CLIPPER SHIPS and the GREAT TEA RACE of 1866

I hope you’ve had a chance to read my blog about THE JOHN COMPANY, formally known as the British East India Company, which led the trading of tea and other exotic goods from the Far East to Europe,  Great Britain and the New World. For more than 200 years the British East India Company dominated trading. No longer a commercial venture, more of a political one and a threat to the British government, the company became too powerful and was dissolved in 1834.

In order to control this vast empire, the East India Company, prior to 1834, maintained an impressive fleet of ships.  Built in India, these ships, known as “Indiamen”, were huge warships, not only carrying goods and passengers, but fitted out for war.  For what they did, sailing millions of miles and bringing millions of pounds of goods into port, they were exceptional.

Unloading tea crates on the East India docks. Early 1800s

Life on board, however, was quite harsh.  One story written by an officer tells what life was like on one of these “Indiamen”.  The voyage from London to China and back to England took thirteen months and two weeks. The cramped accommodations offered no privacy or room to move.  There was never enough water or fresh food and scurvy took the lives of many sailors and passengers.  Petty thefts occurred daily, with the accused being flogged or tied to the shrouds.  As bad as things were during the day, they were worse at night with no lamps or lanterns allowed.  Fire, shipwrecks and pirating were the biggest enemies of these mammoth ships.

Meanwhile, in Baltimore, Maryland, a shipyard created a ship that was not only fast, but with a cargo hold big enough to carry a significant amount of freight.  These ships came to be known as Clipper Ships … “clip” was slang for run or fly quickly. The design of these vessels, with their massive sails, enabled them to “clip” over the waves at a great speed, which caused a sensation in the shipping industry.  Now ships could travel at speeds of up to 30 kilometers an hour … and traders could deliver goods faster and the freshest tea possible.  Clipper ships became the new force.

When the Company was dissolved in 1834, Great Britain introduced the Navigation Act, which meant anyone, including non-English companies, could bring goods into a British port.  Finally, there would be competition. The Indiamen ships continued to be in service, but the East India Company soon began to see a rise in competition from these Clipper Ships, which would render their slow ships obsolete.  Speed was now the name of the game.

The Tea Clipper, Serica. 1863

At first, the Company wasn’t worried about these little American ships.  The Indiamen had dominated the shipping industry for centuries.  But very quickly these fast, lightweight American ships began to cut into their trade and their profits.  Although the Clippers were transporting all sorts of cargo, it was “tea” that caused the most interest.  The American Clipper, Oriental, made an unprecedented trip from New York to Hong Kong in only 81 days … an unheard of time in 1850.  She was immediately offered the job of transporting 1650 tons of tea from Hong Kong to London, which she did in only 99 days.

The British shipbuilders immediately began building their own Clippers, producing more than 100 ships, five of which became the most famous of all.  At that point, the race was on!  The competitive spirit sprung into action immediately because whoever could bring tea to market first would gain a monetary incentive.  Crews began competing with each other, not only as a test of their sailing, but also how quickly and efficiently the tea could be loaded onto their ships . . . . because they couldn’t set sail from China until every tea chest was on board.

The image above outlines how to efficiently load crates of tea without wasting space. This illustration shows more than 12,000 chests of tea stowed below deck.

The Clipper ship races began in 1850 and lasted only 20 years, but while they did, they caused incredible excitement.  The ships would thunder down through the South China Sea and into the Indian Ocean, then race to round the southern-most tip of Africa at the Cape of Good Hope. From there, it was north across the Atlantic, past the Azores, and through the English Channel into the Thames.  In the Thames, they would need to be towed by tugs to reach the docks.

The most famous race of all took place in 1866.  By then, the American ships had dropped out, leaving just the English clippers to bring tea to market.  The headline in the DAILY TELEGRAPH announced “The Great Tea Race of 1866” with the main competitors being the Fiery Cross, the Ariel, the Taeping, the Serica and the Taitsing.

On May 30th, they all left China within hours of each other.  Once the ships left the docks in China, telegrams would be sent from each check-in point en route to England.  The Suez Canal was still under construction so around the Cape of Good Hope they ran, taking over three months to reach the English Channel.  A distance of over 14,000 miles.  At times they came close enough to one another to actually see the crews on the competing ship.  The Fiery Cross had the lead only 20 days out, with the Taeping and Ariel falling two days behind and the Serica and the Taitsing a day behind them.  But the weather around the Cape of Good Hope evened things out.  It wasn’t long before all ships were within 24 hours of each other.  By the time they reached the Azores, they were all within sight of each other.

In addition to the bragging rights, the Captain and the crew would be rewarded for their hard work, earning up to sixpence per pound of tea.  So the incentive to win was great.  The British newspapers reported on the race almost daily.  With the changing weather, shifts in the wind and typhoons, except for the Taitsang, which had now fallen too far behind, the ships were staying neck-to-neck.  Eventually, the Taeping pulled out ahead and seemed to be the clear winner, but it was the Ariel to first spot the Cornish coast.  The last leg of the race was in sight.  But even as the Ariel was at full sail, the Taeping was closing in on her.  Both ships needed tugboats to get them down the Thames.

Crowds of people who had been following the race lined the docks, with merchants ready to be the first to announce their tea had arrived.  The Ariel was headed for the East India dock, while the Taeping was headed for the London dock.  With both ships being taken in tow at the same time going up the Thames, there was concern that the race would be a dead heat.  Knowing this, the owners of the Ariel and the Taeping agreed that whichever ship docked first would claim the prize, with no dispute between them.  Which ship would it be?

It was the Taeping who reached the dock first, with a mere 20 minute lead.  The Ariel was second and the Serica came in an hour later taking third place. No race before or since ever had a narrower margin between ships.  And in the spirit of goodwill, the crew of the Taeping shared the prize money equally with the Ariel.

The Great Tea Race of 1866 was the most famous tea race of all.  This was also the last year that  a bonus was paid for the first ship to arrive in London.  For although the ships were fast, the first cargo of tea from China had actually arrived two weeks earlier, in only 66 days, by a steamship, the Erl King.  This steamer was not part of the Clipper ship race, but the fact that it was faster than the Clippers changed the way tea was shipped from then on.  Although most of the Clipper ships remained in service for a few years, with the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, which was not suitable for them, steamships now offered a more efficient and less expensive way of shipping tea and other cargo.

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References:  Homeofohm, Teamuse, Sweetteajunkie, Wikipedia, Smithsonian, Harvard Library, Gutenberg, South Bay Sail, Tea.Co.UK, Vahdam,
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TEA … a Primer

Such a simple word “tea” … which provides us with such a simple beverage.  Why then, oh why, do so many people make it seem so complicated?   Do we really need to know about the origin, production and preparation of the leaf?  Can’t we just enjoy our cuppa without being told its pedigree?  It doesn’t have to be complicated.  But if you want a bit more information, let me break it down for you as simply as possible . . .

All tea comes from one plant, the Camellia Sinensis.  The Camellia Sinensis is an evergreen plant, which resembles its cousin, the azalea bush.  Yes, there are over 3,000 varieties of this plant, but it still is the leaf of this plant which, after plucking, withering, firing and sorting, gives us “tea”.

