Articles on this Page
- 05/31/18--16:30: _'Broken Beauty': te...
- 06/01/18--17:24: _Talking history in ...
- 06/02/18--17:45: _The Best Historical...
- 06/03/18--18:00: _Of Magpies, Eels an...
- 06/04/18--16:30: _Bizarre Silks by Jo...
- 06/05/18--20:30: _Joy and Gladness b...
- 06/06/18--17:30: _The Queen and I ...
- 06/07/18--16:30: _'Rain, Rain, Go Awa...
- 06/08/18--16:56: _The Key to the Womb
- 06/09/18--16:01: _I do remember them ...
- 06/10/18--16:00: _The Great Mallard C...
- 06/11/18--22:00: _Roman-ish gardens,
- 06/12/18--14:07: _Article 0
- 06/12/18--16:30: _Sugar and Spice and...
- 06/13/18--16:30: _Listening to Scent ...
- 06/14/18--16:00: _Anthony Bourdain an...
- 06/15/18--18:00: _Brunel: how to 'mee...
- 06/16/18--22:00: _Bretton Hall and th...
- 06/17/18--16:30: _My Top Historical N...
- 06/18/18--16:00: _An Imperial Love Tr...
- 05/31/18--16:30: 'Broken Beauty': terror and healing - Michelle Lovric
- 06/02/18--17:45: The Best Historical Fiction Set on Islands - By Anna Mazzola
- 06/03/18--18:00: Of Magpies, Eels and Quarrels - Katherine Langrish
- 06/04/18--16:30: Bizarre Silks by Joan Lennon
- 06/05/18--20:30: Joy and Gladness by Sheena Wilkinson
- 06/06/18--17:30: The Queen and I by Adèle Geras
- 06/07/18--16:30: 'Rain, Rain, Go Away ...' by Karen Maitland
- 06/08/18--16:56: The Key to the Womb
- 06/09/18--16:01: I do remember them and I was there by Mary Hoffman
- The Beatles in America.JPG
- Mao Zedong portrait.jpg
- Woodstock redmond stage.JPG
- Bruce Crandall's UH-1D.jpg
- Martin Luther King - March on Washington.jpg)
- 06/10/18--16:00: The Great Mallard Chase (or, another example of Oxford eccentricity)
- 06/11/18--22:00: Roman-ish gardens,
- 06/12/18--14:07: Article 0
- 06/12/18--16:30: Sugar and Spice and all things nice - the 17th Century Diet
- 06/13/18--16:30: Listening to Scent - by Lesley Downer
- His first big project was the Thames Tunnel. This was - still is - a tunnel beneath the Thames, between Rotherhithe and Wapping, designed by Brunel's father, Marc. It was the first tunnel in the world to be built beneath a navigable river. Isambard became the resident engineer when he was only 21. He worked over twenty hours a day, often working alongside the miners who were pushing the tunnel forward, using highly innovative technology designed by the Brunels. It was an extraordinary project which fascinated the public - at one point an elaborate banquet was held in the tunnel, attended by the Duke of Wellington and other dignitaries. But not long after this, water gushed in through a weak point in the river bed. Several men were killed and Isambard himself was badly injured. The tunnel was never used for its intended purpose, though it was a great tourist draw.
- After this, he went to Bristol, recuperating. A competition was taking place to design a bridge to go over the Avon Gorge. The judge was Thomas Telford. Undeterred by the disaster at the tunnel, Isambard entered. He didn't win. But he didn't give up. He somehow persuaded the board that his plan was the best after all - and he got the job. He put heart and soul into designing a beautiful and functional bridge and risked life and limb surveying it.
- The Great Britain herself was built to take large numbers of passengers at a revolutionary speed across the Atlantic. Isambard's vision was that passengers should be able to get on his Great Western Railway (affectionately known as God's Wonderful Railway) in London, alight at Bristol, then get straight onto his glamorous new ship, which would whisk them across the Atlantic to New York. But all did not go smoothly. When he wanted to install a revolutionary screw propellor instead of a paddle wheel, he ran into strong opposition - it would be too expensive, no-one really knew whether it would work, etc etc. But he persisted. The ship was a thing of wonder - but on its fifth voyage, it ran aground in Dundrum Bay on the Irish coast. Another disaster! The cost of refloating and repairing it was ruinous, and it had to be sold at a huge loss - which was when it was fitted out to sail to Australia instead, and began the most successful phase of its long life.
