In Search of Wallace – Part 9: Celebes – Macassar

In-Search-of-Wallace-Macassar

Last week, after a break of several months, I resumed my efforts to retrace Alfred Russel Wallace’s footsteps in the Malay Archipelago, this time by visiting the area around Makassar in southern Sulawesi. (I’ll use the old spellings of Macassar and Celebes for the purpose of this post.)

Wallace reached Macassar in August 1856 on board the schooner Alma, brimming with optimism. He wrote:

I left Lombock on the 30th of August, and reached Macassar in three days. It was with great satisfaction that I stepped on a shore which I had been vainly trying to reach since February, and where I expected to meet with so much that was new and interesting.

IMG_2834b

His first impressions of the town were positive:

Macassar was the first Dutch town I had visited, and I found it prettier and cleaner than any I had yet seen in the East. The Dutch have some admirable local regulations. All European houses must be kept well white-washed, and every person must, at four in the afternoon, water the road in front of his house. The streets are kept clear of refuse, and covered drains carry away all impurities into large open sewers, into which the tide is admitted at high-water and allowed to flow out when it has ebbed, carrying all the sewage with it into the sea.

Today Macassar is a city of around 1.5 million but in Wallace’s time it was a lot smaller:

The town consists chiefly of one long narrow street along the seaside, devoted to business, and principally occupied by the Dutch and Chinese merchants’ offices and warehouses, and the native shops or bazaars. This extends northwards for more than a mile, gradually merging into native houses often of a most miserable description, but made to have a neat appearance by being all built up exactly to the straight line of the street, and being generally backed by fruit trees. Parallel to this street run two short ones which form the old Dutch town, and are enclosed by gates. These consist of private houses, and at their southern end is the fort, the church, and a road at right angles to the beach, containing the houses of the Governor and of the principal officials. Beyond the fort, again along the beach, is another long street of native huts and many country-houses of the tradesmen and merchants.

IMG_2837b

The fort, called Fort Rotterdam, still survives and is one of the town’s top tourist attractions. This, together with the church, the adjacent vicarage, and a handful of other colonial-era buildings are all that remain of the old Dutch town.

societeit de harmonie

There was no hotel in Macassar so Wallace stayed initially at the Dutch club, known as the Sociëteit De Harmonie, located close to the fort. The building still stands, though much altered in appearance, with a sign showing it has been used as an art centre.

IMG_2851b

Wallace slept here.

Wallace’s initial optimism soon turned to disappointment and by September he was writing to a friend:

At length I am in Celebes! I have been here about three weeks, and as yet have not done much, except explored the nakedness of the land,–and it is indeed naked,–I have never seen a more uninteresting country than the neighbourhood of Macassar: for miles around there is nothing but flat land, which, for half the year, is covered with water, and the other half is an expanse of baked mud (its present state), with scarcely an apology for vegetation…. Insects, in fact, in all this district there are absolutely none.

Wallace wanted to widen his search:

Before I could move to any more promising district it was necessary to obtain permission from the Rajah of Goa, whose territories approach to within two miles of the town of Macassar. My friend Mr. Mesman kindly lent me a horse, and accompanied me on my visit to the Rajah, with whom he was great friends. We found his Majesty seated out of doors, watching the erection of a new house.

The Gowa Regency was abolished by the Dutch after Wallace’s visit but the area where Wallace and the Rajah may have met (Benteng Somba Opu) has been turned into a museum, with the remains of demolished fortress walls on display together with a number of replica traditional buildings from around Celebes.

IMG_2987b

The Raja’s new house might have looked like this one.

Wallace didn’t think much of the local coffee:

Some wine was then brought us, and afterwards some detestable coffee and wretched sweetmeats, for it is a fact that I have never tasted good coffee where people grow it themselves.

IMG_9832

Nowadays the local coffee is quite drinkable. In fact the Gowa Regency has even inspired its own brand.

In the interior of southern Celebes the villagers were unused to seeing foreigners:

Not a single person in the village could speak more than a few words of Malay, and hardly any of the people appeared to have seen a European before. One most disagreeable result of this was that I excited terror alike in man and beast. Wherever I went, dogs barked, children screamed, women ran away, and men stared as though I were some strange and terrible cannibal or monster. …… If I came suddenly upon a well where women were drawing water or children bathing, a sudden flight was the certain result; which things occurring day after day, were very unpleasant to a person who does not like to be disliked, and who had never been accustomed to be treated as an ogre.

