The Occasional Newsletter
Welcome to the March 2011 issue of our occasional newsletter.
Over the last couple of years, there has been a lot of fuss over the false or outrageous claims for expenses submitted by
some Members of Parliament in London, leading to the downfall of a handful. Politics and corruption have always gone hand-in-hand.
William Wilberforce is highly regarded today for his role in abolishing the slave trade, but he was not exempt from the dodgy
world of politics. For much of his career he was Member of Parliament for Yorkshire, but after more than 30 years, he felt he
needed a quieter life. Not wanting to retire from politics altogether, Lord Calthorpe, a relative of his, offered to pass him
– free-of-charge! – a seat that he controlled in Parliament. Whereas Wilberforce had been properly elected to his Yorkshire seat,
Lord Calthorpe was offering him one of the so-called ‘rotten boroughs’. These were represented by a Member of Parliament but had
only a handful of voters, who could be easily bribed to choose a particular candidate. In the general election of 1812,
Wilberforce therefore did not stand for re-election to his Yorkshire seat. Instead, Lord Calthorpe made Wilberforce the
Member of Parliament for Bramber, a little village in Sussex with 35 houses and a population of 170 people. This was done
by bribing the 20 men who were eligible to vote, and so Wilberforce became an MP without any real responsibility to his constituency.
The surviving masonry of the gateway tower at Bramber Castle
If you are trying to find Bramber today, it is very close to the south coast, just 10 miles north-west of Brighton and almost
60 miles south of London. If we go back to the Norman Conquest in 1066, the River Adur was then navigable for shipping at least
as far as Steyning, which is upstream from Bramber. This was a potential weak link in the south coast defences where enemy ships
might penetrate far inland, and so in the 1070s a motte-and-bailey castle at Bramber was one of several built to meet this threat.
It was sited on a natural hillock, which was flattened into a plateau for the bailey (or ward). Around this plateau, a deep defensive
ditch or moat was dug, and the chalk, clay and flints removed from the ditch (the ‘spoil’) were used to construct at one end of the
bailey what is referred to in castle-speak as a motte (which is nothing more than the French word for a mound). This motte was about
40 feet high, and on the top was constructed a timber tower or stronghold – the main building of the castle, known as a keep. The
flat area of the bailey below contained various other timber buildings, and it was all surrounded by a wooden palisade. Probably
in the early 12th century, much of the timber construction was replaced with flint and pebble masonry, and the fortified gate was
later enhanced with a gateway tower, which is one of the prominent surviving features today.
Rise and fall of the port:
Originally there does not appear to have been a settlement at Bramber, but the Lord of Bramber, William de Braose, soon founded a
market town at the foot of the castle and built a causeway across the river. This seems to have been a deliberate attempt to take
all the trade from Steyning, which was then owned by monks of Fécamp in northern France. Bramber became a thriving market town and
port on the River Adur, with rivalry between the two towns. By the late 15th century the River Adur had silted up and changed course,
and the nearby coastline was changing. The river port of Bramber was ruined, and this once thriving town is now a picturesque village,
while Steyning is a flourishing town.
The fortunes of the medieval castle ran approximately parallel to those of the town, and by the 16th century it was abandoned and the
site was used for grazing. A century later, during the Civil War, the castle site was briefly occupied by Royalist troops in 1643 and
was then attacked by Parliamentary forces. Part of the castle wall had already subsided into the moat, and although Cromwell’s forces
did some damage, the castle was effectively a ruin before that. After the Civil War much of the masonry was taken away for reuse in
buildings elsewhere, leaving little of the original structure.
The main street of Bramber, with buildings spanning several centuries
Today Bramber is a tourist attraction. The site of the castle ruins gives good views over the surrounding landscape, and the nearby church
of St Nicholas receives many visitors. It is now the parish church, but was once the chapel for the castle and is the oldest Norman church
in Sussex. The village itself has a mixture of buildings, dating from the medieval period to the present, including a building known as St
Mary’s House. This is a good example of a 15th-century timber-framed house, and although privately owned it is sometimes open to the public
to visit. There are many little stories connected with the history of Bramber and of course the castle is supposed to be haunted, but with
its foundation in the early medieval period, and its fluctuating fortunes since, Bramber is typical of many places in England. It is an
‘ordinary’ place with a thousand years of ‘ordinary’ history, which all combine into a far from ordinary story.