- And then there was the matter of the railway gauge. The railways were in their infancy when Brunel began his career, but others had already made a start in the north of England - and they had chosen a narrow gauge for the lines. Brunel was convinced that a broader gauge would make for a smoother ride, and would also have advantages in terms of the design of the engines etc. He was probably right, and broad gauge was used in other parts of the world - but in Britain, the decision went against him, and all our railways now are narrow gauge. (This is why there is so much space between the platforms at Bath Station, for example: it was designed for broad gauge
- 06/16/18--22:00: Bretton Hall and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park by Penny Dolan
- 06/17/18--16:30: My Top Historical Novels - Celia Rees
- 06/18/18--16:00: An Imperial Love Triangle? by L.J. Trafford
June 3rd, two days from now, is the first anniversary of the London Bridge terror attack, in which eight people were killed and 48 injured. It happened yards from where I live. When something like this happens, everyone asks, What can I do?
So when the terror attack happened here, to the question What can I do? my answer seemed to be: take testimonies; let people talk; give them the space to make sense of what they saw and went through. And that’s what I’ve been doing – more than a long novel’s worth now. The material was never intended for publication. But some of it will be performed in two services on Sunday’s anniversary at Southwark Cathedral, which has, from the first hour, taken spiritual responsibility for the necessary healing. We are so fortunate to have the leadership of Dean Andrew Nunn, Sub-Dean Michael Rawson, Canon Precentor Gilly Myers and many others who have dedicated themselves to cleansing and reclaiming places that saw violence, composing heartfelt liturgies and sermons and, most of all, reaching out to all those who were harmed physically and emotionally by the attack.
None of us who live or work here shall ever forget the victims and their suffering or the pain of those bereaved. They will always be remembered, and their damage has become part of the fabric of this place. We have also found things to bring back from those dark days here. The Cathedral has worked with Amir Eden, a young Muslim community leader, to make sure that the attack has had the opposite effect on this place to the one that the terrorists intended. Diversity, an anathema to extremists, has only been reinforced here. There has been an outpouring of love for our places of life, work, play and worship. There has been bonding between residents and business owners. New friendships have been forged; even several romances.
The afternoon of the attack anniversary will be marked by a special service for the bereaved and first responders in the afternoon. In the evening, the Cathedral will host a Grand Iftar for people of all faiths and none. In line with its inclusive, mindful approach, the Cathedral has also commissioned a work of art from Alison Clark.
In doing so, they have entered the highly sensitive area of commemorating or memorializing terror.
Artists memorializing the Holocaust have come up with interesting solutions to the issue of how to address a brutal incident with no natural poetry to it at all. Some insisted that memorials should not be in places of grace and beauty like parks, but on busy street corners. The Monument against Fascism, Hamburg-Harburg (Jochen Gerz and Esther Shalev-Gerz, 1986) was a 12-metre column designed to sink slowly into the ground, so it never became a taken-for-granted part of the built environment. Looking at it was not a passive activity: viewers were invited to make their own engravings in its lead-clad surface using a special pen provided. Before it sank below the ground in 1993, this ‘counter-monument’ attracted abundant initials, scribbles, graffiti, including swastikas and even gunshots: so the attitudes of the present were inscribed on the past in a dynamic way. The artists wrote of their column, ‘One day it will have disappeared completely and the site of the Harburg monument against fascism will be empty. In the long run, it is only we ourselves who can stand up against injustice’. Another thought behind the artwork was this: each generation needs to find a new way to address the Holocaust. It can never marked ‘done and dusted’. Creativity must do constant battle with forgetfulness when it comes to events that should never be repeated. In this way, society will not be allowed to become desensitized to the crimes of the past. They will stay fresh, shocking and relevant.
So it’s not easy to conceive mindful and appropriate ways of memorializing a terror attack. How do you aestheticize suffering and violence? Should you even do so? How do you express the unspeakable? How do you show respect to those cruelly denied the chance to speak for themselves? Involuntary errors of taste and judgement can easily occur if you commission art with good intentions but neglect to consult all the stakeholders in an area that has been subject to terror. For example, we residents are distressed to watch the thousands of people taking jokey and romantic selfies in front of these sparkly hearts that suddenly appeared in Stoney Street a couple of months ago, described by Network Rail as a memorial to the attack.
|Image from Network Rail's Media Centre|
There have been other decisions (and omissions) here that have hurt the bereaved and also those that have distressed local people who were caught up in the nightmare of the night.
Southwark Cathedral, however, has navigated the difficult waters of memorializing with grace and energy. Key to that is, of course, confronting the damage and not brushing it under the carpet, pink-washing it or privileging commercial considerations over attention to grief and trauma. Alison Clark's artwork addresses both damage and healing in ways that are integral to the experiences of the night. In the course of my Testimony project, I took Alison's account, which she has kindly allowed me to post below. So often, I discovered that the key to the way people reacted to the night and its aftermath could be found in their own past experiences. Alison is no exception.
