Thursday, 26 November 2015

The Wards of Old London: Cheape - Guildhall, and Windows into Cities Past

The main road running through the City of London, from Newgate in the west to Aldgate in the east, having passed through the Ward of Farringdon Within, and skirted the northern edges of Bread Street Ward and Cordwainer Street Ward, enters the Ward of Cheape (or Cheap, the latter being the preferred modern spelling).

The Wards of the City of London in 1870 (Image is in the Public Domain).

One might expect the names of the streets that run from north to south - Ironmongers' Lane, Wood Street, Honey Lane, Milk Street - to tell their own fairly obvious stories, and, probably, in the time of Geoffrey Chaucer, this was the case. By the time that John Stow was writing his Survey of London, in 1598, however, these demarcations of trade had largely broken down. He knows of the ironmongers of Ironmongers' Lane only from written records and, even in his childhood, his parents sent him to fetch milk, not from Milk Street, but from the Franciscan nunnery beyond Aldgate. At the point where Cheapside becomes Poultry, he writes of poulterers as a distant memory, and rather encounters, in Cheape Ward, grocers, apothecaries, pepperers, haberdashers and upholsterers.

Cheape Ward, from an 18th Century copy of Stow's Survey of London (image is in the Public Domain).

Ward boundaries in the city change from time to time, and only a small part of London's Guildhall is now in Cheap Ward. In Stow's time, however, it was wholly so, and it was the pulsing heart of city life, functioning as a seat of civic governance, a court of law, and a place where the representatives of the various City Livery Companies came together to consider matters of common concern.

The interior of Guildhall today. Photo: David Iliff (License CC-BY-SA 3.0).

It is, in fact, one of the very few Medieval buildings in the City to have survived the Great Fire of 1666. The first written reference to a guildhall was in 1128, and the current building was constructed between 1411 and 1440. The crypt may date to the late 13th Century. The current Grand Entrance, in "Hindoostani Gothic," was added by Charles Dance in 1788.

The crypt of London's Guildhall. Photo: The Wub (licensed under CCA).

In the days before mass-media (which extended well into the 19th Century), Guildhall Yard was London's most important gathering place. Whenever news reached London of an important national or international event, it was to the yard that the tradesmen and apprentices flocked, to hear the news delivered by the Lord Mayor, accompanied by whatever dignitaries could be enticed to join him with the promise of a good lunch and a generous glass of port.

Guildhall Yard in 1805: the buildings to the left and right were destroyed during a bombing raid in the Second World War (image is in the Public Domain).

Beneath the modern streets of Cheap Ward, however, and even beneath Guildhall Yard itself, lie clues to earlier incarnations of the city we call London. A printer's apprentice, listening to a speech by the Lord Mayor, can hardly have known that he was standing in the centre of Londinium's Roman amphitheatre, where gladiators faced one another in battles for life and death. It was only in 2000 that excavations by Museum of London archaeologists revealed its remains, its circuit now marked out on the paving slabs of Guildhall Yard, and its eastern entrance preserved in the basement of the Guildhall Art Gallery.

The remains of London's Roman amphitheatre. Photo: Philafrenzy (licensed under CCA).

Guildhall Yard today, the black line at bottom right marking the curve of the Roman arena. Photo: Elisa Rolle (licensed under CCA).

The streets to the south of Guildhall became, after 1066, the focus for London's Jewish community, until the Jews were expelled from England in 1290, following a wave of anti-Semitic riots (London's Jewish community was only officially re-established during the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell). In Milk Street, on a site that had been home to the wealthy Jewish Crespin family, archaeologists uncovered a 13th Century mikveh, a Jewish ritual bath, now reconstructed at London's Jewish Museum in Camden.

The persecution of English Jews, from the 13th Century Rochester Chronicle (British Library). The badges worn by the Jews were enforced upon them by an edict of Pope Innocent III in 1215 (image is in the Public Domain).

Returning to the main east-west street through the city, which is, by this point in our journey, Poultry, we have, perhaps for the first time, a clear sense of being at the low point between the two hills on which London is built: Ludgate Hill behind us to the west and Cornhill ahead of us to the east. We have little sense of the natural watercourse running beneath our feet, the Walbrook Stream, or indeed of the artificial watercourse that carried sweeter water from the headwaters of the River Tyburn to the "Great Conduit" which served Londoners from the 1240s until the time of the Great Fire in 1666.

No. 1, Poultry. Photo: John Salmon (licensed under CCA).

