DAVID SAINT COLUMN: Fascinated by useless Northamptonshire facts

I  love useless information, and I hope you do too, because here is a column full of it, writes David Saint.

There was some concern in 1899 when a stray locust was found in goods at Castle Station, in Northampton (picture circa 1959)
There was some concern in 1899 when a stray locust was found in goods at Castle Station, in Northampton (picture circa 1959)

Did you know, for instance, that in 1898, a Northampton solicitor and keen naturalist, named William Tomalin, noted that in the River Nene he had seen eels that weighed up to eight pounds.

Then, in 1908, on April 6, in fact, Flore farmer Frank Claridge beat that record hands down. At Flore Mill, he caught a real monster eel weighing over nine-and-a-half pounds and measuring a pretty horrendous 46 inches long.

I doubt that eels have been seen in the Nene for many a long year.

Or what about the Piping Crow of the Drapery? I kid you not. Back in the late 1860s it seems that everyone in Northampton knew about a tame crow that sang quite beautifully and was loved by all.

When it died it was regarded as something of a local tragedy and the Northampton Mercury even went so far as to publish an epitaph of the crow, written by the literary editor of the time, Mr George James de Wilde.

It was later reprinted in a magazine called ‘Rambles Roundabout’ in 1872. It was written in verse and was all of 55 lines long. I’ll spare you, but I will quote the opening and the closing and please note, by the time the epitaph appeared, the crow had been at the taxidermist’s!

“This is Simon, the Piping Crow, these are his feathers, this is his toe; this is his beak so sharp and strong, but where, alas, ah where is his song?…But my heart will with the music go, in memory of Simon, the Piping Crow.”

What do you know about the pound in Milton Malsor on the Little Green?

A man called the ‘pinner’ or ‘pynyerd’ was appointed by the Church authorities to take charge of it and only he had the key.

If a farmer found stray animals damaging his crops, they could be taken to the pound and the ‘pinner’ would impound them.

He would break a stick in two and give half to the farmer and keep half himself as a token. When the rightful owners turned up they would pay the farmer for the damage and would claim the half-stick.

They would take the stick to the ‘pinner’ who would match it with his half and if it was the right one, he knew the fee had been paid.

And finally, there was the plague of locusts. Well, not quite a plague, it was a single locust actually! It was found on October 14, 1899, on a stack of coal at Castle Station Goods Yard.

The Mercury made a big thing of this too. Clearly the locust had arrived with some exotic goods from Africa or the East and had survived the journey.

Whether it came by train or flew, we do not know. It was something of a surprise to Mr Cotton, a local coal merchant, who discovered and reported it… all he wanted was a load of nutty slack!