Frivolous Monsters

In the Name of – Part 02

Real people have archenemies too. Mine is a nemesis vanquished by my ancestors. Killing dragons with might and intelligence is one thing, but the inherent mastery over a particular species of animals is another. The Saint Patrick snake allegory is apocryphal – the ice age being responsible for the lack of snakes in Ireland – but consider the proof for the Pied Piper of Hamelin.Pied Piper Postcard 500

The German legend is of a town overrun by rats in 1284 whose Mayor flippantly offered to pay a travelling piper, dressed in multicoloured pied clothing, who claimed to be able to rid them of the vermin single-handed. The Piper then enchanted the rats with his pipe-playing and led them all into the Weser river. When the Mayor refused to pay the Piper he returned to the town with great vengeance and furious anger before turning his magical pipe on the town’s children and leading them away to the mountains, never to be seen again.

Just a fairytale? In was in 1300, give or take, that a stained glass window was installed in Hamelin Church depicting the events. The church was destroyed in 1660, but a detailed copy of this has survived.  Pied piperAnd then the earliest written record of events is from the Hamelin town chronicles, in an entry from 1384, which states: It is 100 years since our children left.

And so we finally come to my ancestors who, like Thomas Unsworth and the Pied Piper before him, rode into a small hamlet in Northumberland to find that the place was overrun and the locals were being terrorised. Not by rats this time, and not by dragons either, but a much more frivolous monster. Pigs. Lots of pigs. Wild boar to be precise and my family gained local fame by coming to the rescue.

And so, from my ancestors, I get my name; from the Old English, meaning one who tricked and enchanted the wild boars into drowning in the river. I may be a vegetarian, but I’m haunted by the sins of the fathers, being the last in a long line of pig murderers.

They were heroes. Two villages are now named after them to this day. I know this as I’ve been there. They were given their just desserts, without the need for retribution. I should probably be the King of there now, or something, but there was no tickertape parade for me. They vanquished the evil pigs and gained wealth and celebrity whilst I have enough trouble just trying to get my own money out of my own building society.

That couldn’t exactly be described as warm, welcoming, and customer friendly as from outside the cashiers are concealed from view in a building with darkened windows which make it always appear as if the lights are off and that there’s no-one home. On one visit, when I’d successfully navigated their heavy fortifications, in desperate need of withdrawing some money to prop up my ailing bank account, robbing Peter to pay Paul, they actually tried to guilt-trip me by asking me if I really wanted to take some money out. The answer was yes, obviously, as I’d gone all the way there especially to do so.

On another occasion I had the man behind the glass tell me that the driving licence I’d proffered for photo ID was out of date. I umm’ed and ahh’ed, hardly grateful for this none-news, as after all I wasn’t trying to use it as a driving licence. As I just stood there he then repeated this, as if I were somehow stupid and hadn’t understood him first time around.

My face is still the same”, I told him. “I haven’t changed it recently”. In reality I don’t think I’ve changed my appearance since I was five.

A blonde woman appeared to back the man up, perhaps worried I was about to kick off and go postal, and I explained the above to her in clear and concise language, as if they were stupid.

Na-Na-Na-Na-Not listening! was effectively her reply. No bank would take this as proof of ID, she said, and my face was no longer any good and they weren’t allowed to even so much as look at the picture. Last year it was perfectly good, but now Father Time has stolen my identity and somewhere he’s off using it to buy cigarettes, cider, and to rent Robocop from the local library.

Another visit saw them fob me off with some such guff about their machines not working and they directed me to another branch. I ended up having to go all the way to the one in Manchester. The next time I returned with my begging bowl they again made excuses to try and hold on to my money by demanding to see extra signed identification from me because of “suspicious activity” on my account as they’d detected that someone had been withdrawing money from another branch.

Despite trying to explain all this to the woman behind an inch of plate-glass she told me that all this was “for my own protection”, but seeing I was taking money out as a cheque in my own name I guess it was only really saving me from my local namesakes: the cage fighter and the gay air steward.

Admittedly if either of them were set on a life of crime, despite the fact that they’re the one’s holding down proper jobs, and they had mastered my signature, and they had got hold of my pass-book, then yes all this kafuffle would have prevented this perfect crime.

When I read stories in the local paper of people going into my building society, possibly mad as hell and not willing to take it anymore, and then holding the place up; well I certainly couldn’t condone their actions, but you can see where they’re coming from, can’t you?

