If you go down to the woods today ….

THE OTHER WEEKEND I was left alone for a night whilst Sarah went to see her mother in Hampshire. Well, I thought I was alone – then, after a glass of wine or two, I realised I was not alone at all.  There were our teddy bears all keen to be spoken to.

We have two teddy bears in the conservatory, Horatio and Mortimer, and they guard the chairs from possession by our cat. Then there are three more teddy bears in the house – my bear who, believe it or not, is called Teddy and is as old as I am; and Sarah’s two teddy bears, one as old as her and one brought back from Hong Kong by her father returning from his Royal Naval duties in the  mid-1960s. These three teddy bears live together in the lounge/study but I decided that they could come and join Horatio, Mortimer and myself in the conservatory that evening.


Horatio (admiral bear)


Mortimer (barrister bear)


Sarah’s ‘one-eyed’ white teddy (as old as her); my blue teddy (as old as me, complete with Brighton College school scarf);  Sarah’s brown musical teddy (from Hong Kong)

There are one or two other smaller teddy bears around the house but they are a little shy and difficult to talk to, so we’ll leave them alone.

The name teddy bear comes from ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt, the President of the USA, 1901-1909. It came about when Roosevelt went on a hunting trip in Mississippi in 1902 to which he had been invited by the Governor of the State, Andrew H. Longino.  After three days hunting most of the hunters had found a bear but  Roosevelt had not. Then Roosevelt’s attendants, led by Holt Collier, captured an elderly black bear which had been chased by the dogs. Collier tied the bear to a tree and called for Roosevelt to come and shoot it.


Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt (1858-1919)

When Roosevelt arrived at the scene he declined to shoot the bear as that would have been unsportsmanlike. However, the bear was greatly distressed having been attacked by the dogs and so Roosevelt ordered it to be put down. The incident was ‘recorded’ in a cartoon by Clifford Berryman in The Washington Post on the 6th November 1902 – it shows a small black bear held by an attendant with Roosevelt turning away refusing to have anything to do with the situation.  Later similar cartoons showed the bear even smaller and in much fear.

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The cartoon in The Washington Post

A Brooklyn shopkeeper, Morris Michtom, saw the cartoon and created a small soft bear cub and put it in his shop window with a sign, ‘Teddy’s bear’. In fact, he had written to Roosevelt, sending him a bear, and the President had allowed him to use his name ‘Teddy’.  The toy bears were a great success and Michtom set up the Idea Novelty and Toy Co selling them.


Early 1900s teddy bear in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, Washington, manufactured by Benjamin Michtom, son of Morrris, and owned by Theodore Roosevelt’s grandson, Kermit Roosevelt (no comments on that name please you muppets) 

Interestingly, about the same time, and unaware of Michtom and his creation, the German, Richard Steiff, nephew of Margarete Steiff whose company manufactured toy fabric animals (but not bears), hit on the idea of a  bear.  He exhibited a type ’55 PB’ at the Leipzig Toy Fair in March 1903 and Herman Berg, a buyer for George Borgfeldt, New York, ordered 3000 of them for the USA.  Neither Michtom nor Steiff were aware of each others activities but soon the name ‘Teddy’ became linked to all such bears.

Replica of a Steiff 55 PB

Anyway, back to my teddy bears …….. Ah, I must go now as I see two gentlemen in white coats are knocking on my door.


The Curse of Cowdray House

THESE DAYS most people know Cowdray Park in Midhurst, West Sussex, for its polo (and golf course) and ochre-coloured estate buildings. But there is a magnificent ruin of a Tudor house also there – okay, you knew that as well.  But did you know why it’s a ruin?  The monk’s curse of course!


The original house, named Coudreye, was built between 1273 and 1284 by Sir John Bohun. It was acquired by Sir David Owen (Henry VII’s uncle) on the death of his wife, Mary Bohun, in 1496. He built the current Cowdray House in 1520.  In 1529, Sir Owen’s son, Henry, sold the house to Sir William Fitzwilliam.  It became the home of Sir Anthony Browne when he inherited it from Sir William, his half-brother, in 1543. It remained one of his principal residences until his death just five years later in 1548.


