Things That Go BANG!

CakeAndrea here, Today is a special festive day here in America. The fourth of July—our Independence Day—is a high point of the summer season. Traditionally celebrated with outdoor barbeques replete with hot dogs, hamburgers and raspberry-blueberry-whipped cream flag cakes—hip, hip hooray for the red, white and blue! And along with all-American food, fireworks is an integral part of the festivities.

So, in the spirit of “things that go bang,” I thought I would give a few highlights on the history of gunpowder, which is the catalyst of filling the skies with bursts of bright color.

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Wonderful Wenchly Eighth Anniversary

 Joanna here, at the Great Word Wenches Eighth Blogiversary. 

 Today we're celebrating by harking back to our favorite blog posting evah!
There'll be four blog links today.  Four on Friday.

This is my own fourth Word Wenches anniversary.  I'm still the newest Wench — the baby Wench, as it were.  So proud and happy to be here.   

When I went looking fStevens the_bath mid c19or my favorite posting, I had quite a number that called to me.  I could go back to the one about women fighting with fists and swords.  Or the 'fireworks and explosives' post.  Or the one about Regency liquor.  (I sense a certain disreputable trend in my posts that had hitherto escaped my notice.)  But on the whole, I decided we'd go with a cleaner topic.  Bathing.

So here is Georgian and Regency Bathing Customs  – here.RupertBoye


Nicola says:

It’s lovely to be celebrating the 8th anniversary of the Word Wenches blog and with it our wonderful Wench readers and a huge variety of blog posts.

It was very difficult to choose a favourite from my time as a Wench and I got completely distracted reading through old posts and thinking anew about a range of fascinating topics relating to history and writing and much more besides. In the end, like Andrea, I chose one of my first posts as a wench, One Man and his Dog.

I was so excited to be a part of the group (I still am!) and so keen to share my quirky research interests with a group of like-minded people. The blog illustrates a couple of my passions – dogs and Prince Rupert of the Rhine – and I know I am not alone in loving both of these disparate subjects! In addition, Prince Rupert is a character in my current work in progress and so there is a nice connection from one of my early Wench posts to my writing now.

So here is a link to the blog post, with thanks to my fellow wenches for being such an amazing group and to our readers for being such  fun to chat with!

Wenches sharpCara/Andrea here,

I think one of the reasons the Word Wenches have thrived for eight years in an internet landscape where sites come and go at the speed of light is because we all have wide-ranging and eclectic interests. (that’s an erudite way of saying we are quirky!) Which makes choosing a favorite from the blogs I’ve done over the years no easy task. Like a magpie, I tend to collect bright shiny tidbits of arcane information. I call it research . . . and usually the esoteric historical information I find fascinating does end up in my books. But most, I just find the stuff fun to know.

However, after going over my contributions to the blog, I’ve decided to spotlight the very first post I did for as a Word Wench. There are two reasons—firstly because I was—and still am—thrilled to be part of such an amazing group of writers. Not only do we share a passion for writing and history, but on a more personal level, we have become a close-knit, supportive group of best friends. Secondly, I’m choosing it because it Wenches gunfireillustrates the sort of offbeat historical subject that set fire to my imagination. And what makes it even more fun is that there is an audience of kindred spirits who seem to share my passion. So without further ado, here is a link to the history of gunpowder. And I’ll also add my own colorful fireworks of thanks to all you readers whose enthusiasm for our posts keeps us going!

 Sherrie drops in to say —Image001

From Sherrie Holmes and Sparky Tabasco, happy anniversary to all the Wenches for 8 wonderful years! As your  blogmistress, I've been privileged to come along for the ride from the very beginning. It's been a trip! I can remember when I was first approached by Mary Jo about researching blog venues and then becoming the blogmistress to keep things running smoothly behind the scenes. Blogging had really exploded back then, and many authors were dragged, kicking and screaming, into the blogosphere. Now, blogs are a great way for authors and readers to connect, and a side benefit has been the wonderful friendships that have been formed as a result. Here’s to another glorious 8 years!

BathingmenAnd Jo:.

