Thursday, 4 February 2016

The Museum of Innocence - Objects, Memories and Stories

My blog-post, at the end of last year, on Great Books of 2015 sparked a lively debate around the definition of historical fiction: can a novel such as Emily Bullock's The Longest Fight (one of my favourite novels of last year) be considered to be "historical," when it is set in a time-frame that is still within the living memory of many people (in this case, the 1950s)? Perhaps it depends on the author's relationship to the time period (neither Emily Bullock nor I was alive in the 1950s), or perhaps it depends on how much has changed in the time that has elapsed between the setting and the writing of the book? A new film and exhibition have led me to revisit some of these questions.

The Turkish Nobel laureate, Orhan Pamuk, has written both historical fiction (My Name is Red, set in the Sixteenth Century; The White Castle, set in the Seventeenth Century) and contemporary fiction (The Black Book, The New Life, Snow). His most recent novels (The Museum of Innocence, The Silent House, The Strangeness in My Mind) occupy the same liminal ground as The Longest Fight, with settings that are semi-historical or almost contemporary.

Common threads link much of Pamuk's historical and contemporary fiction; including the city of Istanbul (more specifically the streets of the Nisantasi district, where he himself grew up, and nearby Beyoglu, both on the European side of the Bosphorus), frequented, alike by his historical and contemporary protagonists; and recurring themes, including forbidden or doomed love, the persistence of memory, and a peculiarly Turkish concept of melancholy, "Huzun."

Constantinople in 1422, by Christofero Buondelmonti, showing the old Italian Quarter of Pera to the north of the Golden Horn, Bibliotheque Nationale de France (image is in the Public Domain).
Galata and Pera from the south. Photo: SALTOnline (image is in the Public Domain).


The Museum of Innocence is set between 1974 and 1984, and concerns the doomed love affair between a wealthy businessman, Kemal, and a poorer distant relative, Fusun. Looking back on their relationship, Kemal eventually purchases the family home in which Fusun grew up, and sets about collecting objects and photographs that encapsulate his memories of her, and of the times they have shared.



Pamuk himself began collecting artefacts in the mid-1990s, and always had in mind to create the novel and a physical museum in tandem with one another. He purchased the house in which the fictional Kemal "established" his museum. The novel, published in Turkish in 2008 (and in English the following year), has 83 chapters, and for, each of these, Pamuk created a vitrine, or display case, for the museum. The novel and the museum tell the same story in different ways: one can appreciate the novel without having seen the museum, and vice versa.

The Museum of Innocence, in Istanbul's Beyoglu district, known for its antique shops, where Orhan Pamuk collected many of the objects now housed within. Photo: The Museum of Innocence (licensed under CCA).

Orhan Pamuk, in Istanbul's Museum of Innocence. Photo: The Museum of Innocence (licensed under CCA).


The story of Kemal and Fusun's romance has now been told in a third way. Grant Gee's film, Innocence of Memories, released last year in collaboration with Pamuk, combines footage of the museum itself, and of the streets on which it is set; commentary by "Kemal" himself, and by other characters in the novel, and people who have known "Fusun;" interviews with Pamuk; and extracts from the Turkish melodrama films watched by Fusun and Kemal during the course of their romance. Following on from his 2011 release, Patience (a complex "unravelling" of W.G. Sebald's novel, The Rings of Saturn), Gee is emerging as one of the most literary of the current generation of British film-makers, and his elision, here, of fact and fiction certainly adds a new dimension to Pamuk's original story.



Innocence of Memories is currently showing as an extended run (until 11th February) at the British Film Institute, on London's South Bank. Directly across the Thames, Somerset House is hosting (until 3rd April), a mini-exhibition of some of the vitrines from Pamuk's Museum of Innocence (open daily, with free admission). Looking at these displays, in conjunction with the novel and the film, it is clear to me that, whatever the period of the setting of his story, Pamuk's approach, in researching and composing his story, is indeed a historical one. It poses the question, in my mind, as to whether "historical fiction" might be as much a literary technique as a literary genre?