Although the plant can grow to the height of 25′, for ease of plucking, the plants are kept to a height of 3′ or 4′.  Bending over tea bushes, plucking the new growth can be a ‘back breaking’ job, so the plants are pruned to this reasonable height.   Picking or “plucking” takes place three times a year, taking only the new growth.  This growth is called a “flush” and is referred to as first flush, second flush and autumnal.

Tea is plucked mostly by women – smaller hands and feet and less apt to trample on the plants – who pass this profession on to their daughters.  Men are generally considered too ‘clumsy’ and work in the fields and factories.  Successful plantations today take care of their workers and provide everything from health care to housing, schooling and subsidized food.


So, where is tea grown? 
Like wine, tea grows best at higher altitudes with an afternoon cloud cover.  The soil should be rich with lots of moisture and the climate should be fairly consistent.  The farms where tea is grown are called “plantations” or tea “estates”.  Although tea is grown primarily in China, Japan, India, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Kenya and southern parts of Russia, you’ll find plantations now in South Carolina, Hawaii and even an experimental estate in England.

Types of Tea
Depending on who you talk to, there are between three to seven types of tea.  Those categories are:  white, green, oolong, pouchong, black and pu-erh.   Tisanes are herbal beverages which a lot of people call “tea”, but they really aren’t “tea” because they do not contain any leaves from the Camellia Sinensis plant.  But let’s keep it simple and just talk about the three basic types:  white, green, and black.

Production for each type of tea differs slightly, although the process is the same.  From plucking in the fields, the leaves are then withered to reduce moisture.  From withering, the leaves are heat-fired to stop oxidation.  They may then be crushed, or rolled before being sorted for grading.

Green tea is becoming more and more popular as people realize its health benefits.   Once produced only in China and Japan, green tea is now being produced in India and Sri Lanka as well.  After plucking, the tea is withered slightly to reduce the moisture and then carefully heat treated to stop oxidation.  In Japan, green tea is steamed to stop the oxidation process, keeping its vibrant green color.  This steaming process is why Japanese green teas are more vegetal tasting.  In China, woks are used and this process gives Chinese greens a nuttier, slightly sweeter aftertaste.

Green tea lends itself to scenting or flavoring very nicely.  You’ll find lots of flavored green teas on the market today – from florals to fruity blends, as well as some spices.  If you enjoy your cuppa sweetened, green teas are fine, but, please NO milk!

Black tea is the one that most of us are familiar with.  I’m sure we’ve all grown up with a box of Lipton or Tetley or even Yorkshire Gold tea bags in the cupboard.  Grown mostly in India and Sri Lanka (Ceylon), leaves designated for black teas are spread out to dry (withered) after plucking to remove most of the moisture.  The leaves are then heat treated, rolled and ready for sorting.

Black teas are sold as “orthodox” (large, unbroken leaves) or as “ctc” (smaller particles called “cut, torn, curled”).   Black teas can be from a specific estate or blended, as in English Breakfast, or flavored.  The most popular flavored black tea is, of course, Earl Grey.  Black teas are generally enjoyed with milk and sugar.

White tea is very delicate and generally plucked from the finest bushes.  Only the top buds of the plant are plucked – before dawn, before the buds open.   As a result, White tea can be very rare and can be very expensive.  At one time, white tea was thought to be most appreciated in its purest form and not scented or blended.  Today, however, you’ll find all sorts of scented white teas available from tea purveyors.

Chinese emperors would only allow young virginal girls with gloved hands
to pluck their teas, placing them in a solid gold bowl.
These became ‘tribute’ teas or ‘imperial’ teas and reserved
only for emperors and visiting dignitaries. 

 

Caffeine Content
First of all, did you know that caffeine is a natural substance produced by the plant to ward off parasites?  Also, the caffeine content can be manipulated somewhat by the grower.  Nigel Melican, research scientist and President of the European Tea Association, states, “Caffeine varies in the fresh green leaf depending on the fineness of the pluck.  For any tea, be it black, green or white, the caffeine is highest in the bud.  Silver needle (white tea) is 100% bud and has the highest caffeine content.”

Over 85% of Americans consume significant amounts of caffeine every day.  The Mayo Clinic claims that most adults can handle up to 400 milligrams of caffeine a day without any side effects.  But if you are prone to medical problems, or sleep issues, and would like to cut down on your caffeine intake, you might want to know just how much caffeine you’re drinking.  On average, keep in mind tea has half the caffeine that coffee has and herbal tisanes have no caffeine.

Is caffeine addictive?  Research says “no”, but caffeine does stimulate the nervous system and most of us do crave that alert feeling that comes after having it.  I believe it’s better to understand the caffeine content in a cuppa if we start with coffee …

On average an 8oz. cup of Starbucks coffee has 180 mg of caffeine.  Dunkin Donuts has a little less with 150 mg of caffeine.  Black tea, on average, has 48 mg of caffeine, while green tea has even less caffeine than black tea, with an average of 28 mg.  White tea can be deceiving with more caffeine than green, but less than black.  Again, these numbers are for 8oz.  The average person uses a 14oz. mug, so increase the numbers.

Loose Leaf vs Tea Bags?  
Some people think loose leaf tea is too expensive.  Loose leaf tea may seem to cost a bit more, but when you break down the price per cup, its actually less expensive than you think.  And, if like me, you get a second infusion (and sometimes a third) from your leaf, that cuts the cost in half.  The secret, of course, is to start with good quality tea.

Prices for bagged teas can be all over the place.  And there are some beautifully packaged ‘bagged’ teas available.  But remember, you are also paying for the packaging.  As a result, your cost per cup may be more than loose leaf tea.

Is loose leaf tea more difficult to prepare?  I don’t think so at all.  The process is exactly the same except for one thing.  With loose leaf tea, you have to put the “tea” into something to infuse it.  The bagged tea is already “in” something.  That’s the only difference.  Temperature of the water should be the same.  Steeping time should be the same.  But with loose leaf tea you are going to get a better tasting cuppa.

How to Make the Perfect Cup
Hopefully, now that you have some basic information about tea, you’ll want to start enjoying it.  No, its not complicated.  Want to know more?  Just click on the link … A Perfect Cuppa.

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Once upon a time in a land far, far away, legend says that in China 5000 years ago the then Emperor Shen Nung, who was referred to as the emperor of agriculture, was sitting in his garden boiling his drinking water.  Emperor Nung believed that boiling drinking water destroyed the bacteria that made people sick, and 5000 years ago that was quite a radical way of thinking.  Some people thought he was a bit strange, but he was, after all, an emperor, so people followed his beliefs.  As he was sitting under this large, beautiful tree boiling his water, the wind picked up and a few leaves blew into the pot.  He watched them for a few moments, contemplated it, and always eager to try new things, he tasted it.  And that was how tea was discovered!

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Want to learn even more? You might be interested in how “tea” got its name …  “What’s In a Name”

 

DARJEELING

Before I became involved with tea, I have to admit I’d never heard of Darjeeling … not the tea, nor the place.  When, on the few occasions I bought tea, which was just scanning the boxes on the supermarket shelves and picking up a familiar brand name, or whatever was on sale, never would I buy a tea from a region or country, or even a particular type of tea.  That all changed, however, when I became immersed in TEA … its culture, its history, its variety and the passion which surrounds it.  And it began when I started visiting these countries which produce it.

