Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

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Cheltenham Guides
I meant to mention that last Monday I went to Cheltenham on the train - only half an hour (in theory) from Bristol Parkway, although I ended up on the stopping service that waited in a siding in Gloucester to be overtaken by the express. Apart from that, there were only two stops: one in Yate, where a large group of young people with backpacks got off (were they going to pay homage at J. K. Rowling's birthplace, I wondered idly?), and then again in Dursley (where no young people got off at all, thanks no doubt to the slanders of the same JKR).

I was going to meet the owner of a Cotswold company that specialises in private tours for Japanese visitors, as I was hoping to get an inkling of what brings Japanese people to the area. We met in a café and talked for an hour, and a very interesting conversation it was too, though I'm still digesting it so I won't go into it now - but in lieu of that let me share with you the title page of the book I gave him as a thank you (though only a print-on-demand reprint, alas), my great-great-great-great grandfather Weeden Butler's Cheltenham Guide (1781), which as far as I know is his earliest publication. It's a handy description of Cheltenham at the time, including an account of the origins of the famous spa a couple of generations earlier. Apparently a Mr Mason noticed the pigeons pecking at the soil around a pond fed by a spring - for the salts, it seems - and that inspired him to buy the land and set up a little hut from which he sold the water, after which his son-in-law built a dome, a colonnade, and all the amenities that polite society could demand. Thus was born, of a pigeon, the pump room, the literary festival, the Gold Cup and Agamemnon dead. (Actually that last one might have been a different bird.) The little blighters are still commemorated on the town's crest.

The water tastes pretty vile, though; worse, if possible, than those of Sulis.


Cheltenham guide weeden butler 1781
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What a useful source for anyone wanting background for historical fiction!
The pigeon on the crest looks (appropriately) like a crested pigeon, which are common near my home in Australia.

That's interesting - because they certainly don't look like the rock pigeons you see in Cheltenham today - or, I suspect, in the 1870s when the crest was designed. Perhaps the designer was from Oz? Or maybe it's a conventional heraldic stylisation?

I love 18th-c. Useful Guides and Companions.

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