Cowdray House as it may have looked c1545

The house was then inherited by his son, also Sir Anthony Browne – later 1st Viscount Montague.  Much the same time (following the Dissolution of the Monasteries of 1536-41), Sir Anthony is said to have expelled the monks from the nearby Priory at Easebourne. An embittered monk raged into Cowdray House where Sir Anthony was feasting and cursed his family line, shouting, “by fire and water, thy line shall come to an end and it shall perish out of this land” [1]. Harsh, bearing in mind it wasn’t Sir Anthony who had dissolved the monasteries ……


Sir Anthony Browne, 1st Viscount Montague, 1528-92 (portrait by Hans Eworth 1569)

Well, the curse rather fizzled out. That is until 200 years later in the 18th century. Cowdray House, under the ownership of the 8th Viscount Montague (George Browne), was destroyed by fire on the 24th September 1793, ironically, during restoration work. A few days later, the Viscount (unaware of the fire) drowned foolishly attempting to shoot the rapids at the falls of the Schauffhausen on the Rhine.  The 9th Viscount died childless in 1797 and with that the peerage became extinct. There’s more. The 8th Viscount’s sister, Elizabeth, became heir to Cowdray and married William Stephen Poyntz and in the summer of 1815 their two sons were drowned in a boating accident off Bognor Regis in West Sussex.  Cowdray House was never restored and remains a ruin today.   Spooky or what?!


The House after the fire (above and below)


The Cowdray estate was sold ‘out of the family’ by Poyntz’s three daughters to the 6th Earl of Egremont in 1843.  In 1908 the 8th Earl sold the estate (including the ruin) to Sir Weetman Dickinson Pearson, later (in 1917) 1st Viscount Cowdray.

Battle of the Solent (Mary Rose) painting

On the subject of the Mary Rose (as I was last week), Cowdray House was also famous for its painting of the Battle of the Solent when Henry VIII’s ship, Mary Rose, sunk (see also post, March 21). Well, I say ‘famous’ – it would have been if the painting still existed. Unfortunately it was destroyed in the 1793 fire. But fortunately a copy had been made eight years earlier.

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The Cowdray ‘copy’ of the Battle of the Solent (6ft in length)

The original of this painting was probably painted between 1545 and 1548 for Sir Anthony Browne who was Master of the King’s Horse (he was the father of ‘the cursed’ Sir Anthony Browne, 1st Viscount Montague – see above).  He is shown prominently in the centre of the image riding a white horse following just behind King Henry VIII who is also mounted (see just above the large English flag bottom middle – and see pic below). The picture was one of a set of five which adorned the walls of the dining hall at Cowdray House.


Henry VIII and Sir Anthony Browne (on white horse) from the Cowdray ‘copy’

The Society of Antiquities of London commissioned the Sherwin brothers to make a watercolour copy of the original wall painting of the Portsmouth scene and this was completed by 1775.  Recording the image had been made at the suggestion of Sir Joseph Ayloffe (1708 – 1781) who read a paper to the Society about the wall paintings at Cowdray House in 1773. Thank goodness for Sir Joseph!



[1] There is another version: Prior to his inheritance of Cowdray House, Sir Anthony Brown had received Battle Abbey in East  Sussex (where the Battle of Hastings had allegedly taken place). A dispossessed monk from Battle Abbey is said to have cursed the family with those words.

Dan Snow on the Mary Rose

I WAS LUCKY enough to have been able to attend a talk last month by Dan Snow on the Mary Rose  at the Mary Rose Museum (it was open to Patrons and Friends of the Mary Rose and I was invited by a Patron – Sarah). Now I know I talked about the Tudor ship before this year (see post March 21) but that’s not the purpose of this post – not entirely anyway, but I don’t intend to repeat anything said in that previous post. One of the most interesting factors of Dan’s talk was his references to the history surrounding the ship rather than the actual ship itself.

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Dan Snow (23rd Oct) – great talk on the Mary Rose and very at ease as a speaker

He reflected on the fact that the ship was the ‘missing link’ in the history of war at sea. Well, no longer ‘missing’ of course. In the ancient world war at sea was simply a matter of transporting soldiers on ships to the opposition, also featuring soldiers on ships. The two ships would then grapple together and the soldiers would board the other ship and fight hand-to hand. As time went on bows and arrows were a little more prominent as a form of ‘artillery’. It wasn’t until the 16th century that the idea of firing cannons at another ship became an interesting way of winning a battle. If the ship sunk or was immobilised its soldiers could not fight. Henry VIII came to this conclusion hence the Mary Rose was the first ship to carry large cannons for this purpose when she was built in 1510/11.

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Ancient sea battles – soldiers awaiting to board an opponent’s ship for a ‘land’ battle

The problem was the weight of these cannons (or guns) which required much re-reinforcement to ship’s design and may have been a part-cause of the Mary Rose’s demise in 1545 – imbalance of weight following her re-fit and enlargement in 1536 (but the sinking was looked at in my previous post so we won’t go there again).