A post-modern office block, No.1 Poultry, and which incorporates Bank Underground Station, now stands where Medieval Londoners queued for fresh water (brewers were frequently accused of taking more than their fair share, but the alternative of brewing ale from the brackish and fetid waters of the Thames would probably have had far worse consequences). During its construction, Museum of London archaeologists found the remains of one of London's lost churches, the tiny Saint Benet Sherehog, as well as several Roman houses.

Discarded behind the houses, and preserved only thanks to the waters of the Walbrook stream, was found a Roman letter, written on a thin sliver of wood, which gives us a fleeting glimpse into the life of one of Londinium's inhabitants. It is the deed of sale of a Gaulish slave-girl named Fortunata, sold for the equivalent of two years' salary for a legionary. Fortunata was probably literate (illiterate slaves were cheaper) but, whatever her background, she was now at the very bottom of the heap, the slave of a slave of a slave. Her age is not given, but she must have been young (she is described as a puella, which can mean either "virgin" or "girl," but the latter reading is to be preferred, since slaves enjoyed no legal protection from rape). She will be the protagonist of my next novel.

Mark Patton's novels, Undreamed Shores, An Accidental King and Omphalos, are published by Crooked Cat Publications, and can be purchased from Amazon.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

A History of the World in 50 Novels. 33 - "Angels and Insects," by A.S. Byatt

Britain's industrial revolution in the 19th Century went hand in hand with the popularisation of science. Where, a century earlier, a knowledge of classical antiquity had been the mark of a "gentleman," increasingly an "educated" man or woman was expected to keep abreast of the latest developments in chemistry, physics and biology. London's Royal Institution, founded in 1799, offered public lectures by some of the leading scientific figures of the day. It was here that Sir Humphrey Davy inspired the young Mary Shelley with a lecture on galvanism; and Michael Faraday both demonstrated electricity and established the Institution's annual Christmas Lectures for young people; Sir John Lubbock lectured on the social behaviour of ants, bees and wasps; and Thomas Henry Huxley ("Darwin's Bulldog") on evolution.

Michael Faraday lecturing at the Royal Institution in 1856 (image is in the Public Domain).

Experimental science became not only the foundation of new technologies, but also a hobby for many people. It also posed some difficult questions, however, removing some of the certainties on which people had based their lives for centuries. If, as Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace claimed, life had evolved by means of "natural selection," was there any basis for a belief in God? If not, then the Bible could surely no longer be the basis of morality, but what was to replace it? The Metaphysical Society was founded in 1869 to ponder just such questions, bringing together such luminaries as Huxley (who coined the word "agnostic"); the politician, William Gladstone; the artist and critic, John Ruskin; the poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson; and the churchmen, Cardinal Manning and Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, the Dean of Westminster Abbey.

Cartoon of Charles Darwin, from The Hornet, 1871 (image is in the Public Domain).

Similarly, if, as men such as Davy and Faraday had proven beyond doubt, we are constantly surrounded by powerful forces, such as magnetic fields and radio waves, of which we are unaware, but which can, with the right knowledge and equipment, be harnessed to human use, what else might be "out there" to be tapped? The spirits of the dead, perhaps, moving unseen amongst us, waiting to be "contacted"? Spiritualism, like science, became a hobby and, for some people, an obsession. Some mediums, such as Florence Cook in Hackney and the Fox sisters in America, even claimed to be able to "materialise" spirits, until their fraudulent practices were revealed and demonstrated in the 1870s by stage magicians such as John Nevil Maskelyne and George Alfred Cooke.

The medium, Florence Cook, claimed to be able to materialise a spirit, "Katie King" (image is in the Public Domain). Here the chemist and physicist, Sir William Crookes, encounters her, and is convinced, but Cook was later unmasked as a fraud by George Sitwell (the father of the poet, Edith).

A.S. Byatt's novel, Angels and Insects, is, in effect, two novellas bound together, exploring these issues through the eyes of both fictional and historical characters.

In the first novella, Morpho Eugenia, a fictional naturalist, William Adamson (who has much in common with Alfred Russel Wallace) returns to England from an Amazonian expedition. He is impoverished, but finds a patron in the Reverend Sir Harald Alabaster, who employs him to catalogue his collection of natural history specimens. Sir Harald agonises over the reconciliation of science and faith, and looks to William for reassurance, which he finds himself unable to provide. William falls in love with, and marries, Sir Harald's socially awkward daughter, Eugenia, and they start a family. Whilst William enjoys the uneasy confidence of Eugenia's father, he meets outright hostility from her brother Edgar, a hostility he assumes to be founded in snobbery, but which turns out to have much darker roots. Together with his children and their tutor, the mysterious and beguiling Miss Matty Crompton (a servant who quotes Milton & Ovid, and writes poetry and fiction of her own), William embarks on a study of ants' nests around Sir Harald's estate, but Matty is party to the family secrets, and it is very uncertain where her increasingly close association with William might lead.

