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September 7th, 2017

A Beer Called Piddle

Sorry about the long silence; I’ve been occupied with other matters.

The second part of England we visited was Dorset, a wonderful green and rolling county comparatively unspoiled as it’s not a favourite destination for  tourists. My brother-in-law, a retired naval commander lives in the pleasant village of Milborne St Andrew.

Milborne’s main claim to fame is as the birthplace of Cardinal John Morton, the main financial fixer to the unpleasant and parsimonious King Henry VII.  He replenished the king’s coffers by leaning on the barons using an extortionate expedient which came to be known as Morton’s Fork, making sure none of them avoided paying heavy taxes, whether they could afford to or not.  Morton himself explained how it worked: “If the subject is seen to live frugally, tell him that  because he is clearly a money saver of great ability, he can afford to give generously to the King. If, however, the subject lives a life of great extravagance, tell him he, too, can afford to give largely, the proof of his opulence being evident in his expenditure.”

However, Morton was the mentor of St Thomas More, who began his career as a page in his house, and clearly had a lot of time for the Cardinal as he gave him a favourable mention in his Utopia.

The village—renamed “Millpond St Jude’s”—appears in Far From the Madding Crowd by the Dorset novelist Thomas Hardy. In the 1960s the book was made into a fine film starring Julie Christie, Alan Bates and Peter Finch. Another version was made recently and shown on television, but it was less close to the novel  and not at all impressive.

Though my brother in law is a Catholic his wife is  an Anglican, so he has quite a lot to do with the impressive 11th century parish church a few yards from their house. He noticed that the ancient font had no cover, so being a good carpenter he knocked one together and gave it to the parish, for which they were most grateful. On the underside of the cover he carved “A.M.D.G.” I’m not sure if anyone has noticed the inscription.

Many years ago during a tour of duty in Malta he acquired a small cannon ball from the siege of the island. Not the most recent one during World War II, but the great siege of 1565, when the Knights Hospitaller and the islanders withstood an invasion by the Ottoman Turks. The cannon ball is now in my brother-in-law’s garden.

While in Dorset we sampled an excellent beer by the name of Piddle. This, I hasten to explain, is named after a little river near Milborne, along which there are several villages, including Piddlehinton, Piddletrenthide,  Wire Piddle, Affpuddle, Puddletown  and Tolpuddle. You have probably heard of the Tolpuddle martyrs, farm labourers who were transported to Australia early in the 19th century for trying to form a kind of trade union, then freed because of a great public outcry. The Labour party has made the village into a sort of shrine. I believe Jeremy Corbyn was there recently.

One comment

  1. According to my rather battered “Countryside Companion” the word “piddle” can also mean low-lying marshy land. Thus Piddletrenthide is actually a description, thirty (trente in Norman French) hides (as much land as can be ploughed by one man with one ox in one day) of piddle! They actually refer to that place name and thus presumably to the same village.

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