Taxi for King Arthur...
Roosevelt stomping around Sefton...
Come Josephine in my flying machine...
The Crossens Canoe, dating from Europe's Dark Age, is an enigmatic object, combining fact, theory and folklore in its shy and secretive story.
The canoe was unearthed in a field at Martin Mere, near Crossens, on 22nd April 1899, by local farmer, Peter Brookfield, while he was ploughing his field.
He alerted the keen local historian, the Reverend William Bulpit, who identified the canoe as having an early age, and sent for a cart to transport it to a safer place.
However, Brookfield's wife, obviously sensing an opportunity, locked the gates and demanded £50 before it could be removed.
After receiving a present of a couple of guineas, the canoe was safely taken away.
The canoe was found buried near the northern shore of Martin Mere. The lake was originally formed at the end of the last Ice Age, when water filled a depression in the glacial drift.
Prior to several drainage schemes between the late-17th and mid-19th centuries (beginning long before the foundation of Southport), Martin Mere was reputedly England's largest lake. Its size can be seen (right) in John Speed's county map of Lancashire, from 1610.
The canoe first went on display in the Conservatory at the Botanic Gardens in Churchtown, before moving to the Victoria Schools of Science and Art in Southport. In 1907, it was loaned to Liverpool Museum, before to returning to the Botanic Gardens on 1st March 1946, where it has been on display ever since.
In 1996, radiocarbon dating carried out by Liverpool John Moores University and experts in Miami dated the canoe to AD 535. However, more recent studies, utilising the science of dendrochronology (tree-ring dating - more accurate than radiocarbon dating), suggests that it may date even earlier, to the Bronze Age.
The date of AD 535 places the canoe's origin at a murky, yet equally momentous, moment of British history. It follows the departure of the Roman Empire from the country, yet predates the settlement of the Anglo-Saxons - certainly in Sefton. There is little written evidence from this time, giving us the sense of a 'dark' age that we can't quite touch.
The idea of a 'dark age' also refers to the perception of a collapse of civilisation following the departure of Rome, without a real recovery until the Renaissance a thousand years later. The power vacuum makes it inviting to think of a time of chaos, with military threats, population fluctuation and cultural upheaval.
Overall, due to the scarcity of evidence for this period, many interpretations are possible, and it is in the absence of hard facts that myth, legend and conjecture begin to flourish.
Martin Mere is one of several lakes that lay claim to be the final resting place of King Arthur's legendary sword, Excalibur.
The historical basis for King Arthur has long been hotly debated by historians. Some see Arthur as a genuine historical figure, a Romano-British leader who fought against the Anglo-Saxons some time between the late 5th and early 6th centuries. Others see him merely as a composite of folklore and literary invention.
Legend has it that Martin Mere was the home of the Lady of the Lake, from whom Arthur received Excalibur, and was also the water into which Bedivere eventually hurled the great sword on the wishes of the dying Arthur.
Martin Mere is also attached to the story of Arthur's most infamous knight, Sir. Lancelot. The story goes that Lancelot's noble parents were driven from France by their enemies, and fled to Lancashire. Whilst tending to her husband's wounds, the infant Lancelot was abducted from his mother by the Lady of the Lake, and brought up as her own, beneath the waters. When Lancelot later appears at Arthur's court, he is knighted Lancelot du Lac - Lancelot of the Lake.
Perhaps quite fancifully, Sydney Moorhouse, in his 1955 study Holiday Lancashire, attests that "after a terrific fight with Tarquin, the Saxon chief who lived on the Roman city of Mancunium, now Manchester, [Lancelot] became head of the surrounding district, which became known as Lancelotshire. Some go further, and say that Lancashire is a corruption of the older name".
535 AD CATASTROPHE THEORY
"During this year a most dread portent took place. For the Sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon during this whole year, and it seemed exceedingly like the Sun in eclipse"
- Procopius, History of the Wars
The radiocarbon dating of the Crossens Canoe places its origin at AD 535, which coincides with the global 'catastrophe' of AD 535-536 - the most extreme episode of cooling in the Northern Hemisphere in the last 2,000 years.
Tree ring analysis shows widespread climate change, and writings from across the globe - from Peru to China, from Europe to the Mideast - tell of drought, crop failure, famine and plague.
It has been conjectured that these changes were due to the dust and ash of the impact of space debris falling upon the earth, or a devastating volcanic eruption.
The scientist David Keys argues that the "modern age" began in AD 535, with great global havoc destroying old empires and regimes, and making space for new ones.
The Theatre in the Rough Festival
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