What Is The Origin Of (60)?…


Lock, stock and barrel

This phrase is commonly deployed to indicate everything. Its origin, however, is less well-known. It doesn’t refer to the contents of a shop – the lock on the door, the stock of the shop and the liquids contained in barrels. Rather it refers to the three principal components of a musket.

The introduction of the musket in the 16th century revolutionised warfare in Europe although, if the truth be told, the musket was at best both inefficient to use and highly inaccurate. By the start of the 18th century a lighter version had been produced which allowed the musketeer to affix a bayonet to it. A typical smooth bore musket firing at a single target was only accurate to a distance of around 100 to 150 yards. Their other disadvantage was that you could only fire one shot and then would have to reload.

The lock of a musket was the mechanism which allowed the musket to fire. It would normally consist of some form of hammer which was pulled back into position and then released by pulling the trigger. The hammer was often known as a dogshead or cock because from side-on it looked like the head of a dog or chicken – some people have overactive imaginations! Only when the hammer was pulled back to its full cocked position could the gun be fired.

The stock was made of wood and was essentially the back end of the musket, its purpose being to allow the marksman to support the gun and take aim. It also transmitted the recoil into the marksman’s body. It was also known as a butt or buttstock or a shoulder stock.

The barrel was at the front of the musket and was the tubing through which the musket ball, once set on its merry way by the lock, travelled to its intended target, or not. The rather rudimentary technology that was in place for a musket meant that they were front-loaded, in other words the musket was placed down the barrel and pushed into place with a ramrod. Most muskets had a grove in the stock under the barrel, allowing the ramrod to be slid into place and stored there.

The barrel was secured to the stock by means of a barrel band which was removable so that the barrel could be taken off and cleaned. Springs or screws typically held the barrel band in place.

Examples of usage of the phrase in the context with which we have become familiar are rather thin on the ground. Rudyard Kipling in Light That Failed, published in 1891, wrote, “The whole thing, lock, stock, and barrel, isn’t worth one big yellow sea-poppy” and that seems as close a definition of the meaning of the idiom as we can get.

The Connecticut Sentinel of 1803 records a report of a rather exuberant celebration of Independence Day in which toasts were drunk including the sixth, to self-interest, the cock, lock, stock and barrel. They revellers got up to a thirteenth toast and celebrated all night. The insertion of cock in the phrase – the cock was the hammer – suggests that the attribution of the phrase to the component parts of the musket is correct. Somehow and somewhere along the line the cock dropped out of the phrase.

So now we know!

Happy New Year!

Forty Days And Forty Nights – Part Two


Last time we looked at the origins of quarantine and the development of lazarets – quarantine stations for maritime travellers, normally on isolated islands, where ships could be permanently at anchor for the period of the quarantine. The next major development in the rudimentary attempts to protect public health was the introduction of bills of health.

The vibrant trading centre that was Venice was the first place to develop an effective system of maritime cordon. Once news of an outbreak of plague in the eastern Mediterranean reached Venice, boats suspected of carrying plague or of having originated from or called in at a plague spot were signalled by a flag which would be spotted by lookouts perched up on the tower of San Marco.

The captain would then be transferred from the ship into a life boat and rowed ashore to the health magistrate’s office. The captain would be kept in an enclosure and be required to speak through a window, ensuring that he was at what was considered a safe distance from the Venetian official, The captain would then be required to furnish proof of the health of the crew and passengers on his vessel and provide information about the origin of its cargo. If there were suspicions of disease on the ship, the captain was ordered to go to the nearby lazaret on the island of Santa Maria di Nazareth in the Venetian lagoon for the requisite period. This system was soon adopted by other Italian ports.

The first quarantine regulations did not come into force in England until 1663 when ships were confined in the Thames estuary if they were suspected of carrying plague-infected crew or passengers. In 1683 the French port of Marseille introduced legislation allowing the authorities to quarantine and disinfect anyone suspected of having the plague.

Across the pond the first steps towards a quarantine policy were taken in the 1680s when the connection between the arrival of new ships and fresh outbreaks of smallpox. So great was the fear of smallpox in some of the colonies that the health authorities began to order mandatory home isolation, even though the revolutionary public healthcare initiative of inoculation against the disease was in place.

Yellow fever was another eighteenth century peril. Quarantine legislation, which until 1796 in the United States was the responsibility of individual states, was passed by port cities to deal with the threat of the disease from the West Indies. On the European side of the Atlantic quarantine measures were introduced in 1720 to deal with a yellow fever epidemic which broke out in Marseille and swept across Europe.

The threat of plague and epidemic was ever-present and to combat it, as well as developing quarantine and isolation techniques, authorities built up information networks which alerted ports and cities of a potential outbreak. After all, forewarned is forearmed!

Next, the 19th century threat of cholera.