THE DEPRESSION GUN
In the 18th century the principles of artillery had not advanced significantly since the invention of the cannon. Cannons were still very
basic tubes, permanently closed at one end, and open at the other (the muzzle end). The strength of cannons had improved, and so they blew
up less frequently and could send larger cannonballs further distances, but they still had to be loaded from the muzzle end. Spherical
cannonballs (the projectiles with the greatest range) had to be rolled into the muzzle and held in place with fabric wadding to prevent
them rolling out before the cannon was fired. By this means, a cannon that was being fired from a high place could in theory be pointed
downwards at quite a steep angle to aim at an enemy below, without losing the cannonball through the action of gravity.
The biggest problem with firing at a steep angle, upwards or downwards, was the damage that was caused by the powerful recoil from
firing the cannon. This was normally absorbed by the cannon on its carriage running backwards on wheels. If the cannon was aimed too
high, the recoil pushed down on the carriage and could eventually break it. Similarly, training the cannon too far downwards tended
to make the carriage leap into the air, causing damage as it fell back. In battles, gunners improvised temporary solutions to the
problems of aiming a cannon too high or too low, but such solutions were inadequate during a prolonged bombardment.
The Great Siege begins:
This inadequacy became very apparent in the 14th siege of Gibraltar, known as the Great Siege, which lasted from June 1779 until March 1783.
The Rock of Gibraltar was occupied by the British, having been ceded to Britain by Spain under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. In 1779 Spain
was persuaded by France to enter the War of American Independence on the side of America, and the Spanish laid siege to Gibraltar. The Rock
of Gibraltar, on almost the southernmost point of the coast of Spain, is a natural fortress standing 1,400 feet high. It has a sheer cliff
face on the northern landward side, which faces Spain, and so an assault from this direction was virtually impossible. The remainder of
Gibraltar juts out into the Mediterranean Sea, and an attack by sea was very difficult, because of its jagged coastline and small number
of beaches. Any weak points of the shoreline were strengthened with man-made defences, leaving few options for the besieging Spanish forces.
Inventing the depression gun:
To prevent the garrison of the Rock being supplied overland, the Spanish set up siege lines below the landward cliff face. The defenders soon
found that they had great difficulty in bombarding these siege lines because of the extreme downward angle at which the cannons had to be fired.
The problem was finally solved by George Frederick Koehler, who was a second lieutenant of artillery. He had been appointed aide-de-camp and
assistant engineer to the Governor of the Rock, General George Augustus Eliott. Koehler invented the depression gun, which had a simple but
revolutionary concept. Instead of recoiling on the wheels of the gun carriage, the cannon recoiled along a wooden groove in the carriage,
so reducing the force on the carriage. It was called a depression gun because ‘depressing a gun’ was the technical term for aiming a cannon
downwards from the horizontal. Today, a modern replica of the depression gun is on display in Casemates Square, the main square of Gibraltar.
Front view of the replica of the depression gun. The plaque reads: ‘This plaque commemorates the service given by the Royal Regiment of Artillery on the Rock of Gibraltar 1704-1990 and was placed here by the Master Gunner St James Park 30th September 1990’
From miners to Royal Engineers:
Even with cannon batteries on the lower slopes of the Rock and depression guns positioned on the top, there were still places quite close to
the cliff face that could not be seen or fired on by the defenders. What was needed were batteries on the sheer cliff face itself. Sergeant
Major Henry Ince had been a tin miner in Cornwall and had transferred from the 2nd regiment of foot to a unit that was newly formed in
Gibraltar, called the Soldier Artificer Company, in other words, a military engineer. Engineers and miners had always been employed by
the army, but the manual labour was usually done by artificer companies of civilian contractors. The Soldier Artificer Company formed in
Gibraltar in 1782 was the first instance of non-commissioned military engineers. This later became the Corps of Royal Military Artificers,
and a Corps of Royal Engineers was also formed for the officers. The two units were merged subsequently merged to form the forerunner of
the modern Royal Engineers.
