I found this story hidden away in The Cambrian newspaper of 6 January 1821. I love it – though it does have the air of an urban myth and, as you know, you can never be completely confident when a story begins in such an imprecise way.
We are told that this happened in Reading ‘a few years ago’ and it involved some of the people there receiving messages from God which could be seen on the bottom of their bread. To be frank, I have been to Reading and the only helpful advice any credible divine being could possibly transmit, would be to get out of there as quickly as possible. And remember, this would be before anyone ever thought about building the Inner Distribution Road, which, in my view, fulfils much the same function as the river Styx.
Anyway, people were receiving messages etched upon the bottom of their bread. Yes, you can exclaim ‘Crumbs!’ if you must. But this was no laughing matter. We are told
One old lady could distinctly trace, at the bottom of a loaf which she received, the outlines of a death’s head and cross-bones, and was so shocked at what she imagined to be a most appalling omen, that she immediately took to her bed.
These days the baker himself might well have this tattooed upon his forearm, (with the legend ‘Mother’s Pride’ beneath, bringing a certain type of class to the design) but remember, this was Reading in the early nineteenth century, long before Hell’s Angels and their crusty denims. So be afraid, and then it gets more alarming.
Another person, in the bloom of life and health, saw imprinted, in the most legible characters, ‘Died the 20th of September,’ and concluded that Fate had thus warned her of the day which it was appointed unto her to die.
Well, you would, wouldn’t you? But, if accurate, it is the sort of hint that would certainly help with end of life planning. A third person found on the bottom of their loaf, ‘the large but not bold’ word ‘Resurgam,’ which to those of you were didn’t pay complete attention at school, means ‘I shall rise again,’ which you have to admit fits into a bread theme, especially if this was sour dough. Incidentally did you know that ‘Resurgam’ was also the name of a Victorian submarine? Very appropriate, don’t you think? It sank.
Anyway, where were we? Oh yes. The mystery, sadly, was all-too-quickly solved, for the ‘wits of the whole parish were soon at work to account for these marvellous appearances.’ It was all about gravestones, you see. St Giles’ Churchyard had been cleared of old gravestones and the churchwarden was also the chief baker of the town. We are told that he looked with ‘a longing eye on these nice flat polished stones, for his oven wanted bottoming.’ Well, we have all been there, haven’t we? So he took them, lined his oven and the bread that rested on the bottom were thus imprinted.
A rational explanation, which is really disappointing. Except, you see, that the messages would, in these circumstances, have appeared with their letters reversed. So the unanswerable question therefore, is what if the messages were, in fact the right way round? It could indeed indicate that a divine presence was once at work in Reading but was regrettably ignored. Helpful messages were discarded – or even toasted. And what has happened to Reading since is therefore a direct consequence of divine neglect. In fact ,that is the only thing that adequately explains the Oracle Centre car park, M4 Junction 11, the Winnersh Triangle…
I can sense it. E mail messages embedded in bread are on its way into one of my novels without a doubt…