Newsletter-303-July-1996

HADAS Diary

Saturday 20 July Outing: FLAG FEN AND LONGTHORPE TOWER with Tessa Smith and Sheila Woodward, At Flag Fen we shall see the latest developments at one of the largest collections of bronze age artefacts in Europe; and at Longthorpe Tower the remains of a fortified manor with the finest examples of 14th c domestic wallpaintings in Northern Europe. 


         Saturday 17 August Outing: FARNHAM/WAVERLEY ABBEY with Bill Bass and Vicki O'Connor

         Thur/Fri/Sat/Sun   4 DAY VISIT TO CORNWALL. We have had a good response to this

            29/30/31 August/ 1st Sept    and the group is full. Names for the waiting list are welcome, we had several late cancellations last year.

(Tel: Dorothy 203 0950).

Saturday 28 September Outing: WHITECHAPEL/BELL FOUNDRY with Mary O'Connell

 

                                                    DIGGERS WANTED                                                                                                S.O.S. from Vikki O’Connor

Excavation News: Oh, come all ye faithful!

The two trenches currently under excavation at the rear of Church Farmhouse Museum have reached their initial objectives insofar as the eastern trench has revealed the continuation of the ditch with its medieval fill (as found in 1993) and the western trench has now reached the level of the 'old land surface' and appears to contain the gulley which ran along the northernmost trench excavated three years ago.

Work will continue within these trenches, after which we shall open a third trench close to the area where post holes and ditches were found in 1993.

This new trench, which will be quite large and deep, will require a good size team of excavators, as will the possibility of opening a fourth trench nearer the pond, and you are therefore reminded that the success of the Society's fieldwork does depend on volunteers. Our initial response of 14 volunteers has dwindled somewhat. There is also the need for a processing team to undertake the washing and labelling of finds. We shall be at the Farmhouse every Sunday until the end of July and on certain weekdays as well, depending on the response. So please contact Brian Wrigley on 959 5982 or Roy Walker on if you are interested in assisting in the excavation.

 

The Amazing Discovery of the Coelacanth                                                by Stewart J. Wild

Many HADAS members will, I feel sure, be aware of the bizarre discovery of the coelacanth, the prehistoric fish that was thought to be extinct until a specimen was caught off South Africa in 1938, and again near the Comores Islands in 1952.

On a recent trip I was able to inspect and photograph a coelacanth in the museum in Moroni, Grand Comore, and learnt more of the fascinating story behind the discovery of this amazing deep-sea relic of prehistory.

The coelacanth gets its name from the Greek coelus akantha, meaning 'hollow spine'. Fossil records show that the species appeared over 350 million years ago, and was abundant over much of the world. It might well have been amphibious, and members-of its related but extinct suborder Rhipidistia are generally considered to have been the ancestors of land vertebrates.

Present-day coelacanths are bigger than most fossil coelacanths, and are powerful predators with heavy, mucilaginous bodies and highly mobile, limblike fins. It was long supposed that they became extinct, like the dinosaurs, about 60 million years ago, but in 1938 a dead, evil-smelling specimen was caught by trawlermen off East London, South Africa.

This would probably have been the end of the matter had it not been for the earlier efforts of a South African scholar, Professor Smith, who was passionately interested in the creatures of the sea, and established marine museums along the South African coast, including one at East London. He encouraged trawlermen to hand in any unusual finds, and employed a keen young curator at East London by the name of Marjorie Courtney-Latimer.

So it was that the strange rotting fish, four and a half feet long, was brought to the museum at East London, where Marjorie measured and sketched it and wrote excitedly to the Professor that an extinct fish seemed to have appeared. The species was named Latimeria chalumnae, the first part to honour Marjorie, and the second after the river estuary at East London near where the fish was found.Professor Smith spent the war years working on his book Fishes of South Africa which was published in 1949. The following year, he distributed posters along the coast offering a reward of £100 for any coelacanth specimen that was brought to his notice. Then in December 1952, a schooner skipper from Zanzibar netted a dead coelacanth while fishing off the Comores Islands, and sent Smith an urgent telegram from Mayotte.

The professor had just arrived in Durban aboard a Union Castle liner, but it was the week before Christmas, and there was no way to reach Dzaoudzi, Mayotte's main port. Smith was desperate, and through the intervention of a Durban MP, Prime Minister Dr Malan was persuaded of the importance of the find, and agreed to place an Air Force Dakota at the professor's disposal.