IMG_3011b

The locals are more much accustomed to seeing foreigners nowadays. Instead of running away they ask to take selfies.

Wallace had much better luck in searching for species at Maros, which he visited during a second trip to Celebes from July – November 1857:

After much inquiry I determined to visit the district of Maros, about thirty miles north of Macassar.   ….    Passing over an elevated tract forming the shoulder of one of the hills, a picturesque scene lay before us. We looked down into a little valley almost entirely surrounded by mountains, rising abruptly in huge precipices, and forming a succession of knolls and peaks aid domes of the most varied and fantastic shapes.

This area is now a national park called Bantimurung.

IMG_2882b

Bantimurung National Park. Wallace might have liked this treehouse.

The rare and beautiful Butterflies of Celebes were the chief object of my search, and I found many species altogether new to me, but they were generally so active and shy as to render their capture a matter of great difficulty.

They are not easy to photograph either, as this blurry picture shows. I must invest in a good camera and super-dooper lens one of these days.

IMG_2893b

Here is one you missed Mr. Wallace. I’ll name it the Papilio Russel Bantimurung in your honour!

In these rocky forests dwell some of the finest butterflies in the world. Three species of Ornithoptera, measuring seven or eight inches across the wings, and beautifully marked with spots or masses of satiny yellow on a black ground, wheel through the thickets with a strong sailing flight. About the damp places are swarms of the beautiful blue-banded Papilios, miletus and telephus, the superb golden green P. macedon, and the rare little swallow-tail Papilio rhesus, of all of which, though very active, I succeeded in capturing fine series of specimens. I have rarely enjoyed myself more than during my residence here.

IMG_2918bIMG_2914b

There is a rather tatty butterfly museum inside the national park containing some fine butterfly and moth specimens caught locally and elsewhere in Indonesia. Wallace’s name appears under a number of the specimens for having provided the original descriptions.

IMG_2880b

Wallace counted 250 species of butterfly at Bantimurung and dubbed the area the Kingdom of Butterflies. When a local university professor carried out a census in 2005 , only 125 species were identified. Given the number of stalls outside the national park selling butterflies I suppose we should be grateful there are any species left at all.

IMG_2924b

Wallace is still remembered at Bantimurung. He even gets a prominent mention on the National Park’s official website.

Posted in Alfred Russel Wallace, Indonesia | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dragon Fruit Farm – Sepang

IMG_9816

I visited a dragon fruit farm today near Sepang, not far from Kuala Lumpur’s International Airport. The farm is called Multi Rich Pitaya, ‘pitaya’ being another name for dragon fruit.

IMG_9799

Dragon fruit’s scientific name is hylocereus derived from the Greek word hyle (meaning woody), the Latin word cereus (meaning waxen). Woody and waxen doesn’t sound particularly appetizing but it probably refers to its cactus-like stems rather than the fruit.

The fruit is thought to have originated in Central America and was introduced into Vietnam by French missionaries in the 19th century.  Cultivation has since spread to all corners of the tropical world and some Mediterranean climates like Turkey and Israel, though Vietnam is still the world’s leading exporter.

IMG_9824

Types of Dragon Fruit

There are three varieties of dragon fruits grown in Malaysia:

  • Red skin with red flesh.
  • Red skin with white flesh.
  • Yellow skin with grey/white flesh

All varieties have edible black seeds, like kiwi seeds but softer.

The yellow sort is not common in Peninsular Malaysia, though it is grown in Sabah. The white flesh variety is still probably the most common but the red flesh sort are more sought after (and more expensive) as they taste better. The white flesh variety can often be rather bland and disappointing.

Multi Rich Pitaya only grows the red variety.

IMG_9828

Uses of Red Dragon Fruit

Best consumed raw, preferably chilled, either by itself or as part of a fruit salad.

Mixes well with plain yogurt to produce a fantastically coloured dessert.

Can also be made into juice, smoothies or sorbets.

They are easy to peel. The skin is inedible but can be processed to make food colouring.

IMG_9825

Reputed Health Benefits

  • High fibre content aids digestion and reduces body fat
  • Rich source of vitamin B, C, calcium and phosphorus
  • Improves eyesight
  • Controls hypertension
  • Helps control blood glucose levels in type 2 diabetes sufferers
  • Boosts immune system
  • Improves skin conditions
  • Rich in lycopene, thought to help prevent cancer
  • Helps prevent gout and arthritis
  • Reduces cholesterol
  • Low in calories

If even only half of these claims are true it would seem foolish not to eat it!

