Last Place in England

On June 29, 2016 · 0 Comments

I wondered what treasures I’d encounter if I searched on the exact phrase "Last place in [geographic area] to"… while leaving the remainder of the statement blank. I chose England for my initial effort. I figured England should produce interesting results because of its long history. I could always use a few more push-pins in my Complete Index Map, too. England did not disappoint me. I couldn’t confirm the veracity of every claim made on the Intertubes although they all produced memorable stories whether accurately reflecting a final occurrence of an activity or not.

Last Invasion by a Foreign Power


Teignmouth
Teignmouth by Ian Hayhurst on Flickr (cc)

The last invasion of England by a foreign nation took place in 1690 according to numerous sources. I found this claim more often than any other one made as a result of my query. The landing spot happened at Teignmouth, a town at the mouth of the River Teign as implied by the name, in Devon (map). A French fleet landed soon after it defeated an Anglo-Dutch fleet at the Battle of Beachy Head. The French turned their sights to the English coastline, landing at Teignmouth and burning much of the town. They remained offshore otherwise and sailed home a few weeks later. Their brief invasion ended.

However Teignmouth wasn’t the last place invaded on the island of Great Britain, just the last one in England. A later force landed in Wales, an encounter called the Battle of Fishguard in 1797. The forces of the French First Republic, the government that rose from the French Revolution, attacked Fishguard in Pembrokeshire (map). They supported the Society of United Irishmen who were attempting their own revolution. The invaders lacked discipline and surrendered unconditionally within a couple of days, causing little impact or damage.


Last to Get Electricity


Watendlath
Watendlath by monxton on Flickr (cc)

I felt less certain about a claim that Watendlath (map) became the last place in England to get electricity, as some attested. It may have held that title only for the Lake District. Watendlath joined the grid in 1978. Rugged terrain and remoteness contributed to its lack of amenities for much of the 20th Century. Watendlath sounded like a wonderful place, assuming one could get to it.

The little hamlet of Watendlath, owned by the National Trust, sits high between the Borrowdale and Thirlmere valleys. It is 847 feet above sea level, with an attractive tarn surrounded by fells in a classic ‘hanging valley’… The hamlet is reached by a very narrow road with passing places, from the Keswick to Borrowdale road. This is a steep climb at first before crossing the famous Ashness Bridge, then past ‘Surprise View’ where it is possible to park and look out over the whole of the Derwentwater valley.

Once again, however, a place in Wales didn’t hook to the electrical network until later. The National Grid didn’t wire the village of Abergeirw in Gwynedd to the mains until 2008, just in time for Christmas.


Last Place with a Major Outbreak of Plague

England last experienced a significant outbreak of bubonic plague in 1665-1666, a contagion called the Great Plague of London. A hundred thousand people died.



The Black Death remained mostly on the southern side of England during this outbreak. Fortunes changed when a tailor in Eyam (map), a small town in Derbyshire, ordered cloth from London. His shipment arrived with fleas infected by Yersinia pestis, the bacterium responsible for bubonic plague. Fleas bit their hosts and townspeople began to die. Villagers behaved selflessly and heroically in the face of death.

Terrified the disease would spread across the north, wiping out other towns and communities, the villagers realised there was only one option: quarantine. With the guidance of their rector William Mompesson, they decided to isolate themselves, creating a perimeter of boundary stones that they vowed not to cross … even those who were not showing any symptoms.

Plague ravaged Eyam for more than a year, lasting well into 1667 before disappearing as quickly as it arrived. Within Eyam, "267 had been killed out of a population of 344." Their actions contained the plague and halted its northward track although at a terrible price for those living inside their perimeter of stone.


Last Gibbeting


Gibbet, Guildhall, Leicester, England
Gibbet, Guildhall, Leicester, England by rchappo2002 on Flickr (cc)

I love the English language. It has a word for everything, and if it doesn’t it gladly hijacks one from another source and adopts it as its own. Gibbet came from Old French. I’ll let the Online Etymology Dictionary explain.

…a bent stick, small stick with a cross” (13c.), diminutive of gibe "club; hoe," perhaps from Frankish *gibb "forked stick." "Originally synonymous with GALLOWS sb., but in later use signifying an upright post with projecting arm from which the bodies of criminals were hung in chains or irons after execution"

Criminals sometimes met gruesome fates in Medieval times, even after death. Executioners invented a gadget called a gibbet, an iron frame designed to hold a dead body as it rotted and decayed in a public setting. It both disrespected the convict and warned others to follow the law. One wouldn’t want body parts falling onto the village green at inconvenient moments so the gibbet held everything in place as crows plucked out the eyes and such. Sometimes, even more ghastly, villains were placed in a live gibbet where they died from dehydration and exposure before undergoing their postmortem display.

