Sometimes, weird historical quirks come to light in unusual ways and something you never knew existed turns out to have been quite common in the Late MiddleEvil Period, or similar, when they should have known better quite frankly. I discovered an odd one quite oddly.
Back in the days before Grand Designs and we all got bored of people turning perfectly reasonable homes into big white boxes or converting barns into barn conversions; a big house build could be quite a talking point.
Well, it was if you lived in a small village like I did when I was growing up and there wasn't much to do or talk about. There were a couple of shops, a boarding kennels and, most importantly, a pub. It was the pub that I made a bee line for when I needed a job. It was a good place to work because you got to hear all the local gossip, plus there was alcohol. It was pub talk that led me to learn about the Odd Find in the village.
A new Couple in the village were re-doing an old house. It was the aforementioned big talking point in the village not only because the Couple were new and therefore fresh meat, but the old house was quite the local landmark. It had a wonderful wonky roof that looked on the verge of collapse and had done for as long as anyone could remember. Local artists painted the wonderful wonky roof against interesting skylines and smaller residents of the village were generally of the opinion that it was probably a witch's cottage and so were probably the least surprised by the macabre find within. The new Couple discovered on arrival that the wonderful wonky roof was indeed on the verge of collapse and so set about renovating the house. It was a long old job, and the builders became part of the village community long before the Couple did.
I got to know the builders quite well. Mostly because they regularly spent their lunch hour in the pub when I was working behind the bar. They were a welcome diversion because the older of the two had the gift of the gab and livened up lunchtime considerably. The younger of the two didn't say much, but had other attributes that made my teenage hormones froth up like a badly pulled pint. Chatting and fluttering proved a pleasant way of passing summer lunchtimes. I also got to know them because of the family dog.
Ex- of several homes and a rescue centre, the family Mutt had wanderlust and his regular escapes were one of the village sights. Like I say, there wasn't much to talk about. He soon became firm friends with the builders, and by this I mean he would routinely turn up just as they were all opening their sandwiches, and help himself. He once ate a whole plate of flapjacks cooked for the builders by the Couple. This did not go down well. Still, as retrieving the Mutt from the building site after bad behaviour often afforded a fluttery glimpse of well-honed torso, I wasn't complaining.
One day there was great To Do over at the building sight. The renovation had turned up a strange find. I heard all about it first hand from the Builders. They had pulled down the chimney that had been attached to the wonderfully wonky roof and in clearing the rubble, found something unpleasant. At first they thought it was a dead bird, caught in the flue at some point and never removed. Closer inspection however, revealed it to be a cat. There was great sadness at the thought of a villager's lost cat in the chimney until someone pointed out that the cat was a long time dead. The cat was somehow mummified. The Couple were informed and some phonecalls made. At some point, one of them thought to call the local historical society. I'm not sure why, maybe they were hoping they'd bought Tutankhamun's holiday home.
The local historical society revealed a more grisly truth. It was, in the not distant enough past, thought to be good luck when building a house to bury a cat in the foundations. In this case in the chimney, where it became mummified. There are indications that this practice is a replacement for an even more grisly one. At which point it all started to feel a bit Wicker Man and things escalated. The National Trust began to show an interest. Or possibly English Heritage. Let's call them National Heritage. And the Couple began to take tentative steps towards local celebrity status. A visit was arranged by National Heritage to see the Cat and possibly inter it in a museum and make notes on the significance of the house. The Press were involved. Even the builders were excited. Well, the chatty one was and the other one had had a great haircut. The village waited to see whether this would put us on the map. A geeky and grim map, but a map nonetheless.
The big day for the National Heritage visit arrived. I went to work and awaited news from the Builders at lunchtime. It was with huge excitement that I watched them walk up the drive to the pub, and not for the usual reasons.
"Well?" I asked, "What did they say?" Their faces did not mirror my excitement. Their expressions were sober, with traces of horror lurking.
"They weren't happy. Not at all." said Chatty, "They didn't even get to look at the Cat."
"Why on earth not?" I asked, looking at them. The not-chatty one just silently shook his head. Words often failed him, but this seemed more serious.
"Because," said Chatty in a whisper, "Your dog has EATEN the mummified cat."
It was true. The Mutt had been over to the house that morning and in the absence of sandwiches had made a meal of a 300 year old cat. He later threw it up on our lawn and spent the evening producing the most evil smells imaginable.
Oh, the shame! Local celebrity status shifted dramatically away from the Couple, and tended towards infamy. The excitement in the village over the whole shebang took months to die down, during which time relations between us and the Couple were somewhat strained. We offered to return the remains but this generous offer was turned down, which was just as well as the Mutt had buried them somewhere post-puke.
National Heritage were most put out and no-one got put on the map. I was somewhat relieved about this.
There you are. A revolting end for the revolting end of a revolting practice. Aren't you glad you put that sandwich down?
The Mutt later redeemed himself, in some eyes anyway, by digging up the remains of the Cat during an important barbecue and presenting it to a house guest that none of us could stand.