Thursday, 22 September 2016

The Wards of Old London: Bishopsgate Without - Death and Insanity

Having explored the ward of Cripplegate Without, we now go back on ourselves to look at the ward of Bishopsgate Without, which I passed over last week, not wanting to explore it until I had the chance to see the exhibition on Bedlam that has just opened at London's Wellcome Collection.

The line of Ermine Street, the Roman road that connected London to Lincoln, York, and, ultimately, Hadrian's Wall, runs north through the ward, out towards Stoke Newington and Tottenham, linking up with the modern Great North Road (A1) at Godmanchester (Roman Durovigutum).

Ermine Street. image: Neddyseagoon (licensed under GNU).


The Romans, quite sensibly (although perhaps by reason of superstition, as much as hygiene), did not permit the burial of the dead within cities, so the roads running in and out of major settlements were always lined with tombs and graves; those of the wealthiest families lying closest to the roads themselves. This was as true of London as it was of Rome.

Plan of Roman London, showing the position of the northern cemetery. Image: Drallim (licensed under CCA).
A tombstone from Roman London, Museum of London. Photo: Udimu (licensed under CCA).
Tombs along the Appian Way. The large tower on the right is the Mausoleum of the Curiazi, dating to the First Century BC. Photo: Nicolo Musmeci (image is in the Public Domain).


The Elizabethan chronicler, John Stow, records a discovery of Roman graves north of Bishopsgate, as early as 1576, when clay was being dug to make bricks:

" ... many earthen pots, called urnae, were found full of ashes, and burnt bones of men, to wit, the Romans that inhabited here ... Every of these pots had in the with the ashes of the dead one piece of copper money ... some of them were of Claudius, some of Vespasian, some of Nero, of Antoninus Pius, of Trajanus, and others. Besides those urns, many other pots were there found ... divers dishes and cups of a fine red-coloured earth, which showed outwardly such a shining smoothness as if they had been of coral: those had in the bottoms Roman letters printed ... "

This account is, I think, the first piece of specifically archaeological (as distinct from historical) writing about London, and is among the very earliest examples in the World. The first entry in the Oxford English Dictionary for the word "archaeology" dates to 1607, but Stow is here doing archaeology: on the basis of material evidence alone, he is describing the graves, the excavation of which he witnessed; dating them; and even describing the artefacts in such a way that we can, with some confidence, identify them (the shining red vessels must surely be "Samian ware" - mass-produced pottery found on almost all Roman sites, including many in London).

Samian ware bowl found in London, but made in southern France, British Museum. Photo: AgTigress (licensed under CCA).


The Priory of the New Order of Saint Mary of Bethlehem was established, close to the present location of Liverpool Street Station, in 1247. Its patron was the Bishop-elect of Bethlehem, Goffredo de Prefetti, but he almost certainly never visited. The land on which the priory stood was donated by a London alderman, Simon FitzMary, on his return from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The priory provided accommodation and food for the needy, but its real purpose was fundraising for the Crusades. This, however, was, with the benefit of hindsight, already a lost cause: Bethlehem was in Muslim hands; its bishop in exile in France; and the crusading impetus much diminished. The priory became a hospital and, in 1403, we have the first record of its being used to house men who were mente capti - of unsound mind.

Medieval Bethlehem Priory, as reconstructed by Daniel Hack Tukes (1882). Image: Project Gutenberg (Public Domain).


By the early Seventeenth Century, "Bedlam," as it had now become known, a secular rather than a religious institution, was clearly functioning as an asylum for those considered to be insane. One keeper-physician, Helkiah Crooke, who clearly lived up to his name, was dismissed by Charles I in 1631 for embezzlement and misappropriation, his inmates apparently starving as he stuffed his own money-bags with the funds intended for their support. Already, by this time, the public were admitted to the institution, presumably for a fee, to be entertained by the antics of the "lunatickes."

Two of London's early theatres, The Theatre and The Curtain, were located nearby (beyond the boundary of the ward), and several Seventeenth Century plays include "madhouse" scenes, probably inspired by Bedlam. In one of these, The Changeling, by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley (1622), a character, Lollio, remarks:

"We have but two sorts of people in the home, and both under the whip, that's fools and madmen; the one has not wit enough to be knaves, and the other not knavery enough to be fools."