The last gibbeting took place in Leicester’s Guildhall in 1832 (map). The gibbet, long since emptied, remains on display at the city’s Guildhall Museum.

And So, Part 2

On April 20, 2016 · 7 Comments

I found such a wealth of information about the six national names split by the conjunction "AND" that I had to divide them into two articles. The first article covered Antigua and Barbuda, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Saint Kitts and Nevis. This one will finish the remaining nations, continuing in alphabetical order. Once again I wanted to focus extra attention on the junior partner, the unfortunate geography at the trailing end of each arrangement.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines


Bequia
Bequia by Ian Mackenzie on Flickr (cc)

Another conjoined arrangement, another Caribbean nation, this one found far down the chain of the Windward Islands. The native Caribs protected Saint Vincent fiercely and blocked colonization until the Eighteenth Century. Meanwhile they accepted escaped African slaves who sought refuge from nearby islands such as Barbados, Saint Lucia and Grenada. Their intermingled descendants, the Black Caribs, bedevil European colonists for decades. French, British and Black Caribs all fought for control. Revolts by Black Caribs remained common and frequent even after Britain gained the upper hand. It was a mess. The French shifted their focus to Martinique instead.

Speaking of messes, the Grenadines didn’t fall entirely within Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. The Grenadines needed to be tagged onto a larger entity because they wouldn’t be viable as nation on their own. They were too small and spread across a long string of ocean. It might have made sense to collect all of the Grenadines together — and the British made attempts over the years — although it just never happened. Thus, when independence came in 1979, the upper two-thirds of the Grenadines became an integral part of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and the remainder joined Grenada to the south. Someone living on the island of Carriacou in the Grenadines, for example, lived in Grenada, not Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Fortunately Grenada didn’t call itself Grenada and the Grenadines because that would have created even more confusion.

The Grenadines portion of the nation retained a smaller population with only about ten thousands residents, or ten percent of the overall national population. About half of those live on the island of Bequia (map). The remainder were spread amongst four other populated islands and two privately-owned resort islands.


São Tomé and Príncipe



Nobody lived on the islands of São Tomé and Príncipe when Portuguese navigators stumbled upon them in the Gulf of Guinea off the western coast of Africa. Portugal thought those unclaimed, uninhabited islands would make an ideal offshore base for commercial relationships with the continent. They colonized both islands during the Sixteenth Century and it became a cornerstone of their slave trade. The nation has remained a relatively stable democracy much of the time since gaining independence in 1975. It was also one of the smallest African nations with only a couple of hundred thousand citizens.

Príncipe (map) was much smaller than São Tomé and it had only about five thousand residents. The name came from the Portuguese word for Prince, specifically Prince Afonso, son of King John II, named for his grandfather King Afonso V. He was the heir apparent to the Portuguese throne although he didn’t live long enough to become its king. Prince Afonso died in a horse riding accident in 1491, still in his teens.


Trinidad and Tobago


Great Courland Bay after the storm
Great Courland Bay after the storm by Celeste Layne on Flickr (cc)

It seemed odd that FOUR of the nations included on the list had been Caribbean colonies of the British Empire: Antigua and Barbuda; Saint Kitts and Nevis; Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; and finally Trinidad and Tobago, rounding out the set. Clearly the British found it convenient to cluster island possessions into groups so they could be governed more efficiently.

Trinidad and Tobago took a different twist. Both islands had been well established with their own distinctive histories, just off the northern coast Venezuela. Trinidad had roots as a Spanish colony before Britain seized the island in the late Eighteenth Century. Tobago, on the other hand, traded hands almost more times than could be counted. Colonies on Tobago were established, captured, destroyed, rebuilt, and recaptured with alarming frequency, by several different European powers including Spain, England, France and the Netherlands. There was also another player, one I never knew about, the Courlanders. Often it was the Dutch and Courlanders who tussled over Tobago.

The Courlanders came from the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia, an area now found in Latvia (map). They seemed like an unlikely power, and yet the Courlanders maintained a great merchant fleet that sailed around the world. The Duchy traded extensively in the New World too. Tobago was their attempt to establish a formal colony in the Caribbean. They tried numerous times and ultimately failed along a section of the island that bears its name, Great Courland Bay (map).

Tobago eventually got grafted to Trinidad only because of economic reasons. The British Empire site explained:

The 1880s was to confirm that the old plantocracy was indeed in trouble. The price of sugar had continued to drop… 1884 shocked the economy of the island when its largest employer and landowner ceased trading… The British sought to ameliorate the situation by administratively joining Tobago to the larger island of Trinidad to its south. This southwards move was intended to ensure that Britain avoided taking on debt and expensive provisions for Tobago and transferring the liability to the colony of Trinidad.

