Credit: DETLEV VAN RAVENSWAAY / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Source:  Digest of Memoirs and Notices published during the years 1869 – 75, and relating to meteorites found before the end of 1868. P84. Author: Walter Flight, DSc, FRS

1628, April 9th, about 6 pm – Chalows and Barking, near Wantage, Berkshire

(after T W Webb, Nature, July 14th, 1870)

From Nehemiah Wallington’s “Historical Notices”

Mr Webb directs attention to a letter, preserved in Wallington’s Historical Notices, i. 13, which was written in 1628 “by Mr John Hoskins, dwelling at Wantage, to his son-in-law, Mr Dawson, a gunsmith, dwelling in the Minories without Aldgate“, relating to the fall of meteorites.

Describing the explosion, Hoskins says: “It began as follows. First, as it were, one piece of ordnance went off alone. Then, after  that, a little distance, two more; and then they went as thick as ever I heard a volley of shot in all my life. And after that, as if it were the sound of a drum… yet this was not all; but, as it is reported, there fell various stones, but two is certain in our knowledge.

The one fell at Chalows, half a mile off (from Wantage), and the other at Barking, five miles off. Your mother was at the place where one of them fell knee deep, till it came to the very rock, and when it came to the hard rock it broke, and being weighed, all the pieces together, they weighed six-and-twenty pound.

The other that was taken up at the other place (Barking) weighed half a tod, 14 pound.”

————————–

Source: The Meteoritic Hypothesis

A STATEMENT OF THE RESULTS OF A SPECTROSCOPIC INQUIRY INTO THE ORIGIN OF COSMICAL SYSTEMS, by J. Norman Lockyer, F.R.S.

Published by MacMillan and Co. London and New York. 1890. P5 et seq

The circumstances of this [1628] fall are recorded in a very rare tract, a copy of which is in the British Museum; its title runs -

Look Up and See Wonders: a miraculous Apparition in the Air, lately seen in Berkshire at Bawlkin Green, near Hartford, 9th April 1628. (Imprinted at London for Roger Mitchell)

 

It begins as follows -

So benumbed we are in our senses, that albeit God himself holler in our ears, we by our wills are loathe to hear him. His dreadful pursuants of thunder and lightning terrify us so long as they have us in their fingers, but being off, we dance and sing in the midst of our follies.

Then, proceeding to his task, the author tells how

…the four great quarter-masters of the World (the four elements)…have been in civil wars one against another.  As for Fire, it has denied of late to warm us, but at unreasonable rates, and extreme hard conditions. But what talk I of this earthly nourishment of fire? how have the Fires of Heaven (some few years past) gone beyond their bounds, and appeared in the shapes of comets and blazing stars?

The air is the shop of thunder and lightning. In that, has of late been held a muster of terrible enemies and threateners of vengeance, which the great General of the Field, who conducts and commands all such armies (God Almighty, I mean) avert from our Kingdom, and shoot the arrows of his indignation some other way, upon the bosoms of those that would confound his gospel…

Many windows has he set open in Heaven, to show what artillery he has lying there, and many of our Kings have trembled, when they were shown to them. What blazing stars (even at noon) in those times hung hovering in the air? How many frightful eclipses of both sun and moon?

It is not for a man to dispute with God, why he has done this so often… but, with fear, and trembling, casting our eyes up to Heaven, let us now behold him, bending his fist only, as lately he did to the terror and afrightment of all the inhabitants dwelling within a town in the county of Berkshire.

The name of this town is Hatford, some eight miles from Oxford. Over this town, upon Wednesday being the ninth of this instant month  of April, 1628, about five o’clock in the afternoon, this miraculous, prodigious, and fearful handiwork of God was presented. The weather was warm, and without any great show of distemperature, only the sky waxed by degrees a little gloomy, yet not so darkened but that the sun still, by the power of the brightness, broke through the thick clouds.

A gentle gale of wind then blowing from between the west and northwest, in an instant was heard, first a hideous rumbling in the air; and presently after followed a strange and fearful peal of thunder, running up and down these parts of the country. But it struck with the loudest violence, and more furious tearing of the air, about a place called the White Horse Hill than in any other. The whole order of this thunder carried a kind of majestical state with it, for it maintained (to the frightened beholders’ seeming) the fashion of a fought battle.

Locations referred to by historical accounts, and possible flightpath

It began thus: First, for an onset, went off one great cannon as it were of thunder alone, like a warning piece to the rest that were to follow. Then, a little while after was heard a second; and so by degrees a third, until the number of 20 were discharged (or thereabouts) in very good order, though in very great terror.

In some little distance of time after this was audibly heard the sound of a drum beating a retreat. Amongst all these angry peals shot off from Heaven, this begat a wonderful admiration, that at the end of the report of every crack, or cannon-thundering, a hissing noise made way through the air, not unlike the flying of bullets from the mouths of great ordnance; and by the judgement  of all the terror-stricken witnesses they were thunderbolts.

For one of them was seen by many people to fall at a place called Bawlkin Greene, being a mile and a half from Hatford: which thunderbolt was by one Mistress Greene caused to be dug out of the ground, she being an eye-witness, amongst many other, of the circumstances of the falling.

The same flightpath over satellite imagery. Centuries of cultivation does not present a promising strewnfield

The form of the stone is three-square, and picked in the end: in colour outwardly blackish, somewhat like iron: crusted over with that blackness about the thickness of a shilling. Within it is soft, of a gray colour, mixed with some kind of mineral, shining like small pieces of glass.

The stone broke in the fall. The largest piece is in weight nineteen pound and a half; the greater piece that fell off weighed five pounds, which with other small pieces being put together, makes four and twenty pounds and better.

It is in the country credibly reported that some other Thunderstones have been found in other places. But for certainty, there was one taken up at Letcombe, and is now in the custody of the Sherrif.

 

Footnote: Dr Flight is of the opinion that this is the earliest use of [the term 'thunderstone'], which is found in the beautiful song of “Guiderius and Arviragus”, Cymbeline, Act iv, Scene 2

[Note: spelling and some vocabulary has been modernised]

 

————————–

Farmhouse at Baulking Green

I did some digging after writing this up. Taken together, these two separate accounts do actually give some interesting information – enough to tentatively identify the location of the falls of both stones, and therefore an indicative flightpath (above).

The NW/SE direction is based on nothing more than the relative sizes of the stones – the larger one perhaps dropping out earlier than the smaller. But with a fall of two stones, you could just as easily reverse it – there’s no other obvious indication of direction.

Most of this was done using Google maps, although I belatedly remembered my copy of “Pseudo-meteoric Events of the British Isles”, by James D Robinson. I’d decided that ‘Bawlkin Green” was most likely represented on modern maps by ‘Baulking’ – indeed, a modern farmhouse still has ‘Baulking Green’ in its address – Robinson persuaded me that it also could be the ‘Barking’ that was referred to in the Hoskins’ letter.  The distances more or less match.

It may be worth a further analysis of more detailed maps, but my suspicion is that after 400 years under the plough, not to mention the British weather, there are more promising strewnfields to explore!