Saturday, 16 April 2011

The Last of the Romans

The Romans conquered half the world in their time. Everybody knows (or should know) that. 
But the more I read the more it appears they weren't content with simply securing the glory (such as it was) of Rome for a thousand years, give or take a hundred. They're still there.

Still where?
In York, for example. And in a region of England called the Norfolk Broads, with particular attachment to Wroxham, the "Capital of the Broads".

I learned about the ongoing Roman occupation of the Broads from Colin Wilson's Mysteries which is an almost inexhaustible mine of juicy data. According to his meticulous endnotes, Wilson learned about it from (or at least refers to) the book Unsolved Mysteries: a Collection of Weird Problems (From the Past), published by Valentine Dyall, the actor, in 1954.

But there is extensive mention of Wroxham in a much more recent book, Mysteries and Secrets of Time (2007), by Lionel and Patricia Fanthorpe. Most accounts about this mysterious site available on the internet seem to refer to this latter book. 

And it is a highly interesting book, enticing, intelligently written, endlessly fascinating.
However, it has, in our opinion, one major flaw. It has no reference notes. Which means that we can only relate what supposedly happened there by using borrowed words and interpretations. None of the literary sources mentioned in the book is available (or even mentioned, for that matter) online; and at least one personality discussed as a first-hand witness is strangely missing from The Peerage and other sources where one would expect him to be listed. (But the online availability of many archival resources still is very limited, of course.) And because there are no reference notes, we don't even know where those sources are available.

And what if the authors relied on Dyall's book, as Wilson did?
None of us has read Dyall's book (it's been out of print since the 1950s), but a quick check of said book's reliability reveals there is some cause for worry. Apparently at least one person (Francis Clive-Ross, a respected publisher on the "occult" and a critical thinker) deemed it to be  "so heavily fictionalised as to be historically virtually useless".

It's not that we do not believe the authors. Perish the thought. But I, for one, have read Borges - in fact, I am more than a little Borgesian myself - so you will excuse me if I do not jump on this succulent bone of a mystery as enthusiastically as I normally would. Show me the sources, then I'll jump.

So, does that mean there will be no story at all - just the rambling intro about books and Borges? That's it?

No. It is simply a caveat that the story that follows - or rather snippets of stories - will be told relying on other people's accounts of what allegedly happened to other people, with no readily available sources for you to study them yourself. 
If you're OK with that, read on.

Apparently there is an army of what appear to be Roman soldiers - from ancient Rome - to be seen around the lake of Wroxham Broad.

As far as we can deduce from the books above, the earliest preserved mention of a possible anomaly in those waters seems to be the report by a Benjamin Curtiss, published in The Archives of the Northfolk, in 1603.

Mr. Curtiss and two friends of his were getting wet "in the great Broad of Wroxham, near unto Hoveton St. John" (see map below).
They were swimming across the lake when "strangely enough we felt our feet touch the bottom". That would have been strange because the water was usually much deeper there - from 12 to 14 feet, according to Curtiss.

Next thing they knew, they found themselves surrounded by an arena - an amphitheatre - with seats and all. The water had disappeared from beneath their feet; and they were themselves dressed as Roman officers. "What is more astonishing still," writes Mr. Curtiss, they were not surprised at all; in fact, they felt quite accustomed to it all. (Yet I did not wonder...)

Assuming all of the above really happened as described, it certainly opens a fascinating problem. 
There seems never to have been a Roman amphitheatre at the location of Curtiss' swim - as far as we know. (But that could very well change in the future.)
If so, that would mean - as the Fanthorpes noted in their book - that Curtiss and his friends displaced themselves not only in time but in space, thereby violating the laws of the world as presented by the Minkowski equations (see We'll always have Paris... or whatever it was for this strange apparent phenomenon). 
If so, my guess would be they entered somebody's memory field.

According to Curtiss' description, the part where they saw the Roman arena emerge from the lake would have been the upper part of the lake as seen on the map above. They were swimming from the river bank, on your right side, towards Hoveton, on the upper left side of the map. (You can enlarge or navigate the map from within this post.)
And BTW... what IS that islet on the NW side of the lake, connected with the shore? If natural, it has an awfully strange shape; if it's not natural, why was it built in that shape?

Fast forward to April 16, 1709, when the report by the Rev. Thomas Josiah Penston of an odd picnic is said to have been published in The Gentleman's Gazette.

Rev. Penston and his friends were having a picnic by "a beautiful lake in Norfolk, about eleven miles from the ancient city of Norwich", when they were rudely interrupted by a procession of no less than 700 or 800 Roman horsemen, followed by several hundreds of men in chains. The noisy parade, complete with trumpeters and drummers, included ballistic machines, prancing stallions and lions. At the lakeside they vanished, says Penston.

But that was not the last of the Romans.

In 1829, Lord Percival Durand abruptly met a "curious old man" while he was on his yacht, Amaryllis, near the eastern entrance of the same lake. 
There follows a sentence in the Fanthorpes' book that I find exceedingly puzzling:

"The weird old fellow who appeared to Percival Durand's yachting party on July 21, 1829, claimed to be Flavius Mantus, the Custos rotulorum..."

Claimed to be? He spoke to them?
Apparently. Not only that but he warned them that they were trespassing!
The incident was completed by the apparition of the same old amphitheatre in all its glory.

Incidentally, there appears to be a strangely worded poem, The Legend of the Lake, "attributed to Calvert" and published in the early 18th century, we're told.

While through the trees of yonder lake,
There comes a cavalcade of horsemen near.
Gaze not upon these Romans, friends,
For fear their eyes may meet with thine.
Stand back, well back, and let them pass...

(The poem continues, but in a nutshell: they're dead.)

If you think the poem is weird, wait until you read this news item that was allegedly published in Day's Chronicles of East Anglia, in 1825:

The Royal Progress of Carausius ... has passed... through the village of Wroxham... on its way from Brancaster.

(I don't know about you, but the last part cracked me up. It still does. :))

Unfortunately, there is no mention of what has been omitted and substituted by the suspension points. Usually it is the irrelevant - or perhaps overly lengthy - parts that are excised in this fashion.
But what piece of information could be irrelevant to such a weirdly anachronistic report?
We simply cannot tell.

More on the unending Roman occupation of Britain in one of the next posts. Stay tuned.

If you want to report a perceived dimensional anomaly, please do, but read this first.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

From the evidence it seems there are two kinds of ghosts - recordings and live (interactive) beings. Maybe Wroxham had more life in Roman times than is known but personally that wouldn't surprise me