"My Father's Death," one of the vitrines from The Museum of Innocence, now on display at Somerset House. Photo: The Museum of Innocence (licensed under CCA).
Objects play an important role in my own historical fiction, but most of these objects are already in museums. My stories have tended to be set further back in the past, and even if it were ethical to collect objects from the remote past (the trade in antiquities is a dubious one, involving illegal excavations, smuggling, faked provenances and the like), it would be prohibitively expensive. For the moment, at least, I am content to display images of them on my various Pinterest boards, but what my project has in common with Pamuk's is the way in which real places, and real objects, together act as signifiers of moments in the lives of my fictional characters, connecting their worlds to our own.

"In physics," Pamuk's Kemal suggests to us, "Aristotle makes a distinction between Time, and the single moments he describes as the 'Present.' Single moments are - like Aristotle's atom - invisible, unbreakable things. But Time is the line that links them. My life has taught me that remembering Time - the line connecting all the moments that Aristotle called the Present - is, for most of us, a rather painful business. However, if we can learn to stop thinking of life as a line corresponding to Aristotle's Time, treasuring our time, instead, for its deepest moments, the lingering eight years at our beloved's dinner table no longer seems strange and laughable. Instead, this courtship signifies 1593 happy nights by Fusun's side."

Post-Script (added on 6th February 2016): for Orhan Pamuk's own perspective on the film, please click 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.


Thursday, 28 January 2016

The Wards of Old London: Billingsgate - Eel Pie and Red Herrings

Walking eastward along the Thames from the Tower of London, one passes from Tower Street Ward into Billingsgate Ward. According to the 12th Century chronicler, Geoffrey of Monmouth, a "water gate," or harbour, was first built here some centuries before the birth of Christ, by a king named Belinus, back in the days when the city we call London was called "Trinovantum" (a corruption of "Troie Nove," having been founded by a Trojan descendant of Brutus). This, of course, is fiction, but there certainly have been wharves here since Roman times. The Thames at London was broader and shallower in the past than it is now, so that the Roman and Medieval waterfronts were set some 25-75 metres behind the current embankment, roughly where Lower Thames Street is today.

Reconstruction of London's Roman waterfront, with London Bridge in the foreground, and the warehouses of Billingsgate behind, Museum of London. Photo: Steven G. Johnson (licensed under CCA).


Throughout the Middle Ages, the wharves of Billingsgate seem to have been used for the loading and unloading of many and varied cargoes, including (according to the Elizabethan chronicler, John Stow), " ... fish, both fresh and salt, shell-fishes, salt, oranges, onions, and other fruits, and roots, wheat, rye and grain of divers sorts ... ."

Medieval Londoners ate a good deal of fish, not least because the Catholic Church forbade the consumption of meat on Fridays (to commemorate the crucifixion), Saturdays (in remembrance of the sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary), and Wednesdays (to mark Judas's acceptance of money in return for the betrayal of Christ); and throughout the four weeks of Advent, and the six of Lent. In Saxon times these restrictions were enforceable by law, but long after the legal constraints were lifted, peer-pressure and genuine piety seem to have ensured that most people followed the rules most of the time.

A fishmonger's stall, by Adriaen Van Utrecht (1599-1652). Image is in the Public Domain.


For wealthy Londoners, a very wide variety of fish was available. Working from the late Fourteenth Century account book of Henry of Lancaster, the historian, Ian Mortimer, has shown that a fresh salmon, in season, sold for four or five shillings, and a turbot for seven, at a time when a skilled workman, such as a carpenter or thatcher, earned around two shillings a week. Lobsters and crabs were kept alive in barrels.

A fishmonger's stall, by Frans Snyders (1579-1657). Image is in the Public Domain.


Fish was brought to London, not only travel up-river from the sea, but also down-river from river fisheries (freshwater fish included eel, pike, trout, perch and rudd), where fish-weirs and traps were in widespread use. So numerous did these inland fisheries become that Edward III saw the need to restrict them:

" ... because the free passage of ships and boats in the great rivers of England is often disrupted by the raising of gorces, mills, weirs, stakes and kiddles, to the great damage of the people, it is agreed and established that  all such ... which were raised and placed in such rivers in the time of the King's grandfather and thereafter, by which ships and boats are disturbed so that they cannot pass as they are accustomed, shall be removed and completely demolished ... ."

A derelict fish-trap at Drumdowney, County Kilkenny, Ireland. Photo: Kieran Campbell (licensed under CCA).


Enforcement of these rules, of course, depended on local officials, whose zeal would depend on their location (and, quite possibly, on bribes). Fish weirs might not be allowed on great rivers such as the Thames, but they almost certainly continued to be used on its tributaries, including the Fleet, the Lea, the Ravensborne and the Mole.

