Thursday, March 08, 2007

Blows Down


Today's picture comes from Blows Down (map), a remote windy outcrop near Luton. It was at this historic spot, in 1783, that Sir Hector Blow (1765-1811) became the first man to discover chalk, "a crumbly, white, apparently porous, rock-like material, never before known". At first this rare mineral was considered a scientifically interesting but essentially useless substance - attempts to use it as a building material were messy and dangerous failures - but when its potential was recognised, Sir Hector found he was sitting, not at all literally, on a gold mine. Sir Hector was however a philanthropic, unworldly and modest man who, when the Royal Society voted to name this revolutionary new material "Blowite", declined the honour and instead had it named "chalk" after the hon. Titus Chalk, his fag at Challney Boys School, of whom nothing else is known. All the proceeds from the first chalk excavations were idiotically given to the families of the undeserving poor, and Sir Hector "came upon the parish" in 1806, dying ignominiously and forgotten 5 years later.

In 1965 a local historical society had a memorial erected to Sir Hector Blow by the footpath where Skimpot Road meets what is now Hatters Way. There is no sign of it now - the silly sods made it of "Blowite".

From the top of Blows Down you have a panoramic view of Dunstable, an ugly parasitic counterweight to Luton, and of Houghton Regis, a former royal forest where Edward The Confessor rode to hounds with Mrs Fitzherbert, and whose herring tannery, once the largest in South Bedfordshire, is still commemorated each Michaelmas when the townsfolk perform the folkloric scaly-leathery dance in front of the Dog & Duck.

(For a period in the 1960s the smell of the tannery combined with very tangible dust-storms from the famed Cement Works made life intolerable for some, and there were many takers for the £10 assisted passages scheme, and many former Houghton Regis residents now live as far afield as Totternhoe or even Hockliffe).

England is a land rich in history and legend. If you've learned something today that you didn't know yesterday, your and my day have been worthwhile. God bless you all.

5 comments:

Vicus Scurra said...

I dream of panoramic views of Dunstable.

granny p said...

Nowhere near Dunstable this; but if you're prepared to countenance Sussex (and someone of occasionally dubious opinions - but good stories) try it
http://www.chesterton.org/gkc/essayist/chalk.htm

Mark Gamon said...

It could of course be argued that Luton is an ugly parasitic counterweight to Hitchin, but let's not get too picky.

Titus Chalk said...

Hello Boggins,

My name is Titus Chalk.Really. Interesting read :)

Boggins said...

Hi Titus - no offence I hope...

You googled yourself - you'll go blind. :-)