IMG_9809

Dragon Fruit Flowers

The flowers bloom briefly, for one night only. They are large and attractive flowers with a sweet tropical fragrance when in bloom. Unopened flower buds can be cooked like vegetables. Dried flowers can be processed to make tea.

IMG_9813

Multi Rich Pitaya Farm

This farm welcomes visitors. You can wander round the farm and buy some fresh dragon fruit in their basic shop. The ones you can buy here have been allowed to ripen fully on the vine and taste much sweeter than those you find in the supermarket.

IMG_9827

They also sell dragon fruit enzyme drink which is a delicious and healthy tonic.

IMG_9803

Multi Rich has a family of caged monkeys.  The large male monkey doesn’t look happy in that small cage and it would be better if they were released or rehoused somewhere more suitable.

IMG_9798

If you want to visit you can find the contact details and GPS co-ordinates on this photo.

IMG_9806

Dragon Air?

Posted in Dragon Fruit Farm - Sepang | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Strange Bedfellows – Porcupine & Tortoise

IMG_9722b

At Paya Indah Wetlands near Kuala Lumpur there is a family of porcupines who live in the same compound as a family of giant tortoises. In the heat of the midday sun they snuggle up next to each other in this shady shelter.

IMG_9724b

With their armour-plated shells, tortoises are one of the few animal species that are immune to spiky porcupine quills.

Unlike this poor boa constrictor in Brazil which foolishly tried to take on a porcupine with painful consequences:

Posted in Porcupine & Tortoise | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

St. Mary the Virgin, Great Brington

One of the best things about England is that you don’t have to go far to find places of historical interest. A good place to look is the local church. Take for example the parish church of St. Mary the Virgin, close to where my family has a home in the small Northamptonshire village of Great Brington.

IMG_2794

This fine church has over 800 years of history with connections to two former monarchs and, if royal succession goes according to plan, one future king. An ancestor of George Washington is also buried here under a tombstone bearing a prototype of the Stars & Stripes, carved 160 years before the United States came into existence. For this reason, it is said that Great Brington is better known in America than in England.

Early History

There has been a church on this site for over 1,000 years, having been mentioned in the Domesday book. The early wooden Saxon church was probably burnt down in one of England’s endless factional wars but the church’s ancient baptismal font is thought to have survived from that early period. The stone tower was constructed around 1200 and the church has been expanded, remodelled and renovated countless times over the following centuries. Even as recently as 2015, the roof had to be replaced when thieves stole 12 tonnes of lead off the roof in the middle of the night. 

IMG_2830

In an amazing piece of record keeping, the church displays a full list of its priests from 1086 up until the present day, albeit with a few gaps. The last name on the list, from 2010 onwards, is the church’s first female vicar. That took long enough!

The Spencers & The Royal Connections

In the early 1500s, John Spencer, a nobleman from Warwickshire purchased the estate at Althorp, together with several hundred acres of the surrounding area, including the village and church of Great Brington. Since then, nineteen generations of the Spencer family have been buried here, either in the Spencer Chapel inside the church or in a special section of the graveyard outside. Under the patronage of this wealthy family, the church has always been well looked after.

IMG_2799

Probably the most famous Spencer, to the modern generation at least, was Lady Diana Spencer, ex-wife of Prince Charles and mother of Princes William and Harry. After her untimely death, she was laid to rest in the grounds of Althorp House, just 1.5km from the village, although there was a conspiracy theory that she was secretly reburied in the church when they found the ground water conditions of her lakeside burial site at Althorp to be unsuitable. Like most conspiracy theories, this is probably untrue.

Other royal rumours concern Mary, Queen of Scots who was beheaded at Fotheringhay Castle in 1587 on the orders of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth. It was said that her severed head was on its way to Elizabeth to prove that the deed had been done when it was intercepted at Brington by a messenger from the Queen, who had no desire to see it, so they decided to bury it under the altar of the church. A heraldic shield bearing the lion rampant of Scotland marks the spot. However others refute this legend and say that this is the grave of Anne Seagrave whose family crest included a similar lion.

Another royal connection concerns Charles I who is thought to have been allowed to attend services at the church while he was being held prisoner at nearby Holdenby House prior to his execution in 1649.

