Category Archives: History

Shire Book of the Month: The Women’s Institute by Susan Cohen

The Women’s Institute is a radical organisation and always has been.  That took me by surprise as well.  Susan Cohen’s book ‘The Women’s Institute’ is a real eye-opener and is full of unexpected facts that should serve to blow away any lingering prejudice that the WI is all about Jam and Jerusalem.

The first WI was set up in 1915 in Llanfair in Wales and was inspired by the Canadian WI which was already well established.  The original mission was to harness the skills of country women and to encourage them to play a more active role in village life and to give them opportunities to share activities in a social context with other women. The Great War was already on and there was a great deal that needed doing.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of the initial movers and shakers in the WI were suffragettes for whom the Institute was an excellent tool in furthering the cause of women.  Country women were often very isolated and there was little opportunity for socialising or personal development and the WI offered the chance to broaden their horizons from politics to practical skills, from art classes to charabanc tours.

The WI catered for women from all walks of life and everyone was equal; the scullery maid would sit at the same table as the lady of the manor and everyone had a voice.

A fine example of WI needlecraftf the manor and everyone had a voice. This situation would have been unheard of in any other context and is another example of the radicalism of the WI. Initially though, women had to be nominated and seconded by someone already in the group which could be quite nerve-wracking.

I asked my friend Mrs Grable why she had initially joined the WI.  She told me that, as a young mother, she was quite lonely at home all day on her own and the WI offered an opportunity to get out of the house and socialise with like-minded women and learn some new skills.  It was also a great way to meet her neighbours and they encouraged each other to go.  She has now been in the movement for forty years and it still has the same appeal, although the activities have expanded considerably since the 1960s.

During the WW2 the WIs were significantly involved in all aspects of war work including organising evacuees, food production and canning projects as well as fundraising and knitting socks for seamen.

The modern WI has also had a major impact in changing the law and leading campaigns including libraries, food labelling, domestic violence, mental health and global poverty and Cohen tells a wonderfully illustrated and evocative story of the importance and relevance of the Women’s Institute and its activities from its inception to the present day.  Perhaps it could broaden your horizons?


Filed under History, Poetry, Literature, Music and Art, Shire Books, Slider

Wills’ Cigarette Cards No. 9: Distempering

Distemper may seem a somewhat outmoded decorative option, but anyone who has an old property will undoubtedly have come across it.  Also, anyone who is involved in conservation will be familiar with it, as well as lime mortar.  However, this is entirely separate from the veterinary condition and under no circumstances must you attempt to paint your dog, however shabby his appearance.
For more information on distemper and lime mortar click on Building


Filed under General DIY, History, Household Hints, Wills Cigarette Cards

A Weekend in The City

What a busy weekend I’ve had.  The father of my children picked The Boys up at 9am on Saturday and I shot straight off down to Elephant and Castle in London to… oh no, I can’t tell you that, you’ll find out soon enough, but I did have the pleasure of seeing The Marquis of Barnet and Carlos Fandango.   The traffic was pretty good and I was there by 11.45 which included a stop off for a coffee and a bun at The Gates of London service station because I was in danger of falling asleep.

Sadly not my photograph

I came straight in through the centre of town and was, as ever, completely thrilled by the view as I crossed the river via Tower Bridge.  In the wink of an eye I could see the beauty of Tower Bridge, the ancient Thames itself, the Tower of London, The Gherkin, St Paul’s Cathedral and behind me The Shard racing skywards like a living mirror straining towards the sun.

London is beginning to feel like an exciting place again.  There is so much regeneration going on; new and beautiful structures going up and old ones being refurbished.  Yet somehow, London absorbs it all; the old bumping elbows with the new, the ancient holding its head high as it welcomes in the modern with open arms.

After I had finished … the thing I was doing … I headed for Walthamstow to visit my old friend Mrs Gnasher whom I have known since I was ten.  Mrs Gnasher hails from Co. Durham and, despite living in London all her adult life, still has her gorgeous accent and will sing ’The Lambton Worm’ at the drop of a hat (whether you asked her to or not).  For a cheerful version of this song, complete with words and chords, see below.  I suspect the singer might actually be a Manxmen by his accent.

The Olympic Stadium is coming on a treat, giant cranes sweeping over the East End like great, lumbering iron men.  The Velodrome resembles a giant version of those little plastic Pringles boxes – all very exciting.

The Skylon at the Festival of Britain in 1951

I left my lovely friend and headed for The Aged Parent who lives near Staines on the edge of Heathrow Airport.  We had chicken and chips for supper and watched an achingly brilliant documentary about the Festival of Britain in 1951.  The FOB is worth a blog in itself, but I found myself fervently wishing that I had been born in time to have seen it for myself.