I was delighted to be invited to join the Word Wenches back in 2006, and then it seemed quite an achievement to reach our anniversary in May 2007. Of course we wanted to do a group blog worthy of the milestone, so what else but Getting Naked With the Wenches? The topic was "nakedness in the past — the fiction and the non-fiction."

I pulled together the first of three posts on nakedness. In this one the Wenches discussed bathing habits — naked or not?– and even the definition of nakedness, which uncovered (sorry!) this from the OED. 1761:  "The streets were…filled with naked people, some with shirts and shifts on only, and numbers without either." There are pictures.

We also discussed nakedness in sex. No pictures in the blog, but there's a link, with appropriate warnings. Enjoy!

 Stay tuned for Friday's posting when we'll hear from Anne, Pat, Susan and Mary Jo.  On Friday we'll offer a plentitudeand a half of Wench Book Swag to lucky commenters on either of these posts.  What kind of book swag?  Let me say — ARC!  Let me say — Newly released books.  Let me say — audiobook!

 So …  What's your favorite Wench post from the eight years of Wenchdom?

Regency Pyrotechnics

Catherine wheels wikiJoanna here.

What do Vauxhall, the court of Queen Elizabeth, Cuper's Gardens, (which is described intriguingly as "the scene of low dissipation . . . and the great resort of the profligate of both sexes" — rather like our local mall,) thFurttenbach_Feuerwerk1644e celebration of the wedding of George III, and Kensington Gardens have in common?

Fireworks.  Big, bright rockets and Catherine wheels and crackers.  Fireworks were the sound and light show of the Eighteenth Century.  The extravaganza that marked all great and festive events.

Sometimes there was music.  You can listen to Handel's Fireworks Music, for instance, here.  I'll admit I was expecting something with more booms in it.


“…. fireworks had for her a direct and magical appeal. Their attraction was more complex than that of any other form of art. They had pattern and sequence, colour and sound, brilliance and mobility; they had suspense, surprise, and a faint hint of danger; above all, they had the supreme quality of transience, which puts the keenest edge on beauty.”
Jan Struther, Mrs. Miniver


Fireworks came out of China, like printing, dim sum and Bruce Lee.  The original fireworks date back to the Ninth Century or so.  They, were firecrackers made of gunpowder, stuffed into thin bamboo shoots.  Oddly enough, the original use of pyrotechnics was not warfare.  All this gunpowder was set off at the new year to scare away evil spirits.  It probably worked.

Knowledge of gunpowder arrived in the Middle East and Europe in the 1200s.  Marco Polo sometimes gets the credit, and why shouldn't he? 


“You're much better than fireworks. They're all over in a moment, and you're going to stay for a fortnight. Besides, fireworks are noisy, and they make too much smoke.”
Kate Ross, Cut to the Quick

One of the first mentions of fireworks is in Roger Bacon's Opus Majus.  Roger-bacon-wiki

"… that children's toy which is made in many diverse parts of the world, a device no bigger than one's thumb. From the violence of that salt called saltpetre, together with sulphur and willow charcoal, combined into a powder, so horrible a sound is made by the bursting of a thing so small, with no more than a bit of parchment containing it, that we find the ear assaulted by a noise exceeding the roar of strong thunder, and a flash brighter than the most brilliant lightning."
Early English fireworks specialists were — it's not surprising — military gunners.  The same men who used gunpowder to send an iron ball shooting out of a cannon, used that knowledge to create and explode fireworks.  They formed craft guilds across Europe, traveled, exchanged information, and wrote long treatises on the formulas and methods.    

Fireworks 2 and illuminations 1749This here is a vast fireworks display over the Thames in 1748 at the Duke of Richmond to celebrate the ending of the War of the Austrian Succession.  This is the shindig for which Handel wrote that music linked above.  

See there in the middle of the Thames?  Those rockets going up and letting off a globe and lights falling out were called 'stars'. 

To make falling stars —
"… the stuffe which is to be put into the Rocket for to flame and give crackes is made of twelve partes of Saltpeeter refind, of Citrine Brimstone nine partes, of grosse gunpowder five partes and 1/4 of a part mingled togeather with your hand."

