Sunday, 22 October 2017

The Story of London in 50 Novels: 3 - "Cast Not the Day," by Paul Waters

Between 235 and 284 AD, the Roman Empire was convulsed by a series of crises: plagues, civil wars, and barbarian invasions. When, in 330 AD, the Emperor Constantine, who had himself spent time in Britain, made the newly founded city of Constantinople the capital of his Empire, in place of Rome, he was signifying, perhaps consciously, that it would not be possible for his successors to hold the Empire together; and indicating his preference for the Eastern, rather than the Western Empire. This decision was a religious, as well as a political one: Constantine had, by this stage, embraced the Christian religion, and, in stark contrast to Rome, his new capital would be unencumbered by Pagan temples and amphitheatres.

London did not escape these convulsions. From the mid-Third Century onward, its population seems to have been in decline, some of the city's homes and warehouses abandoned, and filled up with "dark earth," probably compost, allowing ruined buildings to be pressed into new service as allotments for growing vegetables or keeping animals. The construction of a new wall along the Thames waterfront suggests a greater concern with defence than with trade: it may have been prompted by the appearance of slave-hunting Saxon pirates; or by one of the many coup attempts staged by military commanders in the provinces. Families that were wealthy enough to own country villas, as well as city houses, increasingly retired to their estates.

Coin of the usurper, Magnentius, whose rebellion lasted from 350 to 353 AD. Photo: Wikimedia Commons (licensed under CCA).

The divisions of the Roman Empire in c 271 AD. Image: Wikimedia Commons (licensed under GNU). 

Whilst the Empire was now, officially, Christian, many people in the west held fast to their older, Pagan, customs. Although there was, until recently, little direct evidence for late Roman Christianity in London, excavations on Tower Hill have revealed the remains of a large and ornate "basilica," very possibly a church or cathedral, built with marble and other stones re-used from earlier buildings, perhaps including Pagan temples. It seems to have been built between 350 and 400 AD, but London clearly had a Christian community before this, as its Bishop, Restitutus, is recorded as having attended the Council of Arles in 314 AD.

The Basilica of Saint Ambrose, Milan: London's first basilica, on Tower Hill, may have been built to a similar design. Photo: Wikimedia Commons (licensed under CCA).

Paul Waters's novel, Cast Not the Day, is set in a London riven by religious divisions. A rebellion by the army commander, Magnentius, against the Emperor Constans, has been defeated. Although personally a Christian, many Pagans have supported Magnentius on the basis that he appeared to offer greater tolerance of religious diversity. Now the new Emperor, Constantius II, has dispatched a ruthless administrator, and Christian fundamentalist, Paulus Catena, to the city to root out his former supporters, and to exterminate Paganism in London. Two young Pagan men, Drusus and Marcellus, struggle to survive the conflict.

Head of the god, Serapis, from the Temple of Mithras, London, established by a military veteran, Ulpius Silvanus, in 307-310 AD; Museum of London. Photo: Udimu (licensed under GNU).

Fourth Century figure of the god, Bacchus, from the Temple of Mithras, London (the temple seems to have been re-dedicated to him following Silvanus's death); Museum of London. Photo: Zde (licensed under CCA). 

"We came to London through the open suburb of farmsteads and villas to the south, halting at the watering place by the bridge, where the carters and litter-bearers gather. The house of Balbus lay in the heart of the merchants' quarter, off the Street of the Carpenters, close by the Grove of Isis. Everywhere was crowded. The hot air smelled of dust and unwashed bodies. Behind the street the workshops sounded with the noise of hammers and saws and engravers' chisels ... "

"At first I could not believe what I saw. I had expected, I suppose, some sort of tavern brawl. But instead I saw the crowd had with one mind set upon a building, a small antique temple with fine delicate columns and steps at the front, which I had often passed on my errands to the city dock. It was, I knew, a shrine to Mercury, of the sort one saw all about this part of town, Mercury being the god of traders and merchants ... The crowd broke out in a sudden cheer as a great slab of marble facing came crashing down from the side of the temple and shattered on the flagstones. 'But why are they doing this?' I cried, shouting into Ambitus's ear over the din ... who are these people?' He turned to me. 'Do you really not know? Why, they are Christians, of course. Who else?'"

Wall-painting from Lullingstone Villa in Kent, showing the Christian Chi-Rho symbol; British Museum; the villa also had a Pagan shrine, suggesting that the household included both Pagans and Christians. Photo: Udimu (licensed under GNU). 

Wall-painting from Lullingstone, showing Christians praying; British Museum. Photo: Udimu (licensed under GNU). 

"One day, a train of mules appeared in the street in daytime, led by a band of the bishop's supporters. They took the creatures up to the temple of Concord by the Wallbrook, tethered ropes around the slender columns, and brought the stone-roofed portico crashing down into the street. Then they set torches to what remained and danced all night around the fire. I could see the glow even from my window at the fort."

