Newsletter 30

Welcome to the spring (March) issue of our occasional newsletter for 2013.


The bear essentials

Teddy bears have been around since the early 20th century, when various companies began making soft toys in the shape of small bears, and bears remain a favourite toy even now. But what is the link between teddy bears and the War of 1812?

Teddy Bear
A very discerning Teddy Bear

This conflict actually lasted from 1812 to 1815 and saw America fighting against Britain. It was sparked off by Royal Navy ships stopping American ships and pressing any men suspected of being British. Despite the tiny size of their navy, the Americans scored several notable victories over the British, partly because the American warships were better designed, more strongly built and more heavily armed than the equivalent Royal Navy vessels. One of the first British defeats was in October 1812, when the American frigate United States under Captain Stephen Decatur comprehensively defeated the British frigate Macedonian.

America also relied on smaller vessels to capture British merchant ships and disrupt trade, literally taking the war to England’s shores. In August 1813, for example, the American brig-sloop Argus was preying on shipping in the Bristol Channel and causing alarm. The Flindell’s Western Luminary (a West Country newspaper) reported one incident off the north Devon coast:

‘A correspondent at Ilfracombe informs us, that an American privateer [actually a US naval vessel], called the Argus, was cruising last week near Lundy Island. She is a long, low brig, with yellow sides and a black head, and mounts 22 24-pounders. She took, last Wednesday, a homeward-bound West India ship, a brig from Ireland with cattle, a sloop from St. Ives to Liverpool with clay, and a schooner. The crews of these vessels she put aboard a light brig, which has arrived at the Mumbles. – She has also taken a pilot-skiff, which she makes use of as a decoy.’

On 13th August, the Argus captured and burned a merchant vessel laden with wine, but having rescued some of the cargo beforehand, the weary American crew then became very drunk. The next day, they were captured by the British brig-sloop Pelican.

The end in sight

Gradually the tide turned against the Americans, largely because of Wellington’s victories on the Continent – once Napoleon was exiled to Elba, more resources were transferred to the war across the Atlantic. In the summer of 1814, a combined British navy and army expedition sailed into Chesapeake Bay and met up with Rear-Admiral George Cockburn, who was terrorising the American coast with raiding parties of marines. A British force then headed towards Washington, capturing the capital and burning the White House. After such initial successes, the British were beaten back, and a peace treaty was signed in December 1814. Because of the time taken by sailing ships to cross the Atlantic, the fighting continued, including the Battle of New Orleans in January 1815, before peace finally arrived.

With the bicentenary anniversary, several new books have recently been published. We have previously described key events in our book The War for All the Oceans, and we also covered some incidents in more detail in two earlier newsletters. See Newsletter 13 for the reasons behind the war, the defeat of the USS Chesapeake in April 1813 and the construction of Chesapeake Mill using the ship’s timbers. And see Newsletter 20 for the capture of Washington, the burning of the White House and the origins of the Star-Spangled Banner.

A Presidential writer

Just six decades after the war ended, a young Harvard student began to study how the war was fought at sea, determined to write an accurate and objective account. In 1882, at just 23 years of age, his book The Naval War of 1812 was published and was immediately praised for its reliable research, accuracy and balanced assessment. It became a standard work on the subject and remains a classic – essential reading for anyone studying the war or the early history of the American navy.

The young author was Theodore Roosevelt, and he wrote most of the book while at law school after graduating from Harvard. He then abandoned a career in law to go into politics, and by the turn of the century had risen to become Vice President of the United States while William McKinley was in office as President. McKinley was shot in an assassination attempt on 5th September 1901 and died on the 14th, leaving Roosevelt in charge as the 26th President of the USA.

Teddy’s bear hunt

Roosevelt was already widely known as ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt, a contraction of ‘Theodore’, though he hated this nickname. However, such a name was a gift for newspaper columnists and cartoonists, who made use of it all the time, and it gave rise to the term ‘teddy bear’ – though how and when this happened is disputed.

In November 1902, Roosevelt went on a hunting trip to the Smedes plantation in Mississippi. When an old black bear was captured and tied to a tree, he refused to shoot the injured animal as a hunting trophy and instead ordered it to be put it out of its misery. This incident was portrayed in what became a popular cartoon by Clifford K. Berryman in the Washington Post. Later on this cartoon was redrawn to show an appealing young bear cub, not a full-sized bear.

