Season 14

  • Midsomer Murders History Header Public Footpaths

    Public Footpaths

    (Caution: Contains spoilers for Episodes: 02×03: Dead Man’s Eleven, 09×02: Dead Letters, 13×01: The Sword of Guillaume, and 14×04: The Oblong Murders)


    The Barnaby family are looking for a new place to live in Fletcher’s Cross and have a bite to eat in the Queen’s Arms, outside, in the garden. As they leave the pub, they are approached by Zelda Frasier. She is collecting signatures for the petition of the Fletcher’s Cross Ramblers Association, who are fighting for the right of way through Robert Cavendish’s estate. It’s a public footpath, but the landlord has blocked off part of it without permission.

    Nothing that would only happen recently or only in Midsomer. A little later we learn that green oak branches are a very important symbol of the right of villages to walk in the woods and on public footpaths. This is the basis of the Midsomer Barton Oak Festival.


    Rights of way

    „What is a right of way? A right of way is a path that anyone has the legal right to use on foot, and sometimes using other forms of transport.“ (Source: Open Spaces Society)

    The Fletcher’s Cross Ramblers Association is not unique. In fact, there are associations such as the Open Spaces Society (OSS) in Barnaby Land, which works from Henley-on-Thames to ensure that public footpaths remain public. The responsibility for maintaining and recording public rights of way lies with local authorities.

    Public footpaths have often existed for centuries, if not millennia, linking villages to villages and villages to markets or places of worship. Often the age of the path can be determined by the places it connects. Furthermore, a footpath that is well below the present ground level is often an ancient trackway from the Neolithic, Bronze or Iron Ages. They also tend to follow the lie of the land.

    If, on the other hand, the path is not near a wood, but there are bluebells, dog’s mercury, primroses, old trees or stumps, it is a sign that the path dates from the Anglo-Saxon period and that a wood has been cleared.


    Munden Estate

    Munden House
    Brian Smith: Munden House. CC BY-SA 2.0.

    The real Cavendish Estate is the Munden Estate in Hertfordshire and, yes, there are indeed 6 mi (10 km) of public footpaths. A third of these are permissive footpaths. They link Aldenham with Bricket Wood and form part of the path between St Albans and Watford, whose histories are intertwined. In the 12th century the Abbot of St Albans was granted a market as lord of the manor. This was the origin of Watford.

    The footpaths that run through the Munden Estate probably date from the same period. By this time there was already a building here called Meriden, which belonged to the Abbey of St Albans until the Dissolution of the Monasteries. It was first mentioned in 1097 and “it is believed that the estate was acquired by Robert de Meriden and that Munden is a derivation of his name“. Monks might have stopped here on their way to or from Watford.

    The settlement is even older, however, as the remains of a Roman villa have been found here.

    The present house was built in 1795 and has been owned by the Hibbert family since 1828. Listed as a National Heritage Site since 12th August 1985, the manor was the setting not only for Cavendish House. But is was also used for also for Mr Toad’s, er, Freddie Butler’s Haddington Hall (09×03: Vixen’s Run), Edward Milton’s house (13×02: The Made-by-Measure Murder) and Germaine Troughton’s house (19×03: Last Man Out).


    Illegal restrictions on public footpaths in other episodes

    Similarly in Midsomer Parva, where the right of way is stopped by Hugh Dalgleish, and the Oblong Society in Midsomer Malham.

    First, Midsomer Parva: We first hear of it in the town hall in Causton, where Hugh Dalgleish, unloved by everyone, has just entered the room. Tom Barnaby is patted vehemently by Lucy Terry, who sits behind him and startles him. She demands to know if the DCI has spoken to Hugh Dalgleish, who, like Cavendish, has no interest in anyone trespassing on his property.

    Tom Barnaby tries to calm and end the situation, clearly not wanting to have this discussion here and now. He points at Ben Jones, who is sitting next to him.

    The issue of the right of way comes up in passing a few times in the episode. And the dispute between Terrys and Dalgleish is only resolved indirectly in the episode, as Hugh Dalgleish is one of the murder victims in the episode. Who inherits his estate is not addressed in the episode.

    And in Midsomer Malham, the bizarrely shady Oblong Society blocks a public footpath through the grounds of Malham Manor. The society has acquired the property through one of its members, Ruth Lambert. Various dog owners still use the path to a certain extent, including dog sitter Millie Bullard, George Bullard’s sister.

    John Barnaby has just come to collect Sykes from his first day with her. They are both standing in the garden watching Sykes run around and mess up the other dogs.