It’s all a bit of a comedown for a fabled pig killer of legend. I don’t even like going into a butchers so I guess I’m the weak link in the family tree. Whether this story is true or not. Say what you like about Saint George and his fairytale yet according to the BBC’s Domesday Project interviews with local Unsworth people showed belief in their dragon. Maybe the nineteen-eighties were a simpler, happier time.

In researching the dragon I turned up a book from the eighteen-eighties – The Parochial Registers Preservation Bill, 1882: The Preservation of Parish Registers – whose author travelled to the Bury area and described witnessing not just the dragon-carved oak table in the Unsworth family, but all FOUR carvings that were produced. Ignoring the table he made drawings of the other three, now preserved for posterity, so at last the Unsworth Dragon from history is revealed to us.

Pictures of a real dragon. It definitely looked something exactly like this.

Pictures of a real dragon. It definitely looked something exactly like this.

The school-taught destruction of the carved table, not mentioned anywhere else, doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny when at the flick of a switch I can now pull up the whole cargo inventory for the RMS Titanic to find lots of odd things from shelled walnuts and hosiery, to tennis balls and hairnets, but absolutely no tables. So I can now begin to believe that maybe it’s still out there, somewhere, which is more than can be said of the locals interviewed in 1986, those with faith in their local dragon, as they also went on to speculate that possibly it could actually only have been a wolf, perhaps a bear, or maybe just a wild boar.

Again with the wild boar appearing in my life. Is it a coincidence that I’ve ended up living down the road from the site of my ancestral nemesis’ lair? Every dog has his day though and perhaps, with frequent news reports these days of captive farmed boar escaping into the wild and forming breeding colonies, it’s now time for me to take a stand.

Maybe I’ve inherited the genetic traits to charm them out of the forest, maybe I can speak boar, or maybe the whole story’s all just one big fairytale. I wouldn’t know as I’ve never so much as seen one; they’re thought to have gone extinct from Britain in the thirteenth century. The same time, I note, when the Piper was ripping up Medieval Hamelin. The same time, I also note, as the first recorded incidence of my surname.

King James the first tried to reintroduce the wild boar in Windsor Park during the seventeenth century; latterly so did his son Charles in the New Forrest. These and all future attempts in the eighteenth and nineteenth century failed, and Charles ended up having his head cut off, although I’m not sure the two events are linked. Who can say what role subsequent generations of my ancestors had to play in any of this, protecting the country from the tyranny of the wild boar, like Asterix and Obelix.

But now they’re back. And ready to step up and do my duty I stand shoulder to shoulder with the ghosts of my ancestors as I go into battle; the family motto as our battle cry – semel et semper – which, in this day and age of prominent historical celebrity child abuse cases, translates from the original Latin as: “Just like the Pied Piper except we never touched any of the kids”.

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14 thoughts on “In the Name of – Part 02

  1. Isn’t there a story about Jesus doing something similar to pigs?
    And speaking of stories -that entry in the Hamelin Chronicle. It couldn’t be true, could it……….
    I can’t help but think of the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. What an unsettling figure for the watching children.

    • Now you say that I do remember the Jesus story. Removing demons from a person and putting them in a herd of pigs that then went off into a lake and drowned. I’m not daft enough to claim he’s a relative, though!

      According to Wikipedia historians speculate that either the children died of some disease, with the Piper being a symbolic figure of Death, or that the children left Hamelin to be part of some military campaign or Children’s crusade, and the Piper was the recruiting agent. No-one seems to say it didn’t happen though.

      And I see the Child Catcher scenes were filmed in Bavaria, Germany, which isn’t that far away from Hamelin on the map.

  2. So if you were to step up and do your duty, maybe you could charm the boar and lead them down to your building society….

    • That sounds like a plan, although unfortunately (I suppose) since these incidents they have actually (and amazingly) reduced their Draconian security to the extent where the door isn’t actually locked anymore and you can get in and out. Otherwise previously to this I could have answered the riddle over the intercom, hustled the pigs in, and shut the door. They admitted to me they’d down this downgrading as none of it had helped in any of the times they’ve been held up.

      Actually I think to carry out such a plan I would have to achieve the honour of Freeman of the town (I don’t know if this actually exists) otherwise I’d be done for leading my cattle about the streets before I got there. It’s sort-of true, a bit, that this is one of the freedoms such a title gives you in London. Stephen Fry has exercised this privilege by walking a sheep about in 2013.

  3. The white boar of Richard III, or the blue Boar of Camilla’s family?

    • That’s very cryptic. I had to do some googling. I’ve been doing a lot of googling tonight. I’m not sure what it means but on out coat of arms there is a prancing white boar. I don’t know if you can relate it to Richard III though.

