Friday, 21 July 2017

The Streets of Old Southwark: Remnants of the Great North Wood

A visitor to London, exploring the Borough of Southwark, and having visited Dulwich Village, can walk south along College Road, crossing the South Circular Road, and passing the present buildings of Dulwich School, designed by Sir Charles Barry (who, with Augustus Pugin, also designed the Palace of Westminster), and built in 1840, when the needs of the school had long-since outgrown the buildings endowed to it by Edward Alleyn.

Dulwich College. Photo: Noel Foster (licensed under CCA).

A little further up the hill, a toll-booth, dating back to 1789, reminds us that we are, in fact, on private land. Beyond this is a path that leads into surprisingly dense woodland. Dulwich Wood and Sydenham Hill Wood are, in a sense, remnants of the "Great North Wood," which once extended over much of what is now south London. This wood (which also gives its name to the suburb of Norwood) was granted to the monks of Bermondsey Abbey by Henry I in 1127. Five centuries later, parts of it were owned by Alleyn.

The College Road Tollgate. Photo: Spsmiler (image is in the Public Domain).

The Table of Tolls. Photo: Spsmiler (image is in the Public Domain).

The view east from Dulwich Wood towards Battersea Power Station. Photo: Robkam (image is in the Public Domain).  

Natural as it appears, it is not true "wild-wood," almost none of which exists anywhere in the British Isles. Woodland has been actively managed across these islands since the Neolithic period, five to six thousand years ago: and the monks would have managed it in much the same way as Alleyn managed it; by dividing it up into "coppices," leased out to one or more tenants, often members of the same family, since coppices were harvested in rotation.

Coppicing involves trees being regularly cut down to near ground level, and allowed to grow up again from new shoots. Birch can be coppiced for faggots on a three to four year cycle; oak for poles or firewood on a fifty year cycle. Different species, and various lengths of cycle, produced wood for different purposes: cart-making; wattle fencing; thatching spars; charcoal for industrial burning.

Recently coppiced alder. Photo: Cat James, Naturenet (licensed under GNU).

The same coppice after one year's growth (the predominant species in the Great North Wood is likely to have been oak, which follows a longer cycle). Photo: Cat James, Naturenet (licensed under GNU).

The coppicing process. Image: Javier Martin (licensed under GNU).

Some trees would have been allowed to grow for longer, but would then be pollarded (the upper branches cut off, and allowed to regrow), both to provide the larger timbers needed for the construction and ship-building industries; and, in the case of oak, to provide acorns, on which the tenants would have grazed their pigs.

Oak pollard. Photo: Rodolph (licensed under GNU).

This mix of activities: coppicing; pollarding; and the grazing of pigs; ensured that plenty of light reached the woodland floor, creating an environment in which bluebells, anemones, and primroses could thrive. In Sydenham Hill and Dulwich Woods today, these native species jostle alongside introduced survivors from Victorian Gardens, such as rhododendrons and buddleia; and, whilst the foxes and badgers may be descended from those that roamed these hills in prehistoric times, the native red squirrels have long since been displaced by their American grey cousins. The woodland remains a sanctuary, however, for species that we rarely see in the more built up areas of the metropolis.
The Green Woodpecker. Photo: Hans-Jorg Hellwig (licensed under CCA).

The Nuthatch. Photo: Peter Mulligan (licensed under CCA).

In the later Seventeenth Century, particularly after London's Great Fire, with a reduced demand for timber, the active management of woodland declined. Gypsies colonised the woods, and told the fortunes of Londoners who rode out to meet them, including, in 1688, the wife and daughters of Samuel Pepys.
Margaret Finch, the "Queen of the Norwood Gypsies," who died in 1740, at the age of 108 (image is in the Public Domain). It may have been her mother or aunt who told the fortunes of Pepys's family. Her daughter, "Old Bridget," is buried in the Dulwich Village Cemetery. 

The coming of the railways, in the mid-Nineteenth Century, dissected many of the remaining woodlands of Greater London, but, where these railways have subsequently been decommissioned, as is the case here, nature, in both its native and invasive guises, has been quick to reassert itself.

A train leaving Lordship Lane Station, by Camille Pissarro, 1871, Courthauld Institute of Art (image is in the Public Domain).

