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.

Lover’s Leap

On July 8, 2015 · 1 Comments

A photograph and a quote used on the recent Hot Springs article referenced Lover’s Leap in Hot Springs, North Carolina. Twelve Mile Circle has noticed numerous other Lovers’ Leaps over the years. I wondered, in all of those dozens of examples, had there ever been a verifiable case where an actual lover leapt? Or is it leaped? In every legend in every location it always seemed to trace to the tragic tangled consequences of star-crossed Native American couples, often the same couples in multiple places.

Mark Twain, in his memoir Life on the Mississippi (1883), wrote, "There are fifty Lover’s Leaps along the Mississippi from whose summit disappointed Indian girls have jumped." I couldn’t have agreed more. That’s why I decided to ignore the United States where pre-Columbian inhabitants apparently rained down from the tops of every summit in more-or-less continuous fashion. I focused on other parts of the world instead.


Andalusia, Spain


Peña de los Enamorados
Peña de los Enamorados by El Primer Paso Blog, on Flickr (cc)

A large mountain jutting above the surrounding plains in Andalusia north of Málaga reached 880 metres (2,890 feet) above sea level (map). The locals called it Peña de los Enamorados, translating into English as something akin to "Lover’s Rock." One imagined it must have an associated legend to go with the romantic name. It had no relation to The Clash, much to my disappointment. However, I found the an explanation on Andalusia.com.

When Ibrahim was the ruler of the castle of Archidona, he had a beautiful Muslim daughter called Tagzona who was betrothed to the old chief of the Alhama fort. However Tagzona was actually in love with Hamlet (or Tello in other versions), a handsome young Christian man from the Abencerrajes family of nearby Antequera. Some versions relate that she had met him when visiting captured Christian soldiers in prison and she helped him escape from prison. They ran away together and were chased by Moorish soldiers to the top of the rock, where, rather than renounce their love or be captured, they chose to hurl themselves over the edge holding hands – together till the end.

If I were to substitute Muslim/Christian for the names of any two Native American tribes and adjusted the location to any elevated point in the U.S. it would be the exact same story. I wondered if I could find something just a little bit different.


Chepstow, Wales, UK


Wye Valley Walk: Panoramic view near Wynd Cliff and Lover's Leap
Wye Valley Walk: Panoramic view near Wynd Cliff and Lover's Leap by velodenz, on Flickr (cc)

I chose a lovely spot in the United Kingdom. I could have selected any of several candidates and ultimately decided to feature the Lover’s Leap in the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The valley spread along the border between England and Wales aside the River Wye, with Lover’s Leap itself located atop a cliff on the Welsh side (map).

This was the creation of Valentine Morris, born and raised in the West Indies, who inherited property in Wye Valley in 1753. The estate was called Piercefield House.

At this time, tourism in the Wye Valley was in its infancy. Morris soon added to the magnificent splendour of the estate and its setting, by landscaping the parkland… Piercefield was developed into a park of national reputation, as one of the earliest examples of picturesque landscaping. Morris laid out walks through the woodland, and included a grotto, druid’s temple, bathing house and giant’s cave. He also developed viewpoints along the clifftop above the River Wye, and opened the park up to visitors.

The Piercefield Walk continues to be a popular attraction today. Lover’s Leap is one of several attractions including the ruins of Morris’ Piercefield House found along the route in the Walking Guide.

The railings here guard a sheer drop of 180 feet, ‘where the Wyndcliff is seen towering above the river in all its height and beauty, and below yawns a deep and wooded abyss.’ (Coxe, 1801) Valentine Morris, whilst surveying his walk, reputedly fell off here and was saved by the branches of a tree!

I inferred a couple of points about this Lover’s Leap along the River Wye. First, it was a fanciful name that sprang from the imagination of Valentine Morris. Second, his own stumble and near catastrophe may have inspired the name.


Dunedin, South Island, New Zealand



A large coastal hill named Sandymount sat just outside of Dunedin on New Zealand’s South Island. It offered a number of scenic vistas and promontories including Lover’s Leap (map) and has become a nice place for walks. I saw vague references to a Maori legend — never did find the details — although I’m sure it resembled the Spanish and American versions of the same story. That didn’t interest me once I encountered a new reason that occurred more recently: When love goes thong! Unlucky seal almost strangled by G-STRING after it was left at amorous spot known as Lover’s Leap

The seal ended up lassoed around the neck by the raunchy red underwear in the seas just off a nature point dubbed ‘Lover’s Leap’ on New Zealand’s South Island. A worried on-looker spotted the distressed pup struggling with something around its neck so called the Department of Conservation. The team hiked for an hour up a tricky 230-metre cliff side to reach the helpless animal before battling in the dark for a further hour until they finally managed to free it… One can only assume that the owner of the saucy underwear had to make a quick exit down the cliff side after a romantic walk to the Lover’s Leap lookout point got out of hand.

Now that’s a Lover’s Leap legend that deserved the name!