One of the most memorable places I had the privilege to visit was Darjeeling in India.  Yes, Darjeeling is a tea, but it is also a place.  “The Land of the Thunderbolt” or Dorje-Ling is what it is called in Tibetan.  Situated in the northeast corner of India, high in the Himalayan mountains and bordered by Tibet, Butan and China, this is a place of magnificent beauty.  With its slightly acidic, but rich soil, abundant rainfall, high elevation and afternoon cloud cover, its no wonder that some of the best teas in the world are grown here.  Known as the “Champagne of Tea”, Darjeeling teas can command some very high price tags.

I’m sure the numbers have changed since I visited, but at that time there were approximately 80 tea gardens in the Darjeeling region.  They ranged in size from small family-run estates to large corporate-owned plantations.  I had the opportunity to visit quite a few estates at that time and was astounded at how each one was unique, with its own energy, and philosophy, notwithstanding the pride that comes from working with people who share a single passion.

Jayshree Tea Estate, Darjeeling

Of course, we were visitors from the United States who were interested in buying tea and, because of that, were treated as rock stars.  I won’t deny that.  But we were also able to experience the beauty of the land, the generosity and warmth of its people and the vibrancy of the area.

Strolling through any of the estates, the landscape is breathtakingly beautiful.  An undulating, almost rolling typography of tea bushes surround you, sloping down the terrain.  And the majesty of the snow-capped mountains in the distance is magical.

The work is difficult and the days are long for those who work in the tea industry.  With their nimble fingers, the tea pluckers are generally women, who go into the fields in the morning, some with little ones in tow.  Quite a few are armed with umbrellas, most wear “Wellies” on their feet and all have baskets strapped around their heads.  They work til noon, break for lunch, and then are back adeptly plucking two-leaves and a bud at the waist-high bushes until 5pm.  They wait on the dirt paths for the trucks to come and weigh their baskets, before they go home, hot and tired from a long day in the fields.

A very proud plantation worker displaying his commemorative buckle.

Men are most often in the fields, pruning, planting and tending to the tea plants, or in the laboratories and factories, weighing, withering, sorting and packaging the teas for market.  And children, for the most part, are in estate-provided schools.  Life as a plantation worker is not easy.  The pay is relatively small when you consider the selling price of the tea.  Although the plantations were started by the British, the plantations are now owned by Indians.  Housing is provided for the workers with each home having a garden plot to grow veggies.  In addition to their wage, workers receive a small allowance to purchase food and supplies.

The history of tea in this area goes back to the early 1800s when the East India Company lost its monopoly on the China tea trade.  The whole of Great Britain was, by now, addicted to tea, and the British government had to do something.  Desperately trying to establish tea gardens in the northern regions of India, the East India Company (aka the John Company),  with Camellia Sinensis seeds, started planting.  By 1866, there were 39 British-owned and operated tea gardens.  Following Indian Independence in 1947, the British began to sell their gardens to Indians and the Tea Act in 1953 regulated the industry.

Authentic Darjeeling tea is unique and cannot be grown or manufactured anywhere else in the world.  And now Darjeeling tea has a ‘Protected Geographical status’ within the European Union, USA and Australia.  As Roquefort is to cheese and Champagne is to wine, Darjeeling now is to tea. These products with their individual characteristics specific to the particular region in which they are produced have been awarded a certificate protecting them from exploitation.   Consumers knowing this can now be guaranteed that they are getting genuine Darjeeling. This helps in ensuring the production and sale of Darjeeling tea all over the world.  And to identify authentic Darjeelings, a logo was also created showing the profile of a woman holding two leaves and a bud.

To keep up with the changing marketplace, today you’ll find a lot of the tea estates have become organic, biodynamic and/or Fair Trade, with certifications from the Tea Board of India.  Whether you call them tea gardens, estates or plantations, here is the list for you of the currently operating tea estates.  Quite a few, are now offering “home stays”, tea tours and camping opportunities.  If you are interested in adventure travel and experiencing something other than the familiar, I couldn’t recommend a trip to Darjeeling more highly.  It’s an experience  you will never forget.

When I started tasting different teas, from different countries, and different regions within those countries, I was changed forever.  Although tea is the most popular beverage in the world, except for water, of course, it doesn’t stop at that.  With its unique terroir, Darjeelings have earned the name “The Champagne of Teas” for a reason.  With their medium body, identifiable muscatel flavor and hint of spice, they are exceptional.  And, I haven’t even touched on the nuances from the first flush to the autumnals.  From which estate, do I think grows the best tea?  You’ll just have to try them all yourself to find out.

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Darjeeling East:  Arya Tea Estate, Chongtong Tea Estate , Dhooteriah Tea Estate , Kalej Valley Tea Estate , Liza Hill Tea Estate , Lingia Tea Estate, Marybong Tea Estate , Mim Tea Estate, Darjeeling Mim, Orange Valley (Bloomfield Tea Estate) , Pussimbing Tea Estate , Risheehat Tea Estate, Rungmook / Cedars Tea Estate , Tumsong Tea Estate

Darjeeling West:  Badamtam Tea Estate, Bannockburn Tea Estate , Barnesbeg Tea Estate , Ging Tea Estate , Happy Valley Tea Estate, North Tukvar, Pandam Tea Estate , Phoobshering Tea Estate, Puttabong Tea Estate , Rangaroon Tea Estate, Rungneet Tea Estate, Singtom Tea Estate, Soom Tea Estate, Steinthal Tea Estate

Kurseong (North):  Ambootia Tea Garden, Balasun Tea Garden, Eden Vale Tea Garden, Dilaram Tea Garden, Margaret’s Hope Tea Garden, Moondakotee Tea Garde, Oaks Tea Garden, Ringtong Tea Garden, Springside Tea Garden

Kurseong South:  Castleton Tea Garden, Giddapahar Tea Garden, Goomtee Tea Garden, Jogmaya Tea Garden, Jungpana Tea Garden, Longview (High Lands) Tea Garden, Mahalderam Tea Garden, Makaibari Tea Garden, Mohan Majhua Tea Garden, Monteviot Tea Garden, Mullootar Tea Garden, Narbada Majhua Tea Garden, Nurbong Tea Garden, Rohini Tea Garden, Selim Hill Tea Garden, Seepoydhura Tea Garden, Sivitar Tea Garden, Tindharia Tea Garden

Mirik:  Gopaldhara Tea Estate, Ghayabaree and Millikthong Tea Estate, Okayti Tea Estate, Phuguri Tea Estate, Seeyok Tea Estate, Singbulli Tea Estate, Thurbo Tea Estate

Upper Fagu:  Avongrove Tea Garden, Chamong Tea Garden, Dhajea Tea Garden, Nagri Tea Garden, Nagri Farm Tea Garden, Selimbong Tea Garden, Sungma Tea Garden, Turzum Tea Garden, Teesta Valley Tea Garden, Tukdah Tea Garden, Upper Fagu Tea Garden

Teesta:  Ambiok (Hillton), Gielle Tea Garden, Glenburn Tea Garden, Kumai (Snow View) Tea Garden, Lopchu Peshok Tea Garden, Namring and upper Namring Tea Garden, Runglee Rungliot Tea Garden, Samebeong Tea Garden

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References:  Margaret’s Hope Estate, Makaibari Estate, Wikipedia, Tea Board of India, Intelligent Legal Protection, Inside Darjeeling, Darjeeling Tourism,

FISH ‘N CHIPS

Probably the most identifiable dish in all of Great Britain is ‘fish ‘n chips’.  There are “fish shops” or “chippies” on every corner in every village, city and town.  Originally, just a ‘take away’ dish, the “National Association of Fish Friers” says there are now over 10,000 fish shops around the U.K.  Imagine, though, that at the height of their popularity, there were over 35,000.  And whether you go to the “chippie” or you go out for “cod ‘n chips”, you’ll probably get some of the best fried fish you’ve ever had.  Cod, of course, is the most popular, with haddock running a close second.

