The Wold Cottage & Its Meteorite
The Wold Cottage Monument, meteorite and me
The Wold Cottage meteorite is the second largest
fall in the United Kingdom - an L6 weighing around 25kg.......but
this is no ordinary, ordinary chondrite!
The meteorite fell in 1795, landing within two fields distance of a large house owned by one Edward Topham - a poet, playright, landowner and well respected local magistrate who lived in The Wold Cottage, within the boundaries of a small village in Yorkshire named Wold Newton. Thanks to Magistrate Topham's efforts in always "establishing the truth", this meteorite became the major player in gaining Worldwide acceptance that stones do sometimes fall from the sky, and so confirming the witness reports of the Ensisheim fall 303 years earlier, and paving the way for the later L'Aigle fall in 1803.
During the afternoon of 13th December 1795, a thunderstorm was raging over Wold Newton, a very small village perhaps 10 miles outside the coastal town of Scarborough in Yorkshire, England. The peels of thunder and the flicker of lightning were nothing compared with what was about to happen next.......a sudden, loud explosion "alarmed the surrounding countryside and created so distinctly the sensation that something very singular had happened." Numerous people also saw a dark object passing through clouds but were unable to identify what it was. However, Topham's shepherd was within 150 yards of the impact and a farmhand named John Shipley was so near that he was forcibly struck by mud and earth as the falling meteorite burrowed into the ground. The stone penetrated through 1 foot of soil and embedded itself into the chalk bedrock to a depth of 7 inches, creating an impact pit over 1 yard across. The stone embedded itself so firmly into the bedrock that it had to be dug out.
When Topham heard about the fall and saw the
large stone mass, he became a man on a mission and recorded the
"All these witnesses that saw it fall agree perfectly in their account of the manner of it's fall, and that they saw a dark body moving through the air, and ultimately strike the ground: and though from their situations and characters in life, they could have no possible object in detailing a false account of this transaction. I felt so desirous of giving this matter every degree of authenticity that as a magistrate, I took their account on oath immediately on my return into the country. I saw no reason to doubt any of their evidence after the most minute investigation of it."
A monument was erected by Topham in 1799 and marks the exact spot where the meteorite landed. Almost 206 years after the fall, my wife Irene and I set off for Yorkshire to stay at The Wold Cottage and to visit the monument. To add to the atmosphere, another thunderstorm was raging around us as we arrived at the monument.
The limits of Wold Newton, a small village with
just a handful of closely grouped cottages in the beautiful
Yorkshire countryside - blink for too long while driving along
the road and you'd miss it completely!
The main street, village green and pond.
Another view of the green.
There's no shops/stores here....just a pub and a phone box next to the green.
The entrance and driveway leading up to The Wold Cottage.
The Wold Cottage itself dates back to at least 1750, and it's still a working farmhouse for a 450 acre farm today. In the 1790's, Topham lived and worked in the house by dividing it into 4 main areas....his general living quarters, servants quarters, his courtroom and even a small jailhouse! Prisoners under sentence were detained in the jail at the rear of the Cottage for up to 2 weeks while waiting for the stagecoach to arrive from York, which would then escort them back to the city for execution of sentence. The old cellars and ice house that originally formed the extreme right of the Wold Cottage have now been removed (it's a courtyard now), but many features are the same as they would have been in Topham's day. During a recent face lift, even the old slates on the roof were individually numbered before removal, so that each could be put back in the same position after the roof structure had been made good. The Wold Cottage is now a Listed Building.
Major Edward Topham, former Master of The Wold Cottage.
Old framed picture of the monument with The Wold Cottage in the background.
The main entrance and hallway as it looks today.
The monument is sited two fields away from The Wold Cottage, just a short 5 minute walk along a grass pathway and very muddy field. In this picture, the monument is not much more than a small dot on the horizon.
About halfway there!
Approaching the monument....via a crop of potatoes.
Me, leaning against the brickwork.....it was raining heavily and I was soaked to the skin.
Irene, standing in the rain, weeds, mud and stinging nettles......she didn't complain (much). As a young girl, Irene lived just a few short miles away from Wold Newton, but surprisingly she only learnt about this historical fall when I showed her a slice of the meteorite in my own collection about 5 years ago.
The inscription. The monument is cared for by English Heritage, and was cleaned up and restored in 1999 to mark the bi-cenntenial of Topham's column. The weight is accurate, but the dimensions shown were those measured around the circumference of the meteorite, rather than actual length and breadth.
Just checking that we were actually at the right spot with a GPS unit. The co-ordinates listed in the Catalogue of Meteorites are pretty close, but were probably derived from an ordonance survey map originally, hence the slight error.
The renovation and restoration work was charged to stonemason David Mooney, who presented this commemorative card to the present owners, Derek and Katrina Gray, during the anniversary party and champagne celebrations.
The card message.
When a national monument is officially restored, the mason always leaves his mark and date for the benefit of future generations. This picture shows the mason's initials bordering the year of restoration, which is shown as "D 1998 M"
The monument with The Wold Cottage in the background.
Zooming in on the Cottage from the monument.
The North view behind the monument.
This is the view from the front of the monument. The monument is set at a very noticeable angle to the surrounding fields, boundary fences and hedges. It's facing roughly in a SW direction, though perhaps boundaries have moved over the past 200+ years, or maybe it's lined-up with the direction that the meteorite arrived from.
The monument is not open to the public for fear of vandalism and of course because it lies on private land, but guests of The Wold Cottage are allowed to wander across the field and spend as long as they like at the monument. There's little point in spending much time hunting for meteorite fragments there after 200+ years of exposure to our wet climate, but I was given permission by the owners to collect some of the monument brickwork that had fallen away prior to restoration, as a personal keepsake, and also some earth that was dug out from the impact pit during excavation of the monument foundations.
We returned to the Wold Cottage on 21st July 2003, and have added a couple of new pictures below.
Meadow, monument, meteorite and me!
The owners of the Wold Cottage also run a small "micro-brewery", offering their own, locally brewed beer. Although it wasn't yet ready for sampling during our visit, we were given a few of the beer bottle labels.
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Wynd, Milton of Balgonie, Fife. KY7 6PY United Kingdom
Please - no requests to authenticate old rock and stone finds
I've heard the "My grandad saw it fall in a field and gave it to me!" story (and all variations) a zillion times
© Rob Elliott