Anyone who’s spent countless hours researching in the archives knows the feeling of elation that comes over you when you find that proverbial needle in the haystack. Whether it’s a letter, a diary, a parish register entry, or a court deposition, locating those bits of evidence that fill gaps in your research makes all the dusty, eye straining, physically uncomfortable effort worthwhile.
This post isn’t about that. This post is about those times you come across seemingly out of place random miscellany that reminds you that the past isn’t really all that foreign after all. When you’ve spent several days searching and photographing the same sorts of material – some of which can be quite grim – over and over these little gems can bring some much needed comic relief. Especially when the file you’re digging through looks like this.
These are some of the parish documents dating from the middle of the eighteenth century for the parish of Meifod, formerly in the county of Montgomeryshire, now held by Powys Archives Office. Tucked away in one of these folders was a small, modern envelope with, ‘’PRAYERS’ CAREFUL! LOOSE PAPERS’ written on it in felt marker. Inside that envelope was this acrostic little gem:
A knight delights in deeds of armes,
Perhaps a Lady loves sweet musicks charms
Ritch men in store of wealth delighted be
Infants love dangling on their mothers knee
Coy maids love something, nothing I’ll express
Know the first letters of these lines and guess
Yes, dear readers, this is a raunchy, eighteenth-century riddle about a penis carefully filed away in church records. The identity of the writer, and how and why this little scrap ended up tucked away with prayers for ailing parishioners is a mystery. The idea that this could have been a cheeky parishioner sneaking a bit of smutty poetry into the prayer box to shock an unpopular and over-serious church official is both amusing and appealing, but that’s speculative at best.
Regardless of this bawdy little poem’s provenance, it is clear that having a dirty mind is not a modern invention.
Do you have your own archival randoms? Please share in the comments.