“Random encounters with the unusual” is a repository for the oddities that me and Mrs J have encountered on our travels, which we find interesting or amusing in some way. Have a look, maybe you will find something interesting or amusing herein.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Andover’s History of Land Speed Records

Let me start by saying that I don't have a fetish for pedestrian underpasses. However, sometimes the art work in pedestrian underpasses needs photographing before it's destroyed by other less able artists.

The first piece of underpass artwork that caught my attention was a mural in Woking, which summarised the destruction of Woking by the Martin Tripods in H.G. Wells' "The War of the Worlds". My eye was caught again this month whilst I was walking through Andover. Between Junction Road and the town centre there is an underpass that is adorned with pictures of vehicles that have previously held land speed records. The mural was too good to just pass by, so I had to stop and take some pictures.  

Working from the dates and speeds that are shown on the mural I believe the vehicles depicted are those in the below table. However, it should be noted that some of the speeds detailed in the mural differ from those quoted on Wikipedia, also it seems that some records were measured over a mile and some over a kilometre, which gives some variability to the numbers. It is also interesting that the mural depicts a vehicle called “Goldenrod” from 1965, which going by Wikipedia was not a record holder as it was slower than “Green Monster” from 1964!

Power Source
Record (mph)
Jeantaud Duc
La Jamais Contente
Oeuf de Pâques
Ford 999 Racer
Internal Combustion
Stanley Rocket
Benz No 3
200 hp (150 kW)
Internal Combustion
Sunbeam 350HP
Internal Combustion
Internal Combustion
Sunbeam Slug (Mystery) 1000HP
Blue Bird
Golden Arrow
Blue Bird
Internal Combustion
Railton Mobil Special
Internal Combustion
Blue Bird CN7
Green Monster
Internal Combustion
The Blue Flame
Thrust 2
Thrust SSC

So it seems that in the 100 years from 1898 to 1997 man increased his maximum land speed from 57.65 mph to an impressive 763.035 mph. So the question is, how much further can this record be pushed in the next 100 years? It seems that 1000 mph is only just around the corner!

The Underpass.

Blue Bird (1935) & Stanley Rocket (1906).
The Blue Flame (1970) & Goldenrod (1965).
Blue Bird CN7 (1964) & Benz No 3 (1914).
Golden Arrow (1929).
Green Monster (1964), Gardner-Serpollet Oeuf de Pâques (1902) & Blue Bird (1928).
Railton Mobil Special (1947) La Jamais Contente (1899).
Sunbeam Slug (1927), Sunbeam 350HP (1925), Ford 999 Racer (1904) Jeantaud Duc (1898).
Thrust 2 (1983) & Sunbeam (1925).
Thrust SSC (1997) & Unidentified! 
Pictures, Hampshire (April 2014).

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Friday, 4 April 2014

Not So Secret Bunkers

Back in February, after hearing about a local legend, I took a trip to Grovely Wood near Salisbury.

The legend in question is the legend of the Handsel sisters. As the story goes in 1737 four Danish sisters moved to the Wilton area and unfortunately for them, their arrival coincided with an outbreak of smallpox which killed 132 people. The locals believing that the sisters where responsible for the outbreak and branding them as witches, took them to Grovely Wood and bludgeoned them to death. The sisters were supposedly buried in the woods in four separate graves and it is said that the graves were marked by four gnarled beech trees, the largest of which is said to have a hollow at the back in which people leave offerings.

Armed with my Ordnance Survey map showing a section of Grovely Wood labelled as "Four Sisters" I set off in search of the four trees. Sadly however the gnarled beech trees remained elusive, possibly hidden amongst the numerous pines.

Walking back along the old Roman road that runs through the wood I did however happen across a bunker on the edge of the tree line. As can be seen from the pictures below, the bunker was very conveniently labelled with the word "Bunker".  Inside the bunker there is also some rather interesting graffiti. On the floor there was an arrow pointing to the far end of the bunker, with the words "Head Rush". Also on the far wall of the bunker there was a painted symbol which resembled a "W". All rather odd.