They should have re-done it as part of the Millennium celebrations or even for next year’s Olympics but I guess at the moment we simply don’t have the money.  The thing is, that after the war they didn’t have the money either, but what the FOB sang out loud and clear is ‘We’re down but not out’ and the architecture and design that went into it heralded a bright and optimistic new world that gave people tremendous hope for the future.

In the morning, I dragged the AP out of bed and packed her little valise so she could come and stay with me for a while.  Sister the First turned up just before we left for a lovely but fleeting visit, then we headed out to Sister the Second to give her belated birthday presents and have lunch.

We arrived back in Desbo at about 4pm, just in time to bake some cakes for Boy the Elder to take to school this morning for his birthday.  He is 14.  It is not possible.  The Boys were collected from their father at 7.30pm.  I unpacked the … results of my trip … , cooked dinner, put The Boys to bed and now I am here telling you all about it.

It was a lot of miles and I am very glad that I have got a couple of days off to get my head down and  learn how to … (hand is clapped firmly over mouth).


Filed under Children, Family and Friends, History, Life in general, The Wartime Housewife Blog

Answers to the Wartime Housewife Quiz

Before I begin, let me congratulate you all on such valiant efforts to answer my fiendish questions in the Wartime Housewife quiz.  Between you, you got numbers one to four right, but sadly there was no outright winner.  If I could give points for imagination or filth you would all be winners!

I will leave you in suspenders no longer.  The correct answers were:-

Anti-poaching gun

1.   Anti Poaching Gun.

This contraption was placed in a strategic place in the woods and when a poacher came creeping along, a tripwire was clicked and the unfortunate (or deserving) poacher was peppered with something – not usually shot, but sometimes gravel or even soap pellets which would sting but not actually wound.

2.   Bellows


This simple mechanism delivers blasts of pressurized air as the handle is wound up.

3.   Dummy Security Guard

Dummy Security Guard

These figures would be placed in windows to make a prospective intruder think the building was guarded.  They were made slightly smaller than life-size to give the impression of distance and bigger rooms.

4.   Wick Trimmer

Wick Trimmer

This device opened like scissors and had a sharp blade, but the trimmed bits of wick would fall straight into the silver box, thus preventing glowing wick falling to the floor.

5.   Papier Mache

Papier mache ceiling

The use of papier mache in interiors began in the late 17th century and its application in ceiling ornamentation was quite common by the 18th and 19th centuries as a substitute for plaster.  It emerged when the wallpaper makers prudently put their cut-offs to good use.  It survives very well in stable conditions, but when restoration is needed, failure to identify this material can have disastrous results.

No prizes this time, my dears, but I very much enjoyed your answers!  Look out for more Wartime Housewife Quizzes in the future.


Filed under History, Poetry, Literature, Music and Art

Vintage Air Shows and Festivals for this weekend and September

September  seems to be the month for Vintage festivals.  Here are a few which sound fun.

The Duxford Air Show, Cambridgeshire
3& 4th September – 8am – 6pm

The Duxford Air Show is the highlight of the Museum’s flying events each year and features both historic and contemporary aircraft, civilian and military.  At the heart of this year’s air show, and 75 years since its inaugural flight, we celebrate the sight and sound of the Spitfire, that most celebrated British single-seat fighter aircraft.

The Victory Show at Cosby, Leicestershire
3-4th  September from 9am

The two day event is held over a 60 acre site, providing historical societies & re-enactments through various forces from several era’s and theatres during the period of 1939-45. From Airmen to Infantry, the Victory Show 2011 opens a window in time to the fabulous 1940’s.

Shackerstone Festival

Shakerstone Family Festival, Leicestershire

Battle of Britain planes, wingwalkers, aerostars, jousts and stunts, duck herding & sheep racing, dog displays, marching bands, steam trains, canal exhibitions, birds of prey, tractors, cars, steam engines, ploughing demos, craft fayre and so it goes on…

Dorset Steam Fair

The Great Dorset Steam Fair, nr Blandford Forum, Dorset
3rd & 4th  September from 8am

You can stand amazed at the variety of exhibitions and the sheer scale of the show means that there is always something new to see. The show has something for everyone, whatever your interests – collector, a steam fanatic, an exhibitor, a heavy horse fan, an avid camper, a music fan or just on holiday in the South of England.  The Great Dorset Steam Fair is a typically British event offering a unique blend of nostalgia and entertainment. Come and soak up the special festival atmosphere whether as a day visitor or taking in the full five days by camping on site. There is no other event like it anywhere in the world.