Always served with a shower of salt and a generous splash of malt vinegar, fish ‘n chips is usually accompanied by mushy peas, and a variety of sauces.  I must say ‘mushy peas” has always left me a bit wanting … and wondering why they exist.  But, let’s put that on hold for the moment.


How and why did fried fish served with fried potatoes get to be Britain’s national comfort food?  Well, it seems that this staple of the working class may have come from Portuguese Jews living in Spain and Portugal in the 16th century.   As with many other foods, coating their fish in flour and then frying it in oil was something they did quite regularly.  But when the religious environment for these people became too hostile, they fled Portugal and Spain and emigrated to the U.K. … where they continued to ‘fry their fish’.

This style of preparing and serving fish became an instant hit.  President Thomas Jefferson, after a visit to London in the late 1700s, wrote about eating “fried fish in the Jewish fashion”.  And in 1837, Charles Dickens refers to a “fried fish warehouse” in his novel Oliver Twist.  Alex Soyer in his 1845 cookbook, “A Shilling Cookery for the People”, includes a recipe for “Fried fish, Jewish fashion”.

Original Recipe from Soyer’s Book 1845

Ok, but what about the ‘chips’?  Well, in the 1860’s in the East End of London lived the Malin family, Jewish rug weavers by trade, who barely eked out a living.  Their young son, Joseph, convinced his family to sell fried potatoes as a way of augmenting their income.  Potatoes were commonplace by that time, having been introduced to Europe from South America.  (This anti-famine crop actually became a catalyst for famine when blight struck Ireland in the mid-1800s.)

As people realized the nutritional value of potatoes and the ease with which to grow them, potatoes quickly became the food for the workers of the Industrial Revolution.  A valuable source of protein, fiber, iron and vitamins, It is said that fish and chips actually kept the working class from starvation.  Again, Charles Dickens, a reporter at heart, who always included the current social environment in his novels, mentions “husky chips of potato, fried with some reluctant drops of oil” in his 1859 book, A Tale of Two Cities.

So it seems that ‘fried fish’ and ‘fried potatoes’ were introduced into the British diet separately, but at about the same time.  Joseph eventually convinced his family to include fried fish along with their fried potatoes, opening the very first fish and chip shop in 1860, where it continued for over a century. The success of this family-run business was passed down from Joseph to Albert, who worked there until he was close to 100 years old, and then to Dennis.  Sadly, Malin’s closed in the 70’s, but their legacy lives on.

July 1952 crowds flocked to celebrate the 21st birthday of the original Harry Ramsden’s.

Harry Ramsden opened his first fish ‘n chip shop in 1928 in West Yorkshire.  In 1952, Harry’s shop earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records by serving over 10,000 portions of fish and chips in one day!

During the First and Second World Wars, fish and chips was one of the few foods in the U.K. not rationed by the British Government.  The Territorial Army prepared for battle by eating fish and chips provided for them at training camps in the 1930’s.  Winston Churchill called fish and chips “good companions” and claimed that this dish actually helped the British defeat the Nazis during WWII.

Now, of course, there is the The National Fish & Chip Award which selects the best fish ‘n chip shop in Great Britain through a very thorough checklist for quality, authenticity, menu development, and staff training, as well as a sustainable sourcing policy.  This highly coveted annual award is announced at The National Fish & Chip Awards’ ceremony in London each January.  Who knew there was such formality around fish ‘n chips?

How do you eat fish ‘n chips?  Up until recently, fish ‘n chips would be served to you wrapped in newspaper or butcher paper, maybe with a simple wooden fork, and you were expected to sit outside, perhaps on a park bench, or while you were walking along, enjoying this salty, satisfying meal.


Now, fish and chips is also served in the most upscale, sit-down, trendy restaurants, and at exorbitant prices.  Celebrity chef, Gordon Ramsay, charges as much as £19.50 for a ‘take-away’ version of this classic dish (which, I must admit, I’d pay.)

Fish and chips is now known and served all over the world.  You’d be hard pressed not to see this dish on every pub restaurant menu in the U.S. from Boston to San Francisco.  As simple a dish as it is, would I ever attempt to make this British classic at home?  Not a chance!  But if you are in Britain and you are feeling a bit ‘peckish’, be sure to pop in to the nearest chippie.  But if you see soul-satisfying, take-away dish served with a wedge of lemon and a side salad, walk away!  I’m not sure where you are, or how you ended up where you did, but this is NOT a traditional chippie or fish shop!  Salt, malt vinegar and mushy peas … full stop!

”Todays headlines, tomorrow’s fish and chips wrappings”

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References:  The Sun, Taste Atlas, Wikipedia, Jewish History, Roman Road, GBM, Foods of England, Historic UK

ORANGE SUNSHINE CAKE

I was watching a re-run recently of one of the older Great British Bake Off  episodes (yes, I do watch them over and over again) and the technical challenge presented by Mary was an “Angel Food Cake”.   The contestants all appeared completely baffled by this challenge, but I smiled to myself, knowing that I had actually made one . . . a  long time ago.

I remember it distinctly.  It was 1972 and I had never made a cake before … a real ‘from scratch’ cake.  The recipe was straight out of the only cookbook I owned (but don’t remember where it came from), the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook.  My recipes generally came from magazine and newspaper clippings – with pictures, of course, so that I would know exactly what the finished dish was suppose to look like.

You may have seen this classic cookbook on a shelf in an antique shop or used book store . . . a three-ring binder with a red and white gingham cover. This cookbook actually taught me how to cook and became my bible in the kitchen.

The cake was an Orange Angel Food Cake. There was no special occasion and I don’t really know why I selected this cake.  Perhaps it was because I had a dozen eggs which were getting old and a bag of oranges which I didn’t want to go to waste.  I also don’t remember how I  had obtained an angel food cake pan, but I had one … and still do.  So, following the instructions very carefully, I took on the challenge and remember being quite proud of myself when it came out . . . perfectly baked . . . light and fluffy . . . with a delicate citrusy orange flavor.

Have I made this cake since?  No.  And I’m not sure why.  But after watching the GBBO episode, I’m feeling a bit nostalgic . . . plus I have a dozen eggs, a bag full of oranges, and an angel food cake pan.  So, let’s give it a try!

ORANGE ANGEL FOOD CAKE
Preheat oven to 325°.  Do not grease the cake pan. (Something the contestants did not know.)
8 eggs yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 cup cake flour, sifted
8 egg whites
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup sugar

I always line up all the ingredients when baking.  It’s so easy to forget something … and it could be as simple or important as salt.

Separate 8 large, room-temperature eggs … put the whites aside.

Beat the egg yolks until thick and lemony-colored.  Gradually add 2/3 cup sugar.  Beat until gloriously thick.  Combine the freshly-squeezed orange juice (freshly-squeezed gives the best flavor) with the orange peel.  Add this to the egg yolk mixture alternately with the cake flour.  Set aside.

Beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar and salt until the soft peak stage.  Very gradually add the other 2/3 cup sugar.  Beat on high until stiff peaks form … but do not overbeat.  The egg whites should be stiff but not be dry.

Gently fold the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture.

Pour into the ungreased 10″ tube pan (or whatever pan you’d like to use).   Angel food cakes do not need to be baked in a specific pan.  Loaf pans are fine.  Bake in a 325° oven for about 50 to 60 minutes.

When done, a tester will come out clean, the sponge should spring back when touched and the color will be a delicate golden brown.

Invert the tube pan to cool the cake.  Yes, that is what the ‘feet’ are for.  After approximately 20 minutes, the cake should easily come out of the pan.  Turn right side up.  Frost when cooled.

Is it a “show stopper” as Mary would’ve liked to have seen?  No … but I’m very happy with it.  The cake is feathery light with just a subtle hint of citrusy orange.  I made a quick seven-minute frosting and decorated it with candied orange slices.

This is the perfect cake for after a heavy meal when you want something sweet, but not too sweet or rich … or when you want to impress your guests (because they will be impressed).  It may have taken me almost 50 years to make this the second time, but you know I’ll be making it  again very soon!  Yummy!!
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STONEHENGE and the MAN WHO BOUGHT IT

We’ve had the opportunity to visit Stonehenge a couple of times.  The first time was quite a few years ago when Stonehenge was not the massive tourist attraction it is today.  Yes, there was a modest entrance fee, but the site was quite accessible.  A small fence, which you could easily step over, surrounded the stones and there was a path which circled the stones for walking.  You could spend an entire afternoon just enjoying the beauty of the area with its grassy knolls and meadows.

Today, however, a visit to Stonehenge is quite different. Tickets to England’s most popular tourist attractions must be booked in advance … and the cost for a family of four is a hefty £54.90.  There is a new and impressive Visitor’s Center with a ticket office, museum, gift shop and coffee shop.  The museum has changing exhibits featuring contemporary art, photographs, and treasures from museums around the world.

Just outside the Visitor’s Center is a fascinating new exhibit of neolithic, or stone age, houses.  These yurt-style homes with their thatched roofs are based on houses found during the 2006 excavations in this area.  Carbon dating showed that the original buildings were built around 2,500 BC, the same time period the stones were being erected.  This fascinating addition to Stonehenge is one which I can’t wait to see.

Stonehenge has been a curiosity since the beginning of recorded time.  Studies and surveys have led researchers to speculate that this circle of stones could have been anything from a Roman fort to a Druid monument.  What we have learned is that the people who built Stonehenge were farmers and knowing the changing of the seasons would be very important to them.  The layout of Stonehenge is positioned in relation to the solstices, or the sun’s movement.  In addition to knowing what to expect with the changing seasons, Stonehenge also played an important part in the lives of these early people spiritually.  The cremated remains of over 150 people have been found buried here.

Today, this ancient monument is a registered UNESCO World Heritage site and is managed by the English Heritage, a registered charity that manages over 400 of England’s historic buildings and monuments.  But, did you know that at one time these ancient stones were privately owned?

King Henry VIII

In 1540 King Henry VIII took ownership of Stonehenge and the surrounding land from the monks at Amesbury Abbey.  Many names and transfers of ownership occurred over the next 300 years until the Antrobus family of Cheshire bought the estate in 1824.  Always curious, souvenir hunters plagued these prehistoric stones, chiseling chips out of the blocks, etching their names into the stones, digging holes in the ground, until one day in 1901 one of the enormous uprights and its lintel crashed to the ground.

Edmund Antrobus was forced to fence off approximately 20 acres around the monument, hire a guard, and prop up the other stones with wooden planks and poles.  Meanwhile, the construction of a new railway and roads brought many new visitors to the area.  Continued concern for the safety of the visitors grew until Edmund, with the help of the Society of Antiquaries, organized a restoration of the neglected ruins, causing him to charge a one-shilling admission fee.

Edmund’s son, the last heir to the Antrobus family, was killed fighting in France during World War I.  And when Edmund died a few months later, the family decided to put the estate, which included Stonehenge, up for sale.

Cecil and his daughter, Mary, on board RMS Aquitania, May 1926

Now let’s meet Cecil Chubb.  Cecil was born to a leathersmith in 1876 in a small village not far from Stonehenge.  Cecil studied hard, worked hard and became a school teacher at the age of 14.  Chubb continued his studies and eventually became a lawyer, opening his own law firm.  In 1902 Chubb married Mary Finch.  When Mary’s uncle, Dr. Corbin Finch, died in 1910, he left the Fisherton House Asylum, a psychiatric hospital near Salisbury, which had been in the family for years, to his daughter.  But she wasn’t capable of managing it, so she employed the help of Cecil.  Chubb then decided to give up his law firm, and he and Mary moved back to Salisbury to run the hospital.

An astute businessman, Cecil made the hospital a great success, growing it to the largest private hospital in all of England.  He introduced new treatments, made the patients lives better and easier, returning most to their homes.  He also worked closely with military casualties, using his own home when necessary to accommodate soldiers returning from the war.

On September 21, 1915, a local auction was set to take place in Salisbury. The auction by Knight Frank & Rutley estate agents included Lot 15. Stonehenge with about 30 acres, 2 rods, 37 perches of adjoining downland.”   In the catalogue, Lot 15 was also described as “a place of sanctity dedicated to the observation or adoration of the sun”.  Bidding began at  £5000, but there seemed to be little interest.  The auctioneer, Sir Howard Frank, was not at all impressed and temporarily stopped the bidding.  He voiced his disappointment and started again.  Although Cecil had no intention of bidding, in his own words: “while I was in the room I thought a Salisbury man ought to buy it and that is how it was done”.  The highest bid was a mere £6600 and it was from Sir Cecil Herbert Edward Chubb.

Lot 15 – Stonehenge, with a marginal note recording the price it sold for.

Legend says Cecil was sent by his wife to buy some household items, dining chairs, curtains, etc.  Legend also says Cecil was looking for a birthday gift for Mary.  We’ll never know if either of these are true.  But Cecil did buy Lot 15 and Stonehenge.  There were many, however, who accused Chubb of snatching up this land with its tourist-attracting monument as another money-making business venture, which he vehemently denied.  He told The Times on October 7, 1915:

“Before the sale I never discussed Stonehenge with a view to purchase with anyone, and at the time of going to the sale I did not even know any figures as the receipts. I think I said before that when I went into the sale-room, I had no intention of buying, and I certainly did not look upon it as an investment”

 

Chubb purchased the land on a whim, unaware that he would become involved in a number of political arguments about public access, entrance fees, and abuse of the land.  Cecil owned the land for three years and then in 1918, he contacted the government department ‘Office of Works’ interested in antiquities and offered the land and the monument to the country as a gift.  But . . . he had three provisions.  The first was that local residents should continue to have free access to it.  The second was that entrance fee should never be more than a shilling.  Lastly, that the stones remain in their present condition and no building be erected within 400 yards of the stones themselves.

