A Soldier who Died by Drinking Small Beer

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In the graveyard at Winchester Cathedral, Hampshire, stands a unique gravestone to a Hampshire soldier. The soldier, according to his tombstone, died by drinking small beer when he was hot in the year 1764. This much loved gravestone has been replaced several times in its history and gained popularity when it was used as inspiration by the group Alcoholics Anonymous.

Personally, I read the gravestone in a rather different light. Small beer has a low alcohol content and in 1764, when water was often contaminated, it was necessary for health reasons for people to drink alcohol. The alcohol content of the small beer drunk by this solider may have been too low, hence the phrase ‘when ye’re hot drink Strong or none at all’.

 In full, the stone reads as follows:

In Memory of

Thomas Thetcher

a Grenadier in the North Reg.

of Hants Militia, who died of a

violent Fever contracted by drinking

Small Beer, when hot the 12th of May

1764 Aged 26 Years.

In grateful remembrance of whole universal

good will towards his Comrades, this Stone

is placed here at their expense, as a small

testimony of their regard and concern.

Here sleeps in peace a Hampshire Grenadier

Who caught his death by drinking cold small Beer.

Soldiers be wise from his untimely fall

And when ye’re hot drink Strong or none at all. 

This memorial being decay’d was restored

by the officers of the Garrison A.D.1781 

An honest Solider never is forgot

Whether he die by Musket or by Pot.

The Stone was replaced by the North Hants

Militia when disembodied at Winchester

On 26th April 1802. In consequence of

The original Stone being destroyed.

And again replaced by

The Royal Hampshire Regiment 1966.

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A Medieval Hunting Lodge

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‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.’

The haunting opening line of Daphne du Maurier’s famous novel, Rebecca, is so powerful that you live the dream with the unnamed main character. But while you desperately want to know the story of this lady you cannot help but consider the fate of Manderley, the main house around which the events take place.

 ‘The drive wound away in front of me, twisting and turning as it had always done, but as I advanced I was aware that a change had come upon it; it was narrow and unkept, not the drive that we had known. At first I was puzzled and did not understand, and it was only when I bent my head to avoid the low swinging branch of a tree that I realized what had happened. Nature had come into her own again and, little by little, in her stealthy, insidious way had encroached upon the drive with long, tenacious fingers…The woods, always a menace even in the past, had triumphed in the end…’

Watching nature take back and overrule man’s creations is something which archaeologists are used to. They spend a lot of time working out how nature has taken back buildings so they can decide what the structures would have been like when they were lived in. Some of my favourite ‘Manderley’ places are in forests- the remains of a Medieval hunting lodge pictured below have been recaptured by nature. Thick with bracken and now covered in well-established trees, its foundations can only be seen as an earthwork. The banks, while still prominent, are covered in leaves. A stream runs along one side and there are signs of animals feeding.

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Honey and Beekeeping

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Honey has been used as a natural sweetener by many ancient and modern societies, as well as finding its way into various dubious potions and lotions. The Ancient Egyptians believed it could be used as a contraceptive, as well as a lotion to cure baldness if it was mixed with dung! Bizarre- but perhaps not so different from some of the homeopathy treatments which we’re still clinging onto in the modern era. Its use for healing wounds however is thought to have some positive effects because honey acts as an antiseptic.

The methods which people have used to manipulate bees to produce honey for them has changed over time, although the essentials remain the same. Some of the more energetic people in the world still collect the bees or the honey by climbing trees to source this tasty product. To make life easier, in many societies people have created ways to house their bees so they can fully gain from them with (questionably!) less work. Although you don’t have to climb trees, maintaining your bees and their home does not come without effort.

Like all material culture the houses we keep honey bees in is related to how a culture decides to make something, influenced by what materials are available to us and the technology we have. For example, this is a Welsh structure which houses skeps for keeping bees:

Skeps for bees at St Fagan's Museum, Wales

Skeps for bees at St Fagan’s Museum, Wales

I am fitting in with most of my contemporaries and am beekeeping using the beehives pictured below. My bees have a very interesting ancestry- they are specially bred ‘Buckfast’ bees, created by a monk at Buckfast Abbey, Devon, to be mild tempered and good at producing honey…we have many advantages in the modern era.