Sergeant Major Ince suggested tunnelling through to a particular point on the cliff, and he was put in charge of the work, which began in
May 1782. The tunnel had not proceeded very far when it became obvious that extra ventilation was needed. Ince blasted several holes
sideways to the cliff face, and then realised that these would make excellent positions for cannons. Virtually the whole of the Spanish
siegeworks could now be bombarded from the Rock, and the Spanish were forced to withdraw out of range.
Side view of the replica of the depression gun. The plaque reads: ‘Much difficulty was experienced during the Great Siege in firing down onto the Isthmus. Lieut. Koehler invented this depressing carriage which was mounted at Princess Royal Battery in February 1782 after experiments in the presence of General Eliott.’
The siege ends:
The steady improvement and strengthening of the fortifications of Gibraltar held the Spanish forces at a distance on land, but the main
worry for the defenders was the supply of food. Initially, supplies of food were delivered in small ships by blockade runners and
smugglers from Mediterranean ports, especially in north Africa (modern-day Algeria and Morocco). These supplies were constantly
intercepted by Spanish gunboats, who captured or sank these small ships. The gunboats also bombarded parts of the Gibraltar coastline.
The solution was a large naval convoy bringing supplies from Britain, which gave the defenders the upper hand once more. As the siege
dragged on, it became obvious that it would take a long time to starve the garrison into surrender, and so the Spanish, now reinforced
by the French, decided on an attack by sea. This took place in September 1782 and was a spectacular failure, resulting in most of the
attacking French and Spanish ships being destroyed. In less than a month, another British naval convoy brought more supplies. After
that no further serious attempts were made to attack the Rock, although the blockade and bombardment of Gibraltar continued. Peace
finally came in March 1783.
JAY’S GRAVE OR KAY’S GRAVE?
A legendary grave:
Dartmoor, the great expanse of granite moorland that lies at the heart of Devon in south-west England, has long been a favourite place
for tourists and holidaymakers. Alongside the areas of natural beauty and the historic and prehistoric sites, one of the minor tourist
attractions lies just to the north-west of Hound Tor and a few miles north of Widecombe-in-the-Moor. Like many such places on the moor,
it seems to lie on a road that goes from nowhere in particular to nowhere in particular. The site is on the road that runs past the west
side of Cripdon Down, at a point where a trackway branches off. It is marked as ‘Jay’s Grave’ on large-scale Ordnance Survey maps, at
National Grid Reference SX732798.
There are several graves on Dartmoor, and many stone markers and crosses, some of which are thought to mark graves, but the essence of
Jay’s Grave is its anonymity. It is quite easy to drive past without even noticing it. The actual site is a small, very low mound on
the roadside, with a kerb of small granite blocks. The most distinguishing feature are the flowers in a jam jar.
The legend about this site, which can be found in any number of recent books, is that this is the grave of a young woman called Kitty Jay.
She was an orphan brought up in the poorhouse sometime in the early or mid-19th century. At an early age she was apprenticed as a general
servant on a farm at Manaton, where she was seduced by a young farm labourer. When it became obvious that she was pregnant, her employers
hounded her. In despair, she committed suicide. For this reason, she was denied burial in consecrated ground, but was buried instead in an
unmarked grave at the spot now known as Jay’s Grave. Shortly afterwards, on moonlit nights, a dark figure could be seen kneeling over the
grave with its face in its hands. This ghostly figure was interpreted as either that of Kitty Jay or more often the spirit of the man who
had seduced and abandoned her and who was now condemned to watch over her grave. According to a more recent legend, the flowers on her
grave are freshly cut daily and no-one knows who puts them there. Some people will tell you that they are brought by the local fairies
or pixies, and this story is particularly popular with the sellers of pixie charms and concrete statues of pixies.
