Category Archives: History

Here’s me in the mid 1970s

I have no idea who the other people are, although I *think* the stripy sexpot was called Jude.



Edward Raby – drunken artist

The current Mrs. Wombat’s Great Great Great Grandfather, Edward Raby. was born in 1810 in Staffordshire. He joined the Poultney pottery in 1845, and became celebrated for his work modelling flowers in parian on earthenware.

beesMy favourite piece of his is the small group consisting of a beehive beneath a may bush in full bloom. Bees scurry on the hive, a little flight of steps with hand rails leading towards it. On the left you can see a nest of young birds, almost on the ground, with just above the head of a snake about to devour them. The mother bird, in the foliage above the hive, ruffles her feathers in anger and despair. When you consider that each feather of this bird was made and adjusted individually; that the bodies and wings and legs of the bees were all separately made and placed together while the clay was still wet; that each little stem of may bloom was made by rolling the clay round a piece of fine cotton, the bloom then being attached to the end of the cotton leaf by leaf, and the stamens added afterwards, you will realise the immense patience and devotion to his art shown by Edward.

He was not always reliable after being paid, however. His wages were high at a pound a day, but often he went absent for a week or more on drinking binges. After one too many of these lapses in 1849 the owner, J.D. Pountney, sacked him. He was not seen for some time, until one day he appeared at Pountney’s house in Richmond Hill when the owner himself was away on business.

His wife, Charlotte, spoke to Edward, and he revealed the exquisite piece of work photographed above, telling her that he had done it during his “holiday”, and had got the men at the works to fire it for him without the master’s knowledge. He offered it to the “young missus” on condition she persuaded the “old master” to take him on again. Amused by both his impudence and his talent she soon induced the “old master” to comply.

Edward remained with Pountney’s for many years, working always to a supremely high quality. At one time Charlotte Pountney exhibited the beehive piece and was offered sixty pounds for it by William Gladstone, which she declined. She defended Edward, saying that his lapses were few and far between. In his book “Old Bristol Potteries” her son, W. J. Pountney, described Edward as “a very kindly old man, for he seemed old to me at the time, and he used to try to teach my youngest sister and me how to model those little leaves of his. The only thing that I was able to accomplish was rolling the clay round a bit of cotton, but my sister was more successful and she could manage to model small leaves”.

BCWqDXYCMAAjtQo.jpg largeSpecimens of Edward’s flower plaques were placed in recesses beneath the High Cross in College Green in 1847, and when the cross was removed over a hundred years later, one was found still intact. It came into the hands of artist Emma Clegg’s mother. Emma’s sculpture is inspired by Edward’s work, and on her website she describes the find:

“It’s a tiny wreath of peonies, which are no more than 1cm across. The accuracy and precision that he achieved in clay is just breath-taking. It was buried under a cross in Bristol for over one hundred years, and when the cross had to be removed, the piece was, miraculously, still perfectly intact. I’m in awe of the skill and patience that he must have had. Such skill…

He described himself in the 1861 census return (which is where I first met him) as a “Flower Maker”. He certainly was that, and so much more. Edward Raby left the pottery in 1864, he finally died in his home town of Hanley in 1867.

In the genes

I just came across this photo of the current Mrs. Wombat’s Mum & Grandma, presumably in Blackpool, with an unnamed hottie in the centre. Now I know where my beloved gets it from.

Click to see a larger version

Sam Pepys, 18th July 1663

pepysOn this day in 1663, Sam Pepys was a very naughty boy while his wife was away in the country. Follow me being Sam (but with a Wombat twist) every day on Twitter @SamPepys_1663 – here’s today’s tweets. Warning; this is a bit NSFW.

