Which is smarter?

Which is smarter, a jackdaw or a cat?

There is a large hazel tree outside my house. Sometimes a single jackdaw perches in the tree.

Yesterday, when I looked out of the window there were seven jackdaws in the tree, all peering down.

They were looking at a black cat which had climbed part way up the tree in the hope of a tasty jackdaw snack, before realising that all the birds were perched on branches that were too light to support its weight.

The jackdaws had clearly known this all the time and had lured the cat up the tree. They made no attempt to fly off but watched the cat with interest.

The cat had to turn around whilst clinging to the tree and then attempt to climb down.  Part way down it fell off.

How the British got Habeas Corpus

The Habeas Corpus Act of 1679 is a landmark in English law, permitting a prisoner to challenge the lawfulness of his detention.

But Parliament passed it through an absurd miscount:    Lord Grey and Lord Norris were named to be the tellers: Lord Norris, being a man subject to vapours, was not at all times attentive to what he was doing: so, a very fat lord coming in, Lord Grey counted him as ten, as a jest at first: but seeing Lord Norris had not observed it, he went on with this misreckoning of ten: so it was reported that they that were for the Bill were in the majority, though indeed it went for the other side: and by this means the Bill passed.  

That account, by contemporary historian Gilbert Burnet, is borne out by the session minutes. The act remains on the statute book to this day.

The Bible has a quote for Trump

Woe to the land that has a child for a king.  Ecclesiastes 10:16.

Craigievar Castle - a Scottish tower house

Craigievar Castle is not a castle but a tower house built in the Scottish Baronial style.  Its walls are thick, its windows high off the ground and it has a yett to protect its door; but it was designed to keep criminals out, not armies.

Tower houses are found elsewhere in Scotland, and in other countries.  Spain has them. The ones in San Gimignano in Italy are well known. Pavia has some nice ones. There are two right in the centre of Bologna. There is a small one a few miles from my house.

Craigievar is located west of Aberdeen in Scotland, close to the  tower houses of Crathes Castle and Castle Fraser.

 I have already posted on Crathes and will post on Castle Fraser. The houses are very similar, partly because they were all worked on by the same family of masons.  Also, no doubt their owners swapped ideas.

Many consider Craigievar the most romantic of the Scottish tower houses. It is certainly the most striking. Especially since it is now pretty in pink.

Craigievar is in a very fine situation with views over open countryside

The castle belongs to the National Trust for Scotland. In the 1970s the castle was covered with a cement harl. That turned out to be a bad idea because cement traps water between the harl and the building, leading to structural and internal damage.

In 2009 the the castle was closed while the cement harl was stripped off and replaced with a lime harl which allows the building to breath. The cement harl had been off white but pigment was added to the lime harl to restore the pink appearance that Craigievar had had in the early 19th century.  The castle now looks fabulous.

It costs £11 to join a guided tour of the castle. The only way to move from floor to floor is by a narrow stone staircase.  Tower houses are not comfortable places. The castle does not have electric lighting in most of its rooms and the only heating is from open fires. Baths were a late addition. They are not for the old or young because steep stone stairs connect the many floors.

Rather annoyingly, the National Trust does not allow photography within the building.

Ightham Mote - a moated manor house

Ightham Mote (pronounced "item moat") is a moated manor house located to the south-east of London. It dates back to 1320 and has been described as "the most complete small medieval manor house in the country [Pevsner]. It is owned by the National Trust and is open to the public.

It is a beautiful house in a secluded valley. Before modern roads it must have been hard to find and [in winter] hard to reach, despite being so close to London. There is a story that Cromwell's soldiers wanted to loot the place but could not find it, so they looted another house instead.

It has been owned by a number of families. The Hautes, the Selbys [who had it for three centuries], the Colyer-Fergusons and the American general who founded Colorado Springs. None of the British owners played any great part in national affairs.

When the house fell on hard times it was saved by an American called Charles Robinson. He bequeathed it to the National Trust.

To the left of the house the former stables and staff quarters have been converted into flats.

The Great Hall

The small courtyard. You can see the Grade 1 listed dog kennel to the right. My earlier post on the dog kennel is here.

The house is the work of many hands. For example, the stone part of the tower is thought to date to date to the early 14th century, the stained glass windows to the early 16th century, the brick turret top to the late 19th century and the weathercock to the 1960s.

The house's valuable silver was kept in a safe in the butlers pantry.

The sink and draining board are covered in lead to reduce damage to valuable pottery and silverware.

The private chapel

The First World War was particularly heavy on subalterns and the British aristocracy never recovered from its losses.