Some tasty Medieval recipes for fish: including cod poached in white wine; fish sausage with currants, cloves, saffron and mace; salmon pie with parsley, sage, ginger, pepper and anise; and eel pie with onions, raisins, pepper and ginger; can be found at www.medievalcookery.com/recipes. Such dishes, with their expensive foreign spices, were only for the affluent, although a more modest version could, in each case, be made, flavoured with the garlic and parsley that were on sale in the streets of Billingsgate Ward. For the average working family, salt cod, salted and pickled herrings, mackerel, eels, cockles and mussels were very much more affordable.

Eel-traps, by Myles Burket Foster (image is in the Public Domain). Eels were trapped on a large scale in the fenlands of East Anglia and, as jellied eels, have long been a favourite snack for working class Londoners. 


Throughout the Fifteenth Century, a flourishing trade in salted cod existed between England and Iceland, with the English ships sailing out between February and April, and returning between July and September. The herring fleets brought their catch to the city in the autumn, and always in two varieties: white herring (preserved in salt) and red herring (salted and smoked for double protection). The latter were always cheap and plentiful, but were not always enjoyed, people being all to ready to give them up in favour of meat as Christmas and Easter approached.

Billingsgate in 1808, by Thomas Rowlandson and Augustus Charles Pugin (image is in the Public Domain).


By the beginning of the Nineteenth Century, Billingsgate had become the largest fish-market in the world, but it sprawled chaotically along the wharves and streets of the ward, and "to speak Billingsgate" became a bye-word for obscenity. Only in 1870 was a covered market established, designed by the City Architect, Sir Horace Jones, and this lasted for little more than a hundred years. In 1982, the fish-market was removed from the City, and relocated in Docklands.

Billingsgate c.1888, from "The Queen's Empire," Volume 4, Cassell & Co. (image is in the Public Domain).

Sir Horace Jones's Billingsgate Market today, now converted into offices. Photo: Steve F-E-Cameron (licensed under GNU).


Today, there is not a herring or an eel to be had in "Old Billingsgate," but frozen, as well as fresh and salted, fish are freighted to "New Billingsgate" on a daily basis, and, at six o'clock in the morning, clusters of Chinese, Caribbean, Indian and Middle Eastern restaurateurs can be observed haggling over the price of fish.

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.




Thursday, 21 January 2016

The Wards of Old London: Tower Street - Enterprise and Executions

We have completed our journey along the main road leading through the City of London from west to east; and this journey has taken us through the wards of Farringdon WithinBread StreetCordwainer StreetCheapeWalbrookCornhillBishopsgate WithinLime Street and Aldgate. A visitor to London can make this particular journey today, as in the past, without once catching sight of the city's most important landscape feature, the one, indeed, to which it owes its existence, the River Thames.

If we follow in the footsteps of Geoffrey Chaucer on his daily walk from home to work, however, we will be going south from Aldgate into what he would have known as Tower Street Ward (it is now simply "Tower Ward"), and we will soon find ourselves on the "Legal Quays," where Chaucer, and many generations of his successors as excise-men, inspected the cargoes of foreign ships arriving at the Port of London. Over the following weeks, we will follow the river from the Tower of London in the east to the Fleet River in the west. Confusingly, neither the Tower of London nor Tower Bridge are actually within Tower Ward (or, indeed, within the City), the former having been controlled by the Crown, rather than the City authorities, for almost a thousand years.

"Imports from France," by Louis Peter Boitard, 1757, showing the "Legal Quays" in action (image is in the Public Domain).


London's "Docklands," as we understand them, extending for more than eleven miles to the east of the Tower, are a feature of the late Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Century expansion of London as a port. In their place, in Medieval and Early Modern times, were shipyards, and a great many illegal quays, where excise-men fought a constant battle against smugglers and pirates.

Prior to the building of the Victorian docks, legal shipping was handled almost exclusively within the Pool of London, between London Bridge and the Tower. Port officials must have plied up and down the river in small manoeuvrable craft, requiring ships' captains to wait their turn in the approaches, much as air-traffic controllers currently keep aircraft "stacked" over southern England before giving permission to land at Heathrow.