The cartoon supposedly inspired Morris Michtom, founder of the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company (which later became the Ideal Toy Corporation), to approach Roosevelt in 1903 for permission to use the name ‘Teddy Bear’ for the jointed plush toy bears his wife Rose was sewing, leading to the popularity of teddy bears. Unfortunately this story is probably a myth. Some toy bears were already being manufactured then, including by the German firm of Steiff, but there was no teddy bear craze, and the bears were not called teddy bears.

From Roosevelt bears to Teddy’s bears

From 1905 Seymour Eaton began publishing The Roosevelt Bears, initially as a weekly newspaper feature and later as books (the first one being The Roosevelt Bears: Their Travels and Adventures). The stories of Teddy-B and Teddy-G were told in rhyme and illustrations, in which the two bears were depicted as full-sized friendly animals dressed in human clothes. It is thought that these stories led to the term ‘Teddy bear’ being adopted for soft toys. The first advertisements for teddy bears appeared in 1906, they rapidly became popular, and many children must have received them as Christmas presents that year. In Scotland, the Dundee Courier for 25th December 1906 was amazed by how much money was being spent in New York and how many toy bears were being bought. The term ‘teddy bear’ was so new that the newspaper used the term ‘Teddy’s bear’:

‘AMERICANS’ COSTLY PRESENTS.––Undoubtedly all Christmas shopping records have been broken this year in New York. At a conservative estimate, there were a million and a half shoppers in New York on Saturday, a feature of the day’s trade being the expensive articles that were purchased. All the shop-keepers comment on the extravagant expenditure of the working classes, and certain it is that the shops have never before been stocked with such costly novelties. The chief rage in gifts for children is the so-called “Teddy’s bear,” which has displaced not only the old-fashioned golliwogs and imitation rabbits and cats, but even dolls.’

Teddy bears have been popular ever since, yet they owe their name to an American President who liked hunting bears!


Below is the UK jacket design for the hardback of our book Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England, which will be published on 6th June. In many ways, it is similar to the appearance of the American jacket, which has an embroidered design like a sampler (see our last newsletter, where we also said that we would write something about the creation of that jacket and about samplers, but we will do that next time as we are running out of space!).

The UK jacket was designed by Leo Nickolls and Nick Castle, using a diverse selection of figures from William Henry Pyne’s book The Costume of Great Britain, first published in 1805, followed by a second edition in 1808, with hand-coloured aquatint plates. Pyne was born in London in 1770 and was a writer and artist, best known for his images of everyday life and working people. Later on, he had financial troubles and spent time in the debtor’s prison. He died in 1843, poor and forgotten, though his books are highly valued today.

Jane Austen's Jacket


We have just had our website redesigned. It retains the same basic format, but we have changed quite a few bits and pieces and have added some new material and new pages. For example, we now have a new page for ‘Events and Features’ and another page for ‘Foreign Editions’. Our ‘Jane Austen’s England’ page is not yet finished, because we will be adding more images and text around publication time.


We are starting to accept invitations to do talks associated with our new book on Jane Austen’s England. So far, we have finalised details for two talks:

  • 20th September 2013, 12 noon, Theatre Royal at Bath, as part of the Jane Austen Festival.
  • 11th November 2013, 1pm, a free talk open to the public at the Devon and Exeter Institution, 7 Cathedral Close, Exeter, Devon, EX1 1EZ.

We will give further details in our next newsletter, as well as on the ‘Latest News and Views’ section of our website.


As the name of a public house, ‘The Nag’s Head’ (meaning, strictly speaking, the head of a small horse, but generally used for any horse’s head) has a very long history going back to at least the 16th century. A horse’s head can still be found on some pub signs. Other heads of horses seem to turn up in the most unexpected places.