The American Connection

Lawrence Washington, great-great-great-grandfather of George Washington, First President of the United States of America was buried in the church in December 1616. His tombstone, now almost indecipherable, reads:

IMG_2813

Here lieth the bodi of Laurence Washington – sonne & heire of Robert Washington of Soulgrave in the countie of Northampton Esquier – who married Margaret the eldest daughter of William Butler of Tees in the countie of Sussexe esquier – who had issu by her – 8 sonns & 9 daughters – which Laurence decessed the 13 of December – A:DNI: 1616.

English spelling had obviously not been standardised in those days!

(I wrote about Sulgrave Manor, Lawrence Washington’s home, in a previous blog post.)

The tombstone bears the Washington coat of arms, from which the US flag was derived, together with the arms of the Butlers, his wife’s family. A nearby wooden bench-end is also decorated with the Washington family emblem.

IMG_2823

There is a portrait of George Washington on the wall of the nave with the inscription:

This portrait of George Washington replaces the original presented by the U.S. Senate to St. Mary’s Church, Great Brington July 1914 – Stolen July 1988.

Thieving is clearly a problem at this church!

Other Interesting Items

IMG_2816

The impressive stained glass East window was designed by William Morris and dedicated in 1912 by the 6th Earl Spencer to various members of his family. It represents the adoration of the lamb (whatever that means). The fenced off area to the left of this photo is part of the Spencer Chapel.

IMG_2817

There are a couple of tombstones embedded in the church floor which appear to commemorate family servants, such as this one of Mrs Hannah Cane who died in 1732 and was seemingly the nanny for Lady Morpeth.

IMG_2820

There is a huge and ancient-looking chest, contents unknown, capable of holding every church collection for the past 800 years.

IMG_2825

There is a fine foliate head carving, or Green Man, whose original purpose or meaning is lost in the mists of time, possibly even pre-dating the arrival of Christianity in Britain.

IMG_2828

This copy of an ancient seating plan, informs who sat where. It tells us for example that the first two pews on the North side were for John Middleton, his wife and children (Middleton? – Another royal connection?)

IMG_2811

Note the elaborately carved bench-ends, also known as poppy heads, in the bottom left of this photo, one of which dates from 1606.

IMG_2803

The graveyard outside is still in use. In English churches, our ancestors are all around us.

IMG_2796

There is a tomb under a gable on the external wall of the church with a weathered effigy of an unknown former cleric dressed in priestly vestments and holding a communion chalice.

IMG_2831

The base of a large cross stands in front of the church, thought to have been erected around 1300 as a common memorial to all those buried in the churchyard.

St. Mary the Virgin is a nice place to visit if you are in the area. But please don’t steal any souvenirs. The chest is empty by the way!

 

 

 

Posted in St. Mary the Virgin, Great Brington | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Road Trip From Islamabad to UK

IMG_8842

I must have acquired my love for travel from my father who sadly passed away last month after a long and colourful life.

I was browsing through some of my Dad’s papers after the funeral and came across a battered exercise book which contained a log of a road trip he took in 1971 together with my Mum and sister. (I was in boarding school at the time.) The journey was from Islamabad in Pakistan, where Dad had been working, back to UK, a distance of 10,567 km according to his odometer readings. The trip lasted 34 days and took them through Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Greece, Yugoslavia (as it was then), Italy, France and England. My sister, who was 18 at the time, shared in the driving, even though she had only been home-taught by Dad in Pakistan and had no driving license.

Their vehicle by the way was not a hardy Land Rover but a humble 1966 model Vauxhall Viva SL, a regular saloon in the days when cars (particularly British-made cars) were not as reliable as they are today.

Unfortunately the log is only a record of dates, distances and out-of-pocket expenses (so he could claim them back) and not a detailed diary but thanks to the log, my sister’s recollections and the many postcards they sent me en route I am able to reconstruct many of the details. Here are some of the highlights.

24th October 1971

IMG_8822

Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, is a modern planned city and was still under construction in 1971. It adjoins the ancient city of Rawalpindi, or ‘Pindi’, where this photo of the Intercontinental Hotel was taken. This hotel used to lay on an excellent curry buffet and was where I first encountered lime pickle, a delicacy which I still don’t like after five decades of curry eating.

IMG_8823

Dean’s Hotel was the leading hotel in Peshawar and, over the years, welcomed notable guests such as Rudyard Kipling, Winston Churchill and President Jinnah. It was situated in the green and leafy cantonment area of this North West Frontier city but it has since been demolished, along with many other historic buildings. I see from the log that my Dad stayed at Jan’s Hotel which was somewhat downmarket from Dean’s. In his postcard he noted that it was cold – ‘overcoat weather at night’.

