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Fresh chapter for The Toon; What have infamous grave robbers Burke and Hare, Domestos and the first footballers strike got in common? Newcastle, according to a fascinating book which looks into the bizarre history of the city. MIKE KELLY reports.


THE concept of the Little Book Of Newcastle with its blizzard of bizarre facts, array of curious coincidences and amusing anecdotes has the feel of a pub quiz with bells on.

So it is perhaps appropriate that its authors, Rosie Serdiville and John Sadler, had their 'eureka' moment about writing it in their local boozer, The Trent House.

Rosie said: "The idea is basically the result of the enthusiasm John and I have for the history of the area. The amount of time we spend talking about in the pub. Conversations that begin 'Did you know the weirdest thing about Newcastle is ...'" It became almost a competition to out do each other and, after a period of time, they had a mountain of information and the pair decided to write the book.

Did you know that 450 million years ago, during the Silurian period, Newcastle was well south of the equator, jammed between two continents? Or that at the foot of the tower at the north-west side of the Civic Centre lies the Wren Stone, a gift to the city. It was personally selected by Sir Christopher Wren to build St Paul's Cathedral and bears his insignia of approval.

That's just for starters. The book contains chapters on everything from body-snatching and witchcraft to murder and money, well-known locals and, of course, sport.

So a few examples. Burke and Hare, the infamous body snatchers from Edinburgh apparently left their mark, or rather an unpleasant smell, in the city. Rosie explained that first of all the pair were suspected of being responsible for some foul-smelling packages that began turning up at the old post office in Westgate Road. Then a sealed trunk with a similar odour turned up at the Turf Hotel in Collingwood Street which was a stop-off point for the London to Edinburgh coaches. It was addressed to a James Syme. "It was opened up and they found the body of a teenage girl," said Rosie. "She was buried in a pauper's grave. James Syme was one of the aliases they used and we believe they were having body parts shipped around the country by mail order." As a result of Burke and Hare's crimes, The Anatomy Act was passed in 1832 which gave freer license to doctors, teachers of anatomy, and bona fide medical students to dissect donated bodies. Before 1832, the Murder Act 1752 stipulated that only the corpses of executed murderers could be used for dissection.

Continued Even after the change it was still a controversial subject as typified by a 22


PIECE OF HISTORY Girls at the Domestos factory, in Albion Row, Byker. The picture was sent in by Ann Stafford. Inset, The Little Book of Newcastle by John Sadler and Rose Serdiville
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Nov 14, 2011
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