Dragging a head to a bonfire

When doing research for our soon-to-be-published book, we came across this London affray, which was reported in the Caledonian Mercury (a Scottish newspaper) for 24th April 1817:

‘Marlborough Street. Friday Mary Casey was charged with assaulting John Ward, a patrole [watchman] of St. James’s parish, by throwing a bucket of nightsoil in his face … The prisoner said she had an Irish gentleman who would speak for her, and he immediately stepped forward.
Magistrate – “What are you, Sir?” – “An plase your Worship, I’m a shoemaker, or, more plainly speaking, a cobler.”
“And pray, Mr Cobler, what do you know about this case?”
“Plase your Worship, very little – only this poor woman, save your Worship’s presence, threw a pail of –– upon Mr Patrole; and he and another Philistine dragged her along, by J–– , worse than an Algerine would a Christian; or just as your Worship would drag an old horse’s head to a bonfire!’
The worthy magistrate could not help smiling at the oratory of the witness, who, he observed instead of assisting the prisoner, had clearly proved the assault; and who was consequently ordered to find bail, or be committed.’

We had never heard or seen the expression ‘drag an old horse’s head to a bonfire’ and were unable to trace it. We even put a query in an archaeological magazine, but no-one had any ideas.

May Day bonefires

After further research, the clue proved to be in the statement that the witness was ‘an Irish gentleman’. In William Hone’s The Every-Day Book and Table Book (vol. 2, 1830), there is an account of May Day celebrations in Dublin:

‘On the first day of May, in Dublin and its vicinity, it is customary for young men and boys to go a few miles out of town in the morning, for the purpose of cutting a May-bush. This is generally a white thorn, of about four or five feet high, and they carry it to the street or place of their residence, in the centre of which they dig a hole, and having planted the bush, they go round to every house and collect money. They then buy a pound or more of candles, and fasten them to various parts of the tree or bush, in such a manner so as to avoid burning it. Another portion of “the collection” is expended in the purchase of a heap of turf, sufficient for a large fire, and, if the funds will allow, an old tar barrel. Formerly it was not considered complete without having a horse’s skull and other bones to burn in the fire.’

Hone then described how these horse bones were obtained:

‘The depots for these bones were the tanners’ yards in a part of the suburbs, called Kilmainham; and on May morning, groups of boys drag loads of bones to their several destinations. This practice gave rise to a threat, yet made use of:- “I will drag you like a horse’s head to the bone-fire.” About dusk when no more money can be collected, the bush is trimmed, the turf and bones are made ready to set on fire, the candles are all lighted, the bush fully illuminated, and the boys giving three huzzas, begin to dance and jump round it. If their money will afford the expenditure, they have a pot of porter to drink round. After an hour or so, the heap of turf and bones are set fire to, and when the candles are burnt out, the bush is taken up and thrown into the flames. They continue playing about until the fire is burnt out: each then returns to his home; and so ends their May-day.’

The word ‘bonfire’ may well have derived from ‘bone fire’– this is the derivation given by the Oxford English Dictionary, though others dispute this, with alternative derivations including ‘boon’ (‘favour’) and the French ‘bon feu’(‘good fire’). We have yet to find any other mentions of heads of horses being used on ritual bonfires, as here in Dublin.

Other horse head rituals

Heads of horses have formed part of various other rituals, including the hobby horses used in the May Day festival at Padstow in Cornwall or in the Halloween rituals at Antrobus in Cheshire. At Antrobus the horse’s head is formed over an actual skull of a horse, and those involved in the tradition ensure that a horse’s head is buried in the ground, decomposing, so that a skull is ready as a replacement when the head of the hobby horse is worn out. In south Wales in the midwinter tradition of the Mari Lwyd (‘grey mare’ in English), the ‘horse’ consists merely of a horse’s skull with a white sheet attached.

We touched on the role of the horse in old rituals in our piece on ‘Horse Songs’ in Newsletter 25 for December 2011, but the specific use of horse skulls in various rituals is at least as old as the Iron Age in Europe, with skulls being found in disused storage pits. The ritual persisted into the Roman period in Britain, where horse skulls have been discovered in disused Roman pits and wells, usually with other deposits such as complete pottery vessels that may have contained offerings to unknown gods. Such was the case at the prehistoric and Romano-British site that we excavated at Beddington in Greater London (formerly Surrey), where a horse’s skull was found deposited with complete and fragmentary pots and the remains of leather shoes towards the bottom of a disused Roman well.

