Wednesday, 20 June 2018


It is a while since I did a post about 'new' or interesting words I have come across recently.  So here are a few...

a dualistic religious system with Christian, Gnostic, and pagan elements, founded in Persia in the 3rd century by Manes ( c. 216– c. 276) and based on a supposed primeval conflict between light and darkness. It was widespread in the Roman Empire and in Asia, and survived in eastern Turkestan (Xinjiang) until the 13th century.
To be Manichean is to follow the philosophy of Manichaeism, which  breaks everything down into good or evil. ... If you believe in the Manichean idea of dualism, you tend to look at things as having two sides that are opposed.

Specious but fallacious reasoning.  The employment of arguments which are intentionally deceptive.

To lounge about in a warm stuffy atmosphere.
A warm stuffy atmosphere.
"I've got better things to do that frowst in bed on a morning like this."  P G Wodehouse "The Luck of the Bodkins"

verb  (pronounced jibber)
To speak rapidly and unintelligibly; typically through fear or shock.  (Hence  -
Unintelligible or meaningless speech or writing; nonsense.

A play, or part of a play, with speaking parts for only two actors.

Old English word for the month of May.  It meant three milks - the season when you could milk cows three times between sunrise and sunset. 

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Valour not garlands

Chester architect John Douglas (1829-1911) designed a number of buildings in the city of Chester on behalf of the Grosvenor family – the Dukes of Westminster.  

This Dutch style red brick building by the Eastgate was the Midland Bank (which later became HSBC).

The coat of arms is that of the Dukes of Westminster and the motto translates variously as “Virtue not pedigree” (the preferred translation of the Westminsters); “Valour not garlands”; or. more simply, “Courage”. 

The dogs on the coat of arms are talbots; predominantly white hunting dogs now extinct because of lack of purpose and the need for constant care.  The talbot has been credited with being an ancestor of the modern beagle and bloodhound. The term talbot is used in heraldry to refer to a good-mannered hunting dog.  I have mentioned talbots before in the context of inn signs.

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Dust to dust

Just past the ancient Roman amphitheatre outside the city walls of Chester, lies the Church of St. John the Baptist.

The building is a mixture of Norman and early English Gothic architecture, and is much smaller than it once was. A still-functioning Anglican church now sits nestled within great sandstone ruins that speak to its former size and glory. St. John’s is notable, too, in that it has a long history of falling down: Towers collapsed in 1468, 1572, 1574, and 1881.

The arches at the Eastern end of the site include both Norman and Early English styles.

In what remains of the church’s western tower, set high into one of the Gothic arches, is a wooden coffin.

An account from the 19th century suggests that a church sexton discovered the coffin while digging a grave in a disused section of the cemetery. The rector ordered it placed high up on the wall, out of reach (but not of sight) of curious passersby.   The coffin is carved entirely out of one block of oak and although its age is uncertain it probably dates to the 13th century. The vivid inscription bearing the words “Dust to Dust” is likely a Victorian rather than a medieval addition.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Quote, unquote

Here are a few extracts from books I have read recently.  I keep on thinking how pleased I am to have my sight back.  The time spent unable to read and see wildlife was horrific.  Despite my being reasonably sure that laser treatment would cure it I found life so boring and frustrating.  I am so grateful to all those who sent me kind thoughts and prayers during that difficult time.

Anthony Berkeley  - “The Poisoned Chocolates Case”  (1929)
“He was openly devoted to his wife and did not care who knew it, while she too,  if a trifle less obviously, was equally said to wear her heart on her sleeve.  To make no bones about it, the Bendixes had apparently succeeded in achieving that eighth wonder of the modern world, a happy marriage.”
“Joan Bendix was not so serious-minded as not to have a healthy feminine interest in good chocolates.”

Punch Magazine, 1893
(Sarcastically attacking explorers like Nellie Bly, Isabella Bird, and Mary Kingsley Amis.)
“A lady, an explorer? A traveller in skirts?
The notion’s just a trifle too seraphic;
Let them stay home and mind the babies, or hem our ragged shirts
But they mustn’t, can’t, and shan’t be geographic.”

