The history of Shrove Tuesday and a look at Reverend William Buckland
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Delving into the past with Chris Hallam.
This is actually the twentieth of my History Corners since the series started in early October. It seems to be going well so far, so thanks for reading it and I hope you’re enjoying it.
One thing I perhaps should have mentioned at the start is that if you have any strong feelings about the column, for example, if you’ve spotted any mistakes, have any extra information on a particular subject I’ve written about or have any ideas as to topics I could write about in the future, please feel free to write in with your suggestions.
Perhaps you have a personal memory to contribute which is related to something I’ve written about? Either way, we’d love to hear from you. Ideas for new topics for me to focus on would be especially welcome as while I have plenty lined up, I’m always on the lookout for more.
This week saw the arrival of Pancake Day: it was on Tuesday, if you missed it! For the record, the ‘shrove’ bit of ‘Shrove Tuesday’ means to obtain absolution from one’s sins by confessing and doing penance.
This obviously refers less to the pancake-eating bonanza itself but the forty days of fasting which, in theory, you are supposed to experience straight after it between the end of that day and Easter, the period of Lent.
The slap-up pancake meal is intended to fortify you for the forty days of hunger ahead. In practice, of course, very few people do the fasting bit nowadays: in fact, I expect some of you having realised you’d forgotten the big day on Tuesday, might now be thinking of having pancakes tonight instead.
Some observe Lent in other ways, perhaps giving up a bad habit such as smoking, having wine after dinner, eating meat or watching soap operas instead. Sometimes they end up giving up the habit for good.
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The tradition of marking the start of Lent by guzzling pancakes has continued since Tudor times. Pancake races developed after an apparent real-life incident in the 15th century when a Buckinghamshire woman ran out of her house still tossing the pancake in the pan which she held as she realised she was late for church.
Other traditions such as the popular Shrove Tuesday ‘mob football’ games largely died out after the introduction of the Highway Act 1835 which banned people from playing football on public roads.
Axminster people: The Revd William Buckland
Few stories are odder than the somewhat disturbing tale of William Buckland who was born in Axminster in 1784 and who later attended the distinguished Blundell’s School in Tiverton.
His early life was genuinely accomplished. He became the first ever Professor of Geology at Oxford University and was Dean of Westminster.
He wrote the first ever full account of a fossil dinosaur which he dubbed the Megalosaurus.
The term ‘dinosaur’ was coined slightly later. As a priest, he worked hard to find ways to make the stories of the Bible make sense within the context of a world coming to terms with a new knowledge of science.
At one he became convinced that he had found solid scientific evidence for the ‘universal deluge’: the great flood which had formed the backdrop to the Old Testament tale of Noah’s Ark. But despite writing a book about it, he later changed his mind.
He was undoubtedly an eccentric character, prone to physically impersonate the prehistoric animals he was talking about during lectures. He sometimes delivered lectures while on horseback. He also had a bizarre love of eating very unusual animals.
He seems to have been able to stomach anything although he admitted to disliking the taste of mole.
Sadly, Buckland’s story does not end well as in later life his behaviour grew more eccentric still. With concern growing that he might be becoming a danger to himself and perhaps to others, he was committed to a lunatic asylum in Clapham. He died there in 1856.