The line of the railway track today (closed in 1954). Photo: Robkam (licensed under CCA).

The footbridge today. Photo: Roger W. Howarth (licensed under CCA). 

From the woodland, we can re-emerge onto Crescent Wood Road, close to the top of the Sydenham Ridge, and, from there, take the southbound Number 363 bus for the next stage in our journey.

Mark Patton is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books can be purchased from Amazon.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

The Streets of Old Southwark: The Manor of Dulwich

A visitor to London, exploring the Borough of Southwark and arriving at Dulwich Village, finds himself or herself in an environment that really does feel like a village, rather than a corner of one of the World's great metropolises. It existed as a village as early as 967 AD, when King Edgar granted it to one of his thanes, Earl Aelfheah. The name, "Dulwich," comes from the Anglo-Saxon "Dilwihs," meaning "Dill-Meadow." The herb, dill, goes particularly well with fish, so the families that worked Aelfheah's land probably harvested it, and took it into London to sell around the fish-wharves of Billingsgate. In 1333, before the Black Death struck England, the population of Dulwich numbered one hundred.

In 1605, the Manor of Dulwich was purchased by Edward Alleyn. Regular followers of this blog have already encountered him as a theatrical impresario and Marlovian actor, but, having made his fortune and set up his family in rural Dulwich, he was ready to give something back to the community, with one eye doubtless on his immortal soul, and the other on his enduring reputation.

In 1619, Alleyn founded a school, "God's Gift" (now Dulwich College), for the education of twelve orphaned London-boys, admitted from the age of six. The establishment had a chapel (in which Alleyn is buried), a school-house, and twelve alms-houses. The first fifteen masters of the school were all members of Alleyn's family, the last such being George Allen (the family changed the spelling of their name during the Eighteenth Century), who retired in 1857.

Christ's Chapel of God's Gift, Dulwich. Photo: DeFacto (licensed under CCA).

Alleyn's tombstone within the chapel. Photo: Stephencdickson (licensed under CCA).

"Old-Time Tuition at Dulwich College," by Walter Charles Horsley (1855-1904), Dulwich Picture Gallery 607 (image is in the Public Domain).

Among the alumni of Dulwich College was the Antarctic explorer, Ernest Shackleton, and the college owns the small boat, the James Caird, in which, against the odds, he led five companions to safety in 1916, in a journey of 800 nautical miles from Elephant Island to South Georgia.

The "James Caird" being pulled ashore on South Georgia, 10th May 1916. The illustration, from Shackleton's book, "South," is almost certainly by the expedition artist, George Marston (image is in the Public Domain).

Dulwich College has relocated a short distance away (more on this in a future post), but beside the original foundation is the Dulwich Picture Gallery, probably the first purpose-designed public art-gallery in Europe, with important works by Rembrandt, Gainsborough, Hogarth, Reynolds, Rubens, Claude, Canaletto, Raphael and Veronese.

Sir Francis Bourgeois (1753-1811) and Noel Desenfans (1744-1807) were London art-dealers, who collected many of the paintings for Stanislaus Augustus, the King of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which was dissolved before he could take delivery of them. They tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade the British Government to accept them as the core of a national collection, and, ultimately, they were bequeathed to Dulwich College.

Sir Francis Bourgeois and Noel Desenfans, by Paul Sandby, Dulwich Picture Gallery 645 (image is in the Public Domain).

The gallery itself was designed by the architect, Sir John Soane, and opened to the public in 1817. Even before this, it was open to students of the Royal Academy of Arts: and Constable, Turner, and Van Gogh were among the many students who would visit, and find inspiration there.

Dulwich Picture Gallery, main entrance. Photo: Poliphilo (licensed under CCA).

Dulwich Picture Gallery interior. Photo: Bridgeman (licensed under GNU). Natural lighting from above is a key element of Soanes's design.

Unusually, Soane's design includes a mausoleum for the gallery's founders, Sir Francis Bourgeois, Noel Desenfans, and Noel's wife, Margaret. The mausoleum and west wing of the gallery were badly damaged by a German V1 bomb in July 1944. Human remains from the caskets were scattered across the lawn, and the bones of the three individuals, who had been so close in life, are now mingled in the three restored caskets.

The Mausoleum at Dulwich Picture Gallery. Photo: Poliphilo (licensed under CCA).