Digging deeper... :
That, at least, is how the legend stands now, but once you dig deeper to try to find if it is based on any evidence, there is an immediate
conflict of facts. There seems to have been a local tradition that the site was the grave of a suicide who may have been called Kitty Jay
or Mary Jay. This story was already old and poorly remembered by the end of the 19th century. One of the earliest references to the story
is in the first volume of Devon Notes and Queries, published in 1901:
‘Jay’s Grave ... by the side of the Ashburton and Chagford road, where the Heytree and Hedge Barton Estates meet. A workman of mine,
aged 74, informs us that about forty years ago, just before he came to Ashburton where he will have lived thirty-nine years next October,
he was in the employ of Mr. James Bryant, of Hedge Barton, Manaton, when he remembers Jay’s Grave being opened, in which a young unmarried
woman who had hung herself in Cannon Farm outbuildings, which is situated between Forder and Torhill, was said to have been buried, but no
one then living at Manaton could remember the occurrence. The grave was opened by order of Mr. James Bryant in the presence of his son-in-law,
Mr. J.W. Sparrow, M.R.C.S. Bones were found, examined, and declared to be those of a female. The skull was taken to Hedge Barton, but was
afterwards placed with the bones in a box and re-interred in the old grave, a small mound raised with head and foot stones erected at
either end. Such is the present appearance of the grave.’
This 1901 account of Jay’s Grave, which was repeated and embellished in several subsequent books about Dartmoor, appears to be the main
published source of the story. It places the opening of the grave ‘about forty years’ earlier, which would be around 1860.
... and finding an old woman:
There is an earlier mention of what appears to be this same grave, where the suicide is described as an old woman by the name of Kay.
It appeared in 1876 in “Things Old and New” Concerning the Parish of Widecombe-in-the-Moor and its Neighbourhood, which was edited by
Robert Dymond FSA, a local antiquary. He moved from Exeter in 1869 to live at Dunstone Manor, Blackslade, near Widecombe, only a few
miles from Jay’s Grave. As he took a keen interest in the locality, it is highly probable that he was reporting a story that was then current:
‘Regaining the line of the Chagford road,’ Dymond wrote, ‘we observe on our right the bold fortress-like mass of Houndtor ... half way
between the Tor and the road from which we have diverged, is another good specimen of the kistvaen [a prehistoric stone-lined burial],
not covered, in this instance, by a cairn, but surrounded by a circle of once upright stones. A simple mound and unwrought headstone by
the roadside marks the site of a more modern grave. A poor old woman, called Kay, having hung herself, was laid here under cross roads
without the rites of Christian burial. There are many such graves of suicides hereabouts, and the country folk shudder as they pass the
whisht [eerie or ghostly] spots by night.’
While the location of what was then a ‘modern grave’ is not given in sufficient detail to be absolutely certain it refers to Jay’s Grave,
it does feel the same. Robert Dymond was also quoted as the source for a similar account by John Page that appeared in 1889 in
Exploration of Dartmoor and its Antiquities with Some Account of its Borders. In this book, Page talks about a kistvaen ‘between the
Tor and the road to Chagford. Close to the wayside, where a moor road crosses the highway, is a suicide’s grave, that of an old woman
named Kay, who hung herself. The rough headstone which marks the mound has no inscription. Following the road, we soon reach stony
Of all these accounts, the only facts that we have are that bones were found and reburied at this site around 1860. As the bones were
examined by someone with medical knowledge, it should be safe to assume that their identification as human is correct. Since we do not
know how much of the skeleton survived, the opinion that they belonged to a young female is less reliable. We are left with the
possibility that Jay’s Grave may actually be ‘Kay’s Grave’, if the early accounts originating from Robert Dymond are correct. The
similarity between the names ‘Jay’ and ‘Kay’ and the stories of the two women are so striking that it is tempting to see a true tale
about an old woman called Kay being ‘improved’ by changing her age and name. Certainly, from the point of view of tourists, the grave
of a young woman betrayed and abandoned by her lover makes a more romantic tale than that of an old woman about whom we know nothing.
