beware the 5:00 pm miasma

Despite her Gallic sounding name, the Comtesse de Noailles (1824 – 1908) was English and lived near Eastbourne for nearly 20 years before moving to France later in life.

Beachy Head from above Eastbourne circa 1890 found here

When she was 40, she saw a portrait of a young girl by the artist Ernest Hébert. De Noailles attempted to buy it but it had already been sold so she decided instead to adopt the model, named Maria. Her Italian father, Domenico, had brought her to Paris to be adopted for two bags of gold with which he would use to create a vineyard.

Pasqua Maria by Ernest Hébert found here

De Noailles encouraged her cows to graze near open windows believing the methane they produced was good for her health. She also left England every winter for fear of catching flu. When Maria became an adult, de Noailles instructed her to do the same with her family, saying the climate became too unhealthy when leaves fell, especially from oak trees, which de Noailles believed England had too many of.

Majesty Oak of Kent found here

After Maria married, if the Comtesse came to stay, all the trees in the vicinity would have to be felled in case she caught some disease from the bark. During Maria’s pregnancy, the Comtesse instructed her to drink only water in which the tips of pine branches had previously been boiled, which was  problematic, since all nearby trees had been cut due to a previous demand.

felled pine tree stump found here

Other habits included sleeping with a loaded pistol beside her bed; having a string of fresh onions hung on her bedroom door to protect her from infections; wrapping silk stockings stuffed with squirrel fur around her forehead to prevent wrinkles; eating large amounts of fresh herring roe to prevent bronchitis. She also believed that port wine should be drunk at sunset, mixed with a little sugar and diluted with soft rainwater collected from the roof of their house by her servants under her husband’s supervision.

bald squirrel found here

She refused to travel anywhere if the wind was blowing in an easterly direction and was liable to call the train to a halt and return home should she notice the trees blowing the wrong way.

During a visit to southern France where de Noailles and her daughter met other members of polite society, she instructed her family to accept no invitations to afternoon tea after 5 o’clock, believing that most people caught flu at this time because of dangerous miasma in the air at the end of the day.

dangerous invitation to a late tea found here

The Comtesse lived until she was 84, her diet in the last weeks of her life consisting solely of milk and champagne.

ducks, boars and goats

Australia’s early settlers were mostly a bunch of criminals transported here against their will. When they had served their time many chose to stay on but some set sail for cities such as San Francisco

Not before or since had the Americans seen a criminal element so vicious or all powerful as the Sydney Ducks, the blood stained streets of Prohibition era Chicago tame by comparison to the terror these Australians unleashed on San Francisco.

read about Sydney’s Duck Fashion show here

Two of the more infamous pubs were ‘The Boar’s Head‘ and ‘Goat & Compass‘, the first run by former NSW convict George Haggerty who attracted crowds by getting one of his prostitutes to have sex with a boar on stage. The second, owned by another Sydney ex-con, paid down and out Aussie prospector ‘Dirty’ Tom McAlear to eat and drink excrement to entertain crowds. McAlear made a living eating anything people gave him for 10c, when he was arrested in 1852 for bizarre public behavior he told police he had been continually drunk for seven years and hadn’t bathed in that period of time either.

image found here

According to the reverend Cogham Brewer, writing around 1900, much of a nation’s history, and more of its manners and feelings, may be gleaned from its public-house signs. Here are a few of the more interesting ones….

Bosom’s Inn. A public-house sign in St. Lawrence Lane, London; a corruption of Blossom’s Inn, as it was later called, in allusion to the hawthorn blossoms surrounding the effigy of St Lawrence on the sign.

The Cat and Fiddle. A corruption of Caton Fidele i.e. Caton, the faithful governor of Calais. In Farringdon (Devon) is the sign of La Chatte Fidele in commemoration of a faithful cat, Without scanning the phrase so nicely, it may simply indicate that the game of cat (trap-ball) and a fiddle for dancing were provided for customers.

The Cock and Bottle. By some said to be a corruption of the ‘Cork and Bottle’, meaning that wine was sold there in bottles.

The Cow and Skittles. The cow is the real sign, and alludes to the dairy of the hostess, or some noted dairy in the neighbourhood. Skittles was added to indicate that there was a skittle ground on the premises.

“Soft Serve” by Dan Lydersen

The Hole-in-the-Wall. So called because it was approached by a passage or ‘hole’ in the wall of the house standing in front of the tavern.

The Queer Door. A corruption of Coeur Dore (Golden Heart).

The Ship and Shovel. Referring to Sir Cloudesley Shovel, a favourite admiral in Queen Anne’s reign.

Have my English readers got any they want to add?



Published in: on January 5, 2010 at 7:39 am  Comments (40)  
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