Statue of Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913), a zoologist mentioned in Byatt's text, but who also appears, at least in part, to be the model for William Adamson. Wallace hit upon a theory of natural selection independently from Darwin, and a summary of both theories was presented simultaneously to the Royal Society with neither man actually present. Although the two theories are essentially similar, Darwin's reputation went on to eclipse Wallace's, in part because of his more influential social connections. The statue, at the Natural History Museum, is by Anthony Smith. Photo: George Beccaloni (licensed under CCA).

"'It is hard,' he said to William, 'not to agree with the Duke of Argyll that the extraordinary beauty of these creatures is in itself the evidence of the work of a Creator, a Creator who also made our human sensibility to beauty, to design, to delicate variation and brilliant colour ... The world has changed so much, William, in my lifetime. I am old enough to have believed in our first Parents in Paradise, as a little boy, to have believed in Satan hidden in the snake, and in the Archangel with the flaming sword, closing the gate. I am old enough to have believed without question in the Divine Birth on a cold night with the sky full of singing angels and the shepherds staring up in wonder, and the strange kings advancing across the sand on camels with gifts. And now I am presented with a world in which we are what we are because of the mutations of soft jelly and calceous bone matter through unimaginable millennia - a world in which angels and devils do not battle in the Heavens for virtue and vice, but in which we eat and are eaten and absorbed into other flesh and blood ...'"

Morpho eugenia, the Amazonian butterfly that gives its name to the first novella, Museum of Toulouse. Photo: Didier Descouens (licensed under CCA).

In the second novella, The Conjugial Angel, we find ourselves in Margate, in the company of Mrs Lilias Papagay, the wife or widow of a sea-captain (missing, presumed drowned), and Miss Sophy Sheekhy, a spirit-medium. Their social circle includes Emily Jesse (a historical character - the sister of the poet, Tennyson, and the wife of a retired sea-captain, Richard); and a Mr Hawke (fictional, I think), described as a "theological connoisseur:"

"He had been a Ritualist, a Methodist, a Quaker, a Baptist, and had now come to rest, permanently or temporarily, in the Church of the New Jerusalem, which had come into being in the spiritual world in the year 1787 when the old order had passed away, and that Spiritual Columbus, Emanuel Swedenborg, had made his voyages through the various Heavens and Hells of the Universe, which he was shown in the form of a Divine Human, every spiritual and every material thing corresponding to some part of this infinite Grand Man."

"When Mrs Papagay tried the automatic writing on her own for the first time, she received, she thought, indisputable messages from Arturo, then or now, alive or dead, tangled in seaweed or in her memory. Her respectable fingers wrote out imprecations in various languages she knew nothing of, and never sought to have translated, for she knew well enough approximately what they were, with their fs and cons and cuns. Arturo's little words of fury, Arturo's little words, also, of intense pleasure. She said, dreamily, 'O, are you dead or alive, Arturo?' and the reply was 'Naughty-lus tangle-shells sand sand break break breaker c.f.f.c. naughty Lilias, infin che'l mar fu sopra noi richiuso.' From which she concluded that on the whole he was probably drowned, not without struggle. So she put on mourning, took in two lodgers, tried her hand at a novel, and lived more and more in the passive writing."

Advertisement for a "planchette" to facilitate automatic writing, as a method of communicating with the deceased (image is in the Public Domain). Manufacturers experimented with various materials as a means of "insulating" users from the influence of evil spirits, just as the makers of the first electrical devices sought to insulate their customers from electric shocks.

A shipwreck, and the character of Mrs Papagay's husband, Arturo, create the link between the two novellas, as becomes clear at the junction between them. In both cases, Byatt's narration is interwoven, not only with the dialogues between her characters, but with the poetry, fiction and theology of the time itself. Historical fiction meets the history of ideas in a dazzling evocation of a moment in which everything seemed to be at stake, the fiery furnace in which modern Britain was forged.