This alone would account for the subsequent growth and embroidery of the story.
Or it may be that a real story about Kitty Jay has become attached to the grave of a woman with a similar name. With so little hard
evidence, the opportunities for speculation are almost endless. The most popular version of the legend has now reached a wider audience
after the local singer and songwriter, Seth Lakeman, had a hit with his song ‘Kitty Jay’and his album of the same name.
The Grave of Beatrice Chase at Widecombe
As to the posies of fresh flowers on the grave, there is a partial explanation. It is widely believed that flowers were secretly
placed there every day by Beatrice Chase. She was a writer and this was her pen name. Her real name was Olive Katharine Parr. She
was born in Middlesex, but settled in Venton near Widecombe sometime in the early 1900s and often walked the surrounding moorland.
She died in 1955 and is buried in Widecombe churchyard. Even while she was alive, her flowers on Jay’s Grave were often supplemented
by flowers from tourists and passers-by, but after her death a person or persons unknown has continued the tradition. As well as
flowers, tourists now leave coins on the small granite block that serves as a headstone.
For several centuries it was customary to bury people who had committed suicide alongside roads or even under roads, particularly at
crossroads. This type of burial seems to have been done to prevent the spirit or ghost of the dead person from returning to haunt the
living. The idea was that by being buried at the crossroads, and during the night, would confuse the ghost. It was also common to
drive a stake through the dead body, pinning it into the grave, as part of the attempt to stop the ghost walking, although apparently
no evidence of this was noticed at Jay’s Grave.
This custom grew out of the practice of burying criminals during the night by the roadside or even under the road itself, often
at the nearest crossroads to where the offence occurred, and the practice dates back to at least Saxon times. Later this type of
burial was mainly reserved for those who had committed suicide (which until 1961 was a criminal offence, ‘self-murder’). In towns
and cities cases of suicide brought before the courts were often reported in newspapers, and one incident relating to a suicide in
London’s Clare Market (now beneath the buildings of the London School of Economics) appeared in the
Morning Post for 27th April 1810:
‘The Officers appointed to execute the ceremony of driving a stake through the dead body of
James Cowling, a deserter from the London
Militia, who deprived himself of existence, by cutting his throat, at a public-house in Gilbert Street, Clare Market, in consequence of
which, the Coroner’s Jury found a verdict of Self-murder, very properly delayed the business until twelve o’clock on Wednesday night,
when the deceased was buried in the cross roads at the end of Blackmoor Street, Clare Market.’
This method of burial, with a stake through the body, was abolished by an Act of Parliament in July 1823. One of the last suicides to
be buried in this way was Joseph Morland, who killed himself three months earlier after murdering Sir Warwick Bampfylde in Montagu
Square in west London. Morland was duly buried with a stake through his heart at a crossroads in St John’s Wood. The site of his grave
is now a little triangle of green opposite St John’s Chapel and Lord’s Cricket Ground. Apart from the stakes, which were sometimes
substantial and protruded above ground level, such burials were generally unmarked and quickly forgotten. On Dartmoor, though, some
kind of memory of what had occurred at Jay’s Grave did survive, and over time it was embellished, until now we cannot be certain of anything.
THE PEEP SHOW AND TRAFALGAR
Trafalgar: The Biography of a Battle made an appearance at Christmas in the comedy programme ‘The Peep Show’ (series 7 episode 5), when
Mark (played by David Mitchell) receives a copy of the book as a present from his flatmate Jeremy (played by Robert Webb). ‘I heard you
talking about it’, comments Jeremy, to which Mark replies ‘That’s just tremendously thoughtful Jeremy.’