The Streets Of London – Part Twelve


Albemarle Street – W1S

One of the many irksome hazards facing a driver who wants to get from A to B is the one-way system that inevitably means a detour via C and D, if you are lucky. Albemarle Street is situated in Mayfair on the north side of Piccadilly and is the middle wicket of a set of stumps formed by Dover Street and Old/New Bond Street, Grafton Street being the bails. One of its claims to fame or, if you are a frustrated motorist, to infamy is that it was the first one-way street in London and the reason why it became so is fascinating.

Prior to 1683 there had been a mansion called Clarendon House on the site owned originally by Edward Hyde, the 1st Earl of Clarendon and then bought for £26,000 by Christopher Monck, the then Second Duke of Albemarle in 1675. Developers, led by Sir Thomas Bond, came knocking on the Duke’s door in 1683 and offered to take the pile off his hands. Offer accepted the syndicate of investors demolished it to build on its site the streets which make the cricket wicket formation. (Incidentally, a claim to fame of the Duke of Albemarle was that on 6th January 1681 he arranged the first known boxing match to be staged in England, between his butler and his butcher. Inevitably, the bout was won by the butcher who obviously took a shine to the butler’s chops).

Anyway, one of the fine and prestigious buildings to be found on the street is Number 21 which has been occupied by the Royal Institution since 1799. There being no television at the turn of the nineteenth century you had to find your entertainment where you could and the burgeoning interest in what was termed as natural philosophy or science as we would know it proved a potent source of fun.

One source of merriment was galvanism, the rather serious name given to experimentation in nitrous gases (or laughing gas). A leading exponent in investigating the properties of the gas and carrying out experiments including subjecting himself to prolonged periods of gas inhalation was Humphrey Davy. He proposed to give a serious of lectures including practical demonstrations on the properties of the gas at the Institute.

The first lecture had rave reviews. By June of 1801 Davy claimed in a letter that he had an audience of some 500 and, to quote the scientist, “there was respiration, nitrous oxide and unbounded applause. Amen”. Davy who was both young and handsome acquired a strong following amongst the fairer sex. Gillray’s satirical drawing illustrates the composition of the audience and the sort of experimentation undertaken. So popular were the lectures and so horrendous were the queues caused by the horse-drawn carriages bringing the audiences eager to see Davy’s antics that the area became gridlocked. To ease the congestion the authorities introduced a one-way system to regulate and restrict the flow of carriages.

And so an idea was born…


Christmas Crackers


Ukippers – don’t you just love them! The British political landscape would be all the poorer without them. Some of their highlights this year.

  • The flooding and storms of last winter were divine retribution for gay marriage, according to David Silvester, a town councillor in Henley;
  • Foreign aid, blustered former UKip MEP Godfrey Bloom, was being sent to bongo bongo land;
  • According to Kerry Smith, a former candidate for the constituency of South Basildon and East Thurrock, some of his party members were poofters;
  • Women have no ambition, according to another UKip MEP, because babies get in the way;
  • And, talking of babies, ostentatious breast-feeding in Claridges of all places really got on Nigel’s tits
  • Natasha Bolter’s academic qualifications proved not to be what they were claimed to be and it seems Roger Bird didn’t;
  • Too many Romanians with their bullock carts are blocking Britain’s major arterial motorways, according to Nigel. Can’t say I’ve noticed them myself.

I don’t know where Ukippers went for their pre-internet porn but they seem to have this thing about homosexuals and animals. According to Julia Gasper (great name!), former chair of the Oxford branch, some homosexuals prefer sex with animals and this week John Rees-Evans, a candidate for Cardiff South and Penarth, claimed that a gay donkey tried to have sex with his horse.

To think they may hold the balance of power!

Political Debate Of The Week


Lest it has escaped your attention we will be subjected to a General Election in May of next year, an opportunity, I’m sure, for us to lament the standard of political debate. Fewer politicians these days expose themselves to the public hustings, severely limiting the opportunities for the hoi polloi to demonstrate their antipathy towards them by pelting them with objects, an age-old tradition it has to be said.

I’ve always felt that we have been pretty uninventive with the objects we throw at our politicians. Eggs and tomatoes, rotten or otherwise, seem so passé.

Well, I’m pleased to report, the Belgians, denizens of a country that has never struck me as being up there at the forefront of innovation, have raised the bar and set a challenge that I’m sure some red-blooded Brits will rise to.

News reached me this week that the Belgian prime minister, Charles Michel, was pelted with French fries with a topping of mayonnaise – a Belgian delicacy – when he was about to make a speech in Namur. They have form – both Nicholas Sarkozy and Bill Gates have been pelted with custard pies there.

Perhaps we will see in 2015 a haggis in Scotland, a black pudding in Lancashire, a Yorkshire pud in Yorkshire and a plate of jellied eels in London selected as weapons of choice as the electorate engage with their elected leaders in the cut and thrust of political debate. I will look forward to the campaign with renewed interest!