The housekeepers room
By the end of the 1980s the house was in poor condition and the National Trust decided on a major restoration. So major that it came close to complete demolition and rebuilding. The NT spent over £10 million rebuilding the house, employing the same building techniques that had been originally employed. There is an exhibition at the house showing what they did and the tools they used. The tools below are for working lead.

I think Britain is fortunate to have an organisation like the NT, which is willing to spend a lot of money to preserve something like Ightham Mote and has the skills needed to do such a good job.

The house has over 70 rooms. Not all of them are open to the public. The ones that are closed are shaded on the plan below. There are more than enough rooms open and furnished to provide a superb experience.

Unlike Harvington Hall  and Baddesley Clinton, Ightham Mote does not appear to have any hidden rooms [aka priest's holes].  You can find my post on Harvington Hall here and on Baddesley Clinton here.

This is my third post on Ightham Mote. My post on its giant dog kennel is here and a post on its porters squint is here.

Unhappy Woods

The above box is 150mm square and 65mm high. It is made out of beech, a very common English wood. There are a lot of beech trees where I live.

After the tree died it became infected with fungi which produced the attractive figuring you can see above. Such figured beech is also known as spalted beech.  Decades ago wood merchants could only sell such wood as firewood. Now it is in such demand that cut logs are left in the weeds after been felled in the hope that they wood will become infected and produce spalting.  The process takes 2 to 3 years to reach the ideal stage.

The black lines are created by different species of fungi erecting barriers around their territory! There are primary colonizers who come first and establish territories and then have to defend them against secondary colonizers who are only able to colonize the wood because the primary colonizers have changed the ph of the wood & its structure. If left unchecked eventually the whole tree is consumed by the fungi,  part of nature’s way  of dealing with dead trees.

I only had a small piece of this wood and the lid had to be made by glueing three very thin pieces together. The rectangular reinforcing bars should have been on the underside of the lid but the figuring was too attractive to conceal.

Unhappy Woods

There are many different types of figuring and many different woods that can become figured.

I refer to figured woods as unhappy woods because their attractive figuring is caused by infections [virus or fungi], beetle infestations [ambrosia figuring is caused by fungi entering a tree through the bore holes created by the ambrosia beetle], physical damage [burrs/burls] and stress [the birdseye figuring sometimes found in maple is believed to be produced when a tree has to  compete for sunlight with surrounding trees but is growing in poor soil].


Baddesley Clinton - a moated manor house

Baddesley Clinton is an medieval moated manor house just to the south east of Birmingham in the United Kingdom.  The Baddesley part of the name comes from a Saxon called Baeddi who cleared the site in the Forest of Arden. The Clinton part comes from the Clinton family who dug the moat in the 13th century.

For 500 years the manor house was the home of the Ferrars family. If that seems a long time for one family to own a house consider that Country Life magazine estimated that there were still over 1500 houses and estates in England that had been owned by the same family for over 500 years.

The house is now owned by the National Trust and is open to the public.

Visitors to Baddesley Clinton cross the bridge, go through the gatehouse and come to a central courtyard with buildings on three sides. In many such houses there are buildings on all four sides but Baddesley Clinton is unusual.

One side of the courtyard is open. There might have been a great hall on this side at one point but now there is a garden.

Baddesley Clinton has had many owners who have extended or changed the house. Most of the fa├žade is stone, but as you can see above, there is one side faced in brick. Some of the history of the house can be read in its structure.

Baddesley Clinton has three priest holes. These are concealed places where Catholic priests and their adherents could hide if the house was raided by government agents [the government was persecuting Catholics at the time the holes were created and priests faced torture and execution].

Two of the holes are covered up and cannot be seen. The trapdoor below is the entrance to the third, a disused sewer at the rear of the house. Several people hid in this hole for four hours when the house was raided.

If you want to see priest holes you should visit Harvington Hall. That manor house has more priest holes than any in England. It is only 25 miles away. Harvington Hall is to the south west of Birmingham and BC is to the south east of the city. You could also read my post on Harvington Hall.

The National Trust has done a superb job of furnishing the interior.  Some of the furniture belonging to the house was sold during hard times so the Trust has brought in items from other houses, or donations it has received.

The photograph below shows the library.

The house has some superb stained glass.

Other moated manor houses

See my posts on Ightham Mote and Harvington Hall

Money Transfer

Some department stores used to try and reduce employee pilfering by having a central cashiers office. When a department sold something the money and bill would be placed in a cylindrical container and sent to the cashiers office through a pneumatic tube system. The sales would be recorded and the customers change and receipt sent back through the tube.