... AND JACK TAR
Jack Tar also received an honourable mention in the December 2010 issue of the
BBC History Magazine. Megan Webber from British Columbia
in Canada won the prize for the best reader’s letter of the month by taking the historian Dominic Sandbrook to task over his opinion
in a previous issue that topics such as ‘Alfred and the cakes, Drake and the Armada, Gordon at Khartoum’ and so on are more likely to
interest schoolchildren in history than ‘the tale of some downtrodden washerwoman in Victorian Staffordshire.’
Jack Tar is one of the
books she cites as telling ‘the heroism of uncelebrated figures’. At a time when the celebrity culture is on the wane, her point is
well made. ‘Celebrity history’, the stories of heroes such as Drake and Wellington (and the few heroines this strand of history recognises),
has its place, but not at the expense of other strands of history. As a social historian himself, Sandbrook may well have been playing
devil’s advocate, though.
LONDON’S BEER FLOOD OF 1814
Our latest magazine article is ‘Awash with ale’ in the March 2011 issue of Family History Monthly. This is the story of the beer flood
in 1814 that was caused by the catastrophic failure of a huge brewing vat at the Horseshoe Brewery in London, not far from what is now
Tottenham Court Road underground station. The equivalent of over 2 million pints of porter beer demolished the brewery wall and
swept through the slums behind, killing several people and injuring others. This article was in the social history section of the
magazine, and there are several other articles of interest, even to anyone who likes history but who is not inclined to trace their
own ancestors. Well worth a look.
Natural spa water:
In Britain during the 18th century, it became fashionable to ‘take the waters’ at various spas such as Bath. Physicians would prescribe
a course of drinking the natural mineral water (however disgusting) for various ailments, sometimes combined with bathing in the water
as well, and such treatments became very popular. The waters themselves were sold in glass bottles, and inevitably attempts were made
to manufacture artificial ‘spa water’. It was recognised that the most noticeable ingredient of some spa waters was the gas which made
it ‘fizzy’. After Joseph Priestley succeeded in producing carbon dioxide gas in the 1760s, the way was open for the manufacture of fizzy
drinks, and a decade later, in 1777, the commercial production of soda-water began in Manchester.
In search of a bottle:
It was soon realised that the glass bottles used for natural mineral waters were not suitable for the higher pressures within artificially
carbonated water. Either the stoppers were pushed out of the bottle or the gas permeated the walls of the bottle, leaving the water ‘flat’.
Heavy glass bottles came into use, and the soda-water siphon was invented in 1815. The year before, William Hamilton had patented a glass
bottle in the shape of an elongated egg or lemon, with a neck and a pointed base. This shape had much greater resistance to the gas pressure
in fizzy drinks, and the pointed base meant that it was stored on its side, like a wine bottle. This ensured that the cork was kept moist
by the contents, instead of drying out and shrinking, as tended to happen with bottles that were stored upright. This type of bottle and
versions with improvements (such as a flat side to stop it rolling about in storage) continued in use well into the 1920s.
The Codd bottle:
The Codd bottle was a glass bottle with a glass marble in the neck. It was invented by Hiram Codd of Camberwell (then in Surrey, now Greater
London). His design, perfected in 1872 and patented in the USA in 1873, was made possible by the discovery of a suitable form of rubber in
the 1840s. Each Codd bottle was made with a glass marble within the neck. The marble could move within the neck, but was too big to fall
into the body of the bottle or to fall out through the top of the neck. The bottle was sealed by a rubber washer being fitted to an
internal lip at the top of the neck. When the bottle was filled with a fizzy liquid, the gas pressure pushed the marble against the
rubber washer, sealing the bottle. Bottle openers, usually made of wood, were shaped to fit over the top of the bottle and push the
marble downwards, away from the rubber washer. This broke the seal and released some of the gas. The contents could then be poured
into a drinking glass. A moulded projection inside the neck of the bottle prevented the marble rolling against the seal and interrupting
A typical Codd bottle with its glass marble
The heyday of the Codd design of bottle in Britain was from about 1890 until the start of the First World War in 1914. Though
they continued in use into the 1930s, they lost popularity to the crown cap type of bottle, after large numbers of these were
sent to American forces serving around the world. The crown cap or crown cork method of sealing bottles was invented in Baltimore,
USA, by William Painter in 1891 and is still in use today. Perhaps surprisingly, the Codd bottle is also still manufactured in the
Far East and is used for popular soft drinks in India and Japan.
