Thursday 18 November 2010

Artesian Stella Behind The Arras

If it weren't for Hamlet, nobody would know what an arras is. Had the tapestry behind which Polonius hides been called a tapestry, then the word arras would have been tossed into the river of lexical Lethe and sunk silently into the world's oblivion.

It is an arras because the town of Arras, in what's now north eastern France, was once a stronghold of embroidery, just as Chesterfield must be full of sofas, and Parma full of pigs. Arras was called Arras because it was the capital of Artois, from which must have come the Artois family. The scion of this noble line was Sebastian Artois, who, in 1708, became the master brewer of the Den Horen brewery. By 1717 he had got the brewery renamed in his honour. And the rest is, as they say, is lager: that unnecessarily sweet concoction known to the world as Stella Artois or Wife-Beater.

Artois is a shortening of the post-classical Latin Artesiensis. If that word sounds familiar, it is the fault of monks digging holes.

Carthusian monks in the lowlands of Artois (or Artesiensis, as it then was) would tunnel their way through the impervious rocks beneath them, until they came to the pervious rocks that were sodden with water. This water was being pushed down from the highlands but now, thanks to our in-habited friends, could spurt to the surface.

Such Artesian wells became known as Artesian Wells.

Artesian comes from the Latin Atrabatensis, which was itself just a variation of Atrabates. What was Atrabates? Wrong question! Who were the Atrabates? They were a tribe, a Gaulish tribe who fought Caesar and lost and did all sorts of other exciting things, but never expected that they would become wells, tapestries, and Bad Lager.

Atrabates, incidentally, just means inhabitants. However, the Carthusian order does not admit ants.

Hamlet steals the Inky Fools duvet


  1. The Bayeux tapestry notwithstanding, I believe most tapestries were woven. Well, you'd need something fairly stiff and sturdy to hide behind. A strip of linen won't do you much good in such circumstances.