Screen Shot 2017-03-18 at 9.44.03 PM

25th October 1971

IMG_8824

The next day they left Peshawar and crossed the Khyber Pass at Landi Kotal into Afghanistan, then reaching the Dakka tollgate with fine mountain views overlooking the Kabul River and on to Jalabad before arriving in the Afghan capital Kabul where they stayed at the Kabul Hotel. In those days the Kabul Hotel was a Soviet style building with a bleak dining room serving fried sheep’s testicles as a speciality. This hotel does not appear to have survived the subsequent decades of war.

27th October 1971

Manzel Bagh Kandahar

Two days later they drove to Kandahar and stayed at the Manzel Bagh Hotel, which was once a grand palace but no longer seems to be a hotel, if it is still standing. My sister noted that they couldn’t find a postcard from Kandahar.

IMG_8825

28th October 1971

Above: The great mosque of Herat. Today’s postcard, written by my sister said ‘Seen lots of desert and camels but not many people. On the way up Mum got kicked by a donkey because she was standing behind it and stroked it. It was quite amusing really!’ Mum didn’t think so.

IMG_8826

29th October 1971

Arrived Bakhtar Hotel, Meshed (Mashad) the second biggest city in Iran. The postcard above is of the Astane Ghods Museum. Mashad has an extreme climate with scorching summer temperatures but averages 20 snowy days in the winter.

30th October 1971

Arrived Bojnurd near Iran’s border with Turkmenistan. Their accommodation, Izadi Hotel, was one of the worst places they stayed on their trip. Didn’t get a postcard. The town does not seem to have improved. TripAdvisor only lists one B&B, rated as very poor!

31st October 1971

Arrived Sari Hotel, Sari, near the banks of the Caspian. Another crumby hotel. Wikipedia notes that a clock tower is the main point of interest. Travellers Tip: As a rule of thumb, avoid places where the sole attraction is a clock tower.

IMG_8827

1st & 2nd November 1971

Teheran Palace Hotel. The above postcard is of Fowzieh Square, named after a beautiful Egyptian princess who was, somewhat reluctantly, married off into the Shah of Iran’s family. Following the Iranian revolution, the square was renamed Imam Hossein roundabout. My Mum seemed impressed with Teheran. She wrote ‘ Signs of civilisation seen – Leyland double decker buses, real shops, in fact reminds me of London’s Oxford Street.’

3rd November 1971

Arrived Qazvin, famous for calligraphy, baklava, carpets, historical mosques and athletics. No postcard though.

IMG_8828

4th November 1971

Arrived Tabriz, another Persian carpet centre and quite a pretty looking town. The postcard is of the Shah Kuli Tabriz.

5th November 1971

Stayed at the Maku Inn at Maku close to the border crossing into Turkey. Amazingly it still exists and is the Number 1 B&B in Maku (out of one). No postcard.

IMG_8829

6th November 1971

Reached Turkey and stayed in Erzurum at the Polat Otel. Eastern Turkey was the only place where they encountered any hostility on their journey with local kids throwing stones at the car.

IMG_8830

7th November 1971

Arrived Ordu after a journey over some rough roads from Erzurum via Trabzon. Dad wrote ‘The Black Sea coast is pretty and quite civilised after the wilds of Eastern Turkey.’ Stayed at the Galestan Hotel. It appears to have gone out of business which is not surprising – the leg broke on Dad’s bed as soon as he got in it.

IMG_8831

8th November 1971

Arrived in Samsun, also on the Black Sea coast. This town was mentioned in Homer’s Illiad so it is appropriate that my parents should have visited it on their own Odyssey.

IMG_8832

9th – 11th November 1971

Reached Ankara, the Turkish capital and stayed at the Hotel Bulvar Palas which still exists and is rated 4 stars. Mum wrote that Ankara looked very modern but was expensive. They stayed in Ankara longer than planned after the car developed a fault. The postcard is a picture of Mount Ararat, thought by many to have been the place where Noah’s Ark ran aground after the flood.

IMG_8833

12th November 1971

Arrived in Istanbul and stayed at the Pera Palace which nowadays is owned by Dubai’s Jumeirah Group and is very upmarket. My sister remembers lots of ancient plumbing in the bathroom. I mentioned this hotel in an earlier blog post.

13th November – 23rd November 1971

The remainder of the journey was through Europe which I’ll skip over since this is familiar territory for most readers, but here are the remaining postcards I received.