Capel Manor Classic & Vintage vehicles

Capel Manor Gardens, Enfield, Middlesex 
4th  September 10-5pm

Motor along to the Classic and Vintage Vehicle Show with cars from as far back as the 1920s, the Annual Rally of the North London and Middlesex Morris Minors Association, auto jumble, the Enfield Brass Band and crafts in the Manor House with Fig Fairs

Maldon & District Vintage Working Day at  Southminster and

Ploughing Past and Present Country Show at Pebmarsh:
East Anglia

4th September

Goodwood Revival

The Goodwood Revival

16th – 18th September from 0730-1900hrs

In the summer of 2010, a brand new concept in British festivals was launched at Goodwood to huge critical acclaim.  Known as ‘Vintage at Goodwood,’ this award-winning new event enabled fans of British Cool and Popular Culture to fully indulge their love and passion for the golden era of British style and influence.  

Vintage at Goodwood brought together a unique blend of 1940s, 50s and 60s fashion, music, film, art, dance and design in a fun, authentic and imaginative way. Similarly, the annual Goodwood Revival, the world’s biggest historic motor racing event, has been successfully doing this for over a decade, with the added excitement of thrilling wheel to wheel motor racing as a unique and extraordinary backdrop to an utterly British experience. The Goodwood Revival brings together the most glamorous and exotic cars, and their star drivers all racing on the original classic race track, it is the only major sporting event to be completely staged in an authentic period setting, creating a truly magical step back in time.

The Foxton Locks Festival

17th & 18th September 10am-5pm

Foxton Locks Festival is Leicestershire’s Premier Day Out with something for all the family.

Come and browse the craft stalls and grab yourself a bargain, watch the interactive Viking re-enactments taking place during the day and grab a bite to eat and drink at our Food Village and Real Ale Bar.

Take time out to visit the Locks and see the brightly coloured boats negotiate their way up the staircase locks, pop into the museum and learn about the history of the canals and don’t forget a visit to the remains of the Inclined Plane Boat Lift.


Filed under Family and Friends, History, Leisure, Outdoor Activities

A day out at Canons Ashby and a Wartime Housewife Quiz

Canons AshbyToday, and on a whim as we have spent too much of the summer holiday relocating, we fired up the Escort and visited the National Trust property of Canons Ashby in Northamptonshire.

Canons Ashby was owned by the Dryden family for four centuries from the late 1500s; bookish, conservative, modest people who respected the buildings enough to re-model and extend but never to completely sweep away the past.  The house itself is rather more than a manor house but not quite a grand mansion and much of its beauty lies in its homeliness and attention to the decorative.

Sir John Dryden (1631-1700), the very first Poet Laureate, is a member of this family and was appointed by Charles II in 1668.  He was the best poet, dramatist, translator and critic of the age and his translation of Virgil is one of the great masterpieces of translation in English.

The house is full of interesting and beautiful things, including some fascinating items which I have never seen before or didn’t know about.  Let’s see if you can identify them.  There will be a modest prize for the person(s) who can identify all five correctly.  If you click on the pictures, you will get a larger and more detailed image.  Good luck!

This competition closes on Friday 2nd September 2011 and the winners will be announced on Saturday.
The Wartime Housewife’s decision is final.




NB: This soldier is 5 feet high




Filed under History, Indoor Activities, Leisure, Outdoor Activities, Poetry, Literature, Music and Art

Radio Call Signs or The NATO Phonetic Alphabet

I am in the process of packing up to move house and spent several hours this afternoon ringing round all the companies who need to know my change of address.  Having a name which has ‘bs’ and ‘fs’ and ‘vs’ in, there is plenty of margin, however clearly one speaks, for errors of spelling etc.

Therefore I always spell things out using the Phonetic Call Sign Alphabet as used by the police, NATO etc.  It really does make things easier and is worth learning if you often have to spell things out over the ‘phone.  I learned it when I worked on a constructions site at Heathrow Airport and we had to communicate over crackly radios with the sound of jets roaring away in the background.

The BBC website explains why we use it.  “This alphabet was created by the NATO allies in the 1950s as a means of communication that would be intelligible and pronounceable in the heat of battle.  All the letters sound different, so there is no confusion over long distances over what people are saying. The reason that any phonetic alphabet is (or was) used is because telephone, radio and walkie-talkie communications had the habit of crackling over long distances, blotting out whole words or even sentences.

The normal alphabet cannot be used, because some letters, for example P, B, C and D sound similar, and over long distances were indistinguishable, so a new method had to be found. When the code was invented it was also considered that consonants are the most difficult to hear against a noisy background. Hence the sequence of vowels in the phonetic code played an important role when the code was invented, so that when you hear a noisy ‘-oo-oo’ you know the letter is a Z. The vowel-sequence thing works for most (though not all) combinations of letters.

