On Friday 19 January, we had our AGM – and four talks by some of our members.
The first talk was given by our secretary Mavis Shannon on the subject of the ague particularly in the North West of England. First of all Mavis defined what the ague was. It was not an old name for rheumatism but the old name for malaria which surprisingly was endemic in Britain till the beginning of the 20thc. In excavations of Anglo-Saxon cemeteries up to 30% of the bodies show signs of malaria in their bones. Malaria was not usually a killer disease but progressively weakened the individual as they often had repeated attacks even having the disease annually and it could last from 2 weeks for up to 2 months.
Mavis then went on to explain why there was this incidence of malaria, which she explained meant bad air or smells as that is what the people at the time thought caused the disease. In fact the disease is caused by the anopheles mosquito which breeds in stagnant pools of water. North-West England at the time had many peat bogs which were ideal conditions for this mosquito and the disease it carried.Peat was one of the main fuels used in this area and thus exposed people to the disease. When coal became more readily available the use of peat declined and then with the enclosure movement much land was drained and used for agricultural purposes leading to fewer habitats for the mosquitoes.
Mavis then looked to the future; there is now a growing movement to reflood the land that has been drained in the past. These organisations believe that this will increase biodiversity particularly for 12 varieties of sphagnum moss and also for dragonflies and darters but this could lead to the reintroduction of the anopheles mosquito and therefore the possibility of the return of malaria.
The above book is available here
Our second talk was on the hunt for the Snotter stone by Bill McCain. This is the ancient boundary marker delineating where West Derby Hundred met Leyland Hundred. Bill gave us a brief overview of what is known about the stone. It was on the shoreline of Martin Mere and the Ribble estuary. In the 19thc. The Rev. William Bulpit did much excavating of this area where he found 14 wooden canoes of which only one remains and which is on display in the Atkinson museum in Southport. He also excavated a 6ft. monolith on the old shoreline at Hundred End. He believed it to be the Snotter Stone. The location was subsequently lost. There has been a claimed rediscovery but it was not as described by Rev. Bulpit. Bill McCain pointed out that there is no natural outcrop of stone in the area so it could not be local stone but there are a few erratics. He believes it to be of pre-conquest origin and he went on to describe a boundary dispute involving the Heskeths in the 16thc. where there were accused of acquiring land which was in the Leyland Hundred. Bill also believes that there is a crannog close to the proposed location of the Snotter Stone. He made liberal use of maps going back to the 16th and 18th and 19thcenturies. He concluded his talk by saying “The Quest Continues.”
Our third talk was by one of our members of the Ermine Guard Derek Forrest who always has an interesting talk for us on the Roman army. This year he gave an illustrated talk on the Xanten re-enactment festival in Germany which happens once every 2 years. There has been a recreation on the site of the Castra Vetera Roman Fort. This is an ongoing reconstruction, some of it imaginative, of this fort. Xanten is one of only 2 working reconstructions of a Roman bath-house in Europe and he regaled us with the story of when the Ermine guard used this facility. There is also a mansio building in which the Ermine Guard stayed. Derek told us about the really impressive museum which takes you on a circular staircase throughout the history of the area which stretches from the Paleolithic to the present day.
Derek strongly urged all those who could to attend the festival this year which takes place on the last full weekend of June.
The last talk was given by Dr. Bill Shannon on his recent visit to Jordan. He talked particularly to us about 2 Roman sites he visited as well as a little about Petra. The Roman fort is known as Qasr Bashir in Arabic which means the “”Fort of the General” but the first site he visited was a signal station which was erected c.150 A.D. a little after Hadrian’s wall was built. It had a single entrance and was well preserved. They then went on to the next Roman Fort. The forts though not close are intervisible. This next fort is large and still stands to a considerable height, much higher than most extant remains in Britain. The guide that they employed to take them to these sites which are in the desert had never heard of these remains but he found out where they were from someone who did. Bill had been informed about them by Dr. David Breeze who has done much work on the frontiers of the Roman empire. This fort has a standing archway with an impressive inscription describing that the fort is in the governorship of Moab and dates it to the time of the Tetrarchy about 293 A.D (the photo below has the key parts of the inscription picked out). The Romans turned a seasonal watercourse into a catchment area to serve the fort and it still functions today. There were also cisterns in the interior to catch the rare precipitation. The fort had towers at the corners and was faced with high quality ashlar. Bill said the thinking is that it was a headquarters building.
Dr. Shannon then told us a little about his visit to Petra and the wonderful archaeology he saw.
This was a really interesting members evening and we now look forward to our next meeting about the legendary 9th legion of the Roman army.
Posted by Jeannette Dobson