#345 theoldmortuary ponders

It’s complicated. As Britain packs away the Cosplay outfits for a few months, what happens next? When I took the photo of the purple, illuminated, entrance of The Royal William Yard in Plymouth I hadn’t planned to include the contemporary A-frame table but when superimposed on a shot of the dawn of a new day it looks pleasingly optimistic. The future of Britain will be resolved around tables like this one. People will sit at benches like this, cardboard coffee cups in hand and informally exchange ideas. The big decisions may well be made in grander or more formal surroundings, but tables like this are where the magic happens.

If the architecture looks familiar after 10 days of news bulletins from London, there is a reason. The same architect John Rennie, who built the Royal William Yard, was part of a partnership, with his brother J and G Rennie. They also built Waterloo Bridge, Southwark Bridge and London Bridge.

How affronted would J and G Rennie be if they had known that the, imagined, structural failure of one of their bridges was the code name for the Queen’s death?

“London Bridge has fallen down”

The bridge did not, actually, fall down and the sun rose so all is well.

#344 theoldmortuary ponders

Here we are, a £1:75 pineapple, my tenuously linked story, that brings a royal flavour to this blog.

We spent the weekend camping at Heligan. Loads of history and stories. The fruity one that stuck was the not-so-humble story of the Pineapple.

Between 1770 and 1850 growing Pineapples became the horticultural aspiration of the upper classes. An imported pineapple at the time would cost the equivalent of £5000. If you were rich enough to own one you could hire it out until it was virtually inedible, people so craved them as a centrepiece of their fruit bowls and as a sign of their wealth. However if a guest attempted to touch the pineapple security guards, provided by the actual owner, would step out from the dark recesses provided by candlelight and the host would be embarrassed that they had been caught out as hirers, not owners, of the precious fruit.

Wealthy landowners like the Tremayne’s of Heligan built pineapple pits in their kitchen gardens to grow their pineapples. Absolute mountains of horse manure were required to heat each pineapple pit and Heligan had 15 of them. When the restoration of the kitchen garden was complete it took 7 years to perfect the art of growing pineapples in Cornwall using centuries-old techniques. If you take into account all the research, labour and failure that Heligan has endured growing Pineapples each one still has a price tag of about £1,000. They are never sold, each one that makes it to the eating stage is divided among all the staff, who get to eat it.

Except for the 2nd pineapple ever grown in modern times at Heligan. It was given to the Queen and Prince Phillip for their 50th Wedding anniversary in 1997. Which just about squeaks me into my 10 days of Royal topics for the 10 days of Official Mourning. I wonder how long it will be before people start trying to touch my £1:75 pineapple?

This blog also explains why pineapples are so often seen as a motif in architecture, bling in the form of fruit.

#343 theoldmortuary ponders

This is the first actual wreath we have seen to mark the death of Queen Elizabeth the Second,and possibly one in one of the most unusual locations. It is hung outside a ‘Thunder Box’ . It is important to read the link below to understand the context of this site. It is considered to be a living War Memorial and is where tributes are always placed in Heligan, the place we visited today.


Heligan is a fabulous place to hang out for the weekend. Sunshine and cooler weather are definitely heralding autumn.

It is always an early autumn pleasure to spend time with pumpkins before they are incorporated into the dreadful, trashy, import of Halloween, a festival with no merits,in my opinion, that ruins everything about pumpkins and the gorgeous season of Autumn.

Small, warty pumpkins.
Plump, audacious pumpkins including my favourite ‘Turks Head’

Autumn may well be rattling, respectfully, under the circumstances, on the door but bees are still busy with summer business.

Although these bees live in ancient homes called Bee Boles.

We’ve walked many miles today and listened to some lovely history lectures, which were a fine excuse to sit down for an hour or so. The coffee and comestibles have been perfect. Welcoming Autumn with bright sunlight and gorgeous flowers is very satisfying.

#342 theoldmortuary ponders

The Thames and its river banks are the focus of news in London for the next two days. The Queue is taking the media strain off the Royal Family. The banks of the Thames are some of the easiest and historically significant walks that can be done in Britain. 22 hours in the dark and cold would be pushing my tolerance but every inch of the queues locations are familiar to me and some hold especially fond memories. College green where the infamous ‘snake’ part of the queue compresses is a green park like space where TV crews often broadcast from. It was also one was of my dads shortcuts when he was working locally. He could occasionally be seen scuttling past in the background, when the TV news was being filmed. Today College Green was the place when many people realised they were queueing with David Beckham, former England football captain and generally considered, lovely chap.

He had arrived at the start of the queue at 2am and had managed many hours largely unnoticed. When he was spotted he bought doughnuts for large numbers of people on the green. Not pulling any strings to take a short cut and buying doughnuts certainly suggests he is a really nice chap.

And yes ,there really is a ‘Live’ feed for a dead person.


Link above to video of whole queue.

Trust me there was nothing like the complexity when I saw Churchill.

#341 theoldmortuary ponders

I did not anticipate some observations on class today. The Queens coffin is resting on a purple catafalque- a decorated wooden structure supporting the coffin of a distinguished person.

When we took over the mortuary, prior to renovating the space, we had a very similar catafalque, same colour everything. But of course the good people of St Stephens in Cornwall were not distinguished so their coffins rested on a bier!