That mixture was moistened and formed into small pieces, then packed into a ball and wound tightly Fireworks wikiround with packthread, given a fuse, and placed in the head of a rocket.  When the rocket exploded, the stars would stream down in the air.

One observer said it seemed "as if the sky has opened … as if all the air in the world is filled with fireworks and all the stars in the heavens are falling to earth …  a thing truly stupendous and marvelous to behold."


"We were ready for the apocalypse and when it didn't come we were very disappointed. So we drank more absinthe and set off fireworks."
Marilyn Manson


Black powderWhat our Regency folks would have called 'gun powder', what we might call 'black powder' today, was made from three main ingredients.  There were some other additives, but thee were the Big Three.

Ground charcoal.  The best charcoal, the sort used for fireworks — was made from willow, alder or black dogwood. 

Sulphur, which had to be perfectly clean and free from sulfuric acid. 

And saltpeter. Saltpeter is interesting stuff.  It's mainly potassium nitrate.  The name, sal petrae, 'salt of rock' is because it's found as an incrustation on rocks.  Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century folks mined it in dungheaps and farmyards and caves favored by bats for many years. Or they cultivated it deliberately by composting manure for a year, adding additional urine.  It was the urea in urine that bacteria broke down to the useful nitrates.

I haven't found any Regency reference to the idea that saltpeter suppresses sexual desire.  Either I just haven't found it or they hadn't thought that up yet.

Back to the ingredients for fireworks.
It's somewhat a matter of what they didn't have. Iron filings might be added to make a brighter and more intense flame, but fireworks were white and yellow.  They didn't have color.  It wasn't till the 1830s that folks started adding the metals that give color to fireworks.  All our red, blues and greens, the Regency folks never saw.

The rockets that launched all this display looked something like these Congreve rockets — military rockets — from 1805. Congreve_rocket pub dom 1805
  Rockets for firework displays were made of paper, filled with powder.  The height of accent and the timing of the explosion was carefully controlled by the tightness of the packing, the size of the case and the length of the cotton fuse.  A long stick fixed the rocket to the ground, setting the flight at the proper angle.

And they had Catherine wheels.  As early as 1540, Florence and Siena in Italy erected huge wood and papier mache wheels set in motion by rockets and fire tubes.  Fireworks 2 display for muhammad shah

Fixed designs like modern fire fountains shot streams of lit powder into the air from rolls of pasteboard filled with gunpowder. I'm particularly impressed with this picture from the mid-Eighteenth Century that shows these fire fountains and the court ladies of Mohammad Shah playing with fireworks.  Brave ladies.

Another fixed display was a spherical 'sun'.
Sun firework 2 public dom
"In the centre of the block of the sun drive a spindle on which put a small hexagonal wheel whose cases must be  filled with the same charge as the cases of the sun…a sun thus made is called a Brilliant Sun because the wood work is intierly covered with fire from the wheel to the middle so there appears nothing but sparks of a brilliant fire."

For the entry of Louis XIII into Lyon in 1623, fireworkers constructed a huge artificial lion with fire bursting from its jaw.

Fireworks were spectacle, display, public celebration.  In 1814, in a jubilee in celebration of peace in London —

"The senses were next astoniFireworks_1856 wikished and enchanted with a pacific exhibition of those tremendous instruments of destruction invented by colonel Congreve. Some notion even of their terrible power might be formed from the display of the night, and their exceeding beauty could be contemplated, divested of its usual awful associations. Each rocket contains in itself a world of smaller rockets: as soon as it is discharged from the gun it bursts, and flings aloft in the air innumerable parcels of flame, brilliant as the brightest stars: the whole atmosphere was illuminated by a delicate blue light, which threw an air of inchantment over the trees and lawns, and made even the motley groups of universal London become interesting as an assembly in romance."


What's the most memorable fireworks you've ever seen or participated in?  Anything from Black Hawkbackyard sparklers to the aurora borealis or australis.  

One lucky commenter will win their choice of Black Hawk or Forbidden Rose.



A Brief History of “P.”