The distinction, in modern terms, is presumably that between mental disability and mental illness. The character, Alibius (a corrupt quack-doctor, quite possibly inspired by Crooke), replies:

"I do profess the cure of either sort:
My trade, my living tis, I thrive by it.
But here's the care that mixes with my thrift:
The daily visitants that come to see
My brainsick patients I would not have
To see my wife. Gallants I do observe
Of quick, enticing eyes, rich in habits,
Of stature and proportion very comely ..."

As early as 1598, Bedlam had been condemned as overcrowded and unsanitary, its "common jacques" used casually by Londoners who had no sanitary facilities of their own. In 1675, a new hospital was built nearby, to a Baroque design by Robert Hooke: a fine building, but an institution that had little more to offer in terms of the treatment of mental illness. It continued to be open to the public, and William Hogarth's portrayal of it, in The Rake's Progress, is hardly more complimentary or optimistic than that in The Changeling.

Hooke's New Bethlem Hospital, by Robert White, 1676 (image is in the Public Domain).
Bedlam, from Hogarth's The Rake's Progress, Sir John Soane's Museum (image is in the Public Domain).


In 1810, the hospital was moved to a new site, south of the Thames (the building now occupied by the Imperial War Museum), and the land in Bishopsgate Without redeveloped with cheap and unsanitary housing for some of the thousands of new Londoners recently arrived from the countryside.

Mark Patton's novels, Undreamed Shores, An Accidental King, and Omphalos, are published by Crooked Cat Publications, and can be purchased from Amazon. He is currently working on The Cheapside Tales, a London-based trilogy of historical novels.


Friday, 16 September 2016

The Wards of Old London: Cripplegate Without - Preachers and Printers

Having completed our tour of London's intramural wards, we have also explored the extramural ward of Portsoken. Following the northward and westward course of the Roman and Medieval walls, we should pass next into Bishopsgate Ward Without but, for reasons that will become apparent in the coming weeks, I am passing over this ward for the moment. We also pass over Coleman Street Ward, which we have already visited, since it straddles the intramural/extramural divide. That brings us, then, to Cripplegate Ward Without. Like Cripplegate Ward Within, much of this ward now lies beneath the 1960s concrete of the Barbican Estate, but, squeezed in between the high-walks, remains one of the City's few surviving Medieval churches, spared by the Great Fire of 1666.

Saint Giles Without Cripplegate. Photo: Lonpicman (licensed under GNU).


Saint Giles Without Cripplegate was originally a Saxon church, extensively re-modeled in 1090, 1394, and 1682. Gutted during the Blitz, it rose, once again, from the ashes, and has a lively congregation to this day.

Saint Giles Without Cripplegate. Photo: Lonpicman (licensed under GNU).


The area in which it stands was used for archery practice throughout the Middle Ages. The introduction of firearms in the Sixteenth Century made archery increasingly redundant, and the open land on which Londoners had trained for the fields of Crecy and Agincourt was built over, developing into a neighbourhood of mainly poor quality housing, interspersed with brothels and skittle-alleys. It was another technological innovation that was set to transform the character of the area. With high production volumes, but low profit-margins, many printers established their homes and workshops in affordable Cripplegate. Poor but literate, these free-thinking men and their families were open to the radical ideas then spreading around the continent of Europe.

The Curate of Saint Giles in 1570 was a man named John Field, classified by history as a "Puritan," but who almost certainly considered himself a Presbyterian. Much concerned with the "Popish abuses" of the established Church, he emphasised preaching over "ceremonial" liturgy, and argued for the replacement of the hierarchy of bishops by local elected synods. He was clearly a charismatic preacher, and many local printers and other artisans flocked to his pulpit.

One of Field's successors at Saint Giles, Robert Crowley, was active as a printer as well as a preacher. During the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary I, he had spent time in exile in Hamburg, where he had come into contact with Calvinist beliefs, at odds with the Lutheran ideas that underpinned the established Church of England (he acknowledged Christ as the Saviour of Mankind, but rejected the doctrine of the Holy Trinity). As a printer, Crowley published the first English book of psalms with harmonised music; and the first translations of the Gospels into Welsh. His fellow exile, John Foxe, returned from Hamburg to write his Book of Martyrs, one of the most influential works of anti-Catholic propaganda.

