Wendy’s Wanderings Mummified Cats and Rats and Taking to the Bees
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.