Illuminated letter P Nicola here. This is a blog about P. Not the letter of the alphabet but the other P. Yes, today I am lowering the tone of the Word Wenches with a blog about some of the use to which urine has been put throughout history. When I was discussing the topic of P with the other Wenches (as we do) we discovered that we already knew quite a few of the historical uses of “pee” and we thought we’d like to share them because there are very few substances as versatile and useful or with such interesting historical applications.


The English language has developed many words to cover the action and the place where one might have a pee. The word urine comes from Latin urina and Greek ouron and its first recorded usage was around 1325 although the verb to urinate was not formed until the late 16th century. I much prefer the Old English word “lant” – it’s got a nice sound to it – which was in use from about 1000. Unfortunately, in pee as in many other things, Norman French overpowered native English and lant fell out of use although a few odd references remained: Bess of Harwick is recorded as owning a silver lant pot and comb. It may be that she used urine as part of a dyeing agent to maintain the red of her hair.

In Scotland the word “wesche”, later wash, was another word for urine. 15th century Scottish poet Robert Henryson recommends the following cure for insomnia: “Reid nettill sied in strang wesche to steip, for to bath your ba cod.” – Steep red nettles in strong urine and bathe your naked scrotum in the mixture. Worth a try?

The phrase “to take a leak” sounds relatively modern but was in fact in use in Shakespeare and makes Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue an appearance in the 1796 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue by Francis Grose. Interestingly, the word “addled” meaning confused or slow-witted also originally derives from urine. Who would have thought that phrases such as “addle-pate” in Georgette Heyer’s books originate in the Old English “adela” meaning a pool of urine? The implication here is that the person who is addle-pated is not quite all there or only “half-baked” or “half-washed” and it refers to the use of urine in woollen industry (see below!)

So here are a few historical uses for urine: 

Harris Tweed

Vintage harris tweed I have a lovely vintage Harris Tweed jacket that I inherited from my husband’s grandfather. It’s warm and windproof and it looks great. However occasionally when I wear it I get a faint but unmistakeable scent floating up from the material that speaks of its origins. Until the end of the 20th century, the pee-tub was an integral part of the process for making Harris Tweed. The tub was a big wooden barrel with an iron lid, and chamber pots were emptied into it daily. The urine helped to fix dye colours to the wool. Urine was also used later in the tweed-making process to remove any lingering oiliness from the woven fabric and to shrink it to the correct size. The woven tweed was soaked in a barrel of urine and stamped upon, an activity known as “waulking” and from which the surname Walker derives. Elsewhere in the UK this part of the weaving process is know as fulling or tucking and is again the source of a couple of surnames.

Alum Manufacture

Urine was also an essential part of the English alum industry up until the late nineteenth century. Alum Whitby is a mordant used to fix dye to fabric. Ships carried coal from Newcastle or Sunderland, off-loaded it at Whitby and other north eastern ports, filled up with alum, took the alum south and exchanged it for barrels of urine that had been collected from London street corners, which were taken back up north.

Originally the alum industry used urine collected locally in Yorkshire but as demand outstripped supply it had to be shipped in on “lye-boats.” Most highly prized was the urine from teetotallers, followed by that of beer drinkers. Only as a last resort would the urine of upper class wine-drinkers be used. It is rumoured that this transport system was the origin of the phrase: “taking the p***.”


One of the great grievances of the early 17th century was that the “petremen,” men who were tasked with collecting saltpetre to use in the making of gunpowder, had the right to come into people’s houses and dig anywhere they thought they might find supplies. Saltpetre derived primarily from the action of animal urine on soil so people who kept animals in their cottages frequently had their earthen floors dug up. King Charles I was petitioned by homeowners complaining about having their stables and barnyards ransacked and their houses destroyed when the walls fell down because the petremen had weakened the foundations.