New beehives before the supers have been added for the honey

New beehives before the supers have been added for the honey

The Ballylumford Quoit

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The Ballylumford Quoit

Having an ancient tomb prominently positioned outside your front door has to come high up on an estate agent’s list, at least if you’re trying to sell a house to an archaeologist. This is the first thought which went through my head when I drove past a quoit (Neolithic tomb) situated in someone’s front garden in Ballylumford, Northern Ireland. While plenty of archaeological sites are situated on private land, there aren’t many homes that have a major tomb, still standing, positioned in front of their window. What a great talking point over dinner! It’s unlikely such a set-up would occur with buildings today as there are strict planning regulations and legislation to protect ancient monuments, but there’s something charming about having such a relic in prime position and what a bonus it wasn’t removed during the building’s construction.

Aït-Ben-Haddou, Morocco

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Aït-Ben-Haddou

Architecture and town planning can define how we interact with the people around us, how or if we communicate with our neighbours and aspects such as who we marry and the friends we keep due to our network of interactions. The Moroccan site of Aït-Ben-Haddou in the foothills of the Atlas mountains is a crowded group of earthen clay buildings inside a defensive wall. It would strike most people as an intimate place to live, although despite the tourists it is hard to picture what the place would be like as a bustling dwelling. Today it comes across as sleepy and abandoned because the town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the local population now mostly live elsewhere, with the exception of the tourist trade. At times however, Aït-Ben-Haddou must buzz with film producers and actors, as its unique character has made it a shooting location for films such as Gladiator.

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A clay doorway

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Evidence of the tourist trade, with the site in the background

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At the entrance

The Plains Indians Exhibition: New York, USA

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Archaeologists often refer to the stories which artefacts can tell, which is quite literally the case for many of the textiles in the Plains Indians Exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Some of the most beautiful pieces are the animal hides, decorated to depict figures and scenes involving incidents between Indians and colonials or people’s life stories. Other aspects of the textiles have stories to tell, but have to be interpreted more heavily. For example, some clothing was decorated with buttons which had been traded from European settlers, while some of the jackets had military style high collars which were taken from European designs, suggesting European and Indian contact.

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A scene from an animal hide

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An Indian jacket with military style collar

What was interesting about the exhibition is it showed the evolution of Plains Indian material cultural. It also showed the vibrant nature of a culture which still exists, as the exhibition ended with modern Plains Indian art. Some of these pieces showed that the Plains Indians were accepting of their place in the USA- as denoted by the textile Stars and Strips on a piece of horse’s gearhead. In contrast other pieces showed the uncomfortable relationship between the modern USA and the Indian people. A piece by Jaune Quick-to-See Smith included sports memorabilia with controversial Native American slogans and names.

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The flag of the USA on Indian textile artwork

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Artwork by Jaune Quick-to-See Smith. The objects above the canvas are mostly sports memorabilia.

Moundville, Alabama

Moundville is an appropriately named town in Alabama, which probably doesn’t get the attention from tourists it deserves as it’s off the beaten track. The baffled queries we received as to why we would be travelling through the area was simply answered with…’you have some interesting mounds…’.

The mounds date to the Mississippian Period, around 1000 to 1450 AD. The Native American community who built the mounds did not leave behind a written history, meaning our knowledge of the site and the Indians who lived there is known only from the archaeological record. This is at least a rich resource and excavation has uncovered a variety of beautiful and insightful objects, some of which are on display in the museum.

bird pot

indian figure moundville

The mounds were on a scale larger then I had expected and they dominated the skyline. As the sun came out from the clouds intermittently, the mounds were highlighted and cast into shadow again periodically. As the sun finally went down for the day, we settled into our camp and warmed ourselves on a fire as my companion cooked us up some gourmet food.

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The Celtic Identity

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When collecting old books relating to the area in which I grew up, you come across some beautifully archaic and completely backwards concepts of my people. This is a fantastic example from 1949:

‘They have a gipsy look about them. But they are not gipsies. They have the same pride, the same dark, fiercely eager look…These countrymen will exclude you from their conversation. They will talk in lowered voices and glance at you every now and then to see that you are not listening. That is the form of their independence. It comes I think from living in dark and silent places and knowing the spirits that live among the trees. Yes, but it also comes from the Celtic blood. These people are very like the small dark people of Cardiganshire in many ways. Yes, it comes from the Celtic blood; but also from a thousand years and more of smuggling and poaching, from a thousand years and more of avoiding and wearing down strangers and their laws. There is here, a people who have never been conquered…a proud people on their ancestral soil.’

