddess Unut. He is also cited as being the messenger of the god Thoth.

Pliny wrote of how he believed the hare was androgynous, likened to the waxing and waning of the Moon when it was deemed to be masculine and feminine respectively.

The hare is also associated with the Moon in ancient China, held to possess knowledge of the elixir of immortality. Other writings show the hare with the phoenix and the unicorn, ubiquitous mythological creatures of wonder and magical powers.

Hindus in India tell the story of Buddha, whose earliest life on Earth was as a hare. Hence the animal is seen as a symbol of resurrection. It is also the subject of a number of traditional tales where it represents wisdom.

Native American cultures speak of Michabo or Manitou, the Great Hare, which is common to the ancestral mythologies of many tribes. Unlike the Old World, in the New World the hare is associated with the sun.

The madness of hares was likened to a coven of witches. Some held the hares were witches who had changed their appearance to allow them to suckle cows until they were dry.

Sailors, probably the most superstitious career which ever has been or ever will be, consider the hare unlucky and would not allow any mention of them while at sea.

Pregnant women would carrying a hare's foot, for should the animal cross her path it could result in a miscarriage or the child being born with a hare-lip.

The hare's foot charm was also held to be the answer to rheumatism, while the stage perfomance of many a thespian was solely down to such being hidden beneath their costume.

The fat from a hare would be used to fuel a lamp burned when it was important that all present should be in good spirits throughout.

The brain of the hare was added to wine to prevent any danger of oversleeping.

Cambridgeshire folk seeing a hare running through the streets saw this as a sign that a fire was about to break out.

Cornish girls who died of a broken heart after being spurned by their lover would turn into a white hare and pursue him from beyond the grave.

Personally I just wish I could taste this recipe for jugged hare.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

A Bloody Tale

February 1902 and PC Williams is following his regular route around the streets of Lichfield, coming along Lombard Street at 10:40pm. It was here he saw a woman running towards him and crying out "Oh my lad, what have I done?" Being a good officer he took hold of her and took her back to investigate further. On entering the house, he discovered her husband, Frank, on the sofa in the kitchen. Blood was everywhere. Maud Shipley was arrested.

The first inquest had to be adjourned as the main witness, the victim, had been too ill to come to court. Indeed, the following week he appeared heavily swathed in bandages and looking most frail. It was then the story began to unfold. Frank Shipley had been employed by Mr Summerfield, a coal deal, as a waggoner. Leaving work he had called in to the Mitre Inn for a well-earned pint on his way home.

Arriving at his home in Lombard Street he discovered his wife to be most agitated, in an aggressive and excitable state, clearly the worse for drink and demanding money. Frank refused and turned on his heel, going out to get a shave. When he emerged from the barber's shop he was met by his wife who, once again, was demanding money and this continued as she followed him home. No sooner had he reached home than Frank went back out, this time to the Mitre Inn to fill a bottle with beer so he could drink it with his supper.

At this point the inquest heard from her sister who had spent some of the earlier part of that day with her. Indeed had seen her on a number of occassions, each time she had been complaining of a lack of money. Both she and two other women had shared their beer with Maud, eventually brining her home from the Grapes Inn where she was described as being "Half and half with the drink".

Another witness came to the stand and spoke of Maud banging on the door screaming "I will finish the bastard before the night's out". He followed her into her house to witness her picking up a knife and stabbing Frank three or four times in quick succession. She passed him by as she ran into the street, while he went to see how he could help the man who was bleeding profusely. He described Maud as being "Three sheets".

A second passer-by then entered and went back out to summon medical assistance. When the doctor gave evidence he described the scene as looking like a slaughterhouse. Mr Shipley having several wounds about the head, including a severed ear lobe, a two-inch gash across his face, and a wound to the neck.

When the case came to court the accused claimed she had acted in self-defence, that the very knife brought as evidence had been thrown at her by Frank at least twice. There was no evidence to support this claim and Maud Shipley, aged 28, was found to be guilty of the assault on her husband and sentenced to three months hard labour. This left Frank, himself still far from well, to look after their three children - the eldest five years and the youngest just two.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

The Mail Train

Postman William Windridge lived in Dean's Croft, Lichfield with his uncle. On the last day of 1894 he had not been to work due to illness but the next morning had left home at 4:50am, telling his uncle he was going for a walk.

At 10:30am that morning his Uncle William learned how a postman had been killed on the line and, not having seen his nephew for some hours, went along to see find his worst fears realised. Identified by the tobacco pouch he had seen him fill that very morning, for the mutilated remains were hardly recognisable. His skull shattered leaving the contents scattered along the line, one leg severed and missing. His remaining shoe, hat and marks on the body had also confirmed that New Years Day 1895 was the last for 27-year-old Postman Windridge.

