Sealand FortressThe Principality of Sealand is a small state just off the coast of England that proclaimed its sovereignty in 1967.

mySociety is a charity that builds websites that they intend to have a civic benefit. Most of their projects are based on an attempt to get UK citizens to engage in local and national politics. For instance, they provide easy access to transcripts of UK parliamentary sessions and a simple method for contacting one’s local Member of Parliament. They have also created a website for the government. This site, E-petitions, allows one to start an official petition to the Prime Minister. Petitions created using this site are equal to traditional “paper and ink” petitions, which means that if they have more than 200 signatories upon their completion they will be passed to the relevant government department for an official response.

A petition has been started to compel the UK government to officially recognise Sealand as a sovereign state. It is unlikely to succeed but it might be interesting to read the government’s official response. If you are a UK citizen, you can sign it.

Published in: on April 27, 2007 at 12:00 am  Leave a Comment  

The Origins of Cold Huts

Collicutt CentreWhen the Romans ruled Britannia, they built many great roads to connect the towns and cities that they founded. Houses near these roads were required by law to offer hospitality to any weary travellers that came past. It is believed that the most popular of these houses became the first taverns (from the Latin taberna, meaning ‘shed’ or ‘hut’.)

However, in time, the Romans constructed purpose-built villas alongside many roads for the use of officials of the central government or other people on government business. Such people were required to produce official identification to prove that they were entitled to the use of these villas. The buildings were called mansiones, which is derived from the Latin manere, meaning ‘to stay’ or ‘to remain’. It is probable that the English word ‘mansion’ came from the same root but it is not a direct translation.

In some cases, sizable settlements grew up around the mansiones. There may have been a taberna for those who had money but were not entitled to use the official mansio. There was often a caupona, which served the same function for the lower classes. Cauponae were associated with prostitutes and dirty living.

When the Romans retreated from Britain they left their viae and mansiones behind, among other things. They fell into disrepair and ruin, as in most cases it seems that the native Britons had little use for a mansio. They became cold and inhospitable places, but nevertheless they still provided some shelter for a traveller in need. They became known in Old English as cealde cotan, which in modern English means ‘cold huts’.

As I said, around some of these cold huts some significant settlements had formed. When William the Bastard had the Domesday Book drawn up in the 11th Century, it listed some fairly sizable towns with names derived from the phrase ceald cote. Many still exist: a map of England today will show quite a few towns called ‘Caldecot’, ‘Caldicot’, ‘Caldecott’, ‘Caldecotte’, ‘Calicut’ and so on.

Among the various social innovations, for good and ill, that the Normans brought to England was the idea of a surname. Although the Romans had used familial names, the practice was not common outside the Roman Empire and was largely forgotten in Europe after the empire fell. Some historians believe that it was the Normans, and in particular their Domesday Book, that reintroduced the idea of a family name to Western Europe. Certainly, by the beginning of the 15th Century, most people in England had a family name as well as a “first” name. These surnames came from a number of sources. Some were just continuations of the old practice of identifying oneself by one’s lineage: ‘Wilson’ and ‘Edwards’ literally mean “Wil’s son” and “Edward’s son”. Others come from a distinguishing characteristic of an ancestor, such as ‘Short’ or ‘Brown’. Many come from an ancestor’s occupation: ‘Smith’, ‘Taylor’, ‘Archer’, ‘Fletcher’. Finally, many are derived from the place in which a family lived. This can be descriptive, as in ‘Field’ or ‘Hill’, or it can simply be the name of the town or village.

Thus there are now quite a few families in England (and emigrant families elsewhere) with surnames derived from place names which are in turn derived from ceald cote.

Published in: on April 18, 2007 at 12:00 am  Comments (2)  


DartmoorFear of death is the surest way to die. I draw a distinction between life and mere existence. I want to exist but, more than that, I want to live. Given the choice between, on the one hand, probable continued existence and certain lack of living, and on the other hand, a possible end to existence and a chance to live, I would pick the latter every time.

One should never love a thing so much that one sacrifices one’s life or freedom for the sake of that love. Most people, I think, are lucky enough that if this question ever arises for them then the thing in question will not be as important as their existence. However, I think most people, perhaps all people, face this choice at least once in their lives at some level of severity.

I saw a documentary recently about the UN’s efforts to retake the Cité-Soleil slum in Haiti from armed gangs. The documentary maker asked a woman, who had been raped by the gangs and whose husband, son and daughter had all been murdered by them, why the locals put up with them. She said that everyone thought that anyone who stood up to the gangs would be killed so no-one dared to do so.

Those who fear to die are the easiest to oppress. Those who do not fear death are impossible to oppress. It seems almost paradoxical but in order to actually live one must not fear death.

Exactly the same is true of any attachment, regardless of whether it is to a person or an organisation or anything else. If you fear to give up that attachment then it is worthless to you.

Published in: on April 14, 2007 at 12:00 am  Comments (7)