John Foxe in 1587, National Portrait Gallery (image is in the Public Domain).
Foxe's Book of Martyrs, 1563. Image: Folger Shakespeare Library (licensed under CCA).


In the years leading up to the outbreak of the English Civil War, the pulpit of Saint Giles became a spiritual hub of the Parliamentary and Presbyterian movements. Oliver Cromwell was married in the church in 1620; John Milton was a parishioner, and was buried here in 1674; John Bunyan, another parishioner, may have written The Pilgrim's Progress in a home nearby.

Sweedon's Passage, Grub Street, 1791, by John Thomas Smith (image is in the Public Domain).


With the end of Oliver Cromwell's Commonwealth, which Milton and Bunyan had served, the streets around Saint Giles retained both their demotic character, and their association with the printing industry, and Grub Street (later Milton Street) became a centre for early journalism. The men who worked there were frequently derided as "hacks:" Samuel Johnson, who had served his own apprenticeship there, wrote that:

"A news-writer is a man without virtue who writes lies at home for his own profit. To these compositions is required neither genius nor knowledge, neither industry nor sprightliness, but contempt of shame and indifference to truth are absolutely necessary."

The Coffeehous Mob, 1710 (Image is in the Public Domain), men gathering to discuss the news of the day.


Journalists were never above suspicion (many were believed to have taken bribes from Prime Minister Robert Walpole, in return for "massaging" the facts), but from this crucible emerged a number of long-lived publications, including The Spectator and The Gentleman's Magazine.  

The Gentleman's Magazine, 1759. Image: Michael Maggs (licensed under CCA).


Mark Patton's novels, Undreamed Shores, An Accidental King, and Omphalos, are published by Crooked Cat Publications, and can be purchased from Amazon. He is currently working on The CheapsideTales, a London-based trilogy of historical novels.


Thursday, 8 September 2016

Historical Fiction: The Next Big Thing?

I recently attended the conference of the Historical Novel Society in Oxford. In one of the plenary sessions, a panel of literary agents and publishers were invited to give their views on "the next big thing" in historical fiction. One agent is keen to receive proposals for "epics or sagas of the Second World War," believing that we are now "far enough away in time for a sweeping saga to be possible." Another expressed interest in fiction set in ancient Greece. There was some consensus around the idea that more fiction reflecting the cultural, ethnic and sexual diversity of past societies would be welcome.



The book stalls at the conference told their own story, although perhaps about the "next big thing" of yesterday, rather than today. What struck me most was the predominance of biopic novels, focusing on prominent individuals and narrated, either in the first person, or in "close third person," from the point of view of those individuals. This trend is not entirely new, of course: one thinks of Robert Graves's Claudius novels, or of Marguerite Yourcenar's Memoirs of Hadrian, and Margaret George's (2011) Memoirs of Cleopatra is in similar vein, as, quite consciously, was my own (2013) novel An Accidental King (about the 1st Century AD British king, Cogidubnus).

Bust of Cleopatra, Antikensammlung Berlin. Photo: Sailko (licensed under CCA).


What surprised me more was the number of biopic novels featuring protagonists whose lives ended quite recently. This inevitably raises questions about the definition of "historical fiction" - the Historical Novel Society  defines it as fiction " ... that has been written at least fifty years after the events described, or ... by someone who was not alive at the time (who therefore approaches them only by research)." By these criteria, some of the Twentieth Century biopic novels showcased at the conference are only partly historical, although, interestingly, given the comment quoted at the beginning of this post, many of them deal with protagonists whose lives were profoundly touched by the Second World War. The fact that almost all of these protagonists have non-fiction biographies (and, in some cases, autobiographies) seems not to have deterred either the authors or their publishers.