Horse Skull
Remains of a horse skull in the bottom of a Roman well excavated at Beddington

Horse skulls in buildings

In later centuries a few horse skulls are known to have been built into houses and even churches, probably as some form of protective charm. In March 1926 the Western Morning News carried a query from researchers asking about finds of horse skulls in Cornish churches: ‘We are anxious to know if in any of the walls of the Cornish churches the skulls of horses have been found built in. Quite a number of horse skulls have been found in the church walls in Kent. As far as we know there is no record in the literature of Cornwall of any such finds in the county.’

Horse skulls built into solid church walls may well have had a superstitious origin, and the same may be the case in the Lake District where ‘in the course of making some improvements at Musgrave Hall, Penrith, recently [1861], it was found necessary to lift a portion of the flooring in a front parlour. Upon doing so three horse’s skulls were brought to light. How they came there can scarcely be conjectured.’ Three skulls were also found when the spire of St Cuthbert’s Church at Elsdon near Alnwick in Northumberland was demolished in 1877. The skulls appeared to be in a specially constructed cavity, and they were arranged leaning against each other, mouths upwards, forming a rough pyramid. The cavity with the skulls was immediately above the bell, and it was presumed that they had been placed there to increase the reverberation of the bell.

Horse skulls have been found in various churches, generally to increase the resonance of the sermon preached by the priest, and they were also used in other buildings to enhance the music being played there. This may well have been the purpose of those found at Bonsall near Matlock in Derbyshire:

‘A most extraordinary discovery was made at this village a few days ago [in 1866]. The boarded floor of a room on the ground floor of a house in the Upper Town was taken up for the purpose of being replaced by a new one, when the centre beam was found to be resting on 29 horse skulls! The lower jaws were all gone, having been detached probably for the purpose of allowing them to rest more solidly, or otherwise having decayed away. The oldest people in the place have no recollection of the floor having been laid, and the probability is that they have been in their odd position for a very long series of years.’

For centuries horses were the main, and usually the fastest, mode of land transport, and so horses were bred in their thousands for riding and as draft animals. Considering the sheer numbers of horse skulls that would have been available, it is perhaps surprising that more use was not made of them. Perhaps they went the way of other animal bones, ground up to be used in industrial processes, or perhaps they just ended up on the bone-fire.


Like local studies and genealogy, folklore and folk songs are firmly interwoven with history. This is perhaps exemplified by Roy Palmer’s book The Sound of History: Songs and Social Comment, which relates what are now traditional songs to the political and social events of the time. Roy Palmer has a long, distinguished record of writing about folk song and folklore, and for fans of naval history (both fact and fiction) he is probably best known for another book – Boxing the Compass: Sea Songs & Shanties. A recent publication is an article by him called ‘Shipmates’ (in the January issue of Folklife Quarterly), which traces the various incarnations of a song called ‘Don’t forget your old shipmate’. And if the title does not prompt any recognition, you will surely recall a few lines being sung (starting with ‘Safe and sound at home again’) by the officers at dinner in the captain’s cabin in the film Master and Commander.

Folklife Quarterly used to be published as Folklife West Magazine, but changed its name in 2012. FQ contains within it another magazine (which used to be available separately) called Folklife Traditions (itself formerly known as the Folklife West Journal). As you can see from the name changes, the magazine was originally restricted to the western side of England and parts of Wales, but it now covers a much wider area of Britain – though the website currently retains the old name [all since changed: see the website here].

Folklife Quarterly
Cover of the latest issue of Folklife Quarterly

In recent years, folk music has become hugely popular, and apart from articles and small pieces on folklore and traditions, FQ carries listings of folk dance and song venues, artists and bands, reports and comments on performances, notices about seasonal customs and rituals – in fact, anything connected with folk tradition in the widest sense. If you are interested in folk song or folklore in any of the areas covered, this is an essential magazine that is extremely good value for money.


The man who came to bear the elaborate identification of Lieutenant-General Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers (1827–1900) was born with the less cumbersome name of Augustus Henry Lane Fox at Bramham near Wetherby in Yorkshire, England. He trained as an army officer at the Royal Military College (now the Royal Military Academy) at Sandhurst in Berkshire and became an officer in the Grenadier Guards in 1845. In the early 1850s he was involved in the testing of the new Minié rifle that had been developed in France, which led to him becoming an instructor in the School of Musketry.