To counteract the public dissatisfaction with this, Charles agreed to a different approach to the production of saltpetre, using neat human urine and mixing it with soil. In 1625 he granted a patent to Sir John Brooke and issued a royal decree stating that all men should “keep and preserve in some convenient vessels or receptacles fit for the purpose, all the urine of man during the whole year.” Animal urine was to be collected too. This proved unworkable since there simply were not sufficient receptacles available for the entire British population and their animals to pee into for a whole year and the Crown was forced to go back to the original form of collection. It was Oliver Cromwell who finally ruled in 1656 that petremen could not dig in people’s houses without permission.

Scarlett O'Hara The use of urine in making gunpowder once again came to the fore in the American Civil War with an advertisement in the Selma Morning Reporter of 1863: “The ladies of Selma are respectfully requested to preserve all their chamber lye collected about their premises for the purpose of making Nitre.” Carts were sent out to collect barrels of lye and the Selma nitre works provided gunpowder to the Confederacy for the last two years of the war.

Pass the Smelling Salts

There are many more historical applications of urine. In the Middle Ages, urine was used to “quench” Sword swords. The hot steel was plunged into cold urine to cool it rapidly. This was said to be the best way to forge a sharp blade. The urine of a small red-headed boy was said to be the most effective coolant!

Forgers would give coins a suitably authentic looking patina by burying them in earth sprinkled with urine. This would turn silver coins grey or black and bronze coins brown or green depending on the sort of urine used and its quality. Such tricks have been in use since Roman times. The coins had to be “watered” every few days.

Urine was also an ingredient of smelling salts or sal volatile, much in use in the 19th century for arousing consciousness. The newly formed police force in Victorian Britain even carried smelling salts in their uniform pockets to revive fainting victims!

I was slightly at a loss to think of a discussion question for this blog piece but then I remembered my grandmother and the various interesting substances she swore by for doing different jobs about the house. One of her favourites was to use salt and vinegar to clean the brown stains off the teacups. She also recommended washing hair in beer. (I remember using beer shampoo as a child and walking around smelling slightly alcoholic!) So my question is: which old wives tales do you swear by and do you know of any unusual usages for common substances?

Ask A Wench: Bizarre Knowledge

The Bizarre Byways of Research
By Joanna

A goodly while ago, Pat Punt asked the Wenches to 

. . . share some of the strangest trivia they have come across in their research.  Having done my share of surfing the 'net, I have encountered many a fact stranger than fiction.   Their experience must be even more bizarre.

Bizarre does seem an appropriate description for what we come across.


Scheele's green   From Pat Rice:

The only trivia I remember is from my childhood. I play a mean game of 60's Trivial Pursuit. <G>

But I just recently wrote about the poisonous green paint that might have killed Napoleon (Kill Your Hero with Regency Wallpaper and given a whole lot of other people pneumonia, asthma, and the winter blues.

But the one bit of history that sticks clearly in my mind—probably because it affected the area where I lived for twenty years—is the Mississippi flowing backward during the 1811 New Madrid earthquake. Can you imagine how powerful an earthquake would have to be to send the mighty Mississippi backward? And weirder yet, Shawnee tribe leader Tecumseh and his brother predicted the earthquake before it arrived. For some other weird stories about the period: see here.

From Mary Jo Putney:

Lord Uxbridge’s Leg
  Henry paget cropped and flipped 2
Many wonderful bits of bizarreness appear in research, and one recently caught my eye.  Henry Paget,  Lord Uxbridge (later Marquis of Anglesey) was colorful enough to merit a blog all on his own—even his right leg has its own story.
Uxbridge was one of Britain’s leading cavalry commanders during the Napoleonic wars, though he was sidelined for several years because he ran off with the wife of one of Wellington’s brothers, and Wellington was understandably not pleased.  (Uxbridge and his lady love both divorced their spouses and married each other.)
Uxbridge’s talents were needed at Waterloo, where he led his cavalrymen bravely and well.  One of the last cannonballs fired smashed into his right leg.  In a classic example of British stiff-upper-lipness, Uxbridge exclaimed, “By God, sir, I’ve lost my leg!”
Wellington, who was nearby, said, “By God, sir, so you have!”
Uxbridge was taken to his headquarters, a house in the village of Waterloo, and the leg was amputated while he sat in a chair.  Note, in those days no anesthesia, and I’m not sure he even had a swig of brandy.  Amputations were done very, very fast, in a couple of minutes or under—but a bad couple of minutes.
In more stoicism, instead of screaming hysterically like a sensible man, his only comment was that the knives seemed rather dull.  Probably they were, given the number of amputations that day.
Lord Uxbridge at Waterloo Uxbridge asked his friend General Sir Hussey Vivian to inspect the amputated leg to see if it might have been salvageable.  The inspection was duly performed, and Hussey Vivian assured Uxbridge that the leg had been smashed and mangled and was better off than on.  (Though really, if a an amputated limb looked like it could have been saved, would you have told a friend that when it was too late?)?
So Uxbridge went home to the loving arms of his wife and got a famous artificial leg, the saw that cut off his leg went to the National Army Museum, and the mangled leg and the blood-stained chair in which he sat went on to provide many years of income to Monsieur Paris, the owner of the house.
At first, visitor were shown the chair, then escorted to the garden where the leg had been buried.  It had its own headstone.  Later a wit wrote:
Here lies the Marquis of Anglesey's limb;
The Devil will have the remainder of him.  Boot sign with text cc attrib cynnerz
Other poetry was written to the severed limb. Royalty visited.  Revenue flowed to the Paris family, who owned the house. In 1878, one of Uxbridge’s sons visited and found the bones openly displayed.  The Paris family claimed they’d been washed into the open by a storm.
The Pagets wanted the bones back.  The Parises offered to sell them.  The Paget family was NOT amused.  The Belgian Minister of Justice ordered the bones reburied.  They weren’t—they were hidden away, finally to be burned by the widow of the last Monsieur Paris in 1934.  So you could say that Uxbridge’s leg had a good long run.
A number of Paget family members lost limbs in the Napoleonic wars, including one of his daughters who lost a hand nursing her husband on a Spanish battlefield.
But only Uxbridge’s leg became a shrine.



From Jo Bourne:
I have a certain interest in Napoleon, since he's either the great villain or the hero of the Regency era, depending on which side you're talking to.

During his Russian campaign, after a narrow escape from Cossacks, Napoleon asked his physician to prepare a 'suicide packet' so he wouldn't fall into Russian hands alive.  He carried the little envelope of belladonna, opium, and hellebore — 'strong enough to kill two men' — in a black taffeta pouch around his neck.   He still had it 18 months later when Allied forces of Russia, Prussia, England and Sweden crossed the border of France and swept into Paris.  France had fallen.  On April 12, 1814, at the Palace of Fontainebleau, Napoleon swallowed the poison.  

Maybe it had lost some of its potency.  Maybe the physician got his dosage wrong, not being a professional poisoner.  Napoleon was seriously ill, but he lived — to be exiled to Elba, to escape, to gather his army, to march one last time across Europe, and to meet Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo.

If the poison had been a leetle more effective, none of our heroes would have faced the battlefield of Waterloo.

From Nicola Cornick:
I love research and the distracting byways it can take me down. Three pieces of strange trivia in particular come to mind when I think about the research I’ve done.
Wiki Closeup_of_copper_rivet_on_jeans Firstly, that denim has been in fashion for more than 300 years. There are paintings from the 17th century featuring people dressed in denim. In the Regency period some half-boots were made from the material. I had no idea. I thought it was a modern invention!
In the early 19th century, chamber pots were made that contained a musical bWiki pot_de_chambre_4ox. In 1820 Prince Metternich was awoken in the night by a musical chamber pot that played the flute. He found and pressed a button and the music stopped, only for it to start again an hour later. The musical chamber  pot eventually ran out of steam and made what he described as “disturbing little noises.” When he complained in the morning the valet commented that there was another chamber pot in the castle that played trumpet music.
There were laws regulating hackney carriages that were never repealed and still apply to London taxis today. One of them is that the cab driver is supposed to ask you if you have any “notifiable diseases such as smallpox or the plague.” As carrying sufferers is illegal, he should refuse anyone who looks as though they may be infected because if you die on the journey he will be committing the offence of carrying a corpse.