All of the words are recognisable by native English speakers because English must be used upon request for communication between an aircraft and a control tower whenever two nations are involved, regardless of their native languages. But it is only required internationally, not domestically, thus if both parties to a radio conversation are from the same country, then another phonetic alphabet of that nation’s choice may be used.”

I did battle with 18 call centres today and I can assure you that it works.

A = Alpha H = Hotel O = Oscar V = Victor
B = Bravo I = India P = Papa W = Whisky
C = Charlie J = Juliet Q = Quebec X = X-Ray
D = Delta K = Kilo R = Romeo Y = Yankee
E = Echo L = Lima S = Sierra Z = Zulu
F = Foxtrot M = Mike T = Tango
G = Golf N = November U = Uniform

There is also a protocol for numbers:

1 = Wun 2 = Two 3 = Tree 4 = Fower 5 = Fife
6 = Six 7 = Sefan 8 = Ait 9 = Niner 0 = Zero



Filed under History, Life in general

Sunday Poem 89

Martinson was a working class Swedish author and poet.  One of seven children, his father died when he was six years old and his mother abandoned them.  He grew up in a succession of foster homes and in his early youth he worked hard as a deckhand, labourer and stoker and eventually became a vagrant.  At sixteen he joined the merchant navy as a stoker, but after contracting tuberculosis, which was a common complaint of stokers, he returned to Sweden and settled there.

Despite being self-taught, he wrote many novels, the first of which were largely autobiographical but all his work is shot through with a heavy dose of social criticism.  He suffered increasingly with depression and in 1971, he attempted to commit ritual suicide by disemboweling himself, however he only succeeded in injuring himself very badly.

In 1949 he was the first self-taught, working class writer to be admitted to The Swedish Academy and he was awarded a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1974.  He is one of the best known writers in Sweden.

I am particularly attracted to this poem because my mother’s ancestors all worked in the cotton industry in Lancashire.  My great grandfather was a Cotton Doffer until he was eleven, which meant long, precarious hours replacing the full bobbins with empty bobbins on the spinning machines.  He also worked on the carding machines, pushing little metal teeth into the great leather belts of the machinery which carded the cotton.  For this he was paid a penny a thousand.  This poem is dedicated to George Rayner (1858-1920) and to the cotton workers whose lives were harder than we can ever imagine.

Cotton – by Harry Edmund Martinson (1904-1978)

The day they strung the cable from America to Europe
they did a lot of singing.
The cable, the huge singing cable was put to use
and Europe said to America:
Give me three million tons of cotton!
And three million tons of cotton wandered over the ocean
and turned to cloth:
cloth with which one fascinated the savages of Senegambia,
and cotton wads, with which one killed them.
Raise your voice in song, sing
on all the Senegambic trading routes!
sing cotton!
Yes, cotton, your descent on the earth like snow!
Your white peace for our dead bodies!
Your white anklelength gowns when we wander into heaven
saved in all the world’s harbours, by Booth’s Jesus-like face.
Cotton, cotton, your snowfall:
wrapping the world in the fur of new necessities,
you shut us in, you blinded our eyes with your cloud.
At the mouth of the Trade River,
and on the wide oceans of markets and fairs,
cotton, we have met there
the laws of your flood,
the threat of your flood.

(translated from Swedish by Robert Bly)


Filed under History, Poetry, Literature, Music and Art

Shire Books of the Month: ‘Royal Weddings’ and ‘Discovering the Folklore & Traditions of Marriage’

William & Kate - clearly in love

Weddings being all the rage at the moment, it seems fitting to review these fascinating books on Royal Weddings and the Traditions of Marriage  Whether one is a Royalist or not, there is something tremendously hopeful about a marriage, in the belief that no matter what else is happening, people fall in love and decide  to get married.  Months of preparation ensue as couples opt for the full blown ‘fairytale’ bash or a quiet ceremony in the Register Office

Henry V & Kate de Valois - clearly strangers

Marriage between the high born and the low born historically served different purposes.  Up until the last hundred years, marriage between royalty existed to consolidate the power of the monarch and stabilise the relationships between countries who might otherwise have posed a threat.  Love was not even considered and young aristocrats were often betrothed when they were little children and even underwent a ceremony to cement that commitment.  That is not to say, however, that love didn’t sometimes develop in spite of the business-like arrangements.

Nowadays, we expect our royal families to be in love with their chosen partners (let’s forget Charles and Diana who appear to have conformed to the ‘stability’ model) and we expect the wedding to be a spectacle in which the whole nation takes part.  But looking back through the centuries royal weddings have taken place at venues as different as York Minster to hurried late night ceremonies in locked rooms.

