Tuesday, 19 April 2022

The Usse of North England



 

Here is a clipping from the Cleveland Standard dated May 5th 1934. The news of a monster in Loch Ness brought out various interesting stories from the end of 1933 onward as some newspapers vied for attention bringing up stories about their own local monsters both past and present. This one goes right back to the 17th century for one of oldest tales that I have come across. Here is the text of the article:

Just an Usse!

I have just come across something which will make the Loch Ness Monster wish he had never seeen the light of publicity. It is an Usse. There is recorded in an old 17th Century volume I was looking at the other day an account of a queer monster stated to have been found at Coatham back in 1615. The entry reads:

October 28. Being Satterday, 1616. In Teasmouth, besides Cotham, in the Countie of Yorke, came ther to land a mightie ffish, the length whereof was 19 yards. The bodye in compass 20 yards. Betwixt the eyes four yards with 32 teeth as big as one's arme, long 9 inches. In coloure like the blewe sky. Skynn without skaylis with haire like the seale. The same (as some may yt having seen such fish) is an Usse. Sir Henry Bellansys having the title and right to all sea wrecks and pisces regale from Runswick to Yarme, sold the cyle and parmasetye to one John Whyte, of Cotham, for £120.

And now we know!


The town of Coatham is located near the modern city of Middlesbrough and the creature appears to have been stranded at Teasmouth or in or near the estuary or mouth of the River Tees. The location is shown below in two maps.







One can certainly imagine big fish stories coming from the East of England bordering the North Sea. But what of this strange beast called an "usse" by this narrator from over four hundred years past? So we have a beast almost sixty feet long, which excludes a lot of candidates right away. The "compass" of twenty yards we presume to be the circumference, in which case if it was a circular body would equate to a diameter of 6.4 yards or nineteen feet across. So the length to diameter ratio perhaps was three to one indicating a bulbous body.

However, no mention is made of our typical long tail or neck associated with the Loch Ness Monster. In fact, perhaps in the manner of a catfish, we have a great gash of a mouth four yards long dominating the front of the beast, which was not far off our suggested body diameter of six yards. Add to this the teeth each of nine inches and we have a formidable beast. With blue skin like that of a seal, what could it have been?

The fact that this was deemed a rare find is shown in the fact it was sold for £120, which is over £30,000 in today's money. This suggests this was something that didn't arrive on those shores very often. In fact, a clue lies in the word "parmasetye" which equates to our modern word "parmacetti" which I am told "is the pearly white, waxy, translucent solid, obtained from the oil in the head of the sperm whale: used chiefly in cosmetics and candles, and as an emollient."

What the other material named "cyle" is I am not sure, but we seem to be in the realm of toothed whales such as the sperm whale, whose teeth indeed can reach up to nine inches as a maximum and sixty feet is easily achievable as a length. They can also be blue-grey in colour. So perhaps not such a competitor to Nessie as first suggested.

As for that old English word "usse", that is the mystery to me. The word "whale" was already in use at that time. In fact, the King James Bible, published at that time uses the word "whale" when referring to some large sea creatures. So why didn't they just refer to it as a whale? Perhaps it was a local dialect used by people from that region? Suggestions are invited in the comments.





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The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com






38 comments:

  1. Could it had been a whale that came into the Loch by mistake then?

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    1. Yes it's entirely possible but it's an estuary and lochs in England would be called a lake.

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    2. Sounds like maybe a sperm whale got lost?

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  2. A few similar stories of creatures washed up on beaches that have later been identified as known denizens of the deep.
    The Stronsay Sea Monster of 1808 [ basking shark ] and the St. Augustine Monster of 1896 [ whale ].

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    1. Was the Stronsay beast ever'formally' identified? There was supposedly some DNA testing to be done recently (well, comparitively recently anyway), but I've never seen the announcement one way or the other.

      The size that was measured was long, even for a basking shark. Something like 50 feet or so?

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    2. 55 feet without its tail!If a basking shark, was largest one on record

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    3. While some years ago tests on the few remains of the Stronsa beast have been planned, it never happened. However, we have Mr Home's ID, the few remains and sketchs of the skull, vertebrae etc. pp. In summarize of this evidence it was a basking shark. Re the length, foot ruler, a decomposed carcass, the circumstances of measurement... imo some exxageration happened.

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  3. St Augustine blob was an octopus.

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    1. was a giant octopus as you stated here, as some though was a whale, but further investigation indeed confirmed was an unknown and giant octopus!

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    2. A 1995 skin sample analysis concluded that the St. Augustine Monster was a large mass of the collagenous matrix of whale blubber, likely from a sperm whale.
      A 2004 analysis concluded the same.

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  4. Was it? Never heard anything other than its not a known species. Happy to be proved wrong if anyone has a link showing beyond doubt that it was a shark or an octopus.

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  5. As it was a very large animal with teeth and contained spermaceti (here "parmasetye" or "parmacetti" what is an old word for spermaceti), it certainly was a sperm whale.

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  6. wiki has extensive info on the two beasties. we should remember rotted carcasses of [ especially ] large sea creatures bear little resemblance to what they looked like alive.
    when the decomposed body of the poet shelley was washed up on a beach observers mistook it for a dead sheep.

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  7. Can't seem to comment anymore...doesn't seem to like any of my passwords so will be checking out... really enjoyed being in the blog...Bye all.

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    1. This comment came through okay. I don't see any others on the moderation queue .from you.

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    2. Aw man! Don't leave us Ritta!

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    3. It's the facebook page I'm having trouble with...it won't accept any old or new passwords...buggered. Just like to say that the Jon Rowe pic is probably the best ever Nessie photo. 😀😀

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    4. try signing into this blog with your goggle account, i can click open the LNM blog in my favourites and im already signed in, how it knows ? who can tell, magick of a aleister crowley type must be involved.

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  8. New research shows long-necked aquatic animals need large bodies to overcome drag. Brand-new article in case anyone here's interested:

    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/04/220428125419.htm

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    1. just curious what would be the
      average" size of Nessie that has been reported?

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    3. Not sure what this preview is? I type my comment into the text box, click publish and it appears, nothing else.

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    5. Yes it seems to have disappeared. Probably one of those so called negative upgrades lol

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  9. Are there any remains ever found in loch ness then, from known animals/fish in the Loch?

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    1. Hello John. I am just back from Loch Ness, so was not watching the blog much. Experience of moderating comments shows there is always a point to call time on threads which begin to wear thin and, as was happening there, beginning to get tetchy. We know where those end up if every comment went through.

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    5. I am keeping things in check, John. Your posts are getting too personal - even if mixed with Nessie stuff.

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    7. I recommend you do diversify your participation, but John, cryptid blogs and forums are not the place for stories of alcohol dependency and social problems.

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    9. Don' worry, John. I am now working on an article on the Arthur Grant story to refocus you on Nessie.

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