The collector

By April 1854 he was in Malta, as reported by the ‘Special Correspondent’ of the London newspaper
The Morning Post:

‘The 44th and the three companies of the 50th left on the night of the 4th for Gallipoli … There is a considerable quantity of floating rumour as to the probabilities, pro and con, of the Guards remaining here longer than the other regiments. … the officers and men receiving instructions at the school of musketry at Fort Ricasoli, under Captain Fox, have been ordered to join their respective corps immediately, whilst the Guards have received no such order.’

This was part of the flow of troops to the war in the Crimea, which had begun the previous autumn. With the School of Musketry suspended soon after, Captain Fox took another post within the army and served with distinction during the Crimean War. He was also needed from time to time as a rifle instructor and continued his research into firearms, which he had been collecting for some years, along with other weapons and tools. With the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species in 1859, he began to consider the development of weapons and tools in terms of evolution. He amassed an increasingly diverse set of objects, which was eventually given to Oxford University and became the core of the collections of the Pitt Rivers Museum that opened in 1884.

The legacy

In 1863 Fox was stationed in Ireland, and the focus of his interests changed from collecting to the study of prehistoric monuments. The following year he was elected as a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London, and on his return from Ireland in 1867 he continued his archaeological fieldwork in England. Over the next few years his pioneering work in field archaeology was enough to secure him a place in the history of the subject, but his real impact began in 1880 when he inherited the substantial estates of his cousin Horace Pitt, the sixth Baron Rivers. On 5th June 1880 The Morning Post reported:

‘The Queen has been pleased to grant unto Augustus Henry Lane Fox … her royal license and authority that he may (in compliance with a clause contained in the last will and testament of the said George Pitt, Lord Rivers, Baron Rivers of Strathfieldsaye, in the county of Southampton, and of Sudely Castle, in the County of Gloucester) take and use the surname of Pitt-Rivers in addition to and after that of Fox .’

George Pitt, the second Baron Rivers, was Fox’s great-uncle, and the title had descended from him as far as Fox’s cousin Horace. When Horace died without an heir, considerable wealth and extensive lands in Wiltshire and Dorset passed to Fox – as well as his new name of Pitt Rivers.

The Chase

Cranborne Chase was a medieval hunting ground that had remained in the ownership of either the monarch or a lord since the 11th century. As a game reserve it functioned in a similar way to a medieval royal forest, preserving animals such as deer for hunting by the owner of the Chase, and this continued until 1829. The area of the Chase is difficult to define precisely, since it covers land stretching from Ringwood and Salisbury in the east to Blandford Forum and Shaftesbury in the west. Although the Chase covered parts of Hampshire and Wiltshire, the bulk of it was in the county of Dorset. When Fox became Pitt Rivers, he inherited Rushmore House in Dorset and an estate of about 25,000 acres right in the heart of Cranborne Chase. For the brand-new science of archaeology it was a dream made real.

Part of a 17th-century map of Dorset showing the heart of Cranborne Chase
Part of a 17th-century map of Dorset showing the heart of Cranborne Chase

With extensive experience of fieldwork in Britain and abroad, combined with his army training and his own methodical approach, Pitt Rivers now had more than enough money to finance his research, as well as his own estate in which to develop his techniques. The fact that Cranborne Chase had been controlled by restrictions similar to those of royal hunting forests meant that since medieval times many ancient monuments and earthworks had been protected from agricultural destruction.

Modern archaeology is born

On gaining his inheritance in 1880 until his death in 1900, Pitt Rivers spent his time in archaeological research, concentrating on Cranborne Chase. In 1887 he published the first of four volumes called Excavations in Cranborne Chase, and in the preface he pointed out that good archaeological work needed to be slow and painstaking:

‘Having retired from active service on account of ill health, and being incapable of strong physical exercise, I determined to devote the remaining portion of my life chiefly to an examination of the antiquities on my own property. Of these there were a considerable number, especially near Rushmore, consisting of Romano-British Villages, Tumuli, and other vestiges of the bronze and stone age, most of which were untouched and had been well preserved … I at once set about organizing such a staff of assistants as would enable me to complete the examination of the antiquities on the property within a reasonable time, and to do it with all the thoroughness which I had come to consider necessary for archaeological investigations. A permanent residence in the district to be explored is almost necessary for a satisfactory investigation of its ancient remains, and it is needless to say that ownership adds greatly to the power of carrying out explorations thoroughly, for although I have found my neighbours at all times most obliging in giving me permission to dig, it requires some assurance so far to trespass on a friend’s kindness as to sit down and besiege a place on another man’s property more than a year, which is not at all too long a time to spend in the excavation of a British village.’