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

Thursday, 12 October 2017

The Streets of Old Lambeth: Waterloo Station

A visitor to London, having explored Rotherhithe, in the Borough of Southwark, can travel by London Overground and the Jubilee Line to Waterloo Station, which is in the adjacent Borough of Lambeth. Waterloo (formally named after the bridge, rather than directly after the battle) was one of London's earliest major rail terminuses, after Euston and Paddington. It was opened by the London and South-Western Railway Company in 1848, replacing an earlier temporary station at Nine Elms, near Battersea, and connecting London to Weymouth, Southampton, Salisbury, and Portsmouth.

Waterloo Bridge Station in 1848 (image is in the Public Domain).

Waterloo Station today. Photo: Bjorn Christian Torrissen (licensed under CCA).

The LSWR network in 1922. Image: Afterbrunel (Public Domain).

It was a significant departure and arrival point for soldiers and sailors of both the First and Second World Wars. In the aftermath of the Second World War, it became the busiest station complex in Europe, and is depicted in John Schlesingers (1961) film, "Terminus", supposedly a "fly on the wall" documentary, although it is known that some of the scenes were set up, and that some of the people who appear in it were actors: it is, nonetheless, a poignant evocation of the last years of the Age of Steam.

The suffragettes, Emmeline, Christabel, and Sylvia Pankhurst, at Waterloo Station in 1911 (Emmeline was embarking on a lecture tour of Canada and the USA).  Photo: Imperial War Museum Q81490 (non-commercial license).

Troops at Waterloo Station in 1914 (image is in the Public Domain).

Crowd gathered at Waterloo Station to welcome Charlie Chaplin in 1921. Photo: Photoplay (image is in the Public Domain).

Waterloo Station in 1940, with troops arriving, and evacuees departing. Photo: US Defense Department (image is in the Public Domain).

One of the station's most unusual roles was as the embarkation point for the London Necropolis Railway Company, established in the wake of the Burials Act (1851), prohibiting the burial of the dead within central London (the overcrowding of city cemeteries and crypts had become a scandalous problem, and a serious health-hazard, in the first half of the Nineteenth Century). The railway carried coffins and mourners to Brookwood Cemetery, twenty-three miles away in Surrey. The company's London station was badly damaged by German bombing in 1941, and the railway of the dead never re-opened.

The London Necropolis Railway. Image: Iridescent (licensed under GNU).

The former entrance to the London Necropolis Station, built in 1902. Photo: Wikimedia Commons (licensed under GNU).

A one-way coffin ticket (image is in the Public Domain).

The bombed station in 1941. Photo: Southern Railway Photographic Unit (image is in the Public Domain).

Leaving via the Victory Arch, opened in 1922 to commemorate the station's role in the First World War, we can walk down towards the Thames to begin our exploration of the Borough of Lambeth.

Waterloo Station's Victory Arch. Photo: Prioryman (licensed under CCA).

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

Friday, 6 October 2017

The Story of London in 50 Novels: 2 - "The Emperor's Babe," by Bernardine Evaristo

The Roman province of Britannia was governed from Londinium throughout the Second and Third Centuries AD, and, wherever foundations are dug within the city, evidence of its prosperity are to be found. The Greek writer, Strabo, lists Britain's exports as including grain, cattle, gold, silver, iron, hides, slaves, and hunting dogs: to which list must certainly be added lead from Flintshire, used in plumbing systems across the Empire. All of these are likely to have passed through the port of London, with wine, olive oil, dates, figs, and luxury tableware flowing in the other direction.

A free market in goods and services extended from Wales in the west to Syria in the east, and from Northumbria in the north to Egypt in the south. London's cosmopolitan population attracted some of the Empire's finest craftsmen: mosaicists; mural artists; glass-blowers; and stone-masons.

Mosaic from Roman London, Museum of London. Photo: Udimu (licensed under GNU).

The defensive wall around the city of London was not built until around 200 AD, and probably had as much to do with policing and surveillance in the capital as with defence from external threats, which did not loom on the horizon for some decades afterwards. Such policing and surveillance were important, because the city served as a base, not only for the province's Governor and Procurator (finance minister), but sometimes even for the Emperor. Hadrian was here in 122 AD, and Septimius Severus from 208 to 211 AD: both were concerned primarily with consolidation and conquest in the north of Britain, but, in their presence, much of the business of the governance of Empire is likely to have been centred on Londinium.

London in c 200 AD. Image: Udimu (licensed under GNU).

Section of Londinium's defensive wall, Tower Hill. Photo: Nessy-Pic (licensed under CCA).

Head from a bronze statue of the Emperor Hadrian, found in the Thames, Museum of London. Photo: FollowingHadrian (licensed under CCA).

Bernardine Evaristo's novel, The Emperor's Babe, set in 211 AD, is a novel in verse, tells the story of Zuleika, a woman of Sudanese parentage brought up in London, and married off at an early age to a much older man of senatorial rank (she is a fictional character, but people of African and Asian heritage were certainly present in Roman Britain, and most of them were probably not slaves; we even know some of their names). Zuleika's husband, Felix, has political and business interests in Rome itself, and is often absent, and, when a chance encounter brings her to the attention of Emperor Septimius Severus, she enters into a dangerous liaison.

