Quivering Edward (1579 – 1611)

Edward Duckworth lived in Sludgeby, a town on what is now Cannock Chase in Staffordshire. This was a mining area and Edward was keen to see if he could do something to help the industry, which was very rudimentary at that time.

He became an alchemist and devoted his life to finding a safe and effective mining explosive. He was certain that there would be health benefits due to the reduction in the amount of backbreaking labour. The longevity of a miners’ working life would also increase, provided they used the explosives appropriately.

The origin of his nickname ‘quivering’ is not clear, but is likely to be a result of his numerous brushes with death. These left him burnt and scarred, without much hair, and with hands that would not stop shaking. He also walked with a limp, a result of the number of times he had been blown out through the window of his small house. He had a haunted look in his eyes, both of which had a nervous tick, and spoke with a permanent tremor in his voice. It was common knowledge that his nerves were shot and that he was permanently as tense as a virgin on her wedding night.

The local townsfolk were so worried about his experiments and the explosions that often accompanied them, that they persuaded Edward to do his work in an underground cellar which they had constructed for him. For a while this worked, and all that the local residents experienced were muffled detonations and a few tremors causing some minor breakages.

In the summer of 1611 Quivering Edward (in between trying not to shake too much that his pint of ale would spill) told the publican of the Old Barley Mow that he was close to a breakthrough. He was confident that he would soon have a liquid that miners could safely use to blow-up mineralised seams of rock. He went off to finish his work in high spirits.

The explosion that followed flattened Sludgeby. It was heard as far away as Burslem to the north and Lincoln to the east. It was a clear evening and the mushroom cloud was visible for at least twenty miles in all directions.

When King James the First heard of this event he quickly designated the whole of the surrounding area a royal hunting reserve. This meant that it was out of bounds to most people. This area is now Cannock Chase. He then sent in some soldiers to make sure that all remaining traces of Sludgeby were removed. The King was heard to say that he did not want anybody chancing on anything that could result in any similar explosion any time in the future. The idea of whole villages disappearing in a pillar of fire was not part of his idea of an orderly country. He also ensured that the name of Edward Duckworth was expunged from all records to prevent anybody else getting dangerous ideas about mining and alchemy.

Many conspiracy theorists think that Quivering Edward was kidnapped by the King and put to work on weapons of mass destruction, but there is no evidence of this.

About George Fripley
I am a writer who enjoys writing humour, satire, poetry and sometimes a bit of philosophy. I live in Perth, Western Australia and occasionally get a poem or article published. It's all good fun! I have two books available for unwary readers, Grudges, Rumours and Drama Queens- The Civil Servant's Manual (This contains all that anybody could ever want to know about why government runs so slowly) and More Gravy Please! - the Politician's Handbook. (available through Amazon)

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