Arthur Conan Doyle – The Adventure of the Second Stain  (1904)
“And yet the motives of women are so inscrutable…  How can you build on such a quicksand?  Their most trivial action may mean volumes, or their most extraordinary conduct may depend upon a hairpin or a curling tongs.”

R Austin Freeman – The Aluminium Dagger (1909) reprinted in “Miraculous Mysteries”, ed. Martin Edwards
“The scared rite of the ‘tub’ had been duly performed. And the freshly dried person of the present narrator was about to be insinuated into the first installment of clothing, when a hurried step was heard upon the stair…”

 Draft of a talk by Dorothy L Sayers (first published 1978)
“But when all is said, it is by the writing that every work of literature must in the long run stand or fall, and Trent’s Last Case is supremely well written without ever straying too far from the plot or getting out of key with the general tone of the book; the style ranges from a vividly coloured rhetoric to a delicate and ironical literary fancy.  Now touching on the greater issues of human life, now breaking into a ripple of comment on arts and letters, running into little sidestreams of wit and humour, or spreading into crystal pools of beauty and tender feeling, Trent’s Last Case welled up in the desiccated desert of mystery fiction like a spring of living water.  No other writer had ever handled that kind of theme with so light and sure a hand.”

E C Bentley – “Trent’s Last Case”   (1913)
“The great thing about a hotel sitting-room is that its beauty does not distract the mind from work.  It is no place for the may-fly pleasures of a mind at ease.  Have you ever been in this room before, Cupples?  I have, hundreds of times.  It has pursued m all over England for years.  I should feel lost without it if, in some fantastic, far-off hotel they were to give me some other sitting-room.  Look at this table-cover; there is the ink I spilt on it when I had this room in Halifax.  I burnt that hole in the carpet when I had it in Ipswich.  But I see they have mended the glass over the picture of ‘Silent Sympathy’ which I threw a book at in Banbury.  I do all my best work here.”

Susan Barker – “Incarnations”  (2015)
“She has a personality like fingers on a chalkboard., setting his nerves on edge.”

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Billy Hobby's Well

Billy Hobby's Well is in Grosvenor Park, Chester, on the bank of the River Dee which can be seen in the background of this photo.

Its canopy is recorded in the National Heritage List for England as a designated Grade II listed building.

Grosvenor Park was developed on land given to the city of Chester by Richard Grosvenor, 2nd Marquess of Westminster in the 1860s. The land consisted of fields on the north side of the River Dee overlooking the river. The largest field was marked on the 1833 Plan of the City of Chester as 'Billy Obbies' Field.   This field contained a spring or well that was believed to have magical powers.

As part of the development of the park, the Marquess commissioned the Chester architect John Douglas to design a number of features for the park, including a canopy for the well. The structure is now used as a pump house for the water garden in the park.   The canopy is built in red and buff sandstone ashlar. It stands on a square plinth and has canted corners. Each face has a pointed arch flanked by a granite column containing wrought iron bars. The blocks that make up  the arches include carved roses. On each corner is a small carved circle containing a carved sheaf and portcullises.

The roof consists of a tiled spire, and at its apex is a lead finial surmounted by a copper fish which acts as a weather vane.

The spring's magical powers applied only to girls as this old rhyme tells us:-

I loved the tales that idle maids would tell
Of wonders wrought at Billy Hobbie's Well;
Where love-sick girls with leg immured would stand,
The right leg 'twas - the other on dry land,
With face so simple, stocking in the hand,
Wishing for husbands half a winter's day
With ninety times the zeal they used to pray.

Pixyledpublications  website gives some detail about this rhyme.

"This old rhyme despite some pedigree suggested I have been able to date only to 1823. It appears to record a ritual undertaken at the well, a similar ‘one part of the body in, one out’ was done at Walsingham by lovelorn maidens...

However the name is much older. A Billy Obbies Field is marked in 1745, with a spring marked at 1791. This would appear to suggest that the spring gained its name from the field and not vice versa, possibly a local personage. Yet, the name is significant and it may hide a much earlier origin. The name Hobby derives from Hobb a name for a devil or demon and where the name Hobglobin derives from. It may be possible that the area was a marshy waste and to warn people away a legend of a demon was introduced. More interesting is the idea that as the name Hobb is synonymous with Puck, and Puck possibly having a Roman origin, that the site could be a much earlier Pagan site."