Margaret Desenfans, by Moussa Ayoub, after Sir Joshua Reynolds, Dulwich Picture Gallery 627 (image is in the Public Domain).  

From Dulwich Village, we can proceed on foot to an even more rural corner of one of London's most urban boroughs.

Signpost in Dulwich Village. Photo: Velela (licensed under GNU).

Mark Patton is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books can be purchased from Amazon.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

"The Hanging Murders" - Guest Post with Rex Carothers

Today I am interviewing American writer, Rex Carothers, to mark the publication of his debut novel, The Hanging Murders. Rex, please tell us something about your novel, and how you came to write it.

Between 1932 and 1942, five unknown transient males were murdered by hanging in the high desert of Inyo County, California. None of the murders were solved; the victims were not identified; there were no leads or suspects. The unsolved murders became cold cases. Fifteen years after the last Hanging Murder, a new killing, exactly like all the others, lands on the desk of Jim Cobb, Sheriff of Inyo County. Jim had been elected Sheriff twelve months previously, taking over the job from his father, Merrill, who had served as Sheriff since 1920. The most recent victim was found in an abandoned barn, near the community of Bishop, fifty miles north of the main Sheriff's office in Independence.  

Bishop, California. Photo: Robert Campbell (licensed under GNU).

The Inyo County Courthouse, Independence. Photo: Pbjamesphoto (licensed under CCA).

Jim has taken bereavement leave from his job as Sheriff. On the previous 4th July, Jim's wife, Harriet, and their daughter, Kendall, were killed in a head-on car-crash as they drove down to Los Angeles. Since the funerals, he has found solace in a "4 Roses" Bourbon bottle. He is reluctant to return to work and take on the necessary job of apprehending the murderer, which his father failed to accomplish fifteen years earlier. A week after the return of the Hanging Murderer, a second murder is discovered, in an area west of Lone Pine, in the Alabama Hills area, where motion pictures have been made since the 1920s. The body, in an abandoned car, has been found by two British motion picture location scouts. 
The Alabama Hills. Photo: Bobak Ha'Em (licensed under CCA).

The latest victim is Barton Haskell, a retired Sheriff's Deputy, the best friend and former mentor of Jim Cobb, and the owner of the Cowboy Bar in Lone Pine. The news of Barton's murder kicks Jim in the head like a disgruntled ornery mule, and he swears not to have another drink until he has captured Barton's murderer, and solved the Hanging Murders. 

Lone Pine, California. Photo: Bobak Ha'Em (licensed under CCA).

Inyo County is one of the most remote districts of California. The landscape is known to some of us from Westerns, such as Ride the High County, and Nevada Smith, and the social environment of small-town America will be familiar to anyone who has read Raymond Carver, but what inspired you to choose it as the location for your novel?

Mark, I'm a "Baby Boomer," who was weaned on Westerns on TV, and at the movies. I love reading murder mysteries, police procedurals, and forensics. Inyo County is the home of filming outdoor location scenes for films and TV since 1920. Putting all my loved together was a no-brainer. I've driven between Reno and Los Angeles, on State Route 395, many times, visiting Lone Pine, the Alabama Hills area, and the town of Bishop for Mule Days. The area also includes Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the continental United States, but also the lowest feature, Death Valley. The high desert is filled with panoramic vistas, desolate terrain, limited water resources, and few people. 

Death Valley. Photo: Scott Calron (licensed under GNU).

Historically, Inyo County is the home to two different, but equally important, locations. The Owens Valley, from which Los Angeles stole water through an aqueduct designed by Mulholland, and paid for by the Los Angeles Times; and the scourge of the area, Manzanar, the Internment Camp of Japanese Americans during World War II. 

Japanese American internees being taken from Lone Pine to Manzanar. Photo: Clem Albers, National Archives & Records Administration, NAID 536240 (image is in the Pubic Domain).

The murders themselves span a period of three decades, from the 1930s to the 1950s. Were they inspired by real cases, or are they wholly fictional?

The Hanging Murders doesn't arise from real facts, but from my own skewed imagination. 

The novel is billed as "A Jim Cobb Murder Mystery," Jim being the Sheriff, who has succeeded his own father in the role. Do you have other cases in mind for him?