A quick look on the internet hints that the nearby farm (Oakley Farm) served as an RAF Ordnance Depot and Head Quarters during WW II and that Grovely Wood was used by the US Air Force as an ammunition depot. Grovely Wood was seemingly chosen for this purpose due to its proximity to main line rail stations such as Wylie. Apparently, bombs and shells were left stacked out in the open in the woods, and the less robust munitions (e.g. fuses) were stored in hundreds of small huts that were dotted around the wood. Given the military history of the site, presumably the bunker is related to this WW II heritage.

The bunker seen from the Roman Road.

The entrance to the bunker.

I would never have guessed!

Looking into the bunker.

"Head Rush"  - what does it mean?

"W" - what does it mean?

The "vent" at the far end of the bunker above the "W".

Having stumbled across a bunker in Grovely Wood in February, I was again surprised to stumble across another bunker last week whilst out wandering near the village of Upper Chute in Wiltshire. This bunker, whilst of the same approximate size as that in Grovely Wood, seemed to be of a different design, with the only apparent access way being a padlocked hatch on the top, as opposed to an open doorway at one end. The “Chute” bunker as I will call it, is in a small patch of wooded land next to the road, apparently left and forgotten. The only discernible features of this bunker were the entrance hatch, a bent pipe on the top of the bunker (possibly a ventilation pipe) and a long straight pipe protruding near the base of the bunker. Searching the internet provided no obvious clues as to the nature and purpose of this particular bunker.

The "Chute" bunker. The access hatch can be seen on the left end of the bunker, and the possible ventilation pipe can be seen on the right.

A pipe protruding from the bunker.

The entrance hatch and the possible ventilation pipe in the distance.

So if any readers know the location of the Handsel sister’s beech trees or knows more about these two bunkers, please let me know via the comments section below.

Pictures, Wiltshire (February & March 2014).

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Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Precision Agriculture

I have always been fascinated by some of the weird and unusual hobbies that people have, and some of the bizarre sports that people take part in. As such, during a recently visit to Anglesey my curiosity was piqued when I was introduced to a pastime that I never knew existed, the sport of competitive precision ploughing.

This seemingly odd sport sees competitors assigned a plot of land, which they plough slowly and meticulously, carefully measuring out and planning their furrows and then carefully cutting the soil. It seems that there are a number of factors against which competitors are judged, including the uniformity, firmness, and straightness of the furrows and the overall appearance of the plot (as well as a bunch of other aspects, which I cannot even begin to understand).

The competition was mostly centred around the use of vintage tractors, however there were a couple of competitors using vintage ploughs drawn by Shire horses (probably much more difficult to control than a tractor pulled plough).

So if your ever see an inordinate number of tractors in a field slowly ploughing small patches of ground with farmers fretting over their work and painstakingly measuring each cut, you may have just happened upon a precision ploughing competition.

Pictures, Anglesey (March 2014).

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Monday, 17 March 2014

Beware Chalk Pit!

It seems to me that recently this blog has focused on a number of weird and unusual monuments. Keeping to this theme I have recently visited another striking monument, this one being dedicated to a horse.

A few miles west of Winchester is Farley Mount Country Park, which is named after the local hill (Farley Mount). This hill is home to a folly, which is unsurprisingly known as the “Farley Monument”. The monument stands in memory of a horse named “Beware Chalk Pit”, which is reportedly buried beneath the monument. The horse in question was owned by a Paulet St. John Esq., and it is said that whilst out fox hunting in September 1733, that the horse and rider fell into a twenty five foot deep chalk pit. Both rider and horse survived this calamity and in October of the following year this “lucky” horse was entered into the Hunters Plate on Worthy Downs under the name of “Beware Chalk Pit”. The horse won the race, and this victory is presumably the reason why the owner created such a magnificent folly in honour of the animal.