The American novelist, C.W. (Christopher) Gortner, who entertained us with an after-dinner speech at the conference chose Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992) as the protagonist of his latest (2016) novel, having previously fictionalised the life of Coco Chanel (1883-1971):

"The first time I fell in love, I was twelve years old. It happened at the Auguste-Viktoria-Schule in the suburban district of Schoneberg, southwest of Berlin. Here, in a squat building defended by wrought-iron gates, whose extravagant plaster facade concealed a warren of icy classrooms, I studied grammar, arithmetic, and history, followed by house-making skills and an hour of bracing calisthenics before ending the long day with a perfunctory French class ... I stood alone before the teacher's pensive gaze. The late afternoon sunlight filtering through the dusty classroom window burnished her unkempt chignon with copper. Her skin was rosy, with a slight down on her cheeks. My knees weakened ... " (C.W. Gortner, Marlene).

Marlene Dietrich entertaining American troops in 1944, US Army Center of Military History (image is in the Public Domain).


Another speaker at the conference, the British writer, Jo Baker (whose earlier novel, Longbourn, I have featured on this site), chose Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) as the protagonist for her latest novel, A Country Road, A Tree:

"The tree stirred and the sound of the needles was sshh, sshh, sshh. The boy swung a knee over the branch, heaved himself up, and shifted round so that his legs dangled. The scent of the larch cleared his head, so that everything seemed sharp and clear as glass. He could still hear the faint sound of piano practice, but he could see out across the fields from here; he could see for miles and miles, and the sky was wide open as a cat's yawn ... " (Jo Baker, A Country Road, A Tree).

Samuel Beckett, by Reginald Gray (image is in the Public Domain).


Other examples of this emergent sub-genre include Julian Barnes's The Noise of Time (about the composer, Dmitry Shostakovich [1906-1975]), and Jill Dawson's The Crime Writer (about Patricia Highsmith [1921-1985]). As the first generation of Millennials edge their way along the library bookshelves towards their initial encounters with adult fiction, the century into which I was born is emerging more fully into the domain of the craft that I have learned in the century in which we now live.

Dmitriy Shostakovich in 1950. Photo: Roger & Renate Rossing (image is in the Public Domain).


It is easy to be wise with hindsight, but I wish now that we had spent some time at the conference considering the ethical issues that arise when we fictionalise the lives of real people, who may have close relatives, friends, and lovers, still living. The American author, Margaret George, was kind enough to invite me to share her taxi as we left the conference. "We have to hope that our characters will forgive us," she said the previous day, "because we are doing the best that we can." That must surely apply, not only to our protagonists, but to all real people, living or dead, to whom we ascribe words and actions in our novels.

Mark Patton's novels, Undreamed Shores, An Accidental King, and Omphalos, are published by Crooked Cat Publications, and can be purchased from Amazon. He is currently working on The Cheapside Tales, a London-based trilogy of historical novels.


Saturday, 27 August 2016

The Wards of Old London: Portsoken - St Katharine's Hospital & Docks

This is the second of two posts on Portsoken Ward. The earlier one having dealt with its Saxon history, we come now to the Medieval and Modern eras. The somewhat mysterious "Knighten Guilde," established under King Edgar the Peaceable, did not long survive the Norman Conquest. There were only thirteen "knights," some of whom probably died at Stamford Bridge, and others at Hastings. Those who remained, and their heirs and successors, almost certainly lost their right to bear arms. The Guild continued in name only and, in 1115, its members gifted their land to the Augustinian Priory of Holy Trinity Within Aldgate.

In 1147, Queen Matilda, the consort of King Stephen, established a hospital dedicated to Saint Katharine at the southern end of Portsoken Ward, to the east of the Tower of London. That she did this with the support and assistance of the Augustinian Prior, who had a close relationship with the Royal Family, is almost certain.

The east end of the hospital church (image is in the Public Domain).


The hospital, London's second (after Barts), had a master, three brothers, three sisters, and a bedeswoman (an almswoman whose role was to pray for the benefactors). Whilst its medical facilities are likely to have been limited (one can, perhaps, imagine novices running between the city's various monastic houses in search of herbs), it played an important role, over almost eight centuries, in providing what we might today call "palliative care," for people severely disabled, or otherwise unable to care for themselves. By 1442, it had twenty-three acres of land, with its own prison, officers and court, all operating outside the ecclesiastical and civil jurisdiction of the City of London.