My next Jim Cobb Mystery will centre on the killings of Japanese Nationals after Pearl Harbour, witnessed by a young cowboy on his last camping trip in the mountains above Death Valley, a week before he entered the Army in 1942. Twenty years after witnessing the murders, the horror of what a teenager saw before going off to war now intermingle with the memories of what the returned veteran sees each night in his nightmares, twenty years after the fact.  

"The two women in my life were taken away in a horrific car-crash ... Unknown to me at the time, my wife was en-route to a rendezvous with her lover, to start a new life. The interloper was a history professor at UCLA by the name of Patrick Jensen PhD ... Three weeks after her death, I found her diary with her luggage returned after the crash. It detailed her insatiable sexual demands, her childish fantasy about happiness, what kind of man she wanted, a fairytale from Victorian times."

"The couple rode in Edith's 1953 Chevrolet Bel Air convertible, in a baby-blue colour, three-speed automatic transmission, power steering, and a new one-piece windshield. They drove west from the centre of town on one Pine Creek Road, looking a the snow-capped peaks of the High Sierra Nevada, with the highest peak in the 48 States, Mount Whitney. The Alabama Hills covered the next twelve miles north. The uncommon-shaped boulders and stone pinnacles portrayed old west desert settings to a far flung vision of the Far East."

The Hanging Murders, by Rex Carothers, is published by Crooked Cat Publications, and can be purchased from Amazon.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

The Year in Medieval Art: July

The month of July, under the astrological symbol of Leo, is almost synonymous, in Medieval books of hours, with Harvest, and, specifically, with the cereal harvest (wheat, barley, oats) on which most Medieval communities depended. Men and women alike are shown with scythes and sickles, cutting the ripening crop.

Leo, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (image is in the Public Domain).

The wheat harvest, National Library of the Netherlands (image is in the Public Domain).

The wheat harvest, 16th Century (Ghent or Bruges), Houghton Library (image is in the Public Domain).

The wheat harvest, window at Dewsbury Minster (image is in the Public Domain).

Perhaps surprisingly, harvest was not a time of plenty for everyone. The previous year's supply of stored grain would almost inevitably have run out, and, whilst the new crop might (weather permitting) be ready to be cut, it was not yet ready to be used. Sheaves were typically stacked up to ripen further in the fields, and the grain then had to be threshed and milled before it could be passed on to the bakers and brewers whose products were the staples of most Medieval lives.

July, from Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, 1412-40. Sheep-shearing is an activity that often continued from June into July. The building in the background is the Palace of Poitiers. Musee Conde (image is in the Public Domain).

July, from the Grimini Breviary, 1490-1500 (image is in the Public Domain).

The fictional character of Piers Plowman, in William Langland's eponymous Fourteenth Century poem, explains the situation that must have been familiar to many, in a month when the end of hardship was in sight, but not yet within reach:

"I've no money ... for chickens or geese or pork. All I've got is a couple of fresh cheeses, a tiny amount of curds and cream, an oat-cake and a couple of loaves for my children, baked from bean-flour and bran ... parsley, leeks and a huge supply of greens ... you see, that's the sort of food we've got to live on till Lammas-tide [1st August] comes ... " (translated from the Middle English by A.V.C. Schmidt, Oxford World's Classics).

Harvesting leeks, from the Tacuinum Sanitatis, Codex Vindabonensis, Vienna (image is in the Public Domain).

Harvesting beans, from the Tacuinum Sanitatis, Codex Vindabonensis, Vienna (image is in the Public Domain).

For those with slightly more resources than Piers Plowman, rabbits (often farmed in artificial warrens), chickens, eggs, and fish provided welcome supplements to an otherwise meagre diet.

A rabbit warren. British Library, Add.MS 42130, folio 176v (image is in the Public Domain).

Woman feeding chickens, from the Tacuinum Sanitatis, Codex Vindabonensis, Vienna (image is in the Public Domain).

With the expansion of international maritime trade in the later Middle Ages, city fathers such as London's Sir Richard ("Dick") Whittington used their wealth to stock vast warehouses with grain imported from the most productive areas of Europe (generally the Hanseatic lands of the Baltic Sea and Northern Germany), ensuring that their brewers and bakers never went short of essential supplies.

Mark Patton is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books can be purchased from Amazon.