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Friday, 22 July 2011

Exeter's onion trail

"Ic eom wunderlicu wiht wifum on hyhte neahbuendum nyt; nægum sceþþe burgsittendra nymthe bonan anum. Staþol min is steapheah stonde ic on bedde neoðan ruh nathwær. Neþeð hwilum ful cyrtenu ceorles dohtor modwlonc meowle þæt heo on mec gripe ræseð mec on reodne reafath min heafod fegeð mec on fæsten. Feleþ sona mines gemotes seo þe mec nearwað wif wundenlocc. Wæt bið þæt eage."

"I am a wondrous creature for women in expectation, a service for neighbours. I harm none of the citizens except my slayer alone. My stem is erect, I stand up in bed, hairy somewhere down below. A very comely peasant's daughter, dares sometimes, proud maiden, that she grips at me, attacks me in my redness, plunders my head, confines me in a stronghold, feels my encounter directly, woman 
with braided hair. Wet be that eye."
Answer: the onion.

Riddle 25. The Exeter Book of Riddles (Codes Exoniensis).  
Exeter, Cathedral Chapter Library, MS 3501. Circa 990.  

Jean-Jacques MONCUS. Le Courrier du Léon et du Trégor. June 29th 1974.
Trewman's Exeter Flying Post or Plymouth and Cornish Advertiser. November 12, 1892.
"One of the most remembered imports to come to Exeter was French onions: they were apparently stored in the warehouses and sold around Exeter by bicycle."
Peter THOMAS. Events, People and Places over the 20th Century. 
Stroud: Sutton Publishing, 2007. p.42.

"Originally a three masted double topsail schooner, `Result' has gone through many changes in its seafaring life. Built in 1892 at Carrickfergus as a cargo vessel, it was fitted with guns and used as a Q-ship during the First World War. After the war, an old-fashioned hot bulb engine was installed, and in 1925, T. C. Welch took over command. 
  As a boy on his father's ship, Tom Welch remembers vividly, various incidents and unusual cargoes.
"The most lively cargo was a group of 20 French onion sellers, shipped from St. Malo in Northern France to Exeter. 
  When they docked in Exeter the Frenchmen set off to sell their onions, but a while later, one of them reappeared with only one string of onions left to sell. My brother Peter bought that last string and invited him to stay the weekend in the furtherance of L'entente cordiale. Indeed, he managed to drink all the alcohol in the house". "
"When Life about the Schooner was a Real Family Affair." Darryl COLLINS. April 6th, 1979. 
"Early memories include seeing a Frenchman who had a room in a house next door to where we lived where the floor was covered in onions. This my mother told me was "Onion Johnnie". I didn't realise that they all had the same name! Seems a lot of these Frenchmen came over with their push bikes on boats which landed at Exeter Quay and they then went around the streets of Exeter on their bikes loaded up with onions to sell to the public."
Unidentified young French onion seller at the start of his day's round, captured in front of the row of warehouses that lined the River Exe along the quay. Photo courtesy of Exeter Memories.

Vibrant purple-coated ENGLISH organic onions. Exeter's farmers' market.
Stripey-shirted, baguette-holding French onion sellers packed 
among other plastic iconic figures inside a toy shop on Exeter's high street.