One early maritime visitor to London was a Greek, Michael of Rhodes. In 1401, he travelled from the island of his birth to Venice, enrolling as a humble oarsman in the Navy of the Republic. During a career spanning several decades, he served on both military and trading galleys, working his way up to the rank of Comito (one level below the captain, who was typically also the owner of the ship, and thus an office to which Michael could not aspire). Each year, in March or early April, four trading galleys would set sail from Venice, two of them bound for Flanders and two for England. They brought with them wine and cheese from the Mediterranean, and silks bought in the markets of Alexandria and Beirut. They returned in the autumn, with cargoes of Cornish tin and English woollen cloth, arriving back in Venice around Christmas-time.

One of the Venetian "Flanders Galleys," from Michael of Rhodes's account of his voyages (an English translation, by Alan M. Stahl, exists, but is expensive - I shall have more to say about this in a later post, when I have had the chance to examine a library copy in greater detail). Image is in the Public Domain.


Michael made the voyage to London three times, in 1406, 1438 and 1443, and John Stow, writing in 1598, records the former residences of "galley-men" (probably permanent representatives of the Venetian, but also Genoese, shipping companies) in Mincheon Lane, close to "Galley Quay."

Tower Street Ward in 1755 (image is in the Public Domain).


Maritime trade in the Port of London almost doubled between 1750 and 1796, with 11,964 vessels arriving in 1795 (an average of 33 per day). Not all were from as far afield as the Mediterranean: in fact, around a third were colliers, bringing coal to London from ports along the north-east coast of England. the "Pool" was becoming increasingly crowded, and engineers vied with one another to develop schemes for an ambitious expansion of the docks to the east.

The Pool of London, W. Parrott, 1841 (image is in the Public Domain).

The Port of London in 1837, by James Elmes (image is in the Public Domain), showing the newly constructed docks cutting across the northern end of the Isle of Dogs.


Within sight of the river, Tower Hill was known for reasons that had little to do with trade. Like the Tower itself, it was formally outside the jurisdiction of the City's Lord Mayor and his officials, but unlike the Tower (which most Londoners tried very hard to stay out of), it was an area to which the public had free access. It was here that they gathered to witness the public execution of supposed traitors, including Sir Thomas More, George Boleyn, Sir Thomas Cromwell and Sir Thomas Wyatt.

The execution of the Duke of Monmouth in 1685 (image is in the Public Domain). An illegitimate son of Charles II, Monmouth was executed following a failed rebellion against his uncle, James II.


The bodies of the executed were, in most cases, taken, at least temporarily, to the Church of All- Hallows-by-the-Tower. This is one of London's most interesting churches: almost destroyed during the Blitz, it was also from the spire of this church that Samuel Pepys witnessed the Great Fire of 1666, commenting on "the saddest sight of desolation." Ironically, it was the later destruction in the second World War that led to the discovery of some of the church's most fascinating features.

All Hallows-by-the-Tower in 1955, showing the damage done during the Blitz. Photo: Ben Brooksbank (licensed under CCA).
The interior of All-Hallows-by-the-Tower, which witnessed the baptism of William Penn, and the marriage of John Quincy Adams. Photo: Diliff (licensed under CCA).
Saxon arch, dating to c 680 AD, inside the church of All-Hallows-by-the-Tower. Photo: Ivory (image is in the Public Domain).


Established in 675 AD, Londoners must have prayed at All Hallows in the terrifying winter of 1066, as they awaited the arrival of the Conqueror, unsure whether he would sack or spare the city. The crypt, however, now home to a small museum, contains a relic of an earlier phase of London life - the tessellated floor of a Roman family house of the late Second Century AD.

Roman pavement in the crypt of All-Hallows-by-the-Tower. Photo Christine Matthews (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 Cheapside Tales, a London-based trilogy of historical novels.


Sunday, 17 January 2016

The Wards of Old London: Aldgate - Portals to Heaven and the High Seas

The main road running through London from west to east passes from Lime Street Ward into Aldgate, the easternmost of the intramural wards. At the lower end of Leadenhall Street stood Aldgate itself, one of the city's seven Medieval gates. There had, indeed, been a gate here in Roman times, guarding the road to Colchester, but it was successively rebuilt in the Twelfth, Thirteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, before finally being removed in 1761.

Aldgate in 1610 (image is in the Public Domain).