By trying to categorize these seemingly feral people, the author appears to have overlooked the complexity of the history of the area, in particular the influence of the Saxons and Normans who both settled in the region. While there are Celtic earthworks surviving today, there are also Saxon barrows and Norman churches to mention a few examples. As with many Victorian writers, there is so much emphasis on categorizing groups of people or regions that their true identity is forgotten and at worst is used divisively. That is not to suggest that there are no differences across the UK or that I cannot spot a ‘local’ from my neck of the woods, but casual labels such as ‘Celtic’ are rather farfetched.

The word ‘Celtic’ now has various connotations which have nothing to do with the ancient people. Ask most people what Celtic means and they will probably be thinking of fairies, unicorns and their Irish grandmother, rather than the Iron Age people who populated the British Isles and Europe. The author above clearly has a different view, that Celts were/are ‘gypsies’. One imagines that he must have thought of himself as the descendent of Romans, living alongside these Celtic beasts like wildlings from Game of Thrones. As much as I don’t mind that amusing view of my hometown, our identity evolves and at least some of us have inter-bred with surrounding tribes or migrated to the area.

Alice in Wonderland (The New Forest)

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Alice Hargreaves, nee Liddell, was the inspiration for Charles Dodgson’s book Alice in Wonderland, which he published under the name Lewis Carroll. Charles Dodgson met Alice in Oxford while her father was dean of Christ Church College. Although Alice grew weary of the attention the connection gave her in adulthood, Oxford remains proud of the association and many tourists pass through to buy Alice souvenirs, check out the stuffed dodo in the Natural History Museum or the keenest of tourists might discover Charles Dodgson’s camera equipment in the Museum of the History of Science.

In contrast, the connection Alice has to the New Forest is perhaps less well known. It would be easy to walk past Alice Hargreaves’ grave in the St Michael and All Angels churchyard at Lyndhurst, New Forest, without recognising the grave’s connection. The grave is not elaborate and without the engraved plaque which has been added, it would be easy not to notice. Even the family name ‘Hargreaves’ has become worn, almost beyond decipherment. Blooming flowers planted on the grave however, make it look like it is still cared for.

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A plaque marking the grave of Alice in the churchyard.

Some more connections to Alice can be found inside the church. Alice’s adult life was clouded by the First World War and the loss of two of her sons, a far cry from the romantic images which can be conjured of her childhood. There is a plaque dedicated to Alan Knyveton Hargreaves and Leopold Reginald Hargreaves, her two sons who were lost. Her life was clearly not a fairy tale, but then nobody’s was in an era when everybody lost someone to war or disease.

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A plaque dedicated to Alice’s sons who died in the First World War

Revisiting the Ancient Art of Long Barrow Burial

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The outside view of West Kennet Long Barrow, the large stones marking the entrance.

Chambered long barrows are tombs which date to the Neolithic period. Found across Britain and Ireland, they functioned as collective burial places where the bones of the dead could be stored. There is speculation bones were sometimes removed, perhaps during celebrations, feasting or for ancestral worship, until the tomb was finally sealed for good. The robustly built structures are made of stone and covered in soil and turf, although several regional variations exist.

One example is the popular West Kennet Long Barrow in Wiltshire, built around 3650 BC. The tomb has been opened and the bones of around 50 people have long since been removed, making it possible to walk through the passage to the area the skeletons were stored. The barrow has great public appeal, not just to archaeologists, but also to those who want to look at a curiosity or picnic. It functions as a place for kids to play, as my 5 year old companion could prove by darting in and out of the chambers trying to scare passers-by. For those seeking something more spiritual, the long barrow attracts those with alternative lifestyles and beliefs. Flowers are regularly placed around the barrow and someone once told me that a temporary shrine had been created inside when Lady Diana died.

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A spooky game of hide and seek inside the long barrow.

The public interest in ancient burial rites is such that a farmer has recently decided to recreate a functioning long barrow in Wiltshire. He aims to provide a place for families to store the ashes of their loved ones, a response he says to the growing need for non-Christian burial:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/a-tomb-with-a-view–5500-years-on-wiltshire-farmer-brings-back-the-long-barrow-burial-mound-9028636.html

Alternative treatment of the dead is something which crops up fairly regularly in the media. Your loved one can apparently be made into a diamond or rocketed into space, but the return to ancient burial rites is something which we may see more of. I can vouch for this, as I made a purchase of a reproduction Anglo-Saxon cremation urn for a loved one not so long ago. I hope placing the filled urn in the churchyard will at least confuse archaeologists momentarily, should it ever be excavated.