Saint Katharine by the Tower (image is in the Public Domain).


Like London's other religious houses, it was dissolved at the time of the Reformation, but was almost immediately re-established as a Protestant institution under Henry VIII. By this time, it had a brewery, and more than a thousand homes: a magnet for craftsmen who were not members of the City Guilds; for seamen and rivermen; but also for prostitutes (who were not allowed to operate within the City); and for those evading justice. The street-names tell their own stories: Dark Entry; Cat's Hole; Shovel Alley; Rookery; Pillory Lane.

The Brothers' House of the hospital in 1781 (image is in the Public Domain).


The rivermen who lived within this expanding, and increasingly insanitary and lawless, village to the east of the city used their boats to unload cargoes from ships that sailed directly into, and berthed in, the Pool of London (the stretch of river between the Tower and London Bridge). As Britain's mercantile economy grew, this expanse of water became more and more crowded with ships.

The London docks in 1757 (image is in the Public Domain).
Detail from the Rhinebeek Panorama of 1806, Museum of London (image is in the Public Domain).


In 1825, an Act of Parliament provided for the creation of a new enclosed dock, to be built by the engineer, Thomas Telford. The Medieval hospital buildings were razed to the ground, and, with them, around 1250 homes, 11,300 people forced to move northwards, into the already overcrowded slums of Stepney and Whitechapel.

The plan for Saint Katharine's Docks (image is in the Public Domain).
Saint Katharine's Docks under construction, by William Ranwell (image is in the Public Domain).
The opening of Saint Katharine's Docks in 1828, by W.J. Huggins (image is in the Public Domain).


Saint Katharine's Docks were never a commercial success. Even as they were created, ships were being built, only a few miles downstream, that would be too large to enter them. Ivory, sugar, marble, rubber, carpets, spices, perfumes and indigo, were unloaded at Saint Katharine's for a period of decades only, before shifting to newer, and much larger, docks to the east.

Saint Katharine's Docks: Photo: Metropolitan Police, NPAS.
Saint Katharine's Docks. Photo: Matthias v.d. Elbe (licensed under CCA).


The docks themselves survive (now a marina for pleasure-boats, surrounded by hotels, restaurants and luxury apartments), and with them the dedication to Saint Katherine, which, for most visitors today, is only a name.

Post-Script: I recently learned that a series of misericords and other Fourteenth Century wooden sculptures from Saint Katherine have survived, and may be viewed by arrangement at the Royal Foundation of Saint Katharine in Limehouse. Further information may be found here.

Mark Patton's novels, Undreamed Shores, An Accidental King, and Omphalos, are published by Crooked Cat Publications, and can be purchased from Amazon. He is currently working on The Cheapside Tales, a London-based trilogy of historical novels.


Saturday, 20 August 2016

The Wards of Old London: Portsoken - Wargames and Wayfarers

We have now completed our tour of the intramural wards of the City of London, and should now turn our attention to the extramural wards. We begin at Aldgate, the main eastward-facing gate of the city, and we will follow, once again, the course of the Roman and Medieval walls, but this time in a northerly and westerly direction, and on the outside, rather than the inside of the walls. Some of these wards will merit more than one post, being larger than many of the intramural wards, and having more complex histories. Portsoken Ward lies immediately beyond Aldgate.

1870 map of London Wards. Image: Doc77can (licensed under CCA).


The Elizabethan chronicler, John Stow, who had access to documents that no longer exist, including records destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, tells us that:

"This Portsoken, which soundeth the franchise at the gate, was sometime a guild, and had beginning in the days of King Edgar, more than six hundred years since. There were thirteen knights or soldiers, well-beloved to the king and realm, for service by them done, which requested to have a certain portion of land on the east part of the city, left desolate and forsaken by the inhabitants ... They besought the king to have this land, with the liberty of a guild for ever. The king granted to their request, with conditions following: that is that each of them should victoriously accomplish three combats, one above the ground, one under ground, and the third in the water; and after this, at a certain day in East Smithfield, they should run with spears against all comers; all of which was gloriously performed; and the same day the king named it Knighten Guild, and so bounded it, from Aldgate to the place where the bars now are, toward the east, on both sides of the street, and extended it towards Bishopsgate in the north ... "

The King Edgar referred to must surely be Edgar the Peaceable, who reigned from 959 to 975 AD. Smithfield was frequently used for jousting and tournaments in the High Middle Ages, but this was a tradition that emerged only after the Norman Conquest. For clues as to what may have been involved here, we must look, on the one hand, to archaeological evidence beyond London; and, on the other hand, to literary sources.

