Posted by: lensweb | June 5, 2017

What did Napoleon do for us?

I was sitting waiting at Stapleford traffic lights the other day when I noticed a pub called The Rock, it had a massive silhouette of a large rock on the side which I immediately recognised as the Hemlockstone. I felt quite pleased with myself, a bit like when the crossword has been completed. Old place names connected to time or place help us make sense of the world. I did wonder why I hadn’t noticed it before, maybe it was newly painted? I started to muse on ‘The Roach’ as the traffic lights turned green. According to Derby Records Office, Napoleonic prisoners of war were made to work cutting the road through the Triassic sandstone deposits, and they named the nearby sandstone rock face, ‘La roche’. The French for a rock is La roche from which it is a small step of anglicisation to the Roaches as the main crossroad in Stapleford is known.  So Stapleford has got not one, but two notable rocks.

Then when I was driving the other day I was turned back by white helmeted work people wearing yellow dayglow jackets with reflective orange tabards so I went down a little used lane. The wild verges were really something to rival the work men’s attire, with glowing yellow buttercups, orange sorrel seeds and waves of ladies lace and fine seed heads of grass blowing in the wind.

Suddenly, I had a memory of a drive out one fine summer evening with my father, recording for the Derbyshire Flora, he propped himself up by the gate with his two walking sticks and looked into the field, calling out the names of the birds, yellowhammer, green woodpecker, jay and chaffinch, I ticked off the flowers for the monad record. It is one of the few local lanes where the roadside drain is still open, creating a good site for plants that like their feet wet.

I was surprised to find an umbellifer I hadn’t seen before, my father got out the flora for identification purposes but the crushed leaves gave the game away, it was the fresh tang of celery. This is an uncommon plant in Derbyshire. I was pleased to report the find to the Plant Recorder, Alan Wilmot, and I was asked to provide a pressed specimen for the Biological Records Centre at Derby Museum. The timing was right, I looked and there, 10 years later, was the wild celery still in full glory.

celery meme.jpg

The wild celery flowers after the cow parsley has finished but before the hogweed has fully opened, and is intermediate in height. It might be easy to confuse wild celery with ground elder but the flower stem is much taller, up to a meter and the ribbed stems are solid. A pleasant way to identify an umbellifer is by the scent of the crushed leaves, in this way you may find wild carrot and wild parsnip growing locally.

It seems wild celery may have been introduced into the area during the Napoleonic Wars. In 1704 the great Duke of Marlborough defeated the Franco-Bavarian forces under Marshall Tallard at Blenheim, and captured the illustrious general, the Marshall of France, with many other officers and men. Marshal Tallard was brought to England and sent to live in Nottingham under parole.’

For some years he lived in Newdigate House, at the upper end of Castle Gate. The writer Daniel Defoe reported that his ‘small, but beautiful parterre, after the French fashion’ was one of the beauties of Nottingham.

tallard me

Camille d’Hostun de la Baume, Duc de Tallard (1652–1728)

His courtesy made him popular, and he taught ladies how to make white bread and how to prepare salads, and he taught the men how to grow roses. He had known celery in France, and sadly missed it in England, where its use was uncommon. He obtained wild celery and cultivated it in his garden at Newdigate House in Castle Gate.

We often bemoan the tasteless modern varieties of fruit and vegetables. Maybe like Marshal Tallard, we should do something about it and grow our own?

Marion Bryce 5 June 2017


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