Because of their distinctive design, the modern bottles are often viewed as a novelty, but the original Codd bottles were seen
by children as an opportunity – the bottles were regularly smashed to liberate the glass marble in the neck, which could then
be used for games of marbles.
In Britain there is an oral or folk tradition that the slang term ‘codswallop’ is derived from Codd bottles. It is thought that
beer drinkers, disdaining the soft fizzy drinks sold in Codd bottles, derisively christened all soft drinks as ‘codswallop’.
Being a relatively inoffensive term, it was adopted widely and came to mean ‘drivel’ or ‘nonsense’. There are many people aged 50
and over who, when they were children, may well have had this derivation explained to them by their parents or grandparents. However,
the usual sources of reference for word derivations, such as the Oxford English Dictionary, tell another story. These sources give
the year 1959 as the earliest recorded instance of the term, with no earlier record known.
While denying that the term codswallop originated with Codd bottles, such sources generally provide no alternative derivation. So is
there any connection? One of the maxims of archaeology is that ‘absence of evidence does not equal evidence of absence’. To put this
another way, just because there is no early written record or voice recording that links the term codswallop to Codd bottles, this
does not mean that the oral tradition must be wrong. The context in which the term was supposedly originally used must also be
considered. If it did start life as an abusive term given to soft drinks by beer drinkers, it is difficult to imagine just who
would write down such a the term. The Oxford English Dictionary actually cites a comedy television programme,
Hancock’s Half Hour,
broadcast in 1959, as the first recorded use of ‘codswallop’.
By that date, it was already widely used as a term meaning ‘rubbish’. The only way this minor mystery is likely to be solved is by
finding a pre-1959 document, perhaps a personal letter, postcard or diary, where the word codswallop is used, and better still with
its derivation given. Until then, despite the paucity of evidence, the derivation of codswallop from the use of Codd bottle for
non-alcoholic drinks is the only likely one that we have.
... and the competition results:
The competition in the previous newsletter caused more controversy than we expected. The question we asked was about the type of
bottle designed by Hiram Codd: Variations of his design of bottle were used all over the world up to, and beyond World War One.
They were used for a specific type of drink. Was it, A. Beer B. Cider C. Brandy D. Wine E. Codswallop ?
The answer we were looking for was ‘codswallop’. Despite the controversial definition of this word, there is a good reason why beer,
cider, brandy and wine were not put in Codd bottles. For the internal stopper of a Codd bottle to work properly, there has to be
sufficient gas in the liquid at the time of bottling in order to keep the glass marble against the rubber washer hard enough to form
a good seal. Wine, cider and brandy are always too flat, as are most beers. Some bottle-conditioned beers continue to ferment and
produce gas after they have been bottled, but crucially there is not enough pressure when they are bottled. A few modern bottled
beers have gas artificially injected into them, and these could be successfully stored in Codd bottles, but such beers have been
available only in the last few decades, when cans and bottles with crown caps have been sufficiently strong to hold them. And of
course most ‘purist’ beer drinkers would deny that such gas-injected bottled liquids are really beer at all! So, by a process of
elimination, the answer (whether or not you agree with the derivation of the term) should have been ‘codswallop’. There was a further
complication that we had not foreseen. Several entries gave ‘beer’ as the answer, and in one case it seemed as if there was some
confusion between alcoholic ‘beer’ and non-alcoholic ‘ginger beer’, a drink that was sometimes sold in Codd bottles. For the sake
of fairness, therefore, any competition entries that gave the answer as ‘codswallop’ or ‘beer’ were regarded as valid.