Monday, 11 June 2018

Browns of Chester

Established in the reign of King George III by Susannah Brown, Browns of Chester has traded continuously from this site since 1791.  It was once known as 'The Harrods of the North' and is now part of the Debenhams chain.

Major rebuilding was carried out by the Brown family in the mid-nineteenth century with the frontage incorporating Georgian (finished 1828), Gothic and Tudor style facades (completed in 1858).  There is a magnificent domed window inside.

The Gothic building (known as the Crypt Building) incorporates a 12th century undercroft.

The beautifulTudor frontage has a couple of quaint gargoyles.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Captain Morgan's Cannon

The Siege of Chester was a siege of the First English Civil War, between February 1645 and January 1646, with an intermission during the summer of 1645.

From the beginning of the war, the city of Chester was held by forces loyal to Charles I of England. It was first besieged in late 1644, but was relieved in March 1645 by Prince Maurice. With fighting continuing around Cheshire, the siege was not pursued again in earnest until September 1645, continuing ferociously until the following January. At the Battle of Rowton Heath in September, Charles himself failed to lift the siege, suffering a disastrous defeat.

Throughout the siege, which varied considerably in intensity, the garrison was commanded by Lord Byron, who in the final months strongly defended the city against great odds. In January 1646 (1645, old style), faced with the starvation of the inhabitants, Byron was persuaded to surrender, and the city was occupied by forces of the New Model Army under Sir William Brereton.

During the siege, the Royalist Captain Morgan placed guns on a newly constructed watch tower, now called Morgan's Mount. Skeletons were found here beneath the walls when the Chester Canal was dug a century later. 

After the Battle of Rowton Heath in September of that year, a gun on the Mount was destroyed by Parliamentary forces.  The watchtower was originally named the Raised Square Platform, and is said to have been named later after the Royalist Captain William Morgan, or his son, Edward.


Join Paula Sofia's Bookaholics on Facebook to see lots of bookish pictures.

As Paula commented .. "I love how she couldn’t even wait to get home to read it."


Thursday, 7 June 2018

Digging up the past

During my walk around Chester yesterday I not only found a Centurion but also a couple of people looking for more Centurions  amongst* the Roman ruins in Grosvenor Park.   Please note these people were officially entitled to be there and hadn't just wandered along with trowels in their hands.  And before anyone (Adrian) asks how I know that because their vehicle was the other side of the railings keeping the public from trespassing.

*(Interestingly - to me at any rate - the spillchucker doesn't recognise the word 'amongst' and offered instead 'monogomist'!  Perhaps amongst is now old-fashioned I thought but when I checked - Among is the earlier word of this pair: according to the Oxford English Dictionary, it first appeared in Old English. The variant form, amongst, is a later development, coming along in the Middle English period. With regard to their meanings, there’s no difference between among and amongst and they are equally acceptable. They’re both prepositions which mean "situated in the middle of a group of people or things")

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

A Centurion

I went for a walk along the Roman wall at Chester yesterday.  Look who I bumped into - a local Centurion...

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Hercule Poirot

I have not only been reading a lot of crime fiction lately but also about the history of crime fiction, largely inspired by Martin Edwards’s book “The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books” (British Library Crime Classics 2017).  While my eyes were bad I was restricted to word by word wading through large print books, one of which was an Agatha Christie.   Since then I have been reminding myself about Hercule Poirot.
Poirot's name was derived from two earlier fictional detectives: Marie Belloc Lowndes' Hercule Popeau and Frank Howel Evans' Monsieur Poiret, a retired Belgian police officer living in London. 
A more obvious influence on the early Poirot stories is that of Arthur Conan Doyle. In An Autobiography, Christie states, "I was still writing in the Sherlock Holmes  tradition – eccentric detective, stooge assistant, with a Lestrade -type Scotland Yard detective, Inspector Japp". For his part, Conan Doyle acknowledged basing his detective stories on the model of Edgar Allan Poe’s Auguste Dupin and his anonymous narrator, and basing his character Sherlock Holmes on Joseph Bell, who in his use of "ratiocination" prefigured Poirot's reliance on his "little grey cells".
Poirot also bears a striking resemblance to A.E.W.Mason’s fictional detective, Inspector Hanaud of the French Surete who first appeared in the 1910 novel  “At the Villa Rosa” and predates the first Poirot novel by ten years.
Unlike the models mentioned above, Christie's Poirot was clearly the result of her early development of the detective in her first book, written in 1916 and published in 1920. His Belgian nationality was interesting because of Belgium's occupation by Germany, which also provided a plausible explanation of why such a skilled detective would be out of work and available to solve mysteries at an English country house.   At the time of Christie's writing, it was considered patriotic to express sympathy towards the Belgians, since the invasion of their country had constituted Britain's causus belli for entering World War I, and British wartime propaganda emphasised the Rape of Belgium.

