That this avian courtship was taking in place in front of group on an April Fool’s Day tour made it all the more delicious. The whole event was mad, with me delivering twenty five crazy Manchester stories and guests having to guess up to five false ones. We finished in the Town Hall Tavern where the group were tasked with singing Oasis’ Don’t Look Back in Anger to the tune of George Formby’s When I’m Cleaning Windows.
The false story, I only did one I included in the end, concerned a carving of rabbits in the Cathedral, called Rabbits Cooking The Hunter.
This is was the fib and what I said: ‘Elmer Fudd was right in his unceasing quest to kill Bigs Bunny. Rabbit should be pronounced 'wabbit'. We've just been talking about Samuel Johnson's 1750’s dictionary in Chetham’s Library. Well another of the books reveals something else. And it seems that for certain 'r' animal words the original pronunciation was 'w', this comes from a twist in the sounds handed down from the Germanic into Anglo-Saxon and which was continued in use by peasants. Thus in the 1300s it might not have been unusual for a peasant to have said: 'The wabbit and the wobin are worried by the wat.' This only applied to animal words. So, Elmer Fudd was right. Rabbit should be said 'wabbit'. Easter bunnies, Easter wabbits.’
I’m pleased only two of the teams on the tour guessed this was the false story.
In St Philip’s we went into the atmospheric crypt and saw the walled up grave of one of the most important military figures of the first half of the nineteenth century, Lieutenant Colonel Sir Thomas Arbuthnot, fought in the Napoleanic Wars from Spain to the West Indies. He was the North and Midlands of England military commander during the tumultuous 1840s, a time of great distress and Chartist unrest. He, apparently, carried out his role with great sensitivity.
His house was on the Crescent close to St Philips. He died without children, his wife having died many years before. Arbuthnot’s funeral in 1849 was a huge affair packed with military pomp and attracting thousands of bystanders. His simple wooden coffin can be glimpsed through ventilation holes in the crypt. We finished the tour by singing Ewan MacColl’s hymn to the gritty reality of Salford seventy year’s ago, Dirty Old Town. It was sung with relish by the guests.
I loved another story on a recent Mayfield tour. Up on the platform level there’s a rusting piece of kit. Its official title is British Rail Universal Trolley Equipment. The acronym used by rail workers and managers was BRUTE. One guest on a snowy tour recalled how his mother was once taken aback in Victoria Station by a warning sign which used the acronym but failed to define what it meant. The sign read, ‘Please be careful of BRUTES on the platforms.’ Wise words.
The Haunted Underworld tour on Sunday was great fun. Thanks must be extended to Tina Miller for her screams at the climax of a couple of stories in the dark. Screamers on ghost tours spread a fabulous mood of tension amongst guests, which is a fine quality in a spooky, dark, underground location. In fact, I might hire Tina to seed fear in the dark.