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    • Header Midsomer Murders History Chess Formula 1

      Sports History in Midsomer, pt. 2: Other Sports

      As well as playing a lot of cricket, Midsomer has been very successful in chess, Formula 1 and boxing. The famous boxing match of 1860 is a topic for another time: here we look at chess and F1 first.


      (Caution: Contains spoilers for Episodes: 06×01: A Talent of Life, 14×01: Death in the slow lane, 15×05: The Sicilian Defence, and a little bit of 05×03: Ring Your Dead und 19×03: Last Man Out)


      Manor House Warborough
      Stannington’s house – Manor House in Warborough. Steve Daniels: A large house on Warborough Green. CC-BY SA 2.0.

      In 1893 there was a world champion from Bishopwood in Midsomer County: Reverend Stannington. John Barnaby learns this in passing during an interrogation of the descendants of Edward Stannington after he was murdered by a lake. He questions Edward’s aunt Vivian and learns that one of her ancestors, the Reverend Stannington, was the 1893-1894 World Chess Champion. What Vivian Stannington fails to mention is that her ancestor died in 1894, so was unable to enjoy his world championship.

      The location for the Stannington house is the manor house in Warborough, Oxfordshire. Here, in Warborough, there was a settlement as far back as Roman times, and it is listed in the Domesday Book as part of the extensive royal estate of Benson. The manor house, formerly known as Beech House, was built in the late 17th century but has been altered several times since. It has been on the National Heritage List since 18/07/1963.


      World Chess Champion 1893-1894

      Lasker Steinitz
      One of the game on Lasker’s (left side) road to World Championship: Philadelphia, 1894. Public Domain.

      The game of chess probably originally came from the Indo-Pakistani-Arab region to southern Europe and then to Britain – probably as early as the Norman period. But it was not until the early 19th century that chess clubs, chess tournaments, chess books and chess magazines began to appear. The first world chess championship was held in 1886. It was won by Wilhelm Steinitz against Johannes Zuktort – and Steinitz remained world champion until his match against Stannington. The games took place in the spring at three different venues in North America. And the world champion was the first to win ten games – and this time it was not Wilhelm Steinitz.

      It was not all that surprising, as quotes from the run-up to the World Chess Championship show.

      “ Ask me something easier. I know only on thing, that Steinitz never in his life met a man of Lasker’s strength.” the US chess player Jackson Whipps Showalter is quoted in the New York Times and his compatriot and also chess player Eugene Delmar in the same place: “Lasker’s youth might help him along, but Steinitz is Steinitz after all. Nay, I can’t commit myself to name the winner.”

      Oh yes, Lasker, that was more or less Reverend Stannington’s real-life alter ego, who actually won the World Championship, which incidentally was not played until 1894. And unlike Reverend Stannington, Emanuel Lasker did not die shortly afterwards, but remained World Chess Champion for another 27 years and lived for another twenty years after that.

      „While I have not played serious chess since my match with Tschigorin, I have had no end of domestic trouble and bother during the last two years.” Wilhelm Steinitz is quoted as saying in the New York Times. “Still, I am confident that I can play chess as heretofore. I never underrate an opponent, and I believe that Lasker is a really fine player. Moreover, the latter had the chance to study all my games, my book, and therefore my style, and if I do lose he will have to beat me with my own weapons.”



      Alan Robson, chess player, online game developer and father of the missing Finn. He is being questioned by John Barnaby and Ben Jones at the CID in Causton. As he is about to leave, his gaze falls on Barnaby and Jones’ area of the CID’s open-plan office. Specifically, a number of A4 sheets of paper taped to a cupboard. Oh, how well he knows!

      The three men are standing in the area of our two investigators. Ben is watching with his arms crossed, slightly in the background of the scene, leaning against a desk. John is standing by the cabinet with the printouts and Alan Robson is writing these moves on a plexiglass wall – by heart. He pauses to explain why he knows these moves so well.

      These are the chess moves that an internet user nicknamed Silverfish used to beat the reigning world chess champion Vladimir Kostelov a few years ago.

      A World Chess Champion

      Kasparov Karpow
      The world championship match between Kasparov (left) and Karpov in 1984-1985. Kasparov won the match and remained world chess champion for many years. Photo:

      At the heart of the episode is a chess game that has existed before: Kasparov Versus the World, played in 1999 between the reigning world chess champion Garry Kasparov and internet users.

      Kasparov’s success was due in part to his unrivalled knowledge of chess opening theory, i.e. how do you start a game? How do you position your pieces in the first move or two so that you can checkmate your opponent as much as possible fifty or a hundred moves later? One variation Kasparov chose was the Sicilian Defence, which was first documented in 1594 in – wonder of wonders – Sicily. It is Black’s response to White’s move from e2 to e4.

      White: pawn from e2 to e4.

      Black: pawn from c7 to c5. This one move is the Sicilian Defence.

      That’s it.

      The advantage of this variation is that there is no feeling out, but it leads directly to a sharp fight – and can quickly lead an experienced black player to victory.

      This variation was very popular for a couple of centuries, but fell out of favour in the course of the 19th century. Wilhelm Steinitz, for example, did not like the Sicilian Defence.


      Online Chess

      Kasparov Versus World
      The separate moves of the game

      There is no mention of when the online game – apparently a competition with several single games in a knockout system – took place. It is only mentioned that Vladimir Kostelov, like Kasparov, was a world chess champion in the 1980s and was bought in for this online game for a fortune.

      Perhaps Kostelov saw the opportunity for self-marketing via the internet – a pioneer of personal branding via new media, so to speak. It was the same with Garry Kasparov, who from the end of the 1980s played several competitions under tournament conditions against some chess programs – and won almost every game.

      Then, in 1999, he went one step further with an even newer medium: the Internet. “Kasparov Versus the World was a media-rich event that took place on the MSN Gaming Zone between 21 June 1999 and 22 October 1999 and attracted over 50,000 people from more than 75 nations – and that was just for one game.


      Against the chess world

      The “Kasparov Versus the World” media spectacle was open to anyone registered in the MSN Gaming Zone. Microsoft also provided a bulletin board forum for discussion in the Gaming Zone, and the ingenious system worked as follows:

      First, Kasparov had 12 hours to make his move. Then four young chess geniuses also had 12 hours to watch it and – each for themselves – write a recommendation. These recommendations were posted on the MSN forum, discussed and then the possible moves were voted on. The move with the most votes after 18 hours was validated for another 6 hours and then drawn.

      So it was not a multi-stage knockout system with several games, but a single game.

      The four advisers to the World Team were 16-year-old Étienne Bacrot, 19-year-old Florin Flelecan, 14-year-old Elisabeth Paehtz and 15-year-old Irina Krush. The latter was also present at the launch on 21 June 1999 with a promotional event at Bryant Park in New York and became a leader during the chess game.

      The game has been widely published and discussed, and there are numerous analyses and recaps. It is perhaps the most analysed game in the world, with the World Team using chess computers to predict moves.



      For a long time Kasparov and the World Team were evenly matched. The then World Chess Champion later said that he had never put so much effort into any other game. And in the end – unlike the episode and celebration at Bishopwood – Kasparov won after 62 moves.

      “It is the greatest game in chess history. The sheer number of ideas, the complexity and the contribution it has made to chess make it the most important game ever played”.

      The chess notation found on the Bishopwood murder victims is not the chess notation of Kasparov’s game Versus the World. But this notation begins with the very classic Sicilian Defence:

      E4 c5

      Nf3 d6

      D4 cxd4

      Nxd4 Nf6.


      Two racing celebrities: Isobel Hewitt…

      Midsomer County is also home to two racing celebrities from the 1950s, both of whom celebrated victories at Silverstone in that decade: Isobel Hewitt and Duncan Palmer.

      Unfortunately, we do not know exactly when and in which race Isobel Hewitt was so successful. We and Cully Barnaby only learn in passing from Dixie Goff that Isobel Hewitt celebrated a triumph as a racing driver at Silverstone. The Malham Bridge resident brings some old photographs to Cully’s mobile library in a caravan.

      We learn a little more about Duncan Palmer, who won a Formula One race at Silverstone in 1960 or a few years earlier – ahead of Stirling Moss, the famous British racer of the 1950s.


      … and Duncan Palmer

      Silverstone GP 1952
      Grand Prix in Silverstone on 19 July 1952. John Gourlay Beatson: Photo from Grandstand. CC-BY-SA 4.0.

      This is the opening sequence of John Barnaby’s first full-length case. (The first, after all, was the Badger’s Drift vicar’s hanging from the bell rope, which caused Tom Barnaby’s birthday and farewell party to be abruptly abandoned by his cousin and former colleagues).

      We see a car race on a television set, recorded many, many years ago. The quality of the image and the racing cars make it easy to recognise. It’s a summary of a Formula 1 race at Silverstone. The commentator mentions this and mentions four of the drivers by name. Firstly the famous English racing driver Stirling Moss, but also Peter Fossett, Jamie Brooks and Duncan Palmer. Duncan Palmer narrowly wins the race against Peter Fossett. They knew each other well as they were both from Midsomer.

      As Duncan Palmer died in a barn in 1962 in a Lotus X4, the F1 race must have taken place before that. And as not all British Grand Prix were held at Silverstone, and Sir Stirling Crauford Moss was active from 1951 to 1961, and Tony Brooks (who was apparently called Jamie Brooks in Midsomer?) from 1956 to 1961, the plausible races are 1956, 1958 or 1960 – always in mid-July.


      When did Duncan Palmer won the Silverstone Grand Prix?

      These races were won by Argentinean Juan Manuel Fangio (1956, Mercedes), Australian Jack Brabham (1960, Cooper-Climax) and Brit Peter Collins (1958, Ferrari).

      So there are two plausible options for Midsomer’s Duncan Palmer: either the footage is from the 1958 Grand Prix and it matches his nationality, or it is from the 1960 Grand Prix and it matches the make of the car. What he has in common with Jack Brabham is that he competes with Brooks and Moss, and what he has in common with Peter Collins is that he died shortly after his triumph (Collins, however, was killed in the German Grand Prix just two weeks after his Silverstone triumph). In 1962 he was murdered in a barn near Midsomer-in-the-Marsh.

      There is also a slight anachronism in the race commentary: Luffield Corner did not exist in the 1950s.


      More Midsomer women in sport

      Midsomer Wellow’s Frances Le Bon won the Inter County Championship as a markswoman – unfortunately no year is given.

      So did Germaine Troguhton from Lower Pampling, who played cricket. She was very talented and captained the England women’s cricket team. It was probably in the late 1960s or 1970s.



      • Meredith, Anthony/Blackwell, Gordon: Silverstone and Formula 1. Stroud 2022.
      • Meredith, Anthony/Blackwell, Gordon: Silverstone Circuit through time. Stroud 2013.
      • Hackwood, Frederick W.: Old English Sports. London 1907.
      • Manson, Iain: The Lion and the Eagle. Cheltenham 2008.
      • NN: Warborough. In: Simon Townley (ed.): a History of the county of Oxford. Volume 18. Woodbridge, Suffolk 2016. P. 393-421.
      • NN: Ready for a big chess match. In: New York Times (11/03/1894).


      Further information

      The full documentation of Kasparov’s game versus the world: Here you will find not only the recommendations of the four young chess geniuses, but also the moves that were on the ballot and their results. And that for all moves.


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      • Treasures & Raiders in Midsomer County

        (Caution: Contains spoilers for Episodes: 05×04: Murder on St Malley’s Day, 14×05: The Sleeper under the Hill, and 18×05: Saints and Sinners)


        Three episodes of Midsomer Murders are about treasure and its theft. They come from three different eras: The Anglo-Saxon treasure of Gorse Meadow from the Battle of Hallows Beck between the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings (14×05: The Sleeper under the Hill) and the Tudor hoard of Milson (18×05: Saints and Sinners) – both treasure heists taking place in Midsomer in the early 21st century.

        But one episode also features an art theft outside Midsomer, but in Midsomer Parva. Specifically, by former Pudding Club members, now diplomats, in the last decades of the 20th century (05×04: Murder on St Malley’s Day).


        Greed & Hubris

        The Holloway College was used for Devington School. Photo by Fay1982: The Founder's Building, Egham campus, 2011. URL: The Founder's Building, Egham campus. CC-SA 3.0
        The Holloway College was used for Devington School. Photo by Fay1982: The Founder’s Building, Egham campus, 2011. URL: The Founder’s Building, Egham campus. CC-SA 3.0

        What all three episodes have in common is that the robbers claim to be able to value the treasures for themselves – and only themselves – and therefore need to save them – and, of course, are prepared to murder if necessary to do so.

        At Devington School in Midsomer Parva, headmaster Jonathan Eckersley-Hyde stands with pupil Daniel Talbot in the chamber of the Pudding Club, where many treasures are kept. He seems to be preparing Daniel for his future career as a diplomat. And as an alumnus of Devington School, that includes, er, saving artefacts. He shows Daniel something from a looted museum in Kabul, the contents of which were stolen/saved and brought here by members of the Pudding Club as diplomats. This is what makes the school and its upkeep possible.

        Daniel Talbot is understandably beside himself that there are countless stolen art treasures stored here, and Jonathan Eckersley-Hyde emphasises once again that these treasures have been saved thanks to Devington School.

        And it’s not just Kabul artefacts that are stored in the secret vault off to the side of the Pudding Club room. Tom Barnaby and Gavin Troy identify much more in the room when Jonathan Eckersley-Hyde also enters the vault.


        Anglo-Saxon treasures

        There is a prehistoric monument with a blood stone at Midsomer Mow. This area is part of the Gorse Meadow estate, now owned by Alex Preston. Unauthorised, the village’s New Dawn Druids use the site as a spiritual power site to celebrate their beliefs.

        But landowner Preston has his own plans for the land and wants to make it work for him. While ploughing, he makes a very interesting discovery after only a few metres: he finds ancient jewellery under the ground and quickly realises that there must be much more from Celtic times. He shows his first finds to another resident, Caradoc Singer. He is very impressed, but not so much by the fact that Alex Preston wants to find out how to deal legally with a treasure find.

        Caradoc Singer believes that only he has the ability to value the hoard, not Alex Preston or the government. Or the policeman Trevor Gibson, who also wants Preston’s find and wants to sell it. Caradoc Singer – who considers himself far too good to kill – takes advantage of this and has Trevor Gibson do it for him, putting him under emotional pressure.

        All this is revealed during the interrogation in Caradoc Singer’s basement lair at the end of the episode, as Caradoc Singer, surrounded by all the treasures he has collected over the years, sits in an armchair and remembers the day Alex Preston showed him the precious finds.



        Anglo-Saxon treasures
        A Anglo-Saxon hoard – not from Midsomer, but from Staffordshire. Source: David Rowan, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery: Stæffordscīr hord. Searucēap þæs hordes. CC-BY SA 2.0.

        The catastrophe for Caradoc Singers was not that Alex Preston found these treasures on his property, but that he want to report his find and take whatever might be his legal share. And once the items were in the possession of the government, Caradoc Singer could no longer try to own them. Clearly, finds Singer, Alex Preston was not appreciative enough and therefore had to die.

        But an art collector like Caradoc Singers doesn’t do this kind of dirty work himself, but lets others do it, whom he makes emotionally compliant in return with small gifts – in this case the policeman Trevor Gibson. Nothing he regrets, as you can see from his arrogant grin. He is visibly proud of his emotional blackmail.

        Same with Letitia Clifford, a member of the New Dawn Driuds of Midsomer Mow . She finds the right site of the buried treasures via ley lines. On a large map she connects four spiritual places with two lines. They cross at Gorse Meadow. “King Stone” she writes at the intersection. Shortly afterwards she is murdered.


        Pure Arrogance

        John Barnaby showed the map to Caradoc Singer, who back then waved it off, to distract Barnaby. He admits this later. She was quite right that the battle was fought at Gorse Meadow. But if this had been publicised, the place would have been swarming with treasure hunters – and thus diminishing Caradic Singer’s potential possessions.

        There were at least four battles between Anglo-Saxons and Vikings in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, and Oxfordshire, but only one of it was won by the Anglo-Saxons: The Battle of Englefield, 31 December 870. (According to the calendar at that time, it was 31 December 871 because the year already began on Christmas.)

        But how did it actually come to the battles? About a century after the Christianisation of the Anglo-Saxons, the Vikings sailed to the British Isles for short raids.It was not until around 850 that Vikings invade Britain – and it was during this time that the Battle of Englefield took place.


        Ley Lines

        Let’s come back to Letitia Clifford for a moment. She draws two lines – called ley lines – on a map. They meet in Alex Preston’s field, though not at the bloodstone in Crowcall Circle, but a few steps away. “King Stone” she writes on the spot.

        Drawing ley lines is not an idea of the screenwriter, but is based on a practice of 19th century historians. Today, their significance is strongly doubted by historians and tends to be relegated to the realm of esotericism. They were established by merchant Alfred Watkins who was also an amateur archaeologist and amateur photographer. For him, there had to be a network of straight paths connecting the historic buildings in England.

        And he wasn’t alone:

        • Reverend Edward Duke (1779-1852) found in 1846 that some prehistoric monuments and medieval churches were connected by a line.
        • Architect and antiquarian Joseph Houghton Spencer (19th century), while exploring Taunton Castle, found a historic path connecting monastic sites. He then believed that all monasteries and monuments would once have been connected in straight lines.
        • Archaeoastronomer Joseph Norman Lockyer (1836-1920) suggested that, as at Stonehenge, other prehistoric stone sites were connected on a plane based on astronomical principles.
        • Historian Walter Johnson (c. 1900) found that because churches were built on prehistoric sites, ley lines are also found in them, but go back even further. Churches were built because of the positive energies along the ley lines.

        Nevertheless, the vast majority of scientists today are very sceptical about the anachronistic concept of ley lines. Tom Williamson found that the density of monuments in the UK is so great that with every straight line you have several monuments on one line.


        Treasures from family hoards

        Margaret Tudor
        Daniël Mijtens: Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scotland (1489-1541). Painted between circa 1620 and circa 1638. Royal Collection. Public Domain.

        Cicely Milson was a martyr who was interrogated by her torturers for three weeks before she was executed. Among other things, she lost a toe during the torture. Her family fled to France to escape, but the family hoard, however, remained with Cicely. She probably lived in the 15th century – more likely towards the end. Historian Christopher Corby gives the 15th century for the painting showing her mother Benedicta Milson (in fact it shows Margaret Tudor (1489-1541), the eldest daughter of Henry VII of England).

        The dig in present-day Midsomer Cicely is also attended by Penelope “Penny” Henderson, who wrote her PhD thesis on the Milson family and knows a lot about the connections and the family hoard. It is only towards the end of the episode that John Barnaby and Charlie Nelson find out from the car registration that Penny Henderson’s maiden name was “Milson”. So, she is interested in finding the treasures of the Milson family for genealogical reasons and wants to keep it. But that’s not how it works under current law in England. In the process, Penny Henderson is willing to go to extremes and becomes a murder.

        Note: As with Gorse Meadow: where the scene of the dig was set up is still unknown to me and I welcome any clues.


        Fraud and Murder

        And then there was the Reverend Corby, who passes off the bones of a random person as the relics of St Cicely in order to gain more fame.

        He steals Penny Henderson’s car with the actually bones of Cicely in it to replace them in the crypt for the bones of the fake Cicely. What he doesn‘t know is that the family hoard is in the car, too. Kam Karimore drops by in the church to examine the fake bones on display for their age. While she is still discussing the matter with the Reverend, Penny Henderson arrives. They get into arguments when John Barnaby and Charlie Nelson also arrive to join the three people in the crypt.

        For a moment, Penny Henderson is surprised, that the police have discovered that she is the murderer. Then pulls out a knife and runs to Kam Karimore to take her hostage. Kam gasps. John is visibly in distress. He reveals to her that he knows of her birth name, lets her get emotional until she is not paying close attention to holding Kam Karimore down enough. Kam is able to break free. John and Charlie immediately rush towards Penny Henderson. Kam and Charlie hold Penny Henderson down, so she can be arrested.


        How does it work in England when you find treasures?

        This is regulated by the Treasure Act of 1996: There is a legal obligation that golden and silver objects over 300 years old found in England must be reported within 14 days of discovery. A finder’s reward is possible, but does not apply to archeologists and volunteers participating in an archeological excavation.


        Read more about Midsomer Murders & History

        The Chronology of Midsomer County by Year or by EpisodesDeep Dives into Midsomer & History.

        If you would like to honour my effort and passion, I am happy and thankful for every donation.



        • Ford, David Nash: Englefield. In: Royal Berkshire History. URL:
        • Hutton, Ronald: The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles. Their Nature and Legacy. Oxford/Cambridge 1991.
        • Johnson, Walter: Byways in British Archaeology. Cambridge University Press 1912.
        • Lockyer, Joseph Norman: Stonehenge and Other British Stone Monuments Astronomically Considered. Macmillan and Company, London 1909.
        • NN: Parishes: Englefield. In: P. H. Ditchfield/William Page (Eds.): A History of the County of Berkshire 3. London 1923. P. 405-412. URL:
        • Williamson, Tom/Bellamy, Liz: Ley Lines in Question. Tadworth 1983.


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        • Header Midsomer Murders History Dantean Anomaly

          The Dantean Anomaly

          (Caution: Contains spoilers for Episodes: 14×06: The Night of the Stag)

          On a colourfully decorated village square, a very well-attended, joyous fete takes place. There are stalls and plenty of alcohol to drink. We are at the Midsomer Abbas May Fayre, which is celebrated jointly by residents from Midsomer Abbas and Midsomer Herne – always on the first of May. Malmsey wine is served in a sweet version (= the well-known sweet Madeira wine) and in a tart version. Now, a man, Reverend Conrad Walker, enters the wooden platform and speaks into a microphone and welcomes the crowd.

          There is vigorous applause as the two aldermen, Samuel Quested from Midsomer Abbas and Will Green from Midsomer Herne, come on stage. The Reverend meanwhile leaves the podium. Samuel Quested takes the floor and reminds the crowd of the spring of 1370, when there was a disastrous frost that froze all the apple blossoms and the inhabitants of Midsomer Abbas faced famine. The apple harvest was the main source of income for most of the inhabitants. But help came from neighbouring Midsomer Herne, who oddly seemed not to have had problems with frost, even though they live in the neighbouring valley.

          They gave away their apples and established a friendship between the two villages.

          The audience is cheering as Samuel Quested symbolically hands Will Green a basket of apples and the Reverend re-enters the stage and takes the microphone.


          The Micro Famine?

          In 1370 there were indeed crop failures in England, coupled with a new outbreak of the bubonic plague epidemic in 1369 – for the second time in England in the 1360s – and this during the Hundred Years’ War between England and France.

          Well, apparently 1370 was not only a year in the middle of the Hundred Years’ War between England and France (1337-1453), but also a year with an even more amazing microclimate because the frost apparently stopped at the valley. (Both villages were apparently spared from the bubonic plague epidemic of that year. At least it is not mentioned).

          However, the crop failure of 1370 is hardly mentioned in literature or even in contemporary sources. This is not so surprising because the plague of bubonic plague was probably many times worse. It was also apparently not as devastating as the Great Famine period of the 1310s, as the Dantean Anomaly is also called.


          Dante Alighieri’s “Inferno” – a field report?

          Dante Alighieri
          Sandro Botticelli: Dante Alighieri, circa 1495. Oil on canvas. Public Domain.

          Dantean Anomaly – this term was coined by Oxford geophysicist Neville Brown in his 2001 book History and Climate Change.

          “Dantean” refers to the Italian author Dante Alighieri and his work “Inferno”, which has at least become world-famous since Dan Brown’s book of the same name.

          In the last years of his life, Dante Alighieri experienced the Great Famine in Italy, which peaked there in 1310-1312. At the same time, he wrote his work for which he is still famous today: La Divina Commedia, the Divine Comedy. Researchers disagree on exactly when he began the work, but it was probably in the 1300s.

          The first part of the Divine Comedy, the aforementioned “Inferno”, contains passages that seem like a result of his exuberant fantasy and fatalism, but were probably nothing more than his way of handling his real experiences:

          “I am in the third circle, filled with cold, unending, heavy, and accursed rain; its measure and its kind are never changed. Gross hailstones, water gray with filth, and snow come streaking down across the shadowed air; the earth, as it receives that shower, stinks.“ (Inferno: Canto VI)


          Crash weather events due to climate change

          These extreme weather conditions occurred roughly from 1300 to 1325 and were by no means limited to England, the British Isles, or Italy. Rather, a total of 30 million people were affected throughout northern, central and, in some cases, southern Europe.

          The 1310s in particular were a drastic climatic anomaly.

          In the century before, an increase in solar radion and decrease in volcanic activity led to a warming and prosperous society throughout Europe with strong population growth, many new settlements and technical improvements in agriculture that made it possible to feed the population. This century of progress was then followed by periods of partly too much rain and partly too little rain from 1300 to 1325, leading into the Little Ice Age. The Dantean Anomaly was therefore nothing other than a sign of the blatant climate upheaval – which at that time led to an Ice Age.

          Today we can only dream of that, although the weather events do not differ. Only we cannot expect the escapades of the climate to calm down again. The “Dantean Anomaly Junior Research Group“, a Europe-wide research project, is investigating the prehistory, development and effects 700 years ago and can already say: the weather events of the 1290s and around 2020 are damn similar. Then, as now, they were locally occurring weather events that could also differ greatly. For example, a Dominican monk from Colmar, Alsace, noted that the winter of 1303/04 was exceptionally cold in Rome, but much warmer than usual in Alsace. On the other hand, a year earlier the winter in Alsace was too cold and in Rome too warm.


          The Dantean Anomaly in England

          So what was the weather like during this climatic transition period in England? And can any references be made to the local weather of the filming location?

          Filming took place in Oxfordshire, namely in Stanton St. John (Midsomer Herne) and Sydenham (Midsomer Abbas). Unfortunately, in the few weather records that have survived to the present day, location information is very rare. Therefore, I cannot say whether Sydenham or Oxfordshire in general was affected by a bad harvest in 1370, nor how the village or county fared during the Dantean Anomaly.

          But let’s look at the weather of the years in England. I am mainly using a compilation of sources on the weather in England compiled by historian Katheryn Warner.


          Dantean Anomaly
          The consequences of the Dantean Anomaly for England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland.


          The consequence: The Great Famine

          Hansel and Gretel
          Arthur Rackham: Hansel and Gretel, 1909. Public Domain.

          This frequent alternation of too hot and too dry, too wet and too cold weather led to massive crop failure, especially in 1314 and 1315. In 1315, floods destroyed one-third or one-half of the harvest. Famine was inevitable. Even King Edward had to go without food when he travelled to St Albans, as he had done so often before: There was simply no bread. It was not until 1317 that the harvest in England returned to normal, but food stocks were not fully replenished until 1322.

          Across Europe, about 5-12% died in the two or three decades. Many animals also died of a highly virulent disease called murrains, which weakened the animals inexorably to the point of death – probably a kind of food-and-mouth. But people couldn’t even preserve the dead animals for their food, because salt was damp from the rainy season and also very expensive.

          Parents gave their children away – not because they had a better chance of survival elsewhere, but parents only had a chance of survival if they didn’t still have children to feed. They needed the little food themselves in order not to starve. The world-famous fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel very likely originated during the Great Famine: the parents send the children off into the world, hoping they will never come back. Eventually they go to the house of a woman who is apparently so starved that she has become a cannibal.


          Inflation and disease

          However, it was not only the famine that caused concern, but also the political and social destabilisation of society and an inflation. The aristocracy had to watch the value of its domains collapse.

          Illustrated transcript from Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, Canto VI: The Gluttons. Northern Italy, end of the 14th century. Public Domain.

          Land had to be sold, often at severely reduced prices, while many more would need to borrow to survive. Some small monasteries had to close, others sold relics to pilgrims.

          The government thought it would be a good solution to install price controls and to import food from Southern Europe. Well, the rationing and regulation of food prices was a slight improvement for the consumers, but for the farmers it meant ruin because their businesses were no longer viable – and they could no longer support themselves. Therefore, the government lifted the price controls a few months later. This led to inflation and an eightfold increase in prices.

          If it was “only” an outbreak of small-pox in England in 1305, the immunocompromised population throughout Europe was followed by the great plague epidemic, which occurred again and again locally until the 18th century. As elsewhere, it cost many lives immediately after the Great Famine because their immune systems had become weak from hunger. In England, the plague epidemic of 1349 alone cost 30% of human lives and was followed by others – five in the 14th century alone (1360, 1361, 1369, 1375, 1390).


          The Papal Edict that Never Existed

          Remember the Reverend Norman Grigor and his family’s appearance at the Midsomer Abbas May Fayre at the Domesday-like admonishing words he speaks?

          He refers to the horn dance, a Beltane cult in which competing men with deer antlers go at each other to determine the strongest, most willing mate among themselves. Reverend Walker reassures us, however: this dance was toned down in the 1880s and is no more than a folk dance. We also see this in the episode.

          John Barnaby later approaches Reverend Conrad Walker about these lines and Walker says they are part of a papal edict of 669 with which the Pope tried to put a stop to the pagan Beltane cult.

          It should have been by Pope Vitalian at that time, but this edict does not exist. There was no edict in 669, nor was there ever an edict with this content. So it was only invented for dramaturgical reasons for the episode. But let’s be similar: it could very well have existed because there were numerous attempts at that time, as well as a thousand years later, to make the pagan cults absolete.


          Read more about Midsomer Murders & History

          The Chronology of Midsomer County by Year or by EpisodesDeep Dives into Midsomer & History.

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          • Bauch, Martin: The “Dantean Anomaly” Project. Tracking Rapid Climate Change in Late Medieval Europe” (27/08/2016). In: Historical Climatology.
          • Bauch, Martin/Labbé, Thomas/Engel, Annabell/Seifert/Patric: A prequel to the Dantean Anomaly. The precipitation seesaw and droughts of 1302 to 1307 in Europe. In: Climate of the Past 16 (2020).
          • Brown, Neville: History and Climate Change. A Eurocentric Perspective. London/New York 2001.
          • Buttery, Neil: The Great Famine (1315-1317). In: Climate in Arts & History.
          • Frank, Robert Worth: Agriculture in the Middle Ages. Philadelphia 1995.
          • NN: 10 Things to Know About the Great Famine. In:
          • NN: The Great Famine 1315-1317. In: British Food. A History (09/09/2020).
          • Pribyl, Kathleen: The Climate of Late Medieval England. Reconstruction and Impacts. Lecture at the Town Close Auditorium, Norwich Castle Museum, 2 November 2013. Based on: Kathleen Pritbyl, Rihard C. Cordes, Christian Pfister: Reconstructing medieval April-July mean temperatures in East Anglia, 1256-1431. In: Climatic Change 113 (2012). S. 393-412.
          • Sharp, Buchanan: Royal paternalism and the moral economy in the reign of Edward III. The response to the Great Famine. In: Economic History Review 66 (2013), pp. 628-647.
          • Storey, R. L.: England. Allgemeine und politische Geschichte. Das Koenigtum im Konflikt mit Adelsgruppierungen. Der Hundertjaehrige Krieg. In: Lexikon des Mittelalters 3. Darmstadt 2009. Col. 1946-1958, here col. 1951.
          • Warner, Katheryn: And Your Weather Forecast For The Early Fourteenth Century Is… In: Edward II (10/09/2009).


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