Henry I was the first Norman king to marry on British soil and married Edith of Scotland in 1100 at Westminster Abbey to both demonstrate his claim to the English throne and to endear himself to the downtrodden masses.

In 1464, the youthful Edward IV married Elizabeth Woodville in a secret ceremony at her father’s manor.  Henry only mentioned it to his advisors when they announced plans to secure a more politically profitable match.

George V sweeping away German title & tradition. Cartoon from 'Punch' by L Raven-Hill, my great grandfather as it happens

Royal Weddings’ charts the social and political backdrop to a thousand years of matrimonial monarchs and gives a fascinating perspective on the changing ideals and interdependency of royalty and the people they ultimately serve.

“But what about we ordinary mortals?” I hear you cry.  In many ways our story is more rich and juicy than anything the royals can cook up because tradition and folklore varies so widely from region to region.

Many people have been absorbed by the recent TV series ‘My Big, Fat Gypsy Wedding’ and whatever one’s views about that community, their traditions and expression of their culture serve as a perfect example of the different roles marriage has to play in communities with different needs and expectations.

Discovering the Folklore and Traditions of Marriage’ takes us through love and courtship, preparation for the big day, the wedding day itself and the celebrations, as well as the social implications of being obliged to be together forever.  I wonder if the marriage ceremony would include the words “’ till death us do part” if they had known that future couples might live to be 90 or more?

After the Stag Night. Great bunch of lads...

Fleet Weddings, Gretna Green, Besom Weddings, Penny Weddings, Wife Selling – it’s all in here.  Throwing stockings was the forerunner of throwing bouquets and it was done when the newly married couple were actually in their marriage bed.  Who would consider having a ‘Rough Band’ banging saucepans to be a lucky thing and yet Chimney Sweeps still advertise their services to appear at weddings.

The Wartime Housewife never married (but lived ‘o’er t’brush’ with two bastard children), but after reading this book, she might just consider it.  But only if she can re-enact the scene from the Mayor of Castorbridge and, having got drunk on ‘furmity’, her husband promises to sell her and her children to a passing sailor.

If you want your wedding to stand out, you will find everything you need in here to make your day a truly historic occasion.

Seriously interesting - even if you're not the marrying kind

Royal Weddings is also available as an e-book


Filed under Behaviour and Etiquette, Family and Friends, History, Life in general, Slider

My Royal Wedding

Not my house, sadly

I had a lovely day on Friday 29th April.  At ten o’clock we went round to Mrs Cecil’s house to watch the Royal Wedding on her big telly.  We ooh-ed and aah-ed at the dress (which I thought was stunning) and the bridesmaids (the eldest of which was generally thought to be stunning also), picked all the guests’ outfits to pieces and laughed uproariously at Eugenie and Beatrice’s attempts at individuality.  We joined in with all the hymns and rejoiced in the amount of Parry on the programme.

At lunchtime, more people arrived and we swanned about in the garden eating lovely food.  I then took the chaps to Slawston Village Hall for a Royal Wedding Tea which had been arranged for the village and to which we were invited on the strength of the residence of their father.

Admirable re-use of decorations

It was such fun.  The hall was awash with Union Flags and red, white and blue balloons (with Golden Jubilee on them which had been found in someone’s attic) and there were delightful sponge cakes with ‘Kate and William’ stencilled on them with icing sugar.  There was wine, and tea in sage green utility cups and saucers.  I felt completely at home.

Quiche La Reine

Boy the Younger was delighted to find one of his school friends in attendance and as soon as the last ham sandwich had been stuffed down their throats, they disappeared off into the village never to be seen again.  Well until the other boy’s mother knocked at the Father of My Children’s door and told us where to find them.

Royal Wedding toast

I eventually went to fetch him and ended up staying for a couple of hours, drinking jolly nice wine and chatting amiably.  I know the boy’s mother, Mrs Ursula Wold from school and from my increasingly infrequent attendance at the Friday morning coffee meeting and it was lovely to spend time chatting with her and Mr Wold whom I have only previously met in passing.

We eventually rolled home at about 9.30pm having had a thoroughly pleasant day among thoroughly pleasant people.  Such a day would not have happened without the excuse of the Royal Wedding, so thank you William and Catherine and I sincerely wish you a long and happy marriage.

Gawd Bless 'em

Boy the Elder indulges in a little guerilla patriotism. Note the Converse...


Filed under Community and shopping, History, Life in general, Slider

Hallaton Bottle Kicking 2011

I gave you the history of the Hallaton Bottle Kicking and Hare Pie Scrambling last year, so you can click HERE to mug up on the details.  I give you instead a series of photographs to give you a taste of the event.