“What I tell you now must go no further than between me and Twitter. Most importantly, do not tell Lizzie. If you be reading at your employment, be warned that this is not suitable for work.
To Westminster Hall, where I expected some bands made me by Mrs. Lane, & while she went to the starchers for them I staid at Mrs. Howlett’s. Mrs. Howlett & her husband were abroad, and only their daughter was in the shop, and I took occasion to buy a pair of gloves to talk to her. I find her a pretty spoken girl, and will prove a mighty handsome wench. I could love her very well, perhaps, at a future date. By and by Mrs. Lane comes, and my bands not being done she and I went to the Crown in the Palace Yard, where we eat a chicken and drank. We were mighty merry, & I had my full liberty of towzing her & doing what I would but the last thing of all; you know, planting the pudding. I felt as much of her as I wanted and made her feel my thing also, and put the end of it to her breast and by & by to her very belly. #sexy
Thence walked home, all in a sweat with my tumbling of her and walking, and so a little supper and to bed.
I think I’m getting a cold. Mum’s the word, right? We don’t want this getting to Brampton, do we? Good lads. You know it makes sense.”

Back in Time


Good news, history fans. Today I managed finally to get stuck into a proper writing session on the biggie, 1322. Too long have I been distracted by flibbertigibbet short stories, those strumpets of the writing world with their quick thrills. It was a joy properly to immerse myself once again in the fourteenth century.

Here you can see my character interaction sheet, reference book (published in 1886, this one, and a joy in and of itself), my plot diagram note, and rickety old laptop. Not shown: chronology chart and humungous pot of coffee.

Huge books, or a miniature woman?

A giant book from the 1940sHumungous books, look! Now if you search for this image, you’ll find it mostly attributed to being from “the Archives of Prague Castle”. Martin Halata, the head archivist at Prague Castle says nope. The photo is not from there.

The photographer is one M. Peterka. The books are probably antiphonaries*, for use in church services by the choir and cantor. Look closely and you’ll see musical notations. Whatever the background, this is a splendid photograph.

*Or perhaps, after all, this is a photograph of a miniature woman.

Bathing in puppies

1322Here’s another snippet of life in the 14th century, discovered during research for 1322. The physician John Mirfield wrote a handbook of cures, and as a cure for scrofula he advises the drinking of women’s milk, sucked directly from the breast. If a willing donor is not available, then the milk of an ass or goat sucked from the udder itself may suffice.

In addition, sufferers should take a medicinal bath prepared as follows: “take blind puppies, remove the viscera and cut off the extremities, then boil them in water and bathe in the water four hours after you have eaten, keeping all the while your head covered and chest wrapped in the skin of a small goat as a preservation against a sudden chill”

He also, like many other doctors of the time, relied heavily on astrology and numerology. A quick way of diagnosing the seriousness of an illness is, according to John, to “take the name of the patient, then the name of the messenger and also the day that he/she came to tell the doctor about the condition of the patient. Count all the letters together and if you have an even number the patient will die, if the number is odd the patient will recover.”

Thank God for the NHS.

Play up and play the game in a daft hat

Women’s football team from the Associated Equipment Company Munitions Factory at Beckton, London; During the First World War. I fancy the winger bottom left. “Spread your legs, Edith, and put the big ball between your thighs. That won’t look pervy at all.”

Women's football team from the Associated Equipment Company Munitions Factory at Beckton, London; During the First World War

Women’s football team at Basingstoke, 1915

Look at their jolly hats, bless ‘em. Why have they got two goalies, I wonder? I also wonder, looking more closely, if they really are women?

Women's football team at Basingstoke, 1915

Barley Pottage

DSCF9680To keep me in the medieval mind-set while writing 1322, today for lunch I made barley pottage. The basic ingredients for pottage are stock, oats, herbs and salt, but beyond that you can chuck anything in. I chucked in barley and vegetables, though I cheated a bit, adding a couple of vegetables that weren’t around in 14th Century England – a potato (which comes from a land not yet discovered back then) and carrots (which had yet to be developed from their inedible purple wild variety).

Tasted pretty good, although I wouldn’t want it every day, and I wish I’d had some dark rye bread to have with it.

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