Dale Fort Blog Number 17

30 04 2013

Mice

The scientific name for the house mouse is Mus domesticus taken from the Roman mus minimus (small mouse).  A Roman rat was mus maximus (big mouse).  The Welsh for mouse is llygod.  The Welsh for rat is llygod fawr (big mouse).

It’s thought that all mammals evolved from a rodent-like common ancestor many millions of years ago.

There are 5 species of mouse in the UK:  The wood or field mouse, the yellow-necked mouse, the common dormouse, the harvest mouse and the one most likely to be found in your house, the house mouse.

Dormice with label

Occasionally, especially in winter you might get wood mice moving in with you.  If you can trap one and keep it reasonably still it’s quite easy to tell the difference between house and wood mice.  Wood mice look more appealing to most people, having very large eyes and a tail as long their head and body.  House mice have small eyes and a shorter, scaly tail

Field mouse with label.jpg

House mouse with label

The dead giveaway is their problem with personal odour.  In short, house mice are smelly.  This is probably mainly because they have virtually no means of storing urine and so rather than releasing a bladderful of the stuff in one place they leave a continuous trail of it wherever they go.  This, together with their tendency to leave faeces everywhere means you probably don’t want them in your kitchen.  Some people believe that the domestication of cats began because ancient humans, plagued by mice and other rodents realised that carnivorous cats would provide a means of biological control.

Harvest mouse with label.jpg

Mice like to be near humans because we provide them with somewhere warm and dry to build a nest and with food. Most commonly they are vegetarian, eating nuts and grains and fruits.  One of the keys to their success though is that they can eat almost anything including the dead bodies of other mice and their own tails.  From personal experience I believe mouse nirvana is reached when they are offered a supply of chocolate.  When I lived at Dale Fort (among the silverfish) I was given a large Easter-egg by a group of students.  I put it on a shelf waiting for Easter.  I opened the box on Easter Sunday to find a hollow silver-paper structure entirely devoid of Easter-egg and some mouse droppings.  They had nibbled their way in through the back of the box, through the foil and eaten the lot from the inside of the wrapper.  There were a few red Smarties left inside but I felt they were best thrown away.  I have occasionally speculated as to whether they missed the red ones because they have no red-detecting eye pigments and they just didn’t see them.

Less well known is the fact that in Zambia and Malawi mice are eaten by humans to this day.  The Romans also kept dormice for food.  They were fattened up and when they went into hibernation were stored in a barrel for consumption over the winter.

Yellow necked mouse with label

 

Mice are not simply a nuisance.  They are the most commonly used mammal in laboratory experiments.  Their genome has been sequenced and there are many homologues for human genes.  (Bits of mouse DNA that resemble closely bits of human DNA).  This means they can be used as mammalian models for the study of human diseases.  They reproduce very quickly and are easy to look after.  This means you can follow several generations in rapid time.

Coming soon:  Nunzilla’s guide to common seaweeds.  Don’t miss it.





Dale Fort Blog Number 16

22 04 2013

 

The History of Dale Fort Part 6

 

This blog continues the long (some might say interminable; but not me) history of Dale Fort.  Readers of previous articles may remember our hagiographic diversions as we entered and passed beyond the Roman period.   We looked at the legends of the saints local to Dale Fort (see blogs 12 and 13) and took our story up to the 8th and 9th Centuries.   We begin again from The Norman Period:

 

The Normans

The Domesday Book suggests that Rhys ap Tewdor, the ruler of South Wales had an arrangement with William the Conqueror

William  had visited St David’s in 1081  and allowed Rhys to continue in power.  Rhys died in 1093 and things began to change.  In 1115 Wilfred the last of a long line of Welsh bishops died and the  Normans made their move.  The monks of St Davids were summoned to London and the king ordered them to elect his man (Bernard) as their leader.  Bernard reorganized St David’s along Norman/English lines.  There were now fixed territorial boundaries, canons supported by cathedral properties and a system of clerical courts.  In 1123 Pope Calixtus II recognized the new arrangements formally and recognized David as a saint.  Bernard began rebuilding the cathedral and the new building was consecrated in 1131.  In 1171 King Henry II visited and conferred expensive gifts.  (To help make up for the murder of Thomas a Becket).

The Normans rapidly took over South Wales.  Visitors to Dale Fort will notice the castellated building west of Dale Village near to the church.  This is Dale Castle; it has mediaeval origins but little from that time remains.

dale castle with legend

In 1993, excavations 500m to the west at Great Castle Head revealed evidence of much later occupation of that site than had been thought.  High status goods were found, in particular a lump of orpiment.  This was an arsenic sulphide compound imported from either present day Italy or Kurdistan.  It was the only means of producing a clear yellow colour in expensive manuscripts.  If people were making manuscripts there, it’s possible that the Great Castle Head site was occupied right through the early mediaeval period up until the Norman invasion.  There is a major land-slip at the site, the occurrence of which might have precipitated a move to the current site of Dale Castle nearer to the village.   The De Vales occupied it from the 12th Century (Robert de Vale was granted market rights in 1293).  The current building is mostly early 18th Century, heavily restored and decorated in the early 20th Century.