In his letter announcing the donation of Stonehenge, Chubb wrote:

“Stonehenge is perhaps the best known and the most interesting of our national monuments and has always appealed strongly to the British imagination.  To me, who was born close to it and during my boyhood and youth visited it at all hours of the day and night, under every conceivable condition of weather—in driving tempests of hail, rain and snow, fierce thunderstorms, glorious moonlight and beautiful sunshine, it always has had an inexpressible charm. I became owner of it with a deep sense of pleasure, and had contemplated that it might remain a cherished possession of my family for long years to come. It has, however, been pressed upon me that the nation would like to have it for its own, and would prize it most highly.”

For his generous gift to the nation, Cecil was rewarded with a Knighthood.  Ultimately, perhaps Cecil was relieved to step out of the quagmire of arguments and debates as to who shall own this world heritage site.  The government took possession and in 1919 launched the first of many extensive renovations of Stonehenge, which began with straightening the stones and re-setting them in concrete.  Now over a century later, the work continues with the new visitor’s center and neolithic houses.

Stonehenge may be the best known prehistoric site in the world.  Although the entrance fee is considerably more than a shilling, I hope some day you get the opportunity to visit.  This “place of sanctity dedicated to the observation or adoration of the sun” will be a memorable experience.

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References:  Freemasons, Ancient Origins, Wikipedia, English Heritage, Stonehenge Tours, History, Stonehenge Monument, Daily Telegraph

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SOCCER …. Who Really Invented It?

Soccer (or Football as everyone else calls it) is the most beloved game in the world.  Turn on the television any weekend and you’ll see games being telecast from all over the world.  Do I play soccer?  No.  Have I ever played soccer?  No.  But , I’ve watched kids play soccer in empty lots, street corners and school yards in every country I’ve ever visited.  All it takes is a ball (or something resembling a ball) and you’ve got a game.  According to the Bleacher Report, soccer is played in 208 countries around the world, with a fan base of over 2 billion.

Scene from The English Game

Why am I writing about soccer?  Well, I’ve just finished watching the Netflix mini-series, THE ENGLISH GAME, created by Julian Fellowes (you’ll remember him as the creator of the incredibly successful Downton Abbey series).  It’s a very interesting and historically accurate series, based on people and events which actually occurred.  Of course, it does have its underlying, less interesting,  heart-tugging, soap opera-ish subplots … which was expected.  The series is a six-part drama which I don’t think can go any further than examining how soccer became Great Britain’s most popular sport.

The question I needed answering was “did Great Britain invent the sport?”  The simple answer is ‘no’.  Although Egypt, Japan, and Greece also had some form of ‘ball’ game, historians suggest that the game which comes closest to what we now call ‘soccer’ was first played by the Chinese.  It seems that “TEA” wasn’t the only thing invented in China 5000 years ago.  It appears that ‘soccer’ was too.  The Chinese game of Cuju, pronounced “chuk-ko” which means “kick the ball”, dates as far back as 2500 B.C.  So, as the Chinese emperor Shen Nung was sitting under the wild tea tree in his garden boiling water, soccer was being played in the courtyard.

The game, which appears to have begun as a training exercise for soldiers, involved the soldiers kicking a small leather ball with their feet through an opening into a net.   At the request of the emperor, the soldiers began to form teams and compete against each other.  This game of Cuju became so popular that it spread from the army to the royal courts and then down to the people.  Because of its fast-growing popularity with people in every class, standardized rules of play had to be established.  The sport thrived for over 2,000 years, but, for some reason, began to fade away during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

How, then, did this ‘football’ game make its way to Great Britain?   We’ll never know exactly, but we do know the game spread from China to Japan.  In fact, records dating as far back as 611 A.D. mentions football-type games played between the two countries. The game then traveled from the Far East through the Middle East, as far south as Australia, and into Europe.  Somewhere around the 9th century, it appeared in England as a game known as “folk football”.   This game involved the whole town …  townsfolk would kick a pig’s bladder from one end of town to another, with opponent’s goals at either end of town.  The town’s folk took the game quite seriously, but eventually space restraints within the town and the violence that ensued caused the game to be banned, but not for long.

Over the years, schools began playing against one another.  The rules and regulations continued to evolve and by the 1800s, dedicated soccer clubs began to emerge in Britain.  Still not very well organized, it was pretty much an anything goes game.  Players often tripped each other and kicking an opponent in the shins occurred more often than not.

Fergus Suter, the first professional footballer.

It’s at this time that football was at a turning point.  Soccer’s popularity was growing and the working classes were loving the game.  The social elite had played the game as a hobby but the industrial workers had a different vision of the sport.  Mill towns started having their own rival teams –  Darwen, Accrington, Burnley Rovers, Blackburn Olympic, Clitheroe Central.

Enter a stonemason from Glasgow, Scotland, named Fergus Suter.  Fergus was the very first professional soccer player.  In 1878 he moved from Scotland to England to play for the Darwen team and is credited with changing the way the game was played.  The first player ever to be paid for playing soccer, Suter was paid a considerable amount of money, £10 every other week.  The average wage at that time for a mill worker was less than £2 a week.  Being paid to play football was highly controversial and seen as against the rules.  But Suter went on to win the Football Association cup not once but twice.

As Julian details in the series, the sport  was formalized with the formation of the Football Association in 1863.  What I love about any of the dramas Fellowes is involved with is his attention to detail.  From the set designs to the costumes and, of course, the characters.  Each character is portrayed accurately and honestly.  It’s a fascinating look at a simple game, loved passionately by everyone … from the working class to the aristocratic elite.

Soccer has continued to grow to be the most popular sport in the world.  Why?  Because all you need is a ball … and it can be played anywhere, on any surface … in a park, on the street where you live, on the beach or a schoolyard. You don’t need expensive equipment.  No racquets, no padding, no helmets or knee pads.  No fancy footwear or jerseys.  Rich or poor, male or female, everyone can play soccer.

Am I now a fan of Soccer?  Probably not, but when you watch something being done well, it certainly stirs up an interest in you to find out more about it.  Watching this mini-series certainly did it for me.  And I may actually watch an entire game now and then.  I’m not sure why soccer doesn’t have the same emotional connection to people here in the U.S., but it doesn’t.  Perhaps as the kids who are playing it now in grade school grow up with soccer, we will join the rest of the world.  One can only hope.

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References:  Ancient Pages, Live About, Town and Country, Cahiers Football, Digital Spy, Wikipedia, Lancs Live

Pistachio Cardamom Cake

We had to get out.  You must know that feeling by now.  “It was a snowy, cold Sunday afternoon, you’ve been in all week and the walls are closing in around you … you have to get out of the house.”  Well, that was hubby and I.  We ended up going to a little out-of-the-way place for a late lunch and an adult beverage (or two).  Enjoying the meal and not wanting to leave the warm and friendly atmosphere of this little pub, we did something we ordinarily don’t do.  We ordered DESSERT!  Yup, I said it.  Do we live on the edge or what?

We asked the waitress for her recommendation and this is what she suggested.  Pistachio Cardamom Cake.  Huh?  Not the usual Brownie Sundae or Tiramisu or Creme Brulee or Bread Pudding (which seems to be the only desserts restaurants offer these days).  Boring!  Where has the creativity gone?  Why do restaurants think they should serve the same food as all the other restaurants?  Is it because that’s all Sysco offers?  Sorry for the cynicism but it doesn’t take much to make a creative dessert.