IMG_8834

Kavala, Greece

IMG_8835

Mestre, Venice

IMG_8836

Venezia

IMG_8837

Torino, the main drag.

IMG_8838

La Cote d’Azur – Villefranche-Sur-Mer. Vue sur les quais, la Forteresse et la Darse.

IMG_8839

Avallon, France

Their last entry in the log, on arrival back in England was ‘Dartford Tunnel Toll – 12.5p’. (The toll is now £2.50, twenty times higher).

Dad’s trip was quite an adventure which would be tricky and dangerous to undertake in this day and age. Perhaps Jeremy Clarkson and his former Top Gear buddies would like to try to replicate the journey. Of course, to be authentic, they would have to do it in a 1966 Vauxhall Viva!

800px-Vauxhall_Viva_HA_with_SL_or_90_front_first_registered_April_1967_1057cc

Vauxhall Viva similar to Mum & Dad’s.

The exercise book contains the logs of two other road trips made by Mum and Dad in the Seventies, from UK to Tripoli, Libya and back again. The subject of a future blog post perhaps.

Posted in Pakistan, Road Trip From Islamabad to UK | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Ouessant & Pasopati

I have been on two submarines in recent months. Not underwater thankfully but safely berthed on land and now serving as museums.

KRI Pasopati

img_2695

The first is the Submarine Monument in Surabaya, Indonesia. KRI Pasopati is a Whiskey-class Soviet-era submarine built in Vladivostok in 1952 and acquired by the Indonesian Navy in 1962.

It weighs 1048 tons and is 76 metres long. She was well armed with 6 torpedo tubes, 4 at the bow and 2 at the stern. I had not realised how huge these torpedo are – probably over 6 metres in length.

The submarine has seven cramped compartments housing the torpedoes, the diesel-electric engine, navigation, communication and other equipment as well as the living accommodation for a crew of around 50 men.

According to the museum’s brochure, this vessel participated in Operation Trikora,  an Indonesian military operation to gain control of Netherlands New Guinea, which later became Irian Jaya (now Papua / West Papua).

SMD Ouessant

img_4704

The other sub I visited is the Ouessant which is now the Submarine Museum in Melaka, Malaysia. The Ouessant is an Agosta-class conventional (non-nuclear) submarine built in Cherbourg in 1978 for the French Navy. She was decommissioned in 2001 and from 2005-2009 she served as a training vessel and used to train Royal Malaysian Navy personnel, while still based in France. Since she was never really integrated into the Malaysian Navy fleet she maintains her French name.

img_4708

This submarine is shorter than the Indonesian one (67 m ) and is designed for a complement of 5 officers and 36 men. She only has forward-facing torpedo tubes but can also deploy Exocet missiles.

img_4719-1img_4718img_4724

Boys and girls considering a career as submariners should visit museums like these before they sign up. The claustrophobic working conditions would put most people off and the courage needed to serve in a submarine during wartime means that only a special kind of person need apply.

Posted in Ouessant & Pasopati | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Baghdad, England

I was in England last month visiting family. While I was there, I learned that there is a town in the green and leafy English county of Hertfordshire which was named after Baghdad.

old-baghdad

Old Baghdad

It was founded by the Knights Templar in the 12th century on the site of earlier Roman and Iron Age settlements. Seemingly, while on the Crusades, the Knights Templar had visited, or heard about, the famed city of Baghdad with its bustling souks. On their return to England they wanted to emulate this city’s success by establishing a market town which they named Baudac or Baldac, being the Norman French form for Baghdad. The name has since been Anglicised and the town is now known as Baldock.

baldock

Baldock Town Hall & Museum

An alternative theory is that the Knights named the town after Baalbek, the ancient Phoenician / Roman city in modern day Lebanon, an area which the Crusaders were far more likely to have visited.

baalbeck

Baalbek on a 1967 Lebanese Postage Stamp

Whatever the true origin of the name, modern-day Baldock bears little resemblance to either Baghdad or Baalbek. The Charter Fair started by the Templars in 1199 is still held annually though these days it is more of a fun fair than a bustling Middle eastern souq. The town’s heritage is remembered through the Templars Hotel & Restaurant, the Knights Templar School and the Knights Templar Sports Centre.

The town is twinned with Eisenberg in Germany and Sanvignes in France. There are no plans to twin Baldock with the Iraqi capital!

Posted in England | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments