Howlers from the archives – or, the Gloucestershire Archives Christmas Quiz!

In my post yesterday I promised you two treasures from the Hicks Beach family archive. Ellice’s Victorian Christmas cards were the first, but for the second I want to take you nearly a century further back in time to the 1820s, where we meet Ellice’s great-aunt Jane Martha Hicks Beach and her book of riddles.

Jane Martha was the youngest sister of Ellice’s grandfather William, and after William’s wife (also called Jane) died, she helped him bring up his children. Jane was the family’s maiden aunt until she was 47 when she married a man called Edward St John, and she was known as “Aunt Jane” to at least two generations of the family. Ellice will have known her, as she didn’t die until he was seven years old.

Jane was a talented artist and was interested in botany and photography; the collection also includes some of her sketchbooks and photographs. She also seems to have had a fairly keen sense of humour, as the riddles in her book will show you. Many of them don’t make sense to modern eyes, some of them rely on early 19th century cultural knowledge, and some of them are a bit of a stretch, to say the least, but some of them still make sense (and are groan-inducingly funny) today. We have been posting some of them on our social media this last week, with their answers, but to entertain you over Christmas week, I thought I’d put together a few without their answers for you to puzzle over. Answers will follow in the New Year!

First, in case you’ve missed them on Twitter or Facebook, here are the ones we’ve been posting with their answers, so you can get an idea of the level of punning and type of puzzling we’re dealing with here:

  • Why is a man going to put his father into a sack like a man travelling to a certain great Eastern city? They are both going to Baghdad. (boom boom! oh, my aching sides.)
  • If the Alphabet were invited out to dinner, why would not the six last letters accompany them? They come after T. (of course they do. As long as you have your dinner in the middle of the day rather than the evening, of course, but that’s a whole other argument.)
  • Which is the oldest tree? The Elder tree. (For the Harry Potter fans among you.)
  • Why is the wick of a candle like Parnassus? It is in grease. (oh dear. Here’s one for anyone lighting their Advent or Christmas candles…)
  • My father and mother have a child that is neither brother nor sister to me. Myself. (oh, clever and family themed. Very festive!)
  • What makes us keep Christmas, and will support a shop? Custom (oh, of course. Double meanings abound.)
  • What is that which if you name you break it? Silence (and here’s one for anyone wishing for a bit of peace and quiet among the madness.)

Now that you’ve got the idea, here are a selection for you to discuss among your family and friends over Christmas:

  1. What word is that which by taking away the first letter leaves you sick?
  2. If Bonaparte had conquered every province in Spain but Aragon, why would he have been like a naked man?
  3. Which has most legs: a horse or no horse?
  4. Tis true I have both face and hands / And move before your eye / Yet when I move my body stands / And when I stand I lie. What am I?
  5. What is that which belongs to you, but which I use oftener than you do?
  6. Why is Ireland likely to become the richest country in the world?
  7. When are the walls of a fortress like fish?
  8. A Gentleman had a favourite dog that always went out with him; it walked neither before him nor behind him, nor yet on one side of him; where then did it walk?
  9. Why is your Nose like the letter V in division?
  10. What two letters name a county in England?

Answers in January!

And just as a further challenge for any of you whose brains work in this sort of way, there are two riddles in the book for which Jane did not write down the answers. I can’t work them out, but perhaps you can!

The first one runs on from the preceding one in the book, so I’ll give you that one first:

Why is a Bottleblower a likely man to set the Alphabet a-galloping? He can make a De-canter. (groan)

And why is a hairdresser a likely man to stop them? (please someone put me out of my misery and tell me why!)

And the second one is this:

Why is a bad Schoolmaster like a man with his eyes shut? (I don’t know, why is a bad schoolmaster like a man with his eyes shut?)

Happy puzzling, and most importantly, a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all!

Karen Davidson, Collections Management Archivist

1 thought on “Howlers from the archives – or, the Gloucestershire Archives Christmas Quiz!

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