Too many other early excavators, he said, rushed the digging and did not keep sufficient or even accurate records:

‘It will, perhaps, be thought by some that I have recorded the excavations … and the finds that have been made in it with unnecessary fullness, and I am aware that I have done it in greater detail than has been customary, but my experience as an excavator has led me to think that investigations of this nature are not generally sufficiently searching, and that much valuable evidence is lost by omitting to record them carefully. … Excavators, as a rule, record only those things which appear to them important at the time, but fresh problems in Archaeology and Anthropology are constantly arising, and it can hardly fail to have escaped the notice of anthropologists, especially those who, like myself, have been concerned with the morphology of art, that, on turning back to old accounts in search of evidence, the points which would have been most valuable have been passed over from being thought uninteresting at the time. Every detail should, therefore, be recorded in the manner most conducive to facility of reference, and it ought at all times to be the chief object of an excavator to reduce his own personal equation to a minimum.’

In a few paragraphs Pitt Rivers had set out some of the major principles of field archaeology, including the need to record everything, whether it seemed relevant or not at the time, and also the need to be as objective as possible and keep theories and speculative interpretation to a minimum. The other standard that Pitt Rivers set was that of publishing his results. Having no problems of finance, he paid for the printing and publishing of his results in four meticulous volumes. In doing so he made the name of Cranborne Chase famous for generations of excavators and put this little-known area of Dorset on the archaeological map.

His death

Pitt Rivers died on 4 May 1900 and – unusually for the time – was cremated not buried. His ashes are contained in an urn at the west end of the church of St Peter ad Vincula at Tollard Royal in Dorset, and his family is buried in the churchyard. His cinerary urn is carved with a roundel design composed of a pick, theodolite, skull and other archaeological finds – a design that was used on one side of the metal discs that Pitt Rivers would leave at the bottom of his excavation trenches when they were backfilled, in order to show future excavators who had dug there. The other side of these discs had the inscription: ‘OPENED BY A. PITT RIVERS F.R.S.’.


The urn containing the ashes of Pitt Rivers in Tollard Royal church
The urn containing the ashes of Pitt Rivers in Tollard Royal church


For the competition in our previous newsletter we asked you to tell us what Cranborne Chase is, and of course the correct answer was ‘C. A place in southern England’. The first two correct entries out of the hat were those of Gordon Keen and Neville Lawson, who will each receive a copy of the revised and updated 2008 edition of The Handbook of British Archaeology.


We recently revisited Egypt (in memory, not reality), having been asked to write an article about the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs for the medical journal Medicographia. At first this seemed a strange request, but the journal is published in France, with a worldwide circulation, and they always have a section called ‘A Touch of France’ in addition to the serious medical articles. Hieroglyphs were of course first deciphered by a Frenchman, Jean-François Champollion, the subject of our book The Keys of Egypt. The article has just been published in Medicographia vol. 35 no. 1, and since it is illustrated with colour illustrations on high-quality paper, it looks very striking. Alongside our article is one by Christian Régnier called ‘French doctors in Egypt with Napoleon’, which is also beautifully illustrated.


Cartouche with hieroglyphs of the throne name of pharaoh Tuthmosis IV
Cartouche with hieroglyphs of the throne name of pharaoh Tuthmosis IV

Writing this article reminded us just how fascinating ancient Egypt is, and so for the competition there is a question about hieroglyphs. The picture above, photographed at Karnak, shows a cartouche, and within this cartouche are hieroglyphs that read ‘men kheperu ra’, which translates as ‘eternal are the forms of ra’. It is the throne name of the pharaoh Tuthmosis IV. For the competition we would like you to tell us the origin of the word ‘cartouche’ when used in connection with hieroglyphs. Is it:

  • Derived from the German term for a broken cartwheel
  • Derived from the Latin term for a diagram
  • Derived from the Greek term for a restaurant menu
  • Derived from the French term for a gunpowder cartridge