Some sources say the two words are synonyms with no mention of any distinguished differences.

The bier or catafalque of St Stephens held a secret. Beneath its purple drapes there was an old chest of drawers with a door nailed on top.

What lies beneath the purple drapes of the catafalque in Westminster Hall is likely to remain a mystery to those of us not involved in distinguished funerals. It is unlikely to be an old door and a chest of drawers, but you never know.

#340 theoldmortuary ponders

Todays blog has , once again, written itself. The plan was to have a bit of a natter about the architecture and history of The Great Hall, Westminster. But something more organic has grabbed my attention.


Overnight the British love for an orderly queue has reached its zenith. Could there be anything more gloriously, gorgeously, British than a queue with a life of its own.

The Queue has its own website, live tracker and constant streamed wencam.

I woke up for a wee at a moment of unfortunate activity.

A guard took a tumble during his duty.

Twitter, as can be the case, is the place for witty comments. Visual jokes that will only improve over the five days of The Queue’s life.

I am not an innocent in this queueing malarky, only two weeks ago I chose a restaurant in Chicago “Because it had a queue” I don’t know why those words came out of my mouth or even where the thought came from. I was not wrong though, our lunch was excellent.

It is not an exaggeration to say that people have travelled from the four corners of the earth to join #QueueForTheQueen. Just like Glastonbury there are wrist bands, portable toilets, and no sleep.

But here, perched on the edge of my bed there is definitely sleep. Five more days of the greatest queue on earth, An unexpected pleasure!


#339 theoldmortuary ponders

A bright, brief, flash of colour is my only connection with our recently deceased Queen. Like a Kingfisher she flashed past in my life rarely but brightly in a car or carriage. Other times, when she was dressed to not be recognised, the recognition nearly always came after the moment had passed. How will King Charles the third follow that. Men habitually dress in clothes that are less colourful, no wildly exuberant hats apart from his uniform days, or Crown days. Not that this really matters but in part the Queens success was that, when she wanted to be, she was spectacularly visible.

A tough sartorial act to follow.


#338 theoldmortuary ponders

In these days of rolling news and constant posts on Social Media it is easy to get sucked into Royal news almost without realising. Beyond news, accurate or not, there are poems and pieces of Art. Accuracy seems irrelevant and sometimes the quality of the homage pieces is a little questionable. One that stood out because it worked on a few levels was this Queen tribute, almost always falsely attributed to Banksy.

© Anat Zahavi

Anat Zahavi, grew up in Tel Aviv and currently lives in the Netherlands. I hope her name is not wiped from history but there is every chance. Lazy research by many contributes to one of my favourite quotes.

” History is a lie agreed upon” or so I thought. In fact the actual quote is.

“History is a set of lies that people have agreed upon,”- Napoleon

Always check your sources especially in these curious times with 24 hours of news. Or just turn it off.

#337 theoldmortuary ponders

Todays Royal pondering features King John, a monarch best known for creating the Magna Carta at Runnymead in Surrey. The Magna Carta was in fact a Peace Treaty between the King and his Barons.

The Magna Carta was a charter of rights agreed to by King John of England in 1215, and was Europe’s first written constitution. Prior to the implementation of the Magna Carta, English monarchs were considered above the law of the land and ruled with relatively absolute power.

Thankfully this blog is not an Opus Magnum so I need to turn the expectation down a little.

King John was not considered by many to be a particularly good or kind King but in England he scored a sartorial first. King John was the first person to be recorded as wearing a dressing gown. The Kings overshirt for rising in the night.

In his last days there would be a lot of rising in the night. The King was suffering from Dysentry and somewhat foolishly ate an excessive amount of peaches which finished him off.

#336 theoldmortuary ponders

Todays Royal related blog is perhaps not for the squeamish. I will ease you all in gently. Where does the tradition of flowers come from at funerals? Bodies become odorous, quite quickly, after death unless steps are taken. Flowers and in particular their fragrance can help a bit, as does quick, deep burial or burning. Incense or any other strong smelling fragrance has nothing to do with spirituality and everything to do odour masking. It matters not what any religion dresses the rituals around death up as,the disposal of a body is pragmatic and good for public health.

William the 1st, William the Conqueror had a Royal funeral, planned, quite possibly by Monty Python Funerals.com

Held in Caen, France, things did not go to plan. Injured in battle, possibly a self inflicted injury of a big belly being ruptured by the pommel on the saddle of his horse. William was taken alive to Rouen but died of his injuries. His body was stored in a place that was ransacked and looted. Everything of value was stolen and his naked body left on the floor. There was an attempt at embalming, almost certainly too little, too late and he was transported to Caen for his funeral where a stone sarcophagus awaited him.

There was a kerfuffle immediately when someone claimed the Church and by association the burial site had been built on stolen land but worse was to come. The pre prepared stone sarcophagus was just a little too small. Not enough that the body would obviously not fit, but just tantalisingly too small. The sort of ‘too small’ where a practical person would step up and offer to try and squeeze the King in. This was not a good idea. William the Conquerors damaged and decaying bowels burst at the first application of pressure. All the flowers in the world or Incense for that matter were not going to hide that particular stench. Mediaeval life was not for the fragile…

Where will all this Royal research take us tomorrow.