Upstart Eclipses Namesake

On January 9, 2014 · 11 Comments

When I think of "New" places I tend to fuse together the full placenames mentally into a single phrase and begin to overlook the separate elements. I don’t forget completely that earlier entities inspired newer ones, although I mostly overlook the original namesake within the larger string. For example, if I considered Orléans in France it would have meaning to me and conjure a specific image, as would the city of New Orleans in Louisiana. However, France’s Orléans wouldn’t come to mind particularly when I thought of New Orleans USA, even it it provided the bulk of the latter’s placename.

Oftentimes settlers tacked New onto very significant placenames, bestowing a little piece from their homeland onto frontier backwaters. London was and continues to be an extremely important city. Nobody would try to argue rationally that London in the UK doesn’t dwarf in size, reputation and importance the city of New London in Connecticut, USA. That’s not intended to disparage New London, of course. It merely points out the obvious, that New London, well, it doesn’t have the worldwide recognition or relevance of London. Other times, however, the New location managed to grow in significance over decades or centuries to a point where it actually began to overshadow and eventually surpassed its namesake.

I recognize that this so-called eclipsing might be culturally, geographically or individually bound. Going back to the New Orleans example I mentioned a moment ago, in my mind New Orleans has eclipsed Orléans. However I’ve spent a lifetime in the United States, I’ve been to New Orleans numerous times both for family and business reasons, and Hurricane Katrina had a direct impact on some of my immediate family. Thus, New Orleans figures quite prominently in my consciousness. Would a Frenchman concede that La Nouvelle-Orléans had eclipsed Orléans? Probably not. Let’s bear that in mind as I offer a few examples. All of them are subjective. Some may even seem ridiculous to those with different perspectives.


New Zealand



Zeeland, The Netherlands

New Zealand derived its name from Zeeland in the Netherlands. Dutch explorer Abel Tasman received credit as the first European to spot the islands in the 1640’s. Dutch cartographers later applied the name Nova Zeelandia / Nieuw Zeeland. This was later anglicized to New Zealand and became the name of a nation to its English-speaking inhabitants.

Zeeland is a province in the southwest corner of The Netherlands with fewer than four hundred thousand residents. New Zealand, on the other hand, became a well-known sovereign state with more than ten times that population. This, to me, seemed to fit the definition of an upstart eclipsing its namesake.

As an aside, sometimes Zeeland in The Netherlands gets confused with Zealand in Denmark, which is the well-populated island that includes Copenhagen. New Zealand was named for the former, not the latter.


New South Wales



South Wales, UK

One should credit Captain James Cook with naming what eventually became the Australian state of New South Wales. That seemed only fair since 12MC discussed places that were named for Capt. Cook previously. The Preface to "Captain Cook’s Journal during his first voyage round the world made in H.M. Bark ‘Endeavour’ 1768-71," which was a literal transcription of his original journal, noted:

The name, “New South Wales,” was not bestowed without much consideration, and apparently at one stage New Wales was the appellation fixed upon, for in Mr. Corner’s copy it is so called throughout, whereas the Admiralty copy has “New South Wales.”

Had the New Wales label stuck instead of New South Wales, I’d have a hard time concluding that it had eclipsed Wales, even with Sydney included as part of the upstart state. I think I’d probably give the nod to Wales in that instance. However, because the upstart referenced only one portion of Wales (albeit the one including Cardiff, Swansea and Newport) I’d have to say in my mind that New South Wales had trumped South Wales.

Nobody was quite sure why Cook recognized South Wales specifically from what I could find in my limited research.


New Guinea



Gulf of Guinea

This one will take some explanation. I began with the original Guinea, that derived "directly from the Portuguese word Guiné, which emerged in the mid-15th century to refer to the lands inhabited by the Guineus, a generic term for the black African peoples below the Senegal River." New Guinea on the other hand is the second largest island after Greenland, shared by the nation of Papua New Guinea and a portion of Indonesia.

Certainly there are many other places and things named for ancient Guinea: the African nations of Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea came to mind, along with the Bay of Guinea and all of them within proximity of the original Guinea. There are even Guineafowl and Guinea Pigs named for the same place (even though Guinea Pigs were native to South America). I wouldn’t suggest that New Guinea should eclipse the collective set of current Guineas, only that it eclipsed ancient Guinea since the original place was a general, amorphous 15th Century geographic construct anyway. Many of the other Guineas mentioned may have eclipsed that older place as well. Well, maybe not Guineafowl. Guinea Pig probably has, though.


How about going back to the USA for some other examples?

Sure. Here are my thoughts:

  • New York has eclipsed York
  • New Jersey has eclipsed Jersey
  • New Hampshire and Hampshire are probably a toss-up with people on respective sides of the Atlantic likely viewing it differently
  • New Mexico has NOT eclipsed Mexico
  • New England has NOT eclipsed England

Agreements, dissenting opinions and additional examples are all welcome.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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