The Black Death


Where has this week gone?  It has been a week crammed with days of seeing me pouring over research and choosing what to include in my book.  Yes, you have guessed it, deadline is looming and I still have heaps to do, but the colourful display of daffodils in the gardens around me have been enough to raise my spirits.

When it comes to including material into a book there is always much thought and planning. You want your book to be different, which involves a lot of delving into what has been written before and trying to put your own slant and finding any new facts on the subject.  This week a few pieces caught my eye and all included animals.

The Stag Inn Hastings

Take the Stag Inn in the Old Town of Hastings which is a grade two listed building dating back to the 16th century.  You may be surprised to discover a glass-fronted wooden case containing the preserved bodies of two smoke-blackened mummified cats. They were discovered by builders in a chimney on the first floor when they were renovations in the 1940s.  There have been two explanations as to why the cats ended up in the chimney.  One is that the cats simply entered the chimney and unable to get down were overcome by smoke, effectively smoke drying them which prevented the remains from decaying.  However tradition tells a different story, that they could have been placed in the chimney as a sacrifice and then bricked up by a witch, Hannah Clarke, said to have occupied the Inn in 1665 in an attempt to ward off the plague.  Until the1980s the cats were hung from hooks in the main bar, but were then carefully taken down and place in the display case and hung on the wall.

Mummified cats

The next story also concerns the Black Death or plague.  This time we travel to the village of Wartling where the plague raged in 1669.  Some 300 years later, In the 1960s Mr Kemys Bagnall-Oakley who lived at School House Farm decided he would modernise it, and had just taken down the ceilings revealing the old beams.  Between the beams the spaces were packed with reeds which came crashing to the floor, as well as the mummified corpses of the black rat, the very kind that had been responsible for spreading the plague and claiming so many lives in the village.  Unfortunately word soon spread that Mr Bagnall-Oakeley had discovered a LIVE black rat, and he decided to put things right by writing the whole story which appeared in the parish magazine.  He also had one of the rats examined by the Natural History Museum in London who confirmed that the rat was indeed a rodent dating from around 1669 when the plague hit the village.

Black Rat

The ancient of ‘telling the bees’ about family  births, marriages and deaths  are well known as it ensured that bees would fly away or die, and therefore would not trouble that family.  It is also well known that anyone can talk over their problems and Sussex folk have a greater admiration for the bees than any other insects believing they were winged messengers of God.

making honey

There is a recorded incident that happened to a man in Stanmer.  He was rather drunk and stumbled into a garden and said to the owner, ‘I see you have bees.  I must talk to them about my troubles,’ and proceeded to lay his head on a hive and began talking.  Naturally the bees should have been swarming all over him, but instead they kept absolutely still as though listening.  The bee keeper was stunned into silence too, but shortly the drunk stood straight and left saying, ;that was good, I feel much better now.’  We are also told that during the 19th century a woman told her neighbour that her baby daughter had died, because she had forgotten to tell the bees about the birth.

The bee

About Wendy Hughes

Wendy turned to writing, in 1989, when ill-health and poor vision forced her into early medical retirement. Since then she has published 26 nonfiction books, and over 2000 articles. Her work has appeared in magazines as diverse as The Lady, Funeral Service Journal, On the Road, 3rd Stone, Celtic Connections, Best of British, and Guiding magazine. She has a column in an America/Welsh newspaper for ex-pats on old traditions and customs in Wales. Her books include many on her native Wales, Anglesey Past and Present, The Story of Brecknock, Brecon, a pictorial History of the Town, Carmarthen, a History and Celebration and Tales of Old Glamorgan, and a book on Walton on Thames in the Images of England series, a company history and two books on the charity Hope Romania. She has also co-authored two story/activity books for children. Her latest books are: Haunted Worthing published in October 2010, a new colour edition of The Story of Pembrokeshire published in March 2011, and Shipwrecks of Sussex in June 2011 and Not a Guide to Worthing in 2014. She is working on a book entitled A-Z of Curious Sussex which will be published in 2016 Wendy also works with clients to bring their work up to publishable standard and is currently working on an autobiography with a lady that was married to a very famous 1940’s travel writer. Wendy has spent many years campaigning and writing on behalf of people affected by Stickler Syndrome, a progressive genetic connective tissue disorder from which she herself suffers. She founded the Stickler Syndrome Support Group and raises awareness of the condition amongst the medical profession, and produces the group’s literature, and has written the only book on the condition, Stickler The Elusive Syndrome, and has also contributed to a DVD on the condition, Stickler syndrome: Learning the Facts. She has also writing three novels, Sanctimonious Sin, a three generation saga set in Wales at the turn of the century, Power That Heal set in the Neolithic period entitled Powers that Heal, and a semi biographical book entitled New Beginnings which deals with two generations coping with blindness and a genetic condition. She has also had a handful of short stories published, and in her spare time is working on several at the moment. She also gives talks on a variety of subjects including Writing and Placing Articles, Writing Local History, Writing as Therapy, Writing your first novel, etc, and runs workshops on the craft of writing – both fiction and non-fiction. She is a member of the Society of Women Writers and Journalists, and a member of the Society of Authors.