That arrangement remained in place when independence was granted in 1962, and it remains Trinidad and Tobago today.

Mundane First Name Places

On March 2, 2016 · 2 Comments

Twelve Mile Circle received a visit from someone in Susanville, California (map) last week, landing right on the front page of the site. What an odd name for a town, I figured. It had to have a story. Who was Susan and why did she have a town named for her? Couldn’t the town founders have honored her surname instead?


Susanville Memories
Susanville Memories by Bob White on Flickr (cc)

Actually, the did, sort of, when first settled. The seat of government in Lassen County, California went by a different name originally, the even stranger Rooptown. The City of Susanville provided context:

In 1853 the Honey Lake Valley was an oasis for emigrants, the first green grass and free flowing water after months of desert and dry. During that summer the Roop brothers built a cabin at the head of the valley, just west of the meadow where thousands of emigrants camped. That cabin would go on to act as a trading post, a seat of government and as a fort in the Sagebrush War of 1863.

It made sense to call it Rooptown in a sense, although who would have wanted to live in a place called Rooptown? Soon the designation started to morph and take on the name of the nearby Susan River. It had been named for Susan Roop, the daughter of one of the Roop brothers, Issac Roop. The town prospered for many years because of its proximity to the Sierra Nevada’s abundant resources such as timber and minerals. It reinvented itself latter as a prison town, now the site of the High Desert State Prison and the California Correctional Center.

I considered the possibility of other mundane first names adopted as placenames. Indeed, they existed. Some of them derived from actual people while others appeared entirely by coincidence.


Joe



I found Joe Batt’s Arm on Fogo Island in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada (map). If that wasn’t odd enough it had once been combined with two other local communities to form Joe Batt’s Arm-Barr’d Islands-Shoal Bay, which later became a larger grouping known as the Town of Fogo Island: "The town was incorporated on March 1, 2011 following the amalgamation of the towns of Fogo, Joe Batt’s Arm-Barr’d Islands-Shoal Bay, Seldom-Little Seldom and Tilting and a portion of the Fogo Island Region." Got all that? 12MC only cared about Joe Batt’s Arm.

A websight devoted to Joe Batt’s Arm went into more detail. Readers should be warned that it began… "Legend has it." Nonetheless, I found it amusing so here it is with the distinct possibility that poetic license may have been taken.

Legend has it that the name of the community comes from the first European settler, possibly a deserter of Captain James Cook in the early 1750s. The community is shaped as an inlet and in those days it was called an ‘Arm’. The deserter – Joseph Batt settled here and the locals liked him so much that they gave it the name Joe Batt’s Arm.

Twelve Mile Circle once posted an article about Captain Cook. Now the previously unknown deserter Joseph Batt had something too.


Bill


Portland Bill Lighthouse
Portland Bill Lighthouse by Clear Inner Vision on Flickr (cc)

There were distinct differences in the geographic mention of Bill in the United Kingdom and the United States. Bill in the UK referred to a narrow promontory or peninsula, like the bill of a bird. This specific usage appeared in the Online Etymology Dictionary, deriving from Middle English and "a common Germanic word for cutting or chopping weapons." The beak of a bird was thought to resemble the curves of certain knives or axes, and the notion carried through to a geographic designation. The most well known reference was Portland Bill at southernmost Dorset, England (map). Selsey Bill along the English Channel in West Sussex offered another tantalizing occurrence (map). I couldn’t find any other instances although I’m sure they must have existed.

By contrast, Bill spots in the United States tended to reflect the names of actual people named Bill. For example, Negro Bill Canyon in Utah (map) got a bit of press attention in 2015 because of various perceptions of its potential offensiveness. At least it was an improvement over its previous, horribly offensive name.

There was also a town named Bill in Wyoming and one named Hollow Bill in Kentucky. I desperately wanted to discover the story behind Hollow Bill and sadly, I failed.


Some Others


Namur - château de DAVE
Namur – château de DAVE by Myben.be on Flickr (cc)

The names just kept coming. I noticed a whole assortment of things called Dave (map) near the Wallonian city of Namur in Belgium. There was a village of Dave, a castle of Dave, a fortress of Dave and an island of Dave all along the river Meuse. Dave must have been quite a guy. Actually the name went back much further, having previously been Daveles, Daule, Davelle, Davelis, and Davre.

I particularly like Doug Well in South Australia (map). Not only was it Doug Well, presumably it was Dug Well.

Finally, one could always take a journey to Bob Island in Antarctica.


Completely Unrelated

Everyone knows how much I enjoy counting things. This marks the 1,234th article posted on Twelve Mile Circle.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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