The inscription on the monument explains the story: “Underneath lies buried a horse, the property of Paulet St. John Esq., that in the month of September 1733 leaped into a chalk pit twenty-five feet deep afoxhuntiing with his master on his back and in October 1734 he won the Hunters Plate on Worthy Downs and was rode by his owner and was entered in the name of "Beware Chalk Pit".

What the inscription does not explain however, is how much was the prize money for winning the Hunters Plate, and did Paulet St. John have any change left over after building such an impressive folly?

The Monument.

The explanation.
The view from inside the monument.

Pictures, Hampshire (February 2014).

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Friday, 7 March 2014

The World's First POW Camp?

South of Peterborough in Cambridgeshire near the junction of the A1(M) and A15 roads is the settlement of Norman Cross. As you drive through Norman Cross you cannot help but notice its monument, which consists of a stone plinth topped off by a bronze eagle.

The Norman Cross monument is a memorial to the 1,770 prisoners who died at Norman Cross in what is said to be the world's first purpose built prisoner of war camp. This prison camp was built during the French Revolutionary / Napoleonic Wars by the Navy, to house an influx of French prisoners. Typically prisoners of war would be housed in old forts and prison hulks near the coast. But in 1796 there was a need to transfer 4,000 prisoners from the West Indies to the UK, so it was decided to create a dedicated prisoner of war camp to house them all.

Norman Cross was chosen as the ideal location for the prison camp as it was conveniently situated on the Great North road, whilst also being sufficiently inland to prevent prisoners from easily escaping back to France. Work commenced on the camp in December 1796 and lasted four months, with the first prisoners arriving at the camp in April 1797.

The design of the camp was based on an artillery fort. The camp having a block house sited at the centre, with six cannons overlooking the prisoner's accommodations. To prevent escapes, the camp was surrounded by a 27 foot deep ditch (to prevent tunneling). Outside of this ditch resided the tall stockade walls.

Whilst in operation the prison mostly housed low-ranking soldiers and sailors, with officers often given parole to live as “free men” in the UK, honor-bound not to attempt escape.  At its peak occupancy the prison was home to some 6,272 inmates.

The prison was only in operation until early 1814, when Napoleon was finally defeated and peace with France was achieved. By June 1814 the final prisoners had been repatriated back to France.  The final wooden buildings of the prison were dismantled and sold in June 1816. Some of these old prison buildings were however given a new lease of life, by being re-used in nearby towns.

The Norman Cross Monument.
The eagle that crowns the monument.

A nearby information board explaining the history of the prison camp.

Pictures, Cambridgeshire (February 2014).

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Wednesday, 26 February 2014

A Brief History of Bread Prices

During a recent visit to the village of Great Wishford in Wiltshire I spotted a series of odd stones embedded in the churchyard wall. On closer inspection the stones appeared to be showing the price of bread since the era of the French Revolutionary Wars / Napoleonic Wars.

The bread prices listed on the stones start in 1800, and the stones read:

  • 1800 Bread 3s 4d per Gall
  • 1801 Bread 3s 10d per Gall
  • 1904 Bread 10d per Gall
  • 1920 Bread 2s 8d per Gallon After The Great War
  • 1946-48 Bread Rationed Subsidised Price 2s 1d per Gall
  • 1963 Bread 5s 4d per Gall
  • 1971 Bread 8s per Gall – Decimal Currency 40p
  • 1984 Bread £1.80 per Gall
  • 2000 Bread £3.72 per Gall

At first glance it seems a bit odd that bread was measured in gallons, but presumably this is the dry volume of the ingredients (i.e. the flour).

The history of the stones seems to be that during the French Revolutionary Wars / Napoleonic Wars the French tried to blockaded Britain by exerting control over continental ports and seizing goods bound for Britain. This virtual blockade of Britain prevented the easy import of wheat, and led to a large rise in the price of bread. In an attempt to try to ensure transparency in his pricing, it is said that the local baker put his prices in stone in the churchyard wall. This tradition of recording bread prices in stone has continued ever since.

The bread stones.
Great Wishford Church.