From Anne Gracie:

Dr clothed in protective garment1400w All kinds of odd things crop up in research. One that tickled my fancy was the various attitudes to the whole notion of plague and contagion that existed in the early 19th century. The question polarized the medical profession into two camps, contagionists and anti-contagionists, and was hotly debated, even in Parliament. These reports are from Hansard (the  official UK parliamentary record) here.

Mr. Trant said: The plague prevailed at Alexandria while he was there. A surgeon with whom he was acquainted disbelieved the theory of contagion, and went among the patients in the hospital. He did not then take the infection, but wishing to push his experiments to the utmost, he got into a bed which had been occupied by one who had the infection. He did then become infected, and he died in consequence. General opinion, however, attributed the disease to atmospheric influence.

Sir Robert Wilson said, that when he went to Egypt, the impression on his mind was, that the plague was contagious; but he was soon satisfied of the contrary. When he was in Egypt, the army formed two Bonaparte_Woodville
divisions. The one which was stationed at Alexandria took the plague; the other, which was generally in motion, was not touched with it. The difference was attributed to atmospheric influence. The Turks had no hesitation in entering the infected places. The bodies of those who died of the plague were buried in their clothes, and were generally dug up and stripped by those who had less fear of the consequences. The moving division of the British army passed through villages infected with the plague, without being touched with it…
It appeared to be one of the extraordinary phenomena of this disease, that persons who remained stationary were liable to it, and that those who passed rapidly through various currents of air escaped it.

However some historians have suggested that much of the medical fraternity's conversion to anti-contagionism was less a result of medical conviction and more a desire to oppose "expensive, arbitrary and draconian" quarantine measures that hampered trade.  Doctors declared yellow fever, the plague, and cholera — the main diseases affected by quarantines — to be non-contagious. Other diseases were less controversial

From Jo Beverley:

Torpedo War, and Sub-marine Explosions, That's the title of a book by American, Robert Fulton.

  But it was not published recently. Instead, in 1804
However a submarine vessel was demonstrated for King James 1 (early 17th century) and the Americans tried out an armed submarine during the Revolution.

There are many odd ideas in the wonderful Century of Inventions, by the Marquess of Worcester, written in the 17th century.  Here.

Century 477 The "century" refers to there being 100 bright ideas. On the above page there's a description of "certain short muskets of an inch, or very near an inch bore, out of which you may shoot either chained bullets, or half a score pistol bullets, or half a dozen harquebus bullets at one shot, or you may shoot out of the same fire arrows made with strong shafts, feathered with horn, or with common feathers, glued and bound on with thread. When you are to shoot a fire arrow out of any of these pieces, you must not give the piece her full loading of powder." He further notices that " The string made fast to the end of the fire-work is to keep the arrow straight in his passage."

The illustration gives one serious doubts!


From Cara Elliott/Andrea Pickens:

I love doing background reading and research for my books, so I often come across arcane and unusual trivia-for me, that's half the fun! There have been a lot of weird little facts that I file away in my mental storage drawers . . . but if I have to pick one to pull out, I would say it's fact about gunpowder and how it is made. Wiki-Explosions

There are three main components in gunpowder: charcoal, sulfur and saltpeter, or niter.  Saltpeter, is the waste product of two strains of bacteria . . . waste product is the operative word here, as you shall soon see.

Martellotowers gunpowder During the Napoleonic Wars, gunpowder was, as you can imagine, a crucial ingredient for military might. And both England and France were pressed to be inventive in order to find enough domestic saltpeter to meet the demand. Traditionally, the best source was barnyard soil, for it was so rich in animal waste. And so, according to Jack Kelly's wonderful book, “Gunpowder, Alchemy, Bombards & Pyrotechnics,” the British government actually toyed with the idea of ordering all innkeepers to require that their patrons urinate in large wooden barrels, which would then be used to make gunpowder for the army (A sidenote is that the urine of churchmen who drank brandy was supposed to make the most potent powder-go figure!)

For some reason, the plan fizzled, but it still remains one of the more curious bits of trivia I've come across!



What's your favorite nugget of bold, bizarre research trivia?