Regular readers will know I write for the excellent children’s educational magazine Aquila. They have a theme each month and I try to come up with something that suits it. More recently, I asked if they might let me have a little occasional corner of my own, inspired by a boot scraper I saw outside an old cottage when I was out walking Max, my faithful hound.
I thought a little feature to help children to spot clues to the past, like that and the arched entrances to the rear of some old pubs which indicates they were coaching inns in ye olde days, might be of interest – and they agreed.
Thus I can reveal to Aquila readers and the world at large that I am the History Detective! Which is a long-winded way of bringing me on to today’s word origin. I am planning a History Detective piece on ‘mounting blocks’. There are two such things outside an old pub near where I used to live – rectangular stone blocks about three feet high forming two steps. It was only in recent years that I discovered that they were to help people mount horses upon leaving an inn. I was searching for pictures to illustrate the article and contacted someone who had posted this one on a website:
On closer inspection I noticed an arrow marking which looked like the ‘broad arrow’ that marked government property in centuries past and is often seen on old cannons etc. My contact told me that she believed it was to do with the government, but something slightly different. Also in ye olde days, Ordnance Survey surveyors chiselled these marks to show levels and heights as reference points from which the constructions could be calculated. An angle-iron was inserted into the cuts to form a “bench” on which a levelling rod could be rested. Hence the term benchmark!