The Bottles and the Hare process through Hallaton

Processing the Hare through the streets to the church

The pipers provide a rousing accompaniment

The Vicar cuts up the Hare Pie

The crowd eagerly awaits the flinging of the pie and the bread

The Bottles held aloft

Hallaton and Medbourne engage

Down the hill they come

Nearly finished, just the stream to contend with...

...and victory for Hallaton

The Bottle is raised in triumph!

There were many injuries - several broken ribs and one person stretchered off. This chap escaped exhausted with just a bloodied lip

Boy the Elder watched from the safety of a tree


Filed under History, Leisure, Life in general, Outdoor Activities, Slider, Sport

Burrough Hill, Leicestershire – a lovely day out (and it’s free!)

Ancient ramparts at Burrough Hill

Borough Hill is one of our favourite (and free) places to walk, winter and summer alike.   To get to it, you have to park your car at the bottom (there is a small charge for parking) and walk along a farm track, past pleasantly smelly cow sheds and farm machinery, past a field full of hairy cows with big horns and through the gate to the bottom of the hill.

This is an Iron Age Fort, rising up out of the Leicestershire landscape, near the village of Burrough on the Hill, just south of Melton Mowbray.  It is 690ft (210m) high and on a clear day, one can see several counties.  Its bowl-shaped grassy top makes it excellent for kite flying, model aircraft and running about and falling over.  The land around  is predominantly arable but there are cows and sheep grazing the land on and  immediately round  it.  This also provides plenty of dried sheep poo which we never fail to enjoy throwing at each other.  We know how to enjoy ourselves in the country, I can tell you.

What you can see from the top of Burrough Hill

In fact, Borough Hill has a long association with sports and leisure activities.  As far back as 1540 local people would converge on the hill on Whit Monday for competitive games such as races, shooting and wrestling, as well as taking the opportunity for a dance.  These entertainments were abandoned  in the 17th century, and apart from a brief  revival in the 18th century they tailed off.   The Whit Monday Games did happen very occasionally after that and may well have happened as recently as 1955.  Someone should start them up again – it would be glorious.

However, for about 70 years  in the 1900s, it became a popular spot for horse racing, especially the Melton Hunt Steeplechase.  The bowl shaped nature of the hill made it a perfect natural grandstand for spectators and there was even a race horse called ‘Burrough Hill Lad’ which rejoiced in the connection.


This fort was built with ramparts of stone but faced with turf, and knowledge of other hill forts would suggest that there would have been a strong wooden palisade.  Natural erosion has occurred but also stone was taken  for road building in the 17th and 18th centuries, so there are lots of gaps in the ramparts now, which provide excellent stalking opportunities for imaginative and bloodthirsty boys and girls.

Archaeologists have excavated the site on several occasions since the 19th century and there have been finds dating from the Mesolithic period which would suggest that the site was in use long before its function as a hill fort.  They also found pottery and coins of Roman origin which indicate that the site was still in use in the 4th century AD.  In more recent excavations, they found a cobbled road, the remains of a guard house and evidence of large timber gates at one end of the entrance.

Hill forts were not only defensive structures, they also shouted loud and clear that these were communities to be reckoned with.  In some ways they fulfilled the same purpose as small towns would today,  in that they were centres for economic, political and religious purposes, albeit with fewer people.  Hill forts were also useful rallying points for markets, festivals and the election of leaders and there is some evidence to suggest that they acted as protected grain stores for the locality.

Nowadays the hill not only provides recreation for walkers and lively children, but also important habitats for plant and wildlife.  Wild Thyme, Milk Thistles and Lady’s Bedstraw are to be found there as well as species of Waxcap fungi and other specialised fungi which thrive on sheep and rabbit dung.    The gorze bushes are a delight, not only to look at and smell, but they also protect the slopes from grazing.

Birdlife thrives: Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Kestrels, Linnets, Yellowhammers, Tree Sparrows are all to be found there, and you can imagine the joy on a summer’s day of lying on your back, listening to supersonic, singing skylarks  high in the sky.  Hares and Muntjac are to be seen in the open grassland and the rabbits build burrows large enough to shove a small child into.  Believe me, I know.

Sunshine on a rainy day at Burrough Hill


Filed under History, Leisure, Outdoor Activities

Wills’ Cigarette Cards No 3: A Broom Rack


Filed under General DIY, History, Household Hints, Wills Cigarette Cards

Pubic Hair: from Egyptians to Vajazzles

In which the Wartime Housewife discusses the changing fashions of body hair, pubic shaving, ornamentation, vajazzles and general minge maintenance.  If you don’t wish to learn about front bottoms, look away now.

Leaves not pubes

I was having a conversation with my friend Dr Bones (who is very worldly) and, yet again, she brought up the subject of intimate shaving and merkins.   As a doctor she comes into contact with a great many intriguing things and we recently had a conversation about the increasing requests from young women wanting cosmetic surgery on their genitals.