Poirot first appeared in “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” (published in 1920) and exited in Curtain (published in 1975). Following the latter, Poirot was the only fictional character to receive an obituary on the front page of The New York Times.
Hercule Poirot Is Dead; Famed Belgian Detective
By THOMAS LASK   AUG. 6, 1975
Hercule Poirot, a Belgian detective who became internationally famous, has died in England. His age was unknown.
Mr. Poirot achieved fame as a private investigator after he retired as a member of the Belgian police force in 1904. His career, as chronicled in the novels of Dame Agatha Christie, his creator, was one of the most illustrious in fiction.
At the end of his life, he was arthritic and had a bad heart. He was in a wheelchair often, and was carried from his bedroom to the public lounge at Styles Court, a nursing home in Essex, wearing a wig and false mustaches to mask the signs of age that offended his vanity. In his active days, he was aways impeccably dressed.
Mr. Poirot, who was just 5 feet 4 inches tall, went to England from Belgium during World War I as a refugee. He settled in a little town not far from Styles, then an elaborate country estate, where he took on his first private case.
The news of his death, given by Dame Agatha, was not unexpected. Word that he was near death reached here last May.
His death was confirmed by Dodd, Mead, Dame Agatha's publishers, who will put out “Curtain,” the novel that chronicles his last days, on Oct. 15.

By 1930, Agatha Christie found Poirot "insufferable", and, by 1960, she felt that he was a "detestable, bombastic, tiresome, ego-centric little creep". Yet the public loved him and Christie refused to kill him off, claiming that it was her duty to produce what the public liked.

David Suchet starred as Poirot in the ITV series from 1989 until June 2013, when he announced that he was bidding farewell to the role. "No one could've guessed then that the series would span a quarter-century or that the classically trained Suchet would complete the entire catalogue of whodunits featuring the eccentric Belgian investigator, including 33 novels and dozens of short stories."   His final appearance was in an adaptation of Curtain: Poirot's Last Case, aired on 13 November 2013.  During the time that it was filmed, Suchet expressed his sadness at his final farewell to the Poirot character whom he had loved.

Saturday, 2 June 2018


Shotwick is a small village and former civil parish, now in the parish of Puddington, on the southern end of the Wirral Peninsula in the unitary authority of Cheshire West and Chester and the ceremonial county of Cheshire, England. The village is close to the county of Flintshire on the England–Wales border. The village was located on the River Dee until it was canalised in 1736 after which the reclaimed land has since developed into the neighbouring Deeside Industrial Park. The civil parish was abolished in 2015 and merged into Puddington.

Shotwick is recorded in the Domesday book (1086), within the Cheshire Hundred of Willaston, with six households listed. Shotwick Castle was built about 1093 by Hugh Lupus, 1st Earl of Chester, at what is now Shotwick Park and near the River Dee, before the area succumbed to the effects of silting. The Norman castle lay in ruins by the 17th century and now only the foundations remain. Henry II left from Shotwick for Ireland and Edward I used the port to leave for Wales in 1278.

 The village, including part of the hamlet of Two Mills was within the Wirral Hundred, with a population of 95 in 1801, 100 in 1851, 82 in 1901 and 70 in 1951.  It currently has a population of 120.

 The graveyard having been in use for hundreds of years, the soil level is now well above the foundation level of the church.  Gravestones range from the simplest with just initials, to initials and a date, a full name but no details, and the more usual style with fuller information. 

Shotwick is a beautiful quiet spot, off the beaten track, and well worth a visit.

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