Though pneumatic tubes have largely disappeared from department stores, some systems still exist. For example, hospitals sometimes use pneumatic tubes to send specimens to laboratories. Pneumatic tubes were also used to send mail around cities. Low-tech Magazine has a nice article on more ambitious pipeline systems.

The photographs below show and earlier system of money transfer. This one was installed in a small department store.

Shop assistants would put cash and paperwork in a hollow wooden ball and screw the two halves of the ball together. The ball was then  placed on metal rails and would roll down to the cashiers office.

The cashier could send change and receipted bills back to different departments by using different sized balls.

Is America's word worthless?

If the Trump government breaks the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a  25-year agreement limiting Iran's nuclear capacity it entered into in July 2015, how will it be able to enter into similar agreements with other countries, such as North Korea?

Since Trump will have conclusively demonstrated that America's word is worthless the only rational course of action for both Iran and North Korea is to develop a full arsenal of nuclear weapons and be willing to use them.

William and the Outlaws catch a killer

William and his Outlaws have caught a killer. In the photograph the killer is pointing to the burial site of one of his victims and holding a board with details of his offence.

William is the second boy from the right. The boy to his left is William's slave.

Violet Elizabeth Bott had become a full member of The Outlaws and can be seen in the above photograph. Since joining Miss Bott had found it more congenial to dress in male clothing.


Forgotten History - The Bruge U-boat base

Some of you will have visited the World Heritage Site of Bruge. If you haven't I would suggest you add it to your bucket list.  It is well worth travelling to see [unlike the Giants Causeway of which Doctor Johnson said "Worth seeing, yes; but not worth going to see."] Bruge is well worth a long journey and a 2/3 day visit.

Wikipedia article on Bruge

Bruge was once one of the great commercial cities of Europe. What I did not realise until today was that it was also the location of a World War One German U-boat base. This was particularly surprising because Bruge is 14km from the coast. This map explains the geography.

A canal connects Bruge to its port of Zeebrugge.  The Germans kept the U-boats in pens in Bruge, outside the range of British naval guns. The torpedo armed boats [type UB] and the mine laying boats [type UC] were built in Germany then shipped in kit form by rail to be assembled in Belgium.

The boats then travelled down the canal to Zeebrugge and out to the sea to lay mines and torpedo British ships, mainly in the North Sea.

They did that very effectively. By the end of the war they had sunk a total of 2,554 Allied ships with a total tonnage of 2.5 million.

British anti-submarine warfare improved and by the end of the war 80% of the Bruge boats  had been sunk. Crews were understandably not keen on suicide missions and by 1918 some crews were either surrendering very easily or interning themselves in neutral countries.

If you would like to know more this book has just been published and this article is worth reading.

Giving the Devil the benefit of the law

For all those people who think it is ok to abandon the rule of law if  the outrage is great enough.

Alice: While you talk, he's gone!

More: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law!

Roper: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law!

More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper: I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you - where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast - man's laws, not God's - and if you cut them down - and you're just the man to do it - d'you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.

The quotation is from Robert Bolt's "A Man for All Seasons".  Sir Thomas More, the 16th-century Chancellor of England, refused to endorse King Henry VIII's wish to divorce his aging wife Catherine of Aragon, who could not bear him a son, so that he could marry Anne Boleyn, the sister of his former mistress. Henry VIII had him killed for his refusal.

Podcasts you might like

In Our Time  - BBC

99% Invisible - Independent

Rear Vision  - ABC

The Boring Talks  -   BBC

Babbage  -  The Economist

Page 94  - Private Eye  [UK listeners only]

More or Less  -  BBC

Futility Closet  - Independent

Income Inequality

If Americans worry about their 1% they might want to read this from Walter Scheidel,  Professor of Classics and History, Stanford University.

"Well, the most famous or infamous example is that in England right before World War I the richest 1% of the population owned 70% of private wealth, and the richest 10% owned 92% of all private wealth, which means there wasn't really much left for the other 90% of people in Britain to own. That's a particularly extreme example but you have similar levels in France, in other countries, especially, in Europe …"

The quote comes from a podcast on Economic Inequality produced by ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) Radio National's Rear Vision programme. You can find the full podcast (audio and transcript) here.

Rear Vision produces excellent podcasts which provide the  historical context for current issues,

"In today's information age we know when things happen almost immediately but so often we don't know or understand why. News and current affairs are instantaneous but more often than not presented in a historical vacuum. Rear Vision attempts to change this by presenting contemporary events and people in their historical context."

Some people see the period before the First World War as some kind of European Golden Age. I suppose it was for a very small number of people.

If the 70% and 92% figures are correct Britain appears to have been a kleptocracy. A country where corrupt political systems and control of what Gramsci referred to as the state's ideological and coercive agents [schools, media, courts, police, army]  allowed one social class to rob the rest of society. All those beautiful English stately homes and Scottish castles are the proceeds of crime.

