5 June 2015

Bygone objects and terms from How to Skin a Lion

By nonfictioness


In my last blog I discussed some of the bygone ingredients referenced in How to Skin a Lion, this time I am going to look at some of the bygone objects or terms, most of which have now disappeared from common use.


(in how to pan for gold)

A wikiup is a simple Native American shelter. Usually oval in shape, the wikiup is fashioned from debris from the forest floor such as sticks, bark or rushes.

The beauty of the design is that it allows the making of a fire inside or right beside the shelter, this has ensured the wikiup’s enduring appeal to survivalists.


(in how to run a household in Anglo-India)

A tannycatch was a word used in the Madras area of India (in Bengal, mussalchee was used) for a scullery maid who would assist the cook with tasks such as boiling water or grinding rice. In Madras the tannycatch was always a woman but in Calcutta and Bombay a man would take on this role.

Punkah wallah

(in how to run a household in Anglo-India)

punkah-wallahA punkah is an elaborate ceiling fan used to keep rooms cool in India. It consists of large flat ‘sails’ or fans made of canvas or woven from palms, descending from the ceiling and joined together by pulleys and cord.

The punkahwallah was the unfortunate individual whose job it was to pull the cord to keep the fan moving.

In nineteenth century Anglo-India many staff were required to keep a household running smoothly. Edmund C. P. Hull in his 1874 book The European in India estimated that ‘the house of a married couple without children, in comfortable pecuniary circumstances’ would require ’18 men and 5 women’ servants.


(in how to get presented at court)

Lappets were two lengths of material attached to a headdress, such as a bishop’s mitre, that generally adorned ladies’ headgear in the early twentieth century.

It was stipulated by Victorian etiquette guides that ladies getting presented at Court must wear lappets on their head dress as well as a plume of feathers. It was generally accepted that the plume should be white in colour (coloured feather were apparently ‘regarded unfavourably in high quarters’) and should be worn on the left, with the lappets on the right.

For more on traditional Victorian clothing terms see this excellent blog.


(in how to quiet bees)bee-skep-image-full-size

A skep is a traditional domed woven bee hive. Very few people keep bees in skeps anymore as having a beehive with moveable frames for extracting the honey is much easier.

For more information, instructions on how to make a skep and some lovely pictures see here.


(in how to stalk a Lion),

A Paradox was a versatile gun developed by Holland & Holland in 1886 that could be used as a rifle or a shotgun.

This type of gun was especially useful for game hunters in India or Africa, who might encounter both large and small prey on the same hunt.

Brain scoop

(in how to skin a lion)

A fairly self-explanatory tool used by the taxidermist when preserving a specimen. In the picture of old taxidermy tools here, the brain scoop is numbered 7.brainscoop

It seems the brain scoop was perhaps used by the more careful taxidermy enthusiast, or perhaps by those who wished to preserve the brain intact, because in Charles McCann’s 1927 A Shikari’s Pocket-book he eschews using a brain scoop, preferring this rather more ‘rustic’ approach:

‘Take out the brain through the orifice at the back by pushing a stick into it and stirring them up, then shaking out the resultant porridge. Pouring hot water into the brain-case and shaking it out again will help greatly to bring away the contents.’


(in how to make stilton cheese)

Chessart is originally a Scottish word for a cheese vat or container into which the curd is placed during cheesemaking. Once in the vat the cheese is pressed so that excess whey can escape.

A chessart varies in size and shape according to the type of cheese being made, but a typical chessart might be a round, half barrel-shaped vat, made from elm staves, strongly bound with metal hoops to prevent it from bursting during the pressing. The bottom of the chessart would contain holes for the whey to escape. According to Henry Stephen’s The Book of the Farm (1844) some chessarts from Cheshire were made from tin.