We were watching Inside The Factory on BBC iPlayer (watching Gregg Wallace amble around a production line is a guilty pleasure). They were explaining the popularity of oysters in Britain in the nineteenth century and their subsequent decline. The event that really sparked that decline was a banquet at Winchester in 1902, where guests became ill with typhoid and four people died, including the Dean of Winchester Cathedral. What really caught my attention was the source of the oysters – Emsworth in Hampshire.
Emsworth is a pretty little town just five minutes up the road from where I work. It’s quite pretty, with a nice harbour and some good walking routes into the nearby countryside. There are also some particularly good pubs and restaurants. This dark past suddenly made sense. One of those pubs, the Blue Bell Inn, teamed up with a Portsmouth brewery, Staggeringly Good, to make an Oyster Stout called Bishop Slayer.
Some of the proceeds from the beer go to project called the Solent Oyster Restoration Project, which is slowly reintroducing oysters to the Solent (as you might guess from the name). Before the early twentieth century oyster scare and more recent pollution, the Solent was europe’s biggest oyster growing region and the aim is to make it so again – with a goal of five million oyster in five years. Whatever your thoughts are on the subject of fish and beer, that has to be a good outcome.
I recently went to a talk by Katie Tucker in a pub in Southsea/Portsmouth*. She’s the leader of a group from the University of Winchester that has potentially found the bones of King Alfred the Great. As she’s an archaeologist specializing in bones the talk was a bit short on biographical detail, but nonetheless provided a fascinating description of the investigation into and the story behind his remains and final resting place. In the aftermath of Richard III’s re-appearance this search was splashed all over tabloid front pages with lurid headlines and dubious mis-quotes. The results may not be quite as complete as that of the University of Leicester but Dr Tucker’s investigation was quite a different one with a brilliant conclusion in its own way.
When Alfred died in 899 AD, he was originally buried in the old Minster at Winchester but within a few years he had be shifted to the New Minster next door, built by his son as a dynastic church for the family. So far so good*, but the difficulties start when the Normans arrived and decided to build a new cathedral on the site. Alfred’s remains, and those of some close relatives and companions, were packed up and taken to a new abbey at Hyde on a new site. They were reburied here, although the exact position is disputed. Then in 1538 the abbey was dissolved and demolished, and in 1788 the site had a prison built on top. This is where the location of the bodies starts to get messed up – contemporary reports suggested that the bones were scattered by the building work.
Continue reading Post 41: The Search For King Alfred