Saturday, January 15, 2011

It's a Fact!!

The oak door at Westminster Abbey

A battered oak door at Westminster Abbey was discovered in 2005 and is the oldest known door in Britain. The door to the outer vestibule of the chapter house is thought to be the only surviving Anglo-Saxon door in the country, dating from the time of King Edward the Confessor, the founder of the Abbey, who was born in 1005. It has been dated as being 950-years-old by experts from English Heritage and the Oxford Dendrochronology Laboratory.

I'm sure the door wasn't actually discovered in 2005. Somehow I think that in 950 years, the door was probably noticed by someone. I suppose it was in 2005 when someone said, "Hey, look at this old door. I wonder how old it is. Let's take it to the Oxford Dendrochronology lab and have it tested."

Dendrochronology (or tree-ring dating for us dummies) is the scientific method of dating wood based on the analysis of patterns of tree-rings. Dendrochronology can date the time at which tree rings were formed and in many types of wood, to the exact calendar year. Now that's amazing.

 Old Westminster Abbey
(the white building, mid-right of picture, behind the new Parliament building)
Photo taken Nov. 2008 from the London Eye

I'm currently reading Bill Bryson's newest tome At Home: A Short History of Private Life and the above is just one of the many curious facts of which he tells. In fact, the book is so jam-packed with peculiar trivia, I fall asleep each night with my head swimming.

For instance, did you know that in the Crystal Palace built in London's Kensington Park for the Great Exhibition in 1851, there was enough room in its airy vastness to hold four St. Paul's Cathedral? Of course, it was the world's largest building at the time. Would Queen Victoria have it any other way? Made entirely of glass supported by cast-iron girders, the palace must have been a sight to behold, to say nothing of the strange and bizarre exhibits displayed inside. At one point during the exhibition, 92,000 people were in the building.

The Crystal Palace

After the six-month exhibition, the palace was dismantled and eventually moved across the Thames to Sydenham, Surrey, where for many years it hosted concerts and other exhibitions. Sadly, its popularity declined over the years (maybe the windows got dirty?) and the building finally burnt to the ground in 1936.

As I walked through tranquil Kensington Park in 2008, it was difficult to invision what once transpired on those grounds.

Kensington Gardens, November 2008

I am a sucker for peculiar facts, which is why Bryson's book has me hooked. Can you image that in the rural county of Norfolk, there are 659 medieval churches, more per square mile than anyplace on earth! And all of them seem to be sinking into the landscape.

However, they aren't actually sinking, th land around them is being built up. Huh?In a simple country churchyard, it might appear that there are only 100 or so gravestones. This is where history gets interesting.

A country parish may have only 250 parishoners (at any one time) which translates to about 1000 adult deaths per century, plus another thousand more souls who didn't make it to maturity. Multiply that by the number of centuries the church has been standing and you'll find that instead of 100 burials, there have been probably twenty thousand or more burials. Think of all those lives underfoot. No wonder the earth around the church rises every century and the church itself seems to be sinking.

A Country Church in Norfolk

Amazing the things we don't notice and fail to understand.I'm hooked on history.What are you hooked on?

[This was originally posted on January 9th. By changing the background design (again--never satisfied), I messed up this post and unfortunately deleted the comments. I am such a ditz sometimes.]

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