Well, this one was exactly what we wanted … unique, comforting, sweet and delicious!  Served warm with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream and a dollop of whipped cream and worth every tasty calorie.  The first thing I did when we got home, of course, was check all my cookbooks.  Not a recipe for Pistachio Cardamom Cake to be found.  Searching the internet I did find a couple, all of which I tried.  In my attempt to duplicate the cake we had, this is about as close to it as I’ve been able to get.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

This rustic cake (or bread) is quick and easy to make.  Do be sure to toast the pistachios, and have freshly ground cardamom, if you can.  The flavor is much more intense.

PISTACHIO CARDAMOM CAKE
Bake at 350° for 35 to 40 minutes (depending upon size of baking pan).  Serves 9 to 12.

2-1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 teaspoons freshly ground cardamom
1 cup ground toasted pistachios

4 large eggs, room temperature
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla
dash green food coloring (optional)

Glaze:
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
2 tablespoons orange juice or cream
1/4 cup toasted pistachios, chopped

Preparation:  If you have cardamom pods, break open the pod and grind the cardamom seeds.  You’ll need three teaspoons for the batter, but reserve 1/2 teaspoon for the glaze.  If you don’t have fresh cardamom, ground is fine.

You’ll also get more flavor from pistachios which have been slightly toasted to bring out the oils and flavor.  This is an important step.  After toasting, blitz the pistachios in a food processor until finely ground.

In a large bowl, mix together all the dry ingredients.  Add the ground pistachios and ground cardamom.  Be sure its well blended.

In another bowl, beat the eggs and sugar til light and fluffy.  Add the additional wet ingredients and blend well.  Yes, I added a bit of green food coloring for dramatic effect.

Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and pour into a well-greased baking pan.  A square pan, loaf pan, cake pan … it doesn’t matter.  Bake time, however, will depend upon which pan size you use.

Bake for 30 to 50 minutes (loaf pan will take longer – cake pan will take less).  When a toothpick tested in the center comes out clean and the sides pull away from the pan, it is done.

Cool completely on a wire rack.  Meanwhile, mix the glaze.  Put the cake on a serving plate.  Spoon the glaze over and sprinkle with chopped pistachios.  Let it cool completely or serve it slightly warm.  It’s up to you.

Be sure to put the kettle on and get your tea ready.  The nutty texture from the pistachios combined with the perfume from the cardamom will warm your tummy and your spirits.  If you want to splurge and add a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a dollop of whipped cream.  Go right ahead!  This is an easy-to-prepare, homey, quick cake (or bread) and, hopefully, you will love it as much as hubby and I.  Happy sipping!!

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Beaches and a Bathing Machine?

Its amazing to me that a year has gone by since the word “pandemic” became part of our everyday conversation.  Pandemic … social distancing … quarantining ... what a crazy, upside down world it has been.  Most of our pleasures and activities have had to be put on hold.  For the past year, many of us have been stuck-at-home unable to do so many of the things we once enjoyed.  Streaming has become our main form of entertainment.  With all this stress and worry, binge-watching and reaching for a sweet or salty snack was the only way to cope.

Quite a few of us decided one way to keep busy was to BAKE (as any trip to the supermarket this past year proved).  I know I did.  Baking can be both comforting and challenging.  I’m not going to tell you how many of my ‘bakes’ ended up in the trash.  But, most did not.  They did, however, end up on my ‘hips’.  Baking, stress eating, binge-watching, yikes!  Now it’s February and I’m beginning to think summer … and beaches … and swimming …  and BATHING SUITS! 

When we were last in England (pre-pandemic), we spent some time on the Isle of Wight.  This tiny island lies just off the southern coast in the English channel.  An idyllic summer vacation destination which has long been sought after by locals who want to get away for a relaxing week-end or summer beach vacation.  Of course, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had a summer residence on the north side of the Isle, the Osborne House.  (Where didn’t they have a summer residence?).  They would spend July and August at this palatial summer home and the Island flourished because of it.  This Royal stamp of approval then attracted many other famous Victorians, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll and John Keats are just a few of the historical greats who were inspired by this “Enchanted Isle”.

Very easy to get to, the fastest and most fun way is by hovercraft (which, of course, we did).  A quick ten-minute ride floating over the ocean and you’re there!  The hovercraft docks in the small hamlet of Ryde.  Now a little down-on-its-heels, this once thriving beachfront community still boasts a grand lady of a hotel, The Royal Esplanade.  An impressive Victorian structure, built in 1865, on the site of what was Kemps Original Royal Baths.

Kemps Royal Baths were popular with people from all over the country.  ‘Taking the waters’ as it was called, was a very popular remedy for ill health.  Promoted as beneficial for gout, liver problems and rheumatism, thousands flocked to Ryde for relief of these and other common ailments.  On their first visit to this, or other beachside resorts, most people had never seen the ocean before and the thought of going into the sea was a daunting experience. Kemps also, however, had the answer. They supplied a brilliant invention which was becoming popular at all seaside resorts in Great Britain and around Europe.  Enter the BATHING MACHINE!

During Victorian times, men and women were segregated at the beach.  To be seen in your bathing costume was scandalous!  Bathing Machines allowed an individual to enter, in their street clothes, on land, at one end … change into their bathing costume … and exit from the other end … stepping down into the sea.  If you wished to use a Bathing Machine, you would go to a waiting room, pay your fee and your name would be put on a list.  First come … first serve.  While waiting, of course, you’d have a cuppa, read the newspaper or chat with other customers.  It was very social.  Friends of the same sex would go together, or family members could share a Machine.

These wooden carts were then pulled or rolled into the ocean, by horses or men.  They had walls, a roof, a door at each end and wooden steps leading down into the sea. This wooden box on wheels prevented anyone from seeing the bather from the shore, providing complete privacy on a very public beach!  Some machines were even fitted with canvas canopies to provide a private enclosed space so that the bather was completely hidden from view while in the water.  In 1805 Walley Chamberlain Oulton wrote about the Bathing Machine: “The bather descending from the machine by a few steps is concealed from the public view, whereby the most refined female is enabled to enjoy the advantages of the sea with the strictest delicacy.”

Most people could not swim.  If the person using the bathing machine was not a strong swimmer, he or she could request a ‘dipper’.  A dipper was a strong swimmer, of the same sex as the customer, of course, who would assist the customer in and out of the ocean, or teach them how to swim.  Additionally, a cord might be tied around the customer’s waist and then tied to the end of the box, making sure he or she was not ‘carried out to sea’.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had a bathing machine (which has been recently restored and is on display at Osborne Beach).  The Queen’s bathing machine was quite ornate with not only a front porch, but curtains, and a toilet.

Bathing Machines were used for over 150 years.  And should you visit the Isle of Wight today, you’ll see many of these private bathing boxes, without wheels, lining the golden, sandy beaches and being used as beach huts.  Many are furnished with tables, chairs and even a little kitchenette, fully equipped so that you can enjoy a cuppa while sunbathing.  How civilized!
The BATHING MACHINE might be a throwback to Victorian times, but given our bulging Covid-15 populace, and the fact that its already February and we’re still social distancing, it could quite possibly make a comeback this year.

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References:  Isle of Wight, Wootton Bridge, Historic Ryde, History Answers, BBCNews, Wikipedia, Workshops,
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The Vikings and the City of York

I was looking for some inspiration to write about and my grandson mentioned that he was playing a video game about Vikings.  He wanted to know if Vikings played any part in the culture of England.  Well, there it was, the inspiration I was looking for.  Vikings and the city of York.