King Edgar the Peaceable, from the New Minster Charter (image is in the Public Domain).


The equipment of elite Anglo-Saxon warriors has been recovered from excavations on a number of sites, including Sutton Hoo, the City of York, Abingdon, and, most recently, the Staffordshire Hoard. The latter is, perhaps, the most surprising discovery: it had previously been assumed that a heavily embellished sword such as those found at Sutton Hoo and Abingdon, would be wielded only by a king, but the Eighth Century hoard includes the decorated pommels of more than seventy of these weapons. The "combats" above ground may simply have been display fights or non-lethal contests between these elite warriors, or they may have involved wrestling, and similar trials of strength.

The 9th Century Abingdon Sword. Photo: Geni (licensed under GNU).
A re-enactor wearing armour based on that found at Sutton Hoo. Photo: Ziko-C (licensed under GNU) 
A 12th Century font at Eardisley, Herefordshire, depicts knights in single combat. Although post-Conquest, the art-work is clearly suggestive of an earlier tradition. Photo: Poliphilo (licensed under CCA).


"Underground combats" are a little more difficult to explain (London is unlikely to have had many underground spaces in which such combats might take place), but I am reminded of the passage in Beowulf in which the eponymous hero enters an ancient burial mound to confront a dragon:

"Then the bold warrior stood up beside his shield, resolute beneath his helm. Wearing his grim mail he strode up to the stony cliffs, trusting in the strength of one man alone - such is no craven's feat! Then he who, with manly virtue, had passed through many a host of battles and a clash of war, when the ranks of men smote together, saw now at the mound's side a stone-arch standing from whence a stream came hurrying from the hill. The boiling water of that hill was hot with deadly fires; no man could long while endure unscorched that deep place nigh the hoard by reason of the dragon's flame .. " (translation by J.R.R. Tolkien).

The Anglo-Saxon helmet from Coppergate, York, 700-820 AD. Photo: York Museums Trust Online Collection (licensed under CCA).


No such mounds are to be found in the immediate vicinity of London, but might such fights have been staged around monuments such as Wayland's Smithy in Oxfordshire, or Coldrum long-barrow in Kent?

Wayland's Smithy, Oxfordshire. Photo: Msemmett (licensed under CCA).


Beowulf may, similarly, provide us with a clue as to the "combat" in water. As a young man, the hero had competed in swimming competitions, sometimes wearing armour. Members of the re-enactment society, Regia Anglorum, have tried this out, even swimming in mail-shirts: "The effect is to place your body in a more legs-down position in the water. This makes for tiresome swimming, and we found that the breast-stroke was the only really viable way to swim." Might such contests have been held in the Thames at slack water?

The running with spears at "all comers" may have provided an opportunity, using non-lethal weapons, for young men to test and prove their prowess, perhaps, in time, gaining admission to the Guild itself, on the death or retirement of older members.

Stow tells us that, in 1115, the descendants of these "knights" gifted the land to the Priory of Holy Trinity Within Aldgate. Among those named are some whose origins must surely have been Anglo-Saxon (Edward Hupcornehill, Blackstanus, Alwin, Wiso, the sons of Leafstanus the goldsmith); and others whose names are unambiguously Norman (Radulphus Fitalgod, Wilmarde le Deuereshe, Orgare le Prude, Hugh Fitzvulgar, Algare Secusme), presumably the descendants of the daughters of Anglo-Saxon "knights" who married Norman ones.