The poet, Geoffrey Chaucer, had lodgings in the gate-house from 1374 to 1386, whilst he was employed as a customs official. His apartment seems to have been somewhat cramped, certainly not a family home, but it was, perhaps, from here that he observed the comings and goings of knights and millers, friars and pardoners, as they made their way from Essex and East Anglia, through London on their way to Canterbury.

Geoffrey Chaucer, from Thomas Hoccleve's The Regiment of Princes, 1412 (image is in the Public Domain). Since Hoccleve claimed to have known Chaucer personally, this may be among the first works of true English portraiture.


Many of these pilgrims would have found a bed for the night in the Augustinian Priory of Holy Trinity Aldgate, which was just inside the gate itself, its latrines inconveniently located directly beneath Chaucer's window. The priory had been founded in 1108 by Matilda, the wife of Henry I, who chose the Prior (a Norman cleric whose name was Norman) as her personal confessor. He and his brethren were not enclosed, contemplative monks, but "Austin Canons" (or "Black Canons"), priests who ministered to the spiritual needs of residents of, and visitors to, the city. Providing hospitality for pilgrims was an important part of their role. The Elizabethan chronicler, John Stow, who lived through the Reformation, and Henry VIII's dissolution of religious houses, had enjoyed the hospitality of the priory as a child, and remembered it into his old age.

"These priors have sitten and ridden amongst the aldermen of London, in livery like unto them, saving that his habit was in the shape of a spiritual person, as I myself have seen in my childhood: at which time the prior kept a most bountiful house of meat and drink, both for rich and poor, as well within the house as at the gates, to all comers, according to their estates."

He recalled, also, the destruction of the priory:

"Then was the priory church and steeple proffered to whomsoever would take it down, and carry it from the ground, but no man would undertake the offer; whereupon Sir Thomas Audley was fain to be at more charges than could be made of the stone, timber, lead, iron etc. For the workmen, with great labour, beginning at the top, loosed stone from stone, and threw them down, whereby the most part of them were broken, and few remained whole."

Duke's Place, the main entrance to the priory, J. Smith, 1790 (image is in the Public Domain). Fragments remain, reincorporated in modern buildings, but they are not, for the most part, accessible to the public.


The music of the canons' Catholic offices may have fallen silent, but it would, in time, be replaced by religious invocations of a different sort. Edward I had, in 1290, expelled all Jews from England (a Jewish presence almost certainly remained, but any religious activities of this community necessarily took place on a covert basis. In 1657, Oliver Cromwell, as Lord Protector, approached the Sephardic Jewish congregation of Amsterdam, offering to allow a Jewish settlement in England, in return for finance for his navy. He did not, initially, allow them to establish a public place of worship, but Charles II was more relaxed about this. A small synagogue had been established on Creechurch Lane by 1665, when it was visited by Samuel Pepys. This was replaced, in 1701, by the larger Bevis Marks Synagogue, which remains to this day.

Bevis Marks Synagogue. Photo: Deror Avi, reproduced with permission.


By the 17th Century, London was becoming increasingly important as a hub of global trade. The British East India Company, which traded in spices, cotton, silk, indigo, saltpetre and tea, was initially head-quartered within the ward in the mansion of its governor off Fenchurch Street. In 1648 it moved to another Elizabethan mansion, Craven House, which, by 1661 was known as East India House.

"Old East India House," previously Craven House, from a 17th Century Dutch print (image is in the Public Domain).


After the Great Fire of 1666, a new East India House was established on Leadenhall Street, with warehouses accessible from Lime Street. Throughout the 18th and 19th Centuries, the building was successively enlarged and aggrandised, and the opening of East India Dock, to the east of The City, in 1802, established Leadenhall Street as the gateway to the docks, and the high seas beyond; a magnet for some of the most ambitious young men in Britain, keen to make their fortune in the orient.

East India House in 1800, by Thomas Malton the Younger, Paul Mellon Collection, Yale Centre for British Art (image is in the Public Domain).

The sale-room of East India House, 1809, by Thomas Rowlandson and Augustus Charles Pugin (image is in the Public Domain).


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.


Monday, 11 January 2016

The Wards of Old London: Lime Street - "Foreigners" in the City

The main road running through London from west to east passes from the Ward of Bishopsgate Within, briefly through Lime Street Ward. It is one of the city's smallest wards, one 18th Century commentator remarking that, though it includes "parts of several parishes, there is not even a whole street in it." In American terms, it constitutes little more than a "block." It is thought to have been named for the sale of lime, for the building trade, but this activity had long since ceased by the time that John Stow completed his Survey of London in 1598.