I’m sure you’re saying to yourself, ‘I have no interest in Vikings’.  And when you think of Great Britain, you might think of Queen Elizabeth, Buckingham Palace, Cornish Pasties, Afternoon Tea, even Harry Potter, but Vikings?  I doubt it.  In fact, I’d be quite certain Vikings don’t  come to mind at all.  But they were a critical part of the creation and the culture of Great Britain.

Vikings, also known as Norsemen, came from Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Denmark, around 800 A.D.  Why they came to Britain, no one is really sure.  They had all the rich land they needed for their growing population in these Scandinavian countries.  But they came, nonetheless.  Some historians believe it was because of overpopulation in their country.  Others think it was to acquire wealth and power, all of which was happening throughout Asia and Europe.  Britain had already established a very lucrative trade with other countries and the Vikings knew this.  Britain was also within a reasonable journey by sea, and, as an island, could be easily conquered.  The attraction to conquer this wealthy and powerful land and leave the threat of their overreaching local chieftains could possibly have been the driving force.

The Vikings did not come peaceably.  They came to conquer and control, which, according to world history, was apparently the thing to do at that time.  Charlemagne had conquered Germany.  The Muslims took control of Spain.  Now the Norsemen were coming across the sea to take over Britain.

The first raid was in 793 A.D. where they plundered a monastery on the tiny island of Lindisfarne, off the coast of Northumberland. (The Lindisfarne monastery will be a topic of discussion on another day.)  The Vikings quickly learned that monasteries were an easy target.  Most of the monasteries lined the coastline  and were manned by unarmed, unprotected monks who chose to live in remote, isolated areas.  Also, monasteries were keepers of great wealth, from silver plates and bowls to gold chalices and crucifixes, to elaborate manuscripts and bibles, not to mention stores of wine and fine textiles.  The Vikings hit the jackpot!  And so began the siege of monasteries by the Vikings throughout Scotland, Ireland and northern England.

Setting up a vast trade network from Dublin to Istanbul, the Vikings devised a scheme where, after plundering the monasteries of their priceless goods, they would sell these irreplaceable items back to the church.  In effect, creating up a very profitable blackmail operation.  Over the next hundred years, their massive fleets began arriving along the coast of Britain.  Now known as the Great Heathen Army, under the leadership of the fearless Halfdane and ruthless Ivar the Boneless, they marched across the land taking every city and defeating every force used against them.

With their newly-gained wealth, the Vikings or Norsemen continued the takeover and started to send for their families. They saw potential in colonizing this land, and established settlements.  It is estimated that, at this time, around 200,000 people left Scandinavia and settled in, not only Great Britain, but also parts of Russia, Iceland, Newfoundland and even France and Italy.  These Scandinavians were not learned men.  They were warriors, explorers, skilled craftsmen, boat-builders and traders, farmers and fishermen. They were not historiographers and left very little in written form of their activities.  Thankfully, other countries documented their arrival, take over and unrelenting tyranny.

Over the next three hundred years, the armies continued to raid and loot, destroying the large regions of the country and forced the English lords to begin collecting money for them.  This became, in fact, the first known universal tax in England.  The Vikings settled in Ireland as well as England establishing colonies throughout each country, but when they captured York in 867 A.D. (Viking name of Yorvik), they decided to make that city their capital, thus beginning the Viking Age.

Let’s fast forward a thousand years to 1972.  That was the year when Lloyds Bank in York decided to excavate.  It was a small dig led by the York Archaeological Trust.  Findings from this dig showed layer upon layer of organic remains from clothing and shoes to preserved seeds and plants, to human and animal bones and building materials.  All undeniable proof that an ancient civilization lay below the surface.

Over the next five years, the excavation site grew and grew.  With the help of students from all over the world, and even inmates on day release, professional and local archaeologists uncovered the most remarkable discoveries about the Viking Age.  From this site, we learned how the Viking people lived … what they ate, what they did for a living, what goods they sold.  Over 40,000 artefacts were found and catalogued.

What we learned from these important findings was how much the Vikings contributed to the culture of Britain … things we take for granted even today.  The most notable was with language.  Many names, towns, roads, etc. originated from the Norse language.  But it was more than names, commonplace words that we all use today are full of Norse words.  (See below).

Of course, the Vikings weren’t all warriors … although quite a few were.  Most were actually just ordinary people, like you and me, who spent their days taking care of their farms and families.  Quite a few intermarried with the British and eventually assimilated within the culture.  All of this we learned from this incredible excavation.

But now the question was ‘what to do with all this information and these historic objects’.  The obvious answer was to create a museum, but the York Archaeological Trust wanted something more.  They wanted a heritage site where visitors could interact with their findings.  What they came up with has been a masterful way of showcasing the Viking story.  They created a ‘Disneyland-like’ attraction where visitors would sit in moveable cars which would then travel around a reenactment of a Viking village, giving the visitor an up-close example of Viking life.  I know … I know … it sounds as if it could be a tacky, childish amusement park ride.  But …

… after three years, utilizing the experienced talents of designers, architects, sculptors, taxidermists, leather workers, silversmiths, and construction experts, The Jorvik Viking Center opened.  This is a world-class interactive museum experience, which I highly recommend.  However, it didn’t stop there.  Research continued and has fueled an expansion of the Viking Center.  With state-of-the-art technology, you can now travel back in time to a more authentic experience, and then fast forward to the excavation site as it was found in 1976.  This experience, in addition to a new gallery displaying the artefacts found at that excavation, putting them in context to how they would have been used, makes for a total immersion in the Viking way of life.

And to think this Viking experience is available to you in the medieval city of York is a real treat.  From the many medieval carvings, to The Shambles, the City Walls, and the Micklegate Bar, I believe the 2,000 year old city of York is the most photographed city in all of Great Britain.  It has won so many awards … in 2007 York was voted European Tourism “City of the Year”.  In 2010 York was voted ‘safest place to visit’ and in 2018 it earned the title “Best Place to Live” in Britain.  When you combine the city’s heritage, architecture, hi-tech and lo-tech experiences, destination restaurants, and, of course, combine that with the Jorvik Viking experience, I have no doubt you’ll agree that this city is worth visiting.

And, maybe the next time you think of Great Britain, you might actually think of Vikings!

Some Viking words we use today:
Arm: Arm    Bag: Bagg  Cake: Kaka  Child: Bairn  Club: Klubba  Die: Deyja  Egg: Egg  Fellow: Félagi  Freckle: Freknur  Guest: Gestr  Husband: Húsbónd  Knife: Knifr  Knot: Knutr  Lad: Ladd  Law: Lagu  Loose: Lauss  Mistake: Mistaka  Plow: Plogr  Race: Rás  Raise: Reisa  Rot: Rót  Saga: Saga  Same: same  Scarf: Skarfr  Sky: Ský  Slaughter: Slahtr  Steak: Steik  Sick: Syk  Sister: Systir  Take: Taka  Troll: Troll  Trust: Traust  Ugly: Uggligr  Valkyrie: Valkyrja  Viking: Vikingr  Want: Vanta  Weak: Veikr  Window: Vindauga

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References:  HistoryHit, Jorvik Viking Centre, About History, History.org, Wikipedia, Nordic Culture, Trip Savvy,
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