The bread stones in the churchyard wall (bottom right, near the sign).

 Pictures, Wiltshire (February 2014).

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Tuesday, 18 February 2014

The Nether Wallop Pyramid

Nether Wallop is a village in Hampshire (9 miles south west of Andover). The village's only real claims to fame are that it may have been the site of the Battle of Guoloph (circa 439), and that locations in the village were often used in the dreadfully dull "Miss Marple" films.

The village does however have a rather striking  feature and this can be found in St Andrew’s churchyard. The churchyard is home to an intriguing fifteen foot tall stone pyramid!

The pyramid covers a vaulted burial chamber and is known as the “Douce Mausoleum”. This Grade II listed structure was built for the physician Dr Francis Douce (1675-1760) in 1748 and was designed by John Blake of Winchester. The pinnacle of the pyramid is capped off with a flaming torch, and one side of the pyramid bears a tablet which holds a coat of arms and an inscription. As you can see from the pictures below, the pyramid looks rather out of place in a British village churchyard.

St Andrew's Church
The Douce Mausoleum.
Inscription on the side of the pyramid.
The pinnacle of the pyramid.
View from the churchyard.
The Douce Mausoleum is not the only treasure to be found at St Andrew’s churchyard. The church itself contains the remains of  frescoes, the earliest of which is believed to date from the late Anglo-Saxon period. The Anglo-Saxon fresco in St Andrew's church is believed to be the only Anglo-Saxon wall painting to survive in situ and in the style of the “Winchester School” of manuscript illuminators who worked around the year 1020. The frescoes inside the church include:

"Christ in Majesty"

It seems that in late Saxon times that it was customary to paint a “Christ in Majesty” over the chancel arch of a church, and the example in St Andrews church is estimated to date from 1025. The original St Andrews “Christ in Majesty” was a depiction of a seated Christ, with his right hand raised in benediction, and surrounded by a host of angels adorned with halos. Today the bottom two angels are still visible, however the centre part of the fresco has been destroyed. This is believed to have occurred in Norman times, when the chancel arch was widened.

Inside St Andrew's church, looking towards the "Christ in Majesty".
A description of the "Christ in Majesty"
The bottom two angels of the "Christ in Majesty". 
The "Sabbath Breakers"

The "Sabbath Breakers" is a 15th century morality painting depicting the potential religious dangers of breaking the fourth commandment: “Remember the Sabbath Day, and to keep it holy....”.  The fresco shows Christ who has been injured by a number of wounds. Christ is surrounded by the implements of different trades, which include a plough, a mill wright’s tools, a cobbler’s awl and knife, a slater’s zax, a traders scales, a saw, a bobbin of yarn, an axe, a catapult, a net, and a horse shoe. These tools are presumably the source of Christ’s wounds, as the tradesmen who own them had been working on the Sabbath day.

The "Sabbath Breakers" explained.
"The Sabbath Breakers".
Saint George and the Dragon

The church also has a fresco of Saint George and the Dragon (circa 15th century). This fresco shows Saintt George mounted on his horse fighting the Dragon outside the gates of a settlement, whilst two crowned figures (presumably a King and a Queen) look on. In this blog I have previously noted that legends of Saint George and the Dragon are associated with Dragon Hill near Uffington in Oxfordshire, so perhaps the settlement depicted in this fresco is the old Iron Age fort at Uffington?

Saint George fighting the dragon. 

Saint Nicholas and a Bell

St Andrew's church also contains two other frescoes. One is a depiction of Saint Nicholas near one of the windows, the second is a bell (circa 18th century) high up near the church roof.

Saint Nicholas.
A bell.
So if you ever happen to be in the locale of Nether Wallop in Hampshire, take the opportunity to visit St Andrew's church and see a pyramid and some original Anglo-Saxon artwork for free. If you are a real anorak you can also seek out the village's "Miss Marple" heritage, just do not admit to anyone that you have done it!

Pictures, Hampshire (February 2014).

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