So it was that on Christmas Eve the professor and his wife landed on the grass strip at Pamanzi Island, Mayotte, eager to feast their eyes at last on this prehistoric wonder. Capt. Hunt had packed the fish in salt, and the professor flew back to Durban with his trophy.

This specimen, which apparently lacked a dorsal fin, was named Melanie Anjouanae, honouring Dr Malan and the Comores island of Anjouan, where it was found, although subsequently it was found to be exactly the same species as Latimeria chalumnae which is the only Latin name now used. Professor Smith later wrote about the fish in a book entitled Old Four Legs.

Since that time, six more coelacanths have been found; the most recent was caught off Madagascar last year. A specimen has been on display in London's Natural History Museum since 1955.

About ten years ago a National Geographic expedition used a special submarine to look for coelacanths off the Comores Islands. Some were found living at depths between 550ft and 650ft, and their total numbers were estimated to be no more than 100, so they are truly an endangered species.

It just goes to show that our World is still full of secrets - what other prehistoric wonders might be there be lurking in the depths of the oceans?

 

HADAS outing to Rye and Bodiam                                                by Vikki O’Connor 

Our first stop was at Sutton Valence, Kent, a village built in terraces on a ridge overlooking the Weald, although the mists somewhat obscured our view that day. Bill Wilson, a master at Sutton Valence School, gave us a short talk and walk, pointing out that the school of some 350 pupils, now including girls, has acquired other buildings in the village for its history and art departments at the old church and the Almshouses. The School was founded by clothworker William Lambe in 1576 (Lamb's Conduit Street in London was named after him because he was responsible for the bringing of fresh water to Holborn in 1577).

He also donated six almshouses to Sutton Valence in 1580. Many of the older buildings in this charming village are white weather-boarded, and it has a fair sprinkling of public houses. However, we settled for coffee at the Swan Inn; the Landlady has only recently taken over, but she believed an inn on that site originated in the 13th century. A few people found time to trek up the hill to the remains of the Norman keep, an 8' thick ragstone structure, and another couple of members were fortunate to get invited by a friendly villager to have a peek inside his house!

Our coach driver took us at an un-bumpy, steady pace (such a change from London buses!) to another hilly destination - The Ancient Town of Rye. The coach dropped us off beside the old Warehouses opposite the Quay on the River Tillingham and we first looked at the displays in the Tourist Centre to get our bearings. The Centre has acquired the Rye Town Model, built by a local couple in only four years, after much research, to represent Rye in the last century. The model is used to demonstrate the development of the town, using artfully placed spotlights, internal lighting and an informative commentary. Rye was one of the seven head ports, or Cinque Ports and Two Ancient Towns - whose duty was to provide ships for the Royal fleet. Rye is enclosed by three rivers, the Rother, the Brede and the Tillingham and on the fourth side the Ashford to Hastings railway line. It is fortunate in having kept the 20th century, if not at bay, then under control. The streets are uncluttered by bill boards, pavement advertising signs, neon intrusions, fast-food litter, satellite dishes, etc. Rye appears to be thriving - local industries include boat-building, fishing, pottery making, electronics, etc. The many tea shops are competing for attention with the largest cakes I've ever seen on a HADAS outing - slices of three-decker chocolate, coffee or vanilla cake at least 6" tall! Another important industry was the smuggling 'trade', stemming from Edward I's imposition of import and export taxes, and thriving until Victorian times when it was curtailed by free trade and public disapproval. Smuggling was known locally as `owling' because of the bird calls used as signals. Illegal exports included wool, cloth, leather, gold, silver and guns, and wine, spirits, tobacco, tea, coffee, chocolate, silks and lace were amongst the imports. We walked up Mermaid Street, past the Mermaid Inn, a favoured haunt of the 18th century Hawkhurst Gang - a local smuggling fraternity.

Our party re-formed at the Gungarden - a former gun emplacement now occupied by ornamental cannon, for a guided tour with a lady (I apologize for not having caught her name) who had stepped in to replace a colleague at the last minute. We looked at the Ypres Tower, built around 1250 as a fortification; it has subsequently been used as a dwelling, prison, mortuary and presently the Rye Museum. Unfortunately, the roof needs vital repairs and until the local authority obtains funds, the museum will remain closed.