Mark Patton's novels, Undreamed Shores, An Accidental King, and Omphalos, are published by Crooked Cat Publications, and can be purchased from Amazon.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

The Wards of Old London: Cordwainer Street - Shoemakers, and a Church of Many Stories

Immediately to the east of Bread Street Ward lies Cordwainer Street Ward, so-named for the cordwainers who worked here throughout the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period. Cordwainers were workers in leather and, more specifically, makers of shoes and boots from new leather (thus distinguishing them from cobblers, who repaired used shoes, or made new ones from recycled leather). The finest shoes of all were made from white goat-skin leather imported from Cordoba in Spain, and the word "cordwainer" is derived from "Cordovan," although the cordwainers of London are likely to have worked both with this luxury material and with cheaper leather produced within England.

A modern cordwainer at work on the island of Capri. Photo: Jorge Royar (licensed under CCA).

This particular quarter of London was designated for the use of cordwainers by a statute of Henry VI in 1431. At various times during the Middle Ages, fashions in footwear seem to have got out of hand, and orders were sent out by monarchs, charging the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers to restrict the length of the "pikes" on the shoes being made and sold.

A Medieval shoe with a prominent "pike" (pointed toe). Photo: Marieke Kuijjer (licensed under CCA).

Shoe-making in London began to decline during the English Civil War (or the War of the Three Kingdoms, depending on one's point of view), when Oliver Cromwell placed a bulk order with shoe-makers in Northampton, for shoes and boots to equip the New Model Army. With more physical space for expansion, and easy access to raw materials (Northamptonshire had been a centre of the leather industry since Roman times), the shoe-makers of Northampton flourished at the expense of the London cordwainers.

There were, at the time of John Stow's Survey of London (1598), seven ecclesiastical parishes within the ward, but only two churches survive. Both have their origins in Saxon times, but both were remodelled in the Middle Ages, destroyed by the Great Fire of 1666, rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren, and damaged in the Blitz. Saint Mary Aldermary, where Geoffrey Chaucer's father, Richard (a wine-merchant), lies buried, is one of the few churches that Wren chose to rebuild in a Gothic, rather than a Neo-Classical style, and is thus one of the very earliest expressions of an architectural tradition that reached its height with Barry and Pugin's Palace of Westminster.

The church of Saint Mary Aldermary. Photo: Lonpicman (licensed under GNU).

The more famous church, however, is Saint Mary-le-Bow, the bells of which can apparently be heard as far away as Hackney Marshes (traditionally, Londoners can only consider themselves "Cockneys" if they were born within hearing distance of them). The bells were used, at various times, to give notice of a curfew within the city, after which the gates would be closed.

The church of Saint Mary-le-Bow, as designed by Sir Christopher Wren. Photo: Lonpicman (licensed under GNU).

John Stow has more stories to tell about Saint Mary-le-Bow than about any other London church. Here are just a couple of them:

"First, we read that, in the year 1090 ... by tempest of wind, the roof of the church was overturned, wherewith some persons were slain, and four of the rafters, of twenty-six feet in length, with such violence were pitched in the ground of the high street, that scantly four feet of them remained above ground, which they fain to be cut even with the ground, because they could not be plucked out, for the city of London was not then paved, and a marish ground."

The church of Saint-Mary-le-Bow, as it appears on the Agas Map of 1561. Image: Stephencdickson (licensed under CCA).

"In the year 1196, William Fitz Osbert, a seditious tailor, took the steeple of Bow, and fortified it with munitions and victuals, but it was assaulted, and William, with his accomplices were taken, though not without bloodshed, for he was forced by fire and smoke to forsake the church; and then, by the judges condemned, he was by the heels drawn to the Elms of Smithfield, and there hanged with nine of his fellows; where, because his favourers came not to deliver him, he forsook 'Mary's son,' as he termed Christ our Saviour, and called upon the Devil to help and deliver him. Such was the end of this deceiver, a man of evil life, a secret murderer, a filthy fornicator, a polluter of concubines, and, among his other detestable facts, a false accuser of his elder brother, who had in his youth brought him up in learning, and done many things for his preferment."

The crypt of Saint-Mary-le-Bow, where some of the Medieval masonry is preserved. Photo: John Salmon (licensed under CCA).

The interior of Saint Mary-le-Bowe, as designed by Sir Christopher Wren. Photo: David Iliff (License CC-BY-SA3.0).

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, 5 November 2015

The Wards of Old London: Bread Street - Goldsmiths, Bakers and Fishmongers

In an earlier blog-post, I followed in the footsteps of an imagined visitor to London from the west, entering the city through Newgate (having travelled, perhaps, from Reading or Oxford), and passing along Newgate Street to Saint Paul's. We left our visitor at the foot of Cheapside Cross, beyond which lies Cheapside itself, now, as in the past, part of the main thoroughfare running through the city from west to east. Newgate Street and Cheapside, together, closely follow the course of their Roman equivalent, the Via Decumana.