Heavy cannons of the Mary Rose

So the so-called ‘Battle of the Solent’ was a turning point of sea battles. I use the word ‘battle’ loosely as it was not much of a battle – in fact, had it not been for the sinking of the Mary Rose, it would have been quite forgettable. Anyway, sea battles afterwards were never the same again. Soldiers made way for cannons and sea warfare turned into a ‘slugging-it-out’ of heavy ironware. Trafalgar of course leaps to mind as a very obvious example. This really went on into the 20th century. The last heavyweight sea battle of ships at war was probably the Battle of Jutland in 1916 (I refer to it in advance of its anniversary next year).  Although the Second World War had its share of sea fights (sinking of the Bismark, etc) but there were none as large as Jutland. Aircraft have taken over from soldiers and ships as battle-winners and some ships have become transportation for those aircraft – sort of full circle for ships usage in warfare.


Image of the Battle of Jutland 

An interesting misconception that Dan raised was this idea that the United Kingdom had never been successfully invaded again since 1066. This was not at all true. We have been invaded several times since which is why our monarchs over the years have not always been English in origin – we have just not been invaded by a large sea force. This led onto another misconception that the English Channel had protected us from invasions. It was never the English Channel as such but the ships of our Navy.


British navy projecting our shores against the Spanish Armada in 1588

Questions at the end raised some intriguing issues. Dan was asked which, he thought, was our worst defeat at sea.  Winston Churchill’s fiasco in the Dardanelles in 1915 immediately sprang to my mind but Dan’s far superior historical knowledge identified the Battle of Chesapeake (or Virginia Capes) in 1781 off Virginia. It was against the French and although the battle was tactically inconclusive it was strategically a major defeat for the British since it prevented the Royal Navy from reinforcing or evacuating the blockaded forces of Lieutenant General Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown Virginia.  Dan observed that for success the French only needed a draw, the English needed a victory. It was a draw and resulted in Cornwallis’ surrender and a turning point, two years later, to the British recognition of the independent of the United States of America.


Battle of Chesapeake 1781

Another question was what Dan thought about the treatment of Nelson’s Lady Hamilton. His answer was a little evasive – he should have read my post last week!  But that was followed with a conversation Dan would have most liked to have witnessed – the one between Nelson and Wellington (then Sir Arthur Wellesley but the youngest Major General in the British army) whilst they were waiting in an anti-chamber in the Colonial Office at Downing Street on the 12th September 1805 to see Lord Castlereagh . The details of the meeting are a little unclear (Nelson is said  not to have recognised Wellesley and treated him with indifference before leaving the room, only to return a different man – having, perhaps, being told who Wellesley was) but there ensued a lengthy conversation between the two militarily geniuses, unfortunately unrecorded.

Tribute: Admiral Lord Nelson        Arthur_Wellesley,_1st_Duke_of_Wellington

    Nelson and Wellington – interesting conversation between the two?

It was a fascinating talk from a fascinating character well-versed in historical knowledge throughout the Ages.

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Thanks Dan – and the Mary Rose Trust – for a great talk


The Linnean Society

A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO I rambled on about Alfred Wallace and Charles Darwin and their work being read out by Charles Lyle and Joseph Hooker at the Linnean Society (click here if you want to read that paper).  One of my readers asked about this Society, having never heard of it before. The Linnean Society of London is situated at Burlington House in Piccadilly. Burlington House is not so much a house, more of a large building surrounding a square that also incorporates such learned institutions as  the Society of Antiquaries (founded 1707 – of which I’m a Fellow, but I’m sure I’ve told you that!), the Geological Society (founded 1807), the Royal Astronomical Society (1820), and the Royal Society of Chemistry (1841).


Burlington House c1874 

The Linnean Society was founded in 1788 for the dissemination of taxonomy and natural history.   It took its name from the Swedish naturalist, Carl von Linné (or, prior to his ennoblement,  Carolus Linnaeus – which sometimes causes a misspelling of the Society as Linnaean).  He laid the foundations for the modern biological naming scheme of binomial nomenclature (this is a formal system of naming species of living things by giving each a name composed of two parts – e.g. Homo sapiens). He is known as the father of modern taxonomy  and is also considered one of the fathers of modern ecology.


Carl von Linné 1707-78 (by Alexander Roslin in 1775)

The Society’s purpose is to promote the study of all aspects of the biological sciences, with particular emphasis on evolution, taxonomy, biodiversity, and sustainability (defining behaviour).  Its collections include some 14,000 plants, 158 fish, 1,564 shells, 3,198 insects, 1,600 books and 3,000 letters and documents.  A former Fellow of the Society was, of course, Charles Darwin from 1854.  Women were admitted into the Society after a ballot in December 1904. A Marian Farquharson had been the ‘women’s rights’ campaigner behind this but she was not admitted until 1908 (don’t ask) – and then she was too ill to sign the roll (there’s no justice).


The first admission of women Fellows to the Linnean Society of London in 1905

The Linnean Society founded and published several journals that are still in publication today: the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, focusing on evolutionary  biology of all organisms; the  Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, focusing on plant sciences; and the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, focusing on animal systematics and evolution.

So now you know.

For more on the Society click here