Within the ward is also a church dedicated to Saint Botolph, a Seventh Century East Anglian abbott. Whilst the present church dates to the Eighteenth Century, its origins are likely to be pre-conquest. It is one of four London churches dedicated to him, all of which stand (or stood) outside city gates on major route-ways (the others being St Botolph Billingsgate, St Botolph Aldersgate and St Botolph Bishopsgate). Saint Botolph was the patron saint of wayfarers and travelers, so these were churches at which outgoing travelers could pray for a safe journey, and incomers give thanks for one. One has to wonder whether these churches replaced earlier Pagan shrines to Janus, who played a similar role.

The Church of Saint Botolph, Aldgate. Photo: Superbfc (licensed under GNU).


Mark Patton's novels, Undreamed Shores, An Accidental King, and Omphalos, are published by Crooked Cat Publications, and can be purchased from Amazon. He is currently working on The Cheapside Tales, a London-based trilogy of historical novels.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

The Wards of Old London: Langbourn & Candlewick - Falstaff's Eastcheap

We have now completed three journeys through the Roman and Medieval walled city of London: the first following the main east-west road, from Farringdon Ward Within to Aldgate Ward; the second following the course of the Thames, from Tower Street Ward to Castle Baynard Ward; and the third following the line of the city walls, from Aldersgate Ward Within to Broad Street Ward. Whilst these journeys have taken us through most of the intramural wards, there are two in the south-eastern quadrant of the city that we have missed out: Langbourn and Candlewick.

Langbourn and Candlewick Wards, 18th Century map, British Library (image is in the Public Domain).


Much of what the visitor sees in these two wards today has been shaped by the planners and builders of the Victorian era, although a notable exception is the tower of All Hallows Staining Church, which has survived from the early Fourteenth Century.

The Medieval tower of All Hallows Staining. Photo: John Armagh (image is in the Public Domain).


Some flavour of the Medieval character of this part of the city may be had from John Lydgate's poem, "London Lickpenny," which tells of a countryman who comes to London to settle a property dispute in the courts, but finds that he can get nowhere without the funds to pay lawyers and bribe judges. Walking the streets of the city, he is assailed by many temptations, none of which he can afford. Eventually, he is robbed of his hood, but lacks the money even to buy it back, when he finds it for sale, not far from where he lost it.

"Then unto London I did me hie,
Of all the land it beareth the prize,
'Hot peascods!' one began to cry,
'Strawberry ripe!' and 'Cherries in the rise!'
One bade me come near and buy some spice,
Pepper and saffron they gan me bede,
But for lack of money I might not speed ...

Then went I forth by London Stone,
Throughout all Can'wick Street.
Drapers much cloth me offered anon;
Then comes me one cried 'Hot sheep's feet!'
One cried 'Mackerel!' 'Rushes green!' another gan greet;
One bade me buy a hood to cover my head,
But for want of money I might not be sped.

Then I hied me into East Cheap;
One cries 'Ribs of beef!' and many a pie;
Pewter pots they clattered on a heap,
There was harp, pipe and minstrelsie.
'Yea, by cock!' 'Nay, by cock!' some began to cry;
Some sang of Jenkin and Julian for their meed,
But for lack of money, I might not speed."

Lydgate (c1370-1451) was a Benedictine monk, but his religious duties seem not to have constrained his literary output, which was greater than those of Chaucer and Shakespeare combined. Few critics today would place him in the same league as Chaucer or Shakespeare in terms of quality, but his patrons at the time included Henry V; Henry VI; and Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. As a young man, he met Chaucer, and subsequently befriended his son, Thomas. Remarkably, a graffito by Lydgate survives at Saint Mary's Church at Lydgate, in Suffolk.

Graffito from St Mary's, Lydgate, reading "John Lydgate - made on this Day of Saint Simon and Saint Jude (image is in the Public Domain).


Eastcheap itself functioned as a meat market throughout the Middle Ages. Shakespeare has his characters, Sir John Falstaff, Prince Hal, and Mistress Quickly, carousing in The Boar's Head Tavern in Eastcheap. This was a real tavern, which certainly existed in Shakespeare's time, but may or may not have existed during the reigns of Henry IV and Henry V.

Eastcheap Market in 1598, Hugh Alley (image is in the Public Domain).
The Boar's Head Tavern in 1829, shortly before its demolition (image is in the Public Domain).
The Neo-Gothic building that stands on the site of the tavern today was built as a warehouse in 1868. Photo: BH2008 (licensed under GNU). 