The town has attracted many well-known poets and authors: Henry James; H G Wells; Kipling; Belloc; G K Chesterton. E F Benson also stayed here and his Mapp & Lucia stories were actually filmed in Rye. There are, however, plenty of real stories to entertain as our guide told us of gruesome goings-on. A monk from the Augustinian Friary (built in 1379) eloped with Amanda, the daughter of a local merchant who lived in the Tower House nearby, but the couple were caught, brought back and bricked-up alive together. People claim to have seen Amanda's ghost in her house, and the monk's ghost was said to have become a turkey and was heard in Turkey Cock Lane. We heard how two skeletons were in fact discovered behind a bricked up wall and that they were re-buried in the churchyard and, of course, the ghosts have now disappeared. Another gruesome tale was that of local butcher/innkeeper by the name of Breads who, bearing a grudge against the local magistrate James Lamb, set out to stab him to death in the churchyard. However, it was Lamb's brother-in-law Allen Grebell who died because he had borrowed Lamb's cloak. Breads was hanged and chained to a gibbet and his skull, still within the gibbet cage now resides in the Town Hall.

None of our party were impressed to learn of the medieval custom of the Mayor and Councillors of throwing of hot pennies to the local children from the Town Hall windows. The race not to the swiftest but to the asbestos coated?

Lamb House was built by James Lamb 1722-3, who was mayor of Rye thirteen times. I was unable to establish whether William Lambe, the clothworker of Sutton Valence and London, was related to the Rye Lambs. Can anyone enlighten me?

The Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin sits at the summit of the town, and the tale of the bells is 'told' with pride. In 1377 the French attacked Rye, torched the 12/13th century church and captured the church bells. Next year Rye and Winchelsea sent a force to Normandy, recapturing and restoring the bells.

Our last port of call – Bodiam Castle – was accompanied by a summer shower. After cake and several cups of tea, we walked over to the moated castle, noting that a small entrance faced the river presumably for boats only, but the main entrance is on the far side, and the straight approach over the moat originally dog-legged in from one side. The castle was built in 1385, when Sir Edward Dalyngrydge was granted a licence to crenellate.

Much of the structure remains intact, making it possible to picture what life there could have been like - probably very busy and quite noisy, with up to 200 people when visitors and entourage arrived. Most of us tried to shelter in a little room to watch a video on medieval life but the rain soon eased off and the warm air had dried off the excess damp by the time we returned to the coach. Our thanks to Micky Cohen and Micky Watkins for selecting three picturesque and interesting places for this outing, and for those members who have not yet visited Rye - recommended! 

FLAG FEN :

A report in the GUARDIAN on 30 May reveals a new theory about the Fen. Frances Pryor suggests that the small Bronze Age fields around the site are evidence of inten­sive sheep rearing (thousands of animals) and therefore of a much larger population than envisaged up to now.

A full report will appear in 'Antiquity'. Frances Pryor expects to be slaughtered by unconvinced colleagues

FROM THE NEWSPAPERS

MEXICO : What could be the earliest sporting facility in the world - a court on which the ball was bounced off two walls -­3,500  years ago. Losers were sacrificed (TIMES - 11 June)

COVENT GARDEN : evidence of a lost Saxon city beneath the Opera House, west of Roman Londinium. Archaeology could hold up redevelopment of the site - a dilemma for the Opera House and the Museum of London. (SUNDAY TIMES - 9 JUNE)

IRELAND, DRUMANAGH : A coastal headland with rampart and ditch fortification may have been a major trading station - not Roman occupied. (TIMES - 20 JUNE) See also NEWSLETTER of February '96.

AVBURY : Stones farthest from the village have been vandalised with daubed symbols; security is a problem in a site so open and dispersed. (TIMES - 20 JUNE)

MOROCCAN SAHARA : Dinosaur, the largest ever found, dated to 90 million years ago. A skull over 5 feet long implying a body 45 feet long : This is the first Dinosaur find in Africa. Previous discoveries confined to North and South America. This report in the DAILY TELEGRAPH of 17 May, was illustrated by a fearsome photograph of a reconstruction of this monster's skull, dwarfing a human skull superimposed on the lower jaw of the dinosaur. Below is reproduced a diagram which also accompanied the report - showing a tiny man about the size of half the leg of the creature which once roamed Morocco's Sahara when it was a vast flood plain laced with rivers, edged by coniferous trees.

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