18th Century map of Lime Street Ward (image is in the Public Domain).


On the corner of Gracechurch Street and Leadenhall Street, there once stood a large lead-roofed house, which gave its name to the latter. In 1309, this was owned by Sir Hugh Nevill, who opened up the grounds to serve as an open market, popular with poulterers and cheese-mongers. It later passed into the hands of Sir Richard ("Dick") Whittington, who ultimately gave it to the City. A new market complex was developed in the 1440s, built by the master-mason, John Croxton, who also built London's Guildhall. This included a grammar school, and a public granary, as well as a market, and is shown on the 16th Century Agas Map as having turrets and battlements, probably to defend the city's grain supply in the event that food shortages required rationing and provoked rioting. Two centuries later, as the forces of Charles I threatened the City with a siege, this was one of many buildings requisitioned by the Parliamentary Commander, Philip Skippon, for the storage both of food supplies and of armaments.

Although the sale and purchase of most goods was tightly controlled by the City Livery Companies, there were always exceptions. The Worshipful Company of Bakers, for example, held a monopoly over the sale of bread, but this did not seem to extend to "wafres" (waffles), consumed on special occasions, including weddings and saints' days, but also, ironically, in times of grain shortage (but only, of course, by those who could afford them). In William Langland's 14th Century poem, Piers Plowman, the character of Haukyn the "Active Man," an itinerant minstrel and waffle-maker, describes a visit to London:

15th Century Manuscript of Piers Plowman, National Library of Wales (image is in the Public Domain).


"At London, I leve,
Liketh wel my wafres;
And louren wan thei lakken hem.
It is not longe y passed.
There was a careful commune,
When no cart com to towne
With breede fro Stratforde;
Tho gonnen beggaris wepe,
And workmen were agast a lite;
This wole be thoughte longe.
In the day of oure Drighte,
In a drye Aprille,
A thousand and thre hundred
Twies thretty and ten,
My wafres there were gesene
When Chichestre was maire."

Wafering irons dating to c 1481. Waffles, being made with eggs and milk, were more expensive than bread, but could be consumed by those who could afford them in times of relative scarcity of grain. Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum (reproduced with permission).


Haukyn was, in City terms, a "foreigner" - not a Freeman of London, and without an attachment to a Livery Company. Leadenhall seems to have emerged at an early stage as the one quarter of the City in which such people were allowed to trade.

De Marskramer (The Pedlar), by Hieronymus Bosch, Museum Boijmans van Beuningen (image is in the Public Domain).


This arrangement, informal in the 14th Century, was, by the reign of Henry VII, becoming official, and it applied not only to foodstuffs, but also to other commodities and goods. The following motion was passed in the Guildhall in 1503:

"Please it, the Lord Mayor and Common Council, to enact that all Frenchmen bringing canvas, linen cloth, and other wares to be sold, and all foreigners bringing wolsteds, sayes, stiamus, coverings, nails, iron work, or any other wares, and also all manner of foreigners bringing lead to the City to be sold, shall bring all such their wares aforesaid to the open market of the Leadenhall, there and nowhere else to be sold and uttered, like as of old time it hath been used, upon pain of forfeiture of all the said wares ..."

Drapers' stall, from a 14th Century manuscript of the Tacuinum Sanitatis, Bibliotheque Nationale de France (image is in the Public Domain).


Croxton's Leadenhall Market was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, but a new one was erected in its place, and there has been a market on the site ever since.

Leadenhall Market in the 19th Century (image is in the Public Domain).


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.


Post-Script (added on 28th January 2016). For information on London's most significant recent archaeological discoveries, including a spectacular early Roman building in Lime Street Ward, please see http://on.natgeo.com/1OB3SBC#.VqiVvdf9v1U.twitter

Saturday, 2 January 2016

The Wards of Old London: Bishopsgate Within - The Crossroads of England

The main road running through the City of London from west to east passes from Cornhill Ward into the Ward of Bishopsgate Within. As a visitor from the west, passing along this road, one soon finds oneself, quite literally, at the crossroads of England. We shall be continuing eastwards into Leadenhall Street, but, before we do so, let us pause to take our bearings. We are at a junction of four roads, all of them originally Roman, but each of which bears a Medieval or Early Modern name.

