Remarkable Occurrences of Greenwich (1)

If I’m ever bored (which is, frankly, rare these days, damn Real Life) then a quick leaf through Hasted’s History of Kent can be guaranteed to come up with some extraordinary fact or other.

The best bits are usually in the notes, added by Henry Drake in 1886, and which are only bettered for sheer exuberance by Sir Thomas Urquhart’s 17th translation of Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel. Sometimes there are only four lines of Hasted’s original to a (very large) page, the rest being taken up by Drake’s notes.

In a section marked “Remarkable Occurrences” I found this little entry:

“In 1273 a whale, 12 toises long, 5 toises in girth, was captured in Greenwich and taken to London Bridge to be cut up.”

My first thought was was ‘well – that’s not so remarkable – we still occasionally get lost sea mammals up the Thames – like this poor chap, which John found not so long ago whilst walking his dog. I wouldn’t click on the pic if I were you – it’ll give you nightmares, but it’s a stranded porpoise – very sad.

My second thought was ‘what the hell is a ‘toise?’

In finding out the answer to the second question, the first was answered.

A toise is a unit of measurement that dates back to pre-revolutionary France, or so Wikipedia tells me. It doesn’t help that the actual size of it changed over the centuries – exactly six pieds (feet)until 1812; exactly two metres between 1812 and 1840. (BTW I was tragic enough to check out the etymology of ‘tortoise’ at the same time – no relation…) But whatever measurement Hasted means, it was a big bugger.

Twelve toises long? That makes it TWENTY FOUR METRES. Okay – I’d call that remarkable.

One Comment to “Remarkable Occurrences of Greenwich (1)”

  1. greenwich sandwich says:

    That's a whale of a er… whale!