Identify the book

This is an illustration from a well known book. Can you identify the book?

There are bonus points if you can name [the well known] artist.

Brexit cartoons

Defending Britain

Free at last

Plastics in the sea - the culprits

According to Britain's Economist magazine about 90 percent of all the plastic that reaches the world's oceans gets washed down just 10 rivers.

These  are the Yangtze, the Indus, Yellow River, Hai River, the Nile, the Ganges, Pearl River, Amur River, the Niger, and the Mekong (in that order).

Very little plastic comes from North American, European and other first world countries.  They have good water treatment systems.

If we want to reduce the amount of plastic in the oceans we need to put strong pressure on the countries that control the 10 rivers. 

In Britain environmentalists have wasted their time  on  attempts to stop  people using plastic straws and disposable coffee cups. Such campaigns are puerile and pointless when the potential benefits are compared to the amount of stuff being but in the oceans by China, India and other major polluters.

David Dale’s Cotton Mills

David Dale was a Scottish entrepreneur who was instrumental in establishing Scotland’s cotton milling industry. He was born in Ayreshire in 1739. In 1783  he met Sir Richard Arkwright, the inventor of the spinning frame, at a dinner in Glasgow. Next day the pair went to the Falls of Clyde to see if the power of the Clyde could be harnessed to power a cotton mill.

Their visit led to the building of New Lanark, with four mills and housing for workers. The mills operated very profitably. Later they became famous because of the social experiments conducted there by Robert Owen, who was Dale’s son in law. They closed in 1986. New Lanark has been designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO and attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

Dale was involved in a number of other mills.

Blantyre Mills were established in the 1780’s by David Dale and  James Monteith.  The mills continued in operation until 1904. Now, all that remains is a single housing block. This was the birthplace of David Livingstone and the building now contains the David Livingstone Centre and some reconstructed mill workers accommodation.

Catrine was a small village in Ayreshire until Dale and Claude Alexander built a cotton mill there in 1787[see the separate post on Catrine].

Spinningdale was a small mill built by Dale, in partnership with George Dempster, in around 1790. It was intended to relieve local unemployment but the highlanders employed in the mill kept going off to work on lambing, harvesting and cutting peat. When the mill burnt down in 1806 it was not rebuilt.

Stanley Mills had been built in 1784 by Richard Arkwright to harness the power of the Tay. Dale only became involved later and supposedly lost a lot of the money he invested in the mill. Stanley Mills continued in in business until 1989, latterly as a jute mill. The buildings are now being restored. See my post on Stanley Mills.

All the mills had three things in common.

Highlanders - At the time that Dale was building his mills people were very reluctant to work in factories and a lot of Dale’s workers were highlanders who had been dispossessed by the The Clearances.

Water Power - The situation of the mills emphasises the importance of water power. New Lanark and Blantyre were built by the Clyde, Stanley by the Tay, Catrine by the Ayre.  Spinningdale harnessed a burn. With the exception of Spinningdale all the mills were inland and in remote locations. Raw cotton would have had to have been shipped to a Scottish port, unloaded and carted to the mills. Then the finished products who have to have been carted away, some back to ports for export. The shipping costs must have been enormous, but insignificant compared with the benefits of water powered milling.

At New Lanark and Catrine reservoirs were built to store water so that the mills could continue in operation even in summer. Long tunnels were cut through rock at New Lanark and Stanley to carry  water to the mills.

Social Conditions – The conditions in some cotton mills were appalling. Many employed child labour and treated the children very badly. There were high death rates. Dale cared about his workers and provided good accommodation and decent working conditions. New Lanark had particularly good housing, the first working class school in Scotland and The Institute for the Formation of Character.

Dale's mills started the industrial revolution in Scotland.   They also introduced the factory system and changed the ways in which people lived and worked.

Eli Whitney and his cotton gin

In the late 18th century America had a lot of land which was suitable for cotton growing but the only plant variety that would grow in America had a serious disadvantage, a lot of seeds were mixed in with the cotton. So much so, that plantations had to employ at least 15 people on seed extraction for each person who picked the cotton.

Whitney invented a simple but effective machine which stripped out the seeds so readily that one person could complete the work that had previously required fifty.

Cotton growing suddenly became very profitable and the South went from exporting 487,000 pounds of raw cotton to England's mills  in 1793 to exporting almost 128 million pounds in 1820. This availability of cheap cotton lead to a great expansion in cotton milling.

A side effect of the cotton gin and the expansion of  cotton growing was an increase in the demand for slaves to work the plantations.