      The breaking news is that I have become obsessed with tracking down the table, after probably proving that it wasn’t on the Titanic. I’ve tracked exactly where the farmhouse was, on period maps, where it resided, and it’s now a sports hall of some sort. The last Unsworth family resident there emigrated to New Zealand, apparently. I’m guessing the table passed into the hands of a local Manchester collector Walter Behrens sometime around the supposed emigration, at the turn of the twentieth century, because… I’ve found a record of its next sale, upon Behrens’ death, in 1913. The year of the Titanic. It sold at Christie’s in London for over five thousand dollars – as reported in the New York Times – although CRUCIALLY the sale took place eight months after the Titanic set sale! So, it could still be out there, although no reason to hope it’s still local. I was considering a letter campaign.

      Oddly the British Museum has a webpage where they list Walter Behrens, the year 1913, and that he was a Manchester collector with (enigmatically) “Items acquired by the Museum from various sources”. I’ve been searching their on-line inventory, but they don’t seem to list such a table.

      Also I’ve not found a list of details from Christies as to who they sold it to.

      It’s all going on. Any insider tips for me on where to look next?

      • The white boar as Richard III’s emblem. Once he was killed, a local pub called the,white boar probably quickly repainted its sign ans became the Blue boar. A blue Boston its hind legs is part of Camilla’s family emblem.

  4. Well there’s a family history! I’m not sure a boar killer would go down so well in this day and age, what with animal rights and all that. Maybe Alex’s suggestion of using the boars to attack the building society would be the best option – nobody would be against that and I don’t think you have groups for the protection of banks et al.

    • Out of all those myths and legends I’ve since become more obsessed with the Unsworth dragon story and his table. I’ve been away investigating and have found clues and made breakthroughs that no other account makes mention of. So far I’ve been to two library archives and have to pluck up the courage to hit a third. I seem to have found, in my hunt for the table, the only known picture in existence of it. I only know that as I’ve only just seen it. I need to secure a good copy now in my efforts to track it down.

  5. Roger Unsworth on said:

    There are many Unsworth’s that fall into the places you mention – I am happy to correspond further is you wish. I have traced myself directly back to Gyles Unsworth (1590 – 1651), my 9th Great Grandfather (his father was George). Gyles is shown as having lived in Redvales which my whole family generate from. In particular it is understood he lived in Goshen, the name given to an old farmhouse by the side of the Roach River. Gyles was known to be in possession of the family nine-foot long Jacobean oak side-table carved with St George and the dragon, a lion, unicorn and the Derby crest dated 1618. Giles was married to Anne Unsworth (nee Harper) they had a son Gyles (1627 – 1713) who I understand was granted licence to use the farmhouse as a Presbyterian meeting place.

    • Hello, it took some working out for me to find out that the farmhouse mentioned was in Goshen (I guess on the site of the sport centre now) and not actually Unsworth as it’s understood today, but then in those days when the roads weren’t there it will have been just a few farms across.

      Does your family research say what it was that happened to the table in the end? Or the wooded plaques with the dragons on them? Is there a story that’s been passed on from generation to generation?

      • Hi FM

        My father used to say follow the money – in this case it’s obviously follow the table (bit of a holy grail quest). There are many twists and turns to the various Unsworth legacies, my own family with bad blood and dissent between relatives only a few generations ago and in my early lifetime…what a shame as my immediate bloodline and soul survivor is my son, the only one to take my branch of the family forward to the next generation.

        I have recently tracked a Last Will to 1884, that of James Unsworth of Bowler Bank Farm near Crumpsall Lanc…I know the area somewhat. Which basically says the following:

        “I James Unsworth of Bowler Bank Farm near Crumpsall Lancashire, formely of Goshen Farm, give and bequeath to my son James William Unsworth my Oak Carved Table at Goshen Farm aforesaid and absolutely….”.

        I intend to follow the trail of testaments, wills and leads from James William Unsworth etc. One day we may put our hands on this elusive piece of history.

    • Ha, you’re not going to find it that way! The table was inherited by James William Unsworth, the last recorded member of the family to occupy Goshen, but when he emigrated to New Zealand he sold the table to his sister, Mary Ann Chadwick, at Bowker Bank Farm for £50.

      They then sold it on, out of the family, to the Manchester collector Walter Behrens in about 1908. He then died in 1913 and his extensive antique collection was sold at Christie’s in London on 2nd December 1913.

      The Unsworth table was bought by a Sydney Letts, an international antique dealer, of Great Russell Street, London for a thousand guineas.

      What happened to it then is my question.

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