She is convinced that this new fixation is a combination of them being exposed to sexually explicit material (though the fashion is now coming into the mainstream with series such as ITV2’s astonishing The Only Way Is Essex) and the fact that many young women remove all or most of their pubic hair and are suddenly startled by the appearance of their nether regions.

This time, however, she introduced us all to the new fashion of Vajazzling.  But you’re going to have to read to the end of the article to find out what it is.  No gain without pain, my dears.

Pubic hair is a funny old business and its presence is as subject to fashion as anything else.  Although fine vellus hair is present in childhood, the term pubic hair is generally restricted to the heavier, longer and coarser hair that develops with puberty as an effect of rising levels of androgens. Pubic hair is therefore part of the androgenic hair, ergo, a symbol of sexual maturity.

The practice of pubic hair removal can be dated back to at least 4,000 BC in India and Egypt.  Shaving unwanted hair on the body – under arms, legs, face, genital & anal areas – was viewed as a personal hygiene necessity for both men and women which was adopted by other countries over the centuries.   Muslims have historically been firm protagonists of body grooming and hair removal.  Hair removed from the pubis area and from under the arm is part of a routine of cleanliness called the fitrah.  This consists of five things: circumcision, trimming the moustache, cutting the nails, plucking the armpit hairs and shaving the pubic hairs.

Roman razor

Hair was removed by many different methods, razor, cream, tweezers, heat, honey etc.  Around 3000 BC, the copper razor appeared in both Egypt & India, but the most elaborate model of a razor was created around 1500-1200 BC in Scandinavia.  In ancient Egypt it was a sign of class and beauty to have a smooth  and hairless body. They developed a depilatory cream that was made of honey & oil and was very similar to our modern day “sugaring”.  Around 400 BC women effectively burnt the hair off their legs using heat. The Romans used depilatory cream made from resin, pitch, white vine, ivy extract, donkey fat, she-goats’ gall, bats’ blood and powdered viper.  Nice.

By 1270 The Crusaders had brought the practice back with them from the Middle East.  By the Renaissance, every scrap of body hair was being removed, including eyebrows which were then replaced with mouse skin.  However, this trend appears to have reversed in the Elizabethan and Georgian period, as there is written evidence that women plaited their pubic hair with ribbons and little ornaments and, thankfully, applied a lot of perfume as well.

The pubic wig (merkin) has been around since the 1400s when it was originally worn by women who had shaved off their pubic hair to prevent lice. In the Victorian times it was frequently worn by prostitutes who wanted to conceal the fact that they had diseases like syphilis.

Pleasantly plump woman with no pubic hair

Among the upper class in 19th century Victorian Britain, pubic hair from one’s lover was frequently collected as a souvenir. The curls were, for instance, worn like cockades in men’s hats as potency talismans, or exchanged among lovers as tokens of affection.  The museum of St. Andrews University in Scotland has in its collection a snuff box full of pubic hair from one of King George IV’s mistresses.  The notoriously licentious monarch donated it to the Fife sex club, The Beggar’s Benison.

At last, a welcome mat

There is an apocryphal story that the art critic, social philosopher, poet and artist, John Ruskin, recoiled from his wife on their wedding night when he found, to his horror, that she had pubic hair.  Pubic hair itself was unpleasant enough but the concept it implied was even worse: women, in general, had pubic hair.  Pubic hair was notably absent from all images of women he had ever seen, and the absence of it somehow epitomized to Ruskin the un-sexed nature of the “fairer sex.”  What could possibly be more mortifying to a man who so deeply perceived women as nonsexual, child-like in their simplicity, purity, and power of reasoning, than to discover—on his wedding night—that women, his simple play-things, were in fact whole and sexual beings?

This difficulty of the sexual perception of women persists to this day.  I bet if you were to ask a large group of men whether they preferred their girlfriends with a ‘welcome mat’ or a ‘landing strip’ you would get a lot of different answers.  I harbour the uncomfortable feeling that the removal of pubic hair makes women look more like children and is yet another example of the frighteningly confusing sexual messages at large in modern society.

The advent of the thong – underwear that covers the pubis but leaves your bottom bare – encouraged the removal of most of one’s pubic hair.  The alternative is to look as though you have a Yorkshire Terrier in your knickers.   And now, in a wonderful revival of the Elizabethan habit of ornamentation we have (drumroll)……..

The Vajazzle

Butterfly Vajazzle

This is the application of little coloured crystals, Vajazzles, to the pubic or genital area.  They can be applied anywhere on the skin but they have been designed for the Lady’s Area or you can get special patterns for breasts. There is even a heart-shaped Union Jack variety, which is lovely. The vajazzling pattern should last a few days but the wearing of tight fitting clothes will rub the stones off.  Loose fitting pants are recommended.

