8 obscure yet fascinating things I learnt this week


“ Book-Cycle in Exeter is next to The-House-That-Moved,” my friend told me breezily. I had no idea what or where that was, until several other friends came to my rescue by posting clips and links onto my Facebook page. One of my researchers expressed surprise that I didn’t know about such a well-known historical site right on my doorstep and I had to admit that I had no clue. It made me realise that being a family historian means you are on a constant learning curve and there seems to be no end to the information you need to take in.

Here are eight fairly random things that I discovered only this week:

  1.  There is a 15th century house in Exeter which was physically moved down the street in 1961 and relocated to save it from demolition. It’s affectionately known as ‘The house that moved.’ See the BBC Archives’ video here.
  2. The Householders’ census returns from 1881 and 1891 were pulped during the First World War so that the paper could be recycled.
  3. The terms ‘Top dog’ and ‘Under dog’ probably came from the saw mills, where one man would work the two-handed-saw whilst standing on top of the wood and another, more junior man, would be underneath in the saw-pit. He would have to wear a wide-brimmed hat to stop his face getting covered in sawdust!
  4. There are eleven places called Denton in Britain, from Sussex all the way up to Durham. There are twenty-five if you include places like Over Denton and Denton Green. The place-name comes from the Olde English pre-7th Century words denu meaning a valley and tun, a settlement. In other words, ‘the settlement in the valley’, which explains its popularity in England.
  5. Tanks were originally called ‘landships.’ However, in an attempt to disguise them as water storage tanks rather than as weapons, the British decided to codename them ‘tanks’. Tanks were also assigned a gender: male tanks had cannons and females had heavy machine guns. (Thanks to randomhistory.com for those.)
  6. At the end of World War Two there was a labour shortage in Britain and Jamaicans were paid to come to the UK to work. They were (rather shockingly) housed in a deep-level air raid shelter at Clapham. The nearest labour exchange was on Coldharbour Lane in Brixton so the men looked for work there. Brixton then became a focus for West Indian settlers in London.
  7. Drawer, putter, hurrier and waggoner all describe the same job in different parts of the country. This was usually a boy or young man (although sometimes women were employed) who pushed tubs of coal from the coal face to the mine shaft.
  8. Montgomeryshire is now Powys.

OK, I should have known that last one, but my point is that there is so much to learn and such a broad range of topics that need to be explored, from ancient laws and local customs to military campaigns and colloquial mining terms. Thank goodness for the internet and Wikipedia!

Discussion: What have you learned this week? Be specific – only information gained during the last 7 days counts! You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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