At the subsequent inquest further details were revealed. While it had been his job to bring the mail bags to Lichfield Trent Valley Station, he had been suspended some six weeks earlier after the station master found him walking unsteadily and deemed him to have been at risk. While his uncle maintained this was due to illness, the landlord of the Blue Bell Inn, one John Oakley, stated he had been drinking heavily at his establishment the previous day. Indeed he had walked him home that day as he had been the worse for drink and had even been forced to wrestle him into bed and force him to stay there to sleep.

A thorough search did not reveal any blood an any of the engines to have passed through the station that morning. Nor did they ever find the missing limb anywhere near where the impact occurred, at the level crossing here used solely by the farm and not by the public in general.

The coroner recorded a verdict of accidental death but strongly suspected this may well have been suicide.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Train Accident

On Saturday 3rd January 1885, 62 year-old blacksmith Francis Clay left home at 6:30am as he did most days. As a blacksmith he would tour the local farms to perform required tasks on site. He travelled on foot, always using a stick, and carried his tools with him to earn the money to support his wife, Emma, and their seven children - aged 17 right down to the youngest babe in arms. The next they heard was an hour later when a knock at the door told them Francis Clay was dead.

Hademore Crossing has only been provided with a bridge to cross the tracks in the 21st century, prior to that a level crossing sufficed for more than a century. At about 7am that morning the two signalmen, having manually set the gates to allow the train to pass, were conversing as the 6:20 from Stafford to Rugby passed them at about 45mph. As it did so they heard a thump and went to investigate and soon after a policeman was summoned.

At the inquest the three men revealed the gruesome evidence they uncovered that morning. The bloodied post at one side of the gate led them to the discovery of a body. The flesh had been removed from one hand, clothing thrown up and over the head. When they removed the blood-soaked clothing to identify the individual the discovered part of the face and head missing, with blood and brains smothered all over the top of the post. The remainder of the head was found on the other side of the gate lying on the road. Suspecting the identity of the man they continued to search along the line and, 60 yards away, they found the toolbox which confirmed his identity.

By the time of the inquest his wife had removed much of the evidence from the post at the side of the track. It seems Francis had attempted to cross after the gates were closed. This was not unusual, the signalman would often allow foot passengers across when the train was not in sight. On this morning they had not seen him, although there was plenty of light despite the early hour.

A verdict of death by misadventure was recorded.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

D'Oyly Carte Week

Thursday June 13th 1884 had seen a minor altercation in Lichfield at St James' Hall. A production of Princess Ida had not impressed four paying customers and they most vociferously demanded their money back. The manager, not wanting these army officers to lead a mass demand for refunds, took the unusual step of locking these four INSIDE the lobby of the building, thus isolating them. Such extraordinary tactics seem to suggest the manager agreed and the performance had not been of an acceptable standard. The 'captives' were released soon after everyone had dispersed.

Next night, with the story of the Thursday night having spread around the camp, no less than twenty-one officers and a similar number of privates arrived at the hall and, after the Friday night performance, demanded to see the manager. Later the soldiers were spotted removing a ladder from the George Hotel, this used to reach up to the statue of Doctor Samuel Johnson in the market square and enabled them to paint the wordsmith's face black. This resulted in a squabble with police and the ladder was returned. Soon after the soldiers were making further trouble when forcibly removing the driver from a pony and trap and then a cab driver lost his vehicle. When a fight ensued between a man named Beans and trooper Smith, the former was arrested and the soldier returned to his billet after Major Graves was summoned to dispel the simmering crowds still in the streets at midnight.

On the Saturday remained quiet but late Sunday night and further troubles erupted when Colonel Bromley-Davenport and Colonel Levett MP departed the Swan Hotel for the home of Major Graves. With opposing soldiers and civilians lining their route. While Levett tried to talk down the civilians his travelling companion spoke earnestly to the soldiers, both pointing out how neither really wanted to fight. A couple of minor scuffles were promptly ended by those nearby and seemingly peace returned to the streets of Lichfield as the crowds dispersed.

An hour later Colonel Bromley-Davenport was found dead by local jeweller Mr Watkins and his wife outside the Robin Hood public house. When the doctor arrived, a Mr Welshman, surgeon to the yeomanry, he officially pronounced the man dead at the scene. As the news of the death spread it had the effect of cooling tempers, for the colonel was held in great esteem by all.

At the inquest it was shown that foul play could be ruled out, the cause of death being a massive heart attack.