So now you know. There are also pubic hair dyes available in natural and day-glo colours.  If you wish, you could have a shocking pink fanny decorated all round with little green crystals.  Oh – and then there’s piercing…

Elizabethans eat your heart out.  There is nothing new under the sun.


Filed under Hair, make up and stuff like that, History

Well done England!

In which I briefly discuss the difference between National Pride and Nationalism, applaud the England Cricket Team and invite you to be a bit less cynical about England’s abilities in general.

Last night, quite uncharacteristically, I fell asleep on the sofa.  I never fall asleep during the day and sleep like the dead at night, although rarely for long enough.  Yesterday had been particularly busy and, after putting The Boys to bed, I settled down to watch an episode of Morse.  My Sisters bought me the entire series in a boxed set for Christmas – there is something very wonderful about a boxed set of anything.  At about 9.10, I selected an early episode that I hadn’t seen before, took a slurp of tea and promptly fell asleep.

I opened my eyes, wondering sleepily how Morse had managed to solve the murder in a matter of minutes, and realised that it was quarter past ten.  Right, I thought radically, I’m going to go to bed.  I made a large mug of Ovaltine, and snuggled up with the radio playing softly and continued with Bill Bryson’s ‘Thunderbolt Kid’ (which I was also given for Christmas – I really was a very good girl last year).

The English Cricket Team 2011

At some point during the night, a voice from the radio excitedly announced that England had won The Ashes.  I switched off the light and the radio and went back to sleep, feeling very pleased indeed.  I like cricket although I don’t follow it closely, but I am always delighted when England wins anything, because the achievements of one’s country should be a source of National Pride, particularly if that success is borne of genuine talent and skill.

Next year, London is going to host the Olympic Games which, in my opinion, is absolutely brilliant. England has a long history of excellence in engineering, construction, organisation and pageantry and I believe it will be a wonderful opportunity to showcase both our talents and our athletes.  It will re-generate an area of London which badly needs it and, if managed properly, can be a valuable resource and inspiration for sport for the whole country for a long time to come.

The last time the Olympics were held in England was in 1948, just after WW2, and it was appropriate that it should have been held in the capital city.  It would have been nice if one of the other cities had been successful this time, but that’s not how it turned out.

But I am  absolutely sick to death of hearing so many people slagging off our involvement in the games and casting aspersions on our ability to host them successfully.  There is no earthly reason why we shouldn’t make a success of it and, as we are embarking on a period of necessary austerity, we could take the opportunity to demonstrate to the rest of the world that events of this kind can be carried off with efficiency and panache without bankrupting the country in the process.

There was a time when it was perfectly acceptable to express pride in Britain and the achievements of its inhabitants.  I think that it’s very interesting that the inclination towards national criticism coincides with a rise in unpleasant nationalism as expressed by The British National Party and other right wing organisations whose agenda is nothing to be proud of whatsoever. 

I am completely in favour of supporting and promoting British interests and businesses and I put my money where my mouth is at every possible opportunity.  I am also both conscious and proud that we have historically proved to be an inclusive country where diversity is celebrated more than almost anywhere else on earth. 

That is not to say that we shouldn’t have stringent immigration laws – we are a small island and, as I said before, we have to put our own interests first.  But throughout history England’s economy has survived because we have recognised the value of migrant workers and the skills and cultural benefits that they bring.

I constantly remind Boy the Elder that his intermittent streams of negative invective about current affairs, and his own current affairs at school, are extremely unattractive and not remotely cool.  I suggest that the constant whinging about how awful everything is in Britain is equally unattractive and un-cool and we should get a grip. 

I’m not suggesting that we should all be wandering about in a state of starry-eyed, patriotic ecstasy, but I am definitely suggesting that we should take a long hard look at what we’ve actually got and be glad of it.  If there are things that need changing, either personally or in the wider world, then we should see what we can do to change those things. 

Let’s not turn into a decadent society in which we are disempowered, de-skilled and useless whilst at the same time demanding that someone else should do something about it.  We have to be realistic about how the country can function and thrive and that means being realistic about what we’re good at as well.

Well done to the English Cricket Team and here’s to the success of the London Olympics.

At this point the Wartime Housewife considers falling to her knees, sobbing with emotion and warbling the National Anthem, but mercifully pulls back from the brink. 
Here is a picture of  Princess Elizabeth and some dogs.







Here are some other articles I’ve written about sport:

If you have a note from your mother…

The only article I am ever likely to write about football


Filed under History, Politics, Sport