Septimius Severus, who reigned as Emperor from 193 AD, and died at York in 211 AD, Glyptothek Munich, Inv. 357. Photo: Bibi Saint-Pol (image is in the Public Domain). 

"One minute it's hopscotch in bare feet,
next, you're four foot up in a sedan in case
your pink stocking get dirty. No one
prepared me for marriage. Me and Alba
were the wild girls of Londinium,
sought to discover the secrets
of its hidden hearts, still too young
to withhold more than we revealed,
to join this merry cast of actors ...
 ... Some nights we'd go to the river,
sit on the beach, look out towards
the marshy islands of Southwark,
and beyond to the jungle that was Britannia,
teeming with spirits and untamed humans.
We'd try to imagine the world beyond the city,
that country a lifetime away that Mum
called home and Dad called prison;
the city of Roma which everyone
went on about as if it were so bloody mirabilis ... 
 ... The white stucco villas of Cheapside
are usually out of bounds to scallywags
like me and Alba. Guards shoo us away.
(She has not been invited). Today
they bow as if I were the emperor's wife,
when my horse-drawn carriage, if you please,
arrives at a villa with its own latrina.
And enough rooms to fill the Forum."

Limestone sarcophagus and lead coffin excavated at Spitalfields, and containing the skeleton of a young woman. Its discovery in 1999 inspired Bernardine Evaristo when she was working as poet in residence at the Museum of London. Photo: (licensed under CCA).

The narration hop-scotches elegantly, and often hilariously, between the Londinium of Zuleika's era, and the London of our own, as one critic has suggested, "like an episode of  Sex and the City written by Ovid."

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

Sunday, 1 October 2017

The Year in Medieval Art: October

In some respects, the autumnal months of the Medieval year merge together: the harrowing and ploughing of fields; the sowing of seeds for vegetables; the harvesting and treading of grapes; continue from September into October. The agricultural cycle always depended on the weather: a crop could not be harvested until it had ripened, but needed to be gathered in before it was ruined by rain, frost or pests. In some regions, there were new crops to be harvested in October, including apples and pears.

October, from Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, 1412-40, Musee Conde (image is in the Public Domain). The building in the background is the Medieval Chateau du Louvre.

October, from the Grimani Breviary, by Gerard Horenbout, 1510-19, Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, Venice (image is in the Public Domain).

Calendar page for October, from the Hours of Joanna of Castile, c 1500. British Library Add.Ms 35313 (image is in the Public Domain).

The grape harvest in October, by Maestro Venceslau, late 14th/early 15th Century (image is in the Public Domain).

The apple harvest, from the Tacuinum Sanitatis, Naitonalbibliothek, Vienna (image is in the Public Domain).

October was often the month in which the more specialised and technical aspects of crop-processing took place. In wine producing areas, the grapes had to be pressed; the barrels sealed and stored for fermentation; the previous year's vintage assessed; wines blended and laid down to mature. In more northerly climates, grain had to be made into ale, and apples into cider.

The "Mystic Wine-Press," making an explicit link between crop-processing and the blood-sacrifice of Christ, from La Bible Moralisee, Provence, 1485-93.

A monastic cellarer assessing the vintage, from Li Livres do Sante, France, late 13th Century (image is in the Public Domain). 

A cooper sealing a barrel, from the Officium Beatae Mariae, Boulogne, 1385 (image is in the Public Domain).

A monastic brewer (image is in the Public Domain).

Herds of cattle, sheep, and goats, that had been grazed in upland pastures over the summer, were now brought back down into the valleys, the herdsmen bringing with them the new cheese, to be matured in cellars and caves.

"The Return of the Herd," by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1565. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (image is in the Public Domain).

The assessment of cattle, from the Da Costa Hours, by Simon Bening, c 1515, Morgan Library, New York (image is in the Public Domain). A farmer might slaughter a cow or bull in October, to provide a feast for his workers, and also to lay down reserves of salt-beef for the winter.

As the labours of the harvest drew to a close, the rhythms of the religious calendar began, once again, to assert themselves. The term "Allhallowtide" seems to have been used for the first time in 1471, but as far back as the early Eleventh Century, Abbot Odile, of the wealthy and powerful Benedictine house of Cluny (which had dependencies all across Europe), had set aside the end of October as a time of prayers for the dead: a reminder to everyone of the brevity of life; and a preparation for the penitence of Advent to come.

"The Triumph of Death," Church of Santa Maria Annunciata, Bienno, Italy. Photo: Luca Gianelli (CC-BY-SA 3.0).

Danse Macabre, by Berns Notke (1435-1509), Tallinn, Art Museum of Estonia 1255 (image is in the Public Domain).

Danse Macabre, by Vincent of Kastau, 1471, Church of Saint Mary, Beram, Croatia. Photo: Toffel (licensed under GNU).

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