Archaeologists at GCH 1999

The church, despite severe restoration in recent times is of the Norman style with a square castellated tower.  Nearby St. Ishmaels has a Norman motte and bailey castle on high ground above the present settlement.  That this structure was not reinforced and rebuilt in stone (as for example at Pembroke) indicates this was probably not a rebellious neighbourhood.

Henry Tudor

He was born at Pembroke Castle and had a tenuous claim to the English throne.  As a result, there was serious concern for his safety and he spent most of his early life in France.  On the 1st of August 1485 he sailed from Harfleur with 2000 French mercenaries and a few English exiles.  He had decided to stake his claim to the throne of England.

Some of Henry’s men knew the Pembrokeshire coast and Mill Bay, less than two miles from Dale Point was chosen as a landing site.  It is probably not too fanciful to suppose that the only Welsh king of England rode within spitting distance of where Dale Fort is now on his way to Bosworth Field.  Legend has it that he stopped for a drink at St. Ishmaels (from what was subsequently called “The King’s Well”).

Having landed on the evening of August 7th he and his men had reached Bosworth Field in Leicestershire and defeated Richard III by August 22nd.  A story survives concerning local landowner Rhys ap Thomas of Carew Castle.  Rhys had sworn allegiance to Richard III promising the king that only over my bellie would Henry Tudor get beyond his bit of Pembrokeshire.  Rhys did not want to be thought of as the sort of chap who would break his word to the king but as a Welshman he also supported Henry Tudor.  As a compromise measure, he waited for Henry and his men at Mullock Bridge on the road out of Dale.  As Henry reached the bridge Rhys lay down, bellie up, in the mud underneath the bridge, so Henry in crossing literally passed over his bellie.  Rhys then changed allegiance and joined Henry on the march to Bosworth.  He is one of several claimants to the ‘honour’ of having struck the final blow to Richard III.  Richard was the last English King to die in battle.

mullock enhanced

Henry Tudor and his men cross the mighty River Gann.  Eagle-eyed readers may just be able to spot Rhys ap Thomas lying under the bridge

  An account of the Battle of Bosworth Field states that the body of Richard was subjected to many indignities.  If Rhys was happy to both bludgeon the life out of the old king and have a ripping time desecrating his corpse, why did he bother slithering about in the slime beneath Mullock Bridge?  A similar story exists concerning the Shrewsbury Bailiff, Thomas Milton.  Henry crossed the River Severn at Shrewsbury where Milton had vowed that Henry would enter the town only over his dead body.  As Henry entered the town Milton feigned death and allowed the King’s horse to step over him.  These symbolic gestures indicate that there was a fair body of opinion that Henry was going to win

Rhys was well rewarded for his efforts.  He spent vast sums on home improvements at Carew Castle and in 1507 organized a Royal Tournament.  This remains the biggest party that Wales has ever seen.  Henry and the court turned up and lots of people ended up with immense hangovers.

There are no records of Henry VII doing anything about the defences of Milford Haven.  This is not surprising in that most of Henry VII’s troubles came from within his kingdom, there was little threat of invasion from without.  Having dealt with the remaining Yorkists, Henry died in 1509.  On the whole Britain was a richer, more peaceful place than it had been before.  All the action happened at the beginning of his reign.  In his irreverent history John O-Farrell sub-titles the section on Henry VII thus:

Cry havoc and let loose the dogs of accountancy!

 

Henry VIII

Henry VIII became involved in wars against the French and the Scots.  Wars are expensive and by 1535 Henry was bankrupt.  The dissolution of the monasteries solved that problem.

Henry was now estranged from Rome and eventually excommunicated.  His aggressive intentions in France had led to the signing of a peace treaty between France and another old enemy, Spain.  The result was that there was a real danger of invasion for the first time in many years.

Henry had used the cash generated from the dissolution of the monasteries to create a large aristocracy and landed gentry.  Thus there was now a new class of influential people who had a lot to lose.  Hence, Henry had to develop a policy for the defence of the nation.  He ordered a survey of all the coasts with a view to determining where invading forces might conveniently make their landings.  The report was completed by February 1539 and resulted in the building of new fortifications around many parts of the coast of Britain.  These strongholds included the first historically documented defensive structures around the coasts of Milford Haven.  They are known as Device Forts from the original document The Device by the King.  Two blockhouses were built on opposite sides of the entrance to Milford Haven.  The ruins of East Blockhouse can be seen to this day.

EBH with legend

Don’t miss Blog Number 17……….Nunzilla approaches, breathing sparks