Charles Dickens Junior, in his 1879 Dictionary of London, says of the street:

"Cheapside remains now what it was five centuries ago, the greatest thoroughfare in the City of London. Other localities have had their day, have risen, become fashionable, and have sunk into obscurity and neglect, but Cheapside has maintained its place, and may boast of being the busiest thoroughfare in the world."

Cheapside in the early 20th Century. Photo: Snapshots of the past (licensed under CCA).

On either side of Cheapside were the shops of goldsmiths and jewellers. On its south side stood "Goldsmiths' Row," described by John Stow as "the most beautiful frame of fair houses and shops that be within the walls of London, or elsewhere in England ... It containeth, in number, ten fair dwelling houses and fourteen shops." This was built in 1491 by Thomas Wood, a goldsmith. The records of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, which owned the freehold to these properties, show that the company tried very hard, throughout the 16th and 17th Centuries, to ensure that the shops and houses were let only to goldsmiths, but that, in practice, this was often difficult to enforce.

Cheapside in 1639 (The Reception of Marie de Medici in London - Image is in the Public Domain).

The lives of those who lived and worked here are celebrated (and satirised) in Thomas Middleton's (1613) play, A Chaste Maid in Cheapside. It was on the site of one of these shops that workmen in 1912 discovered the Cheapside Hoard, probably the stock-in-trade of one of the jewellers, buried for safekeeping in the early stages of the English Civil War and never recovered. We will almost certainly never know whether this artisan fell as a Royalist in the Battle of Edgehill (alongside his likely commander, Robert Bertie, the 1st Earl of Lindsay, who, as Treasurer of the British East India Company, may have had an interest in some of the jewels), or as a Parliamentarian (probably with Philip Skippon's London Trained Bands) in the Siege of Basing House.

Cheapside separates Bread Street Ward, to its south, and Cripplegate Ward Within, to its north. Our visitor from the west might well have been tempted by the aromas of freshly-baked bread, to turn right from Cheapside onto Bread Street. As early as 1302, "the bakers of London were ordered to sell no bread at their houses, but in the open market at Bread Street" (Statute of Edward I).

Bread Street and Cordwainer Wards in 1720 (image is in the Public Domain).

The City Livery Companies were responsible for regulating their respective trades (the Worshipful Company of Bakers, for example, was concerned to ensure that the flour in the London loaf was not adulterated with sawdust, chalk or other contaminants), and this was, at least in theory, made easier by having all the practitioners of a particular trade operating in the same areas. In practice, however, this did not prevent all abuses - the Cheapside Hoard includes a number of fake rubies, produced from rock-crystal.

A woman buying bread from a baker, by Jorg Urlaub, 1568, Stadbibliothek Nurnberg (image is in the Public Domain).

Friday Street was part of the domain of the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers, responsible for ensuring that all the fish on sale here was either fresh, or properly salted or smoked. Whilst Cheapside itself was clearly a thoroughfare, streets such as Bread Street and Friday Street are unlikely to have been navigable by horses or wheeled transport during market hours, being filled with market stalls, their owners and customers.

The fish market at Antwerp, by Marten Pepijn & Adriaen van Utrecht, c1630, Rubenshuis (image is in the Public Domain).

Walking the streets of Bread Street Ward today, one has little immediate sense of its rich history. The Medieval Churches of All Hallows, Bread Street (where John Milton was christened in 1608) and Saint Mildred, Bread Street were both destroyed in the Great Fire of London. Both were rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren, but All Hallows was demolished in 1876; and St Mildred's (where Percy Bysshe Shelley married Mary Godwin in 1816) was destroyed during the London Blitz. A large part of the Ward, including "Goldsmiths' Row," is now beneath One New Change, the only large-scale modern shopping mall within the City. The up-side of such developments is that the developers are legally obliged to fund archaeological excavations before they start building. I was fortunate to have a tour of the excavations whilst they were in progress (they revealed Roman, Medieval and Early Modern features), and the Museum of London's archaeologists are now working on the publication.

One New Change, under construction  in 2009. The photograph is taken from Saint Paul's Cathedral, looking east along Cheapside (to the left) and Cannon Street (to the right). Photo: Graham Horn (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 now working on The Cheapside Tales, a London-based trilogy of historical novels.