Mark Patton's novels, Undreamed Shores, An Accidental King, and Omphalos, are published by Crooked Cat Publications, and can be purchased from Amazon. He is currently working on The Cheapside Tales, a London-based trilogy of historical novels.


Saturday, 6 August 2016

New Windows into Prehistoric Life: Thoughts on "Britain's Pompeii"

A programme recently broadcast by the BBC (and still available, to UK viewers, at least, on I-Player until the end of August), provides a timely update on one of the most exciting archaeological excavations to have taken place on these islands during my lifetime. "Britain's Pompeii - A Village Lost in Time" charts the progress of excavations at Must Farm, Cambridgeshire, where a farmstead of the Late Bronze Age (c1000-800 BC) is being unearthed. The four circular buildings, built on a platform jutting out over a river, burned down (or may have been torched by an enemy), and collapsed directly into the water, allowing for unprecedented preservation of wood, fabric, and other organic materials. Progress can be followed on the project website.

Excavations at Must Farm. Photo: Dr Colleen Morgan (licensed under CCA).
Excavations at Must Farm. Photo: Dr Colleen Morgan (licensed under CCA).
Excavations at Must Farm. Photo: Dr Colleen Morgan (licensed under CCA).


In my novel, Undreamed Shores, the character of Arthmael (based on a real archaeological skeleton known as "the Amesbury Archer"), living at Durrington Walls, near Stonehenge, explains to my protagonist, Amzai, how he met his wife, Alaudina (the mother of Amzai's prospective bride, Nanti), in the fenlands of East Anglia:

" ... there are marshes that stretch for miles, and the people live on eels and duck, and strange plants that grow in the water, like reeds. It's easier to get around by boat than on foot in that place. That's where Nanti was born."

Later Arthmael speaks of his own, far more distant, homeland (analysis of the Amesbury Archer's teeth has shown that he grew up in central Europe):

"Arthmael told of his homeland, of the village where he had been born. It was built on wooden poles, set on the edge of a great lake, with two high mountains rising behind it, their summits covered by snow, even in the summer."

The place I had in mind was Lake Constance in Germany, where such settlements have indeed been found.

Reconstruction of a Bronze Age "pile-dwelling" on the shores of Lake Constance, Germany. Photo: Traveler100 (licensed under GNU).


The settlement at Must Farm is the first true "pile-dwelling" found in Britain, built in much the same way as the settlements around Lake Constance, and elsewhere in Germany, Switzerland and eastern France, but with circular, rather than rectangular, houses. The people who built it lived at least 1400 years after the Amesbury Archer (they might, perhaps, have been the 56-times-great-grandchildren of Alaudina's sister), yet, remarkably, they seem to have been enmeshed in a network of international contacts and exchange that had endured since his time. Artefacts found at Must Farm suggest that this network extended not only into central, but also into southern Europe: they include glass beads which may have been made in northern Italy.

It will be some considerable time before Must Farm reveals all of its secrets: excavation, which is still ongoing, is just the first stage in the research process. It will take much longer to analyse the food residues found in pottery bowls; the human and animal faeces discovered behind the houses; the carpentry techniques used to build the platform, and the houses themselves; the fragments of woven textiles that are emerging from the mud even as I write this post.

Already, however, there are some hints, which are changing the way in which we understand this period in Britain's history. The characters in Undreamed Shores neither ride horses nor use wheeled transport: the people who lived at Must Farm almost certainly did both (a wooden wheel is one of the most significant discoveries announced to date). Arthmael and Nanti wear clothes of fur, leather, and woven wool: the people of Must Farm seem to have been using another important resource - linen, made from flax - the earliest evidence for this on the British Isles. This is a subject on which I will have more to say in a later post, not least because this is an industry with which I have a tangible, and much more recent, familial connection.

Mark Patton's novels, Undreamed Shores, An Accidental King, and Omphalos, are published by Crooked Cat Publications, and can be purchased from Amazon. He is currently working on The Cheapside Tales, a London-based trilogy of historical novels.