Behind us, to the west, lie Cornhill, Poultry, Cheapside and, beyond Newgate, Watling Street, leading towards Saint Alban's, Wroxeter and, ultimately, Wales. The road to the south, Gracechurch Street, is also part of Watling Street, leading across London Bridge to Canterbury and Richborough: a Welsh pilgrim heading for Canterbury would have turned right at this point. On our left, the road leading north is Bishopsgate, which, beyond the city limits, becomes Ermine Street, stretching out towards Lincoln, York and Scotland.

Bishopsgate, looking north from the intersection with Leadenhall Street, with Tower 42 in the centre. Photo: John Salmon (licensed under CCA).


These are the roads along which, for more than a thousand years, the great and the good moved around the country on horseback, and the poor on foot. Ermine Street is the road along which my own great-grandfather walked from Beverley in Yorkshire, determined to learn a trade in London (he apprenticed himself to a Jewish tailor), rather than enter domestic service, as his parents had intended. My days as a motorist are behind me but, whenever I could, I much preferred to avoid the motorways and follow these roads instead, recognising that they were, in Jim Crace's memorable phrase, "drenched in narrative."

Bishopsgate itself (it used to be Bishopsgate Street) is the northern half of the main road running through London from south to north. At its northern end was Bishopsgate itself, one of the original Medieval (and, before that, Roman) gateways to the city.

Bishopsgate, as depicted by Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-1677). This is the gate through which James I and his party made their triumphal entry into London, following the death of Elizabeth I (image is in the Public Domain).


Before the coming of the railways in the Nineteenth Century, and the construction of Liverpool Street Station, Bishopsgate was home to at least eight coaching inns, places where travellers recently arrived in the city could find board and lodging. They were places, also, where people from all corners of the land might come together to exchange news, information and gossip (in the Fifteenth Century, these might have included Lancastrian and Yorkist spies; in the Eighteenth Century, Jacobite agents; in any age, they might have included criminals on the run, keen to drop their accents and blend in with the local population, to leave their past behind them in a distant town or village).

The White Hart, one of Bishopsgate's coaching inns, by John Charles Maggs (c1885), British Postal Museum and Archive (image is in the Public Domain). 


The rich and powerful, however, far from distancing themselves from this hubbub, frequently chose to live in the midst of it; their servants doubtless frequenting the coaching inns, their ears always alert to whatever unguarded comments might be let slip under the influence of fatigue and strong drink. Sir Paul Pindar, a city merchant who also served as Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire under James I, built his home in Bishopsgate. It later became an inn itself, but was dismantled when Liverpool Street Station was built, its facade now preserved in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The facade of Sir Paul Pindar's house, originally in Bishopsgate, now in the Victoria & Albert Museum. Photo: K.B. Thompson (licensed under CCA).


Crosby Hall (moved to Chelsea in 1910) was built in 1466 by a wealthy wool merchant, Sir John Crosby, and was, at various times, home to the Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III), Sir Thomas More and Sir Walter Raleigh. William Shakespeare set a scene in his Richard III in Crosby Hall, a building he will have known well, since he lived locally in the 1590s, and was a parishioner at nearby St Helen's Church.

Crosby Hall, c1885 (image is in the Public Domain).


Crosby Hall, c 1884 (image is in the Public Domain).
Saint Helen's Church, Bishopsgate, dates to the Thirteenth Century, and was originally part of a priory for Benedictine nuns. Prior to the Reformation, it had a partition dividing two parallel naves, one serving the nuns, the other the parishioners. Photo: Lonpicman (licensed under GNU).
Rich and poor really do seem to have lived side by side in Bishopsgate, for John Stow records the existence of almshouses, provided by the Worshipful Companies of Skinners and Leathersellers, of which no trace remains today. It is ironic that, in one of the few City wards to have been largely spared by the Great Fire of 1666, so little of the historical fabric survives today.

Liverpool Street Station in the late Nineteenth or early Twentieth Century (image is in the Public Domain). 


Liverpool Street Station now dominates the area, so perhaps Bishopsgate is still a meeting place of sorts, but much was destroyed when it was built. Now, as the Crossrail project turns the whole of London into one giant crossroads of England, however, archaeologists are unearthing more of the mysteries that have, for centuries, been hidden beneath its streets.

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.