Apart from Alison’s work, there will be other lasting memorials in and around the Cathedral. The 3pm service will include the blessing of four corbels commissioned to mark the anniversary. One is a portrait of Wayne Marquez, the British Transport policeman who distinguished himself by his bravery on the night. Another corbel immortalizes Doorkins Magnificat, the Cathedral’s resident feline. Doorkins has her own book, Facebook page and Twitter account. While the clergy were cordoned out of the Cathedral in the days after the attack, they received many anxious emails about Doorkins. It turned out she was fine and being fed Chicken Caesar Salad by the police. In the Cathedral courtyard, there will be a blessing of an Olive Tree of Healing, planted in the Cathedral Churchyard in compost made from the floral tributes laid on London Bridge a year ago.
TESTIMONY – ALISON CLARK
What stays in Alison’s mind is the way the sacristy door marks the entrance to the heart of the Cathedral. As an artist working in paint, print and drawing, a sense of place is the focus of all her practice. She prefers to be quiet and understated, privileging what is already there, listening to what people, places and things have to tell her. ‘What is it like to be here?’ is the theme running through her academic work too. It’s how she tunes into children’s experiences. Another fundamental aspect of her practice is the idea of acknowledging brokenness and turning it into something beautiful.
Alison emails Andrew with an idea for a piece of art based on the damaged door, as a meditation on brokenness. He gets it straightaway, mentioning that a member of the Chapter had told him that, in the Japanese art form kintsugi, you draw attention to cracks with gold rather than pretending that they are not there. (Anne Rooney wrote a post about it here). Andrew and Alison agree that she will take a four-week artist’s residency in the Cathedral, two weeks on either side of the anniversary of the terror attack. ‘Broken Beauty’ will be the name of the project.
For the first ten days she’ll work on the sacristy door, using a range of different materials including translucent Bible paper and scrim, printmakers cloth for wiping inked plates. As with a brass rubbing, she’ll run an ink-roller over paper pinned to the door. The areas furrowed with damage will not hold the ink, and so will appear as white. That’s where Alison will fill in the with slender rivers of gold paint. The effect will be subtle, won’t shout what is. Making it will not be performative, but the public can watch the process. It’s not about me doing it. It’s about the idea and the piece. Part of the work will be the sacristy door, but also impressions of other places where fabric of the cathedral has been damaged either through violence or degradation over the centuries. Taking impression with a new medium reveals new things the eye never saw before.
|Printmaking in progress in Southwark Cathedral May 2018|
'Quilt' (detail). Constructing the quilt |
with monoprints on tissue paper (August 2017)
|Heirloom (detail) May 2018 Alison Clark Southwark Cathedral|
After the anniversary weekend, Alison will host two workshops in the Retrochoir. Attendees are invited to bring a piece of mending, sewing or knitting. Seated in a circle of chairs, people of all faiths or none can gather together to mend and talk. At a practical level, this quiet exercise will draw attention to a prayerful space in the Cathedral where people can seek solace. On a deeper level, the workshop will enact the process of repair to something that’s fragile and beautiful and cannot be discarded just because of damage. Acknowledging that painful truth is part of rightful mourning.
Extract from Testimony - a memory project.
I went to visit Alison in the Cathedral as she completed her prints this week. I was moved to see the work all together and also to think about the many hours she'd spent in the Cathedral absorbed in documenting the fabric of the place. This is the kind of art that does not prescribe a reaction but invites the viewer into a meditative space with infinite possibilities. Drawn in, the viewer engages and invests. Within each finished print are many stories. Looking at them, I 'saw' images of forests and clouds. Another viewer might of course find other things. From one angle, the gold paint blazes. From another, the gold effaces itself and the story of the stone and wood is dominant. Past and present are in interplay here, as they are whenever we consult our memories.
Alison and I talked at length about the role of terror, art and memory. Afterwards, she wrote to me, 'I don’t think commemorating is what is happening here, or only if it is understood as ‘reminding’ not honouring. This is about remembrance - the exercise of memory. Anniversaries of terror events are about remembering. Another definition of remembering is to be ‘mindful’. In a small way, art can provide one avenue for individuals, organisations and communities to be mindful of past events and present realities.
Alison also drew my attention to my own role as documenter: 'The theme of reminding is one of the purposes of history. To remind is 'to write history', 'to narrate'. Listening and documenting is one way in which contemporary history is made.'
I wish I could say this was my own insight. When I started my Testimony project, I did not really know why except that it felt imperative. It is only over the last year that purpose and uses have emerged. Throughout that time, it's been a privilege to be part of conversations with people like Andrew, Michael, Gilly and Alison, and I am grateful, on behalf of this community, for all they have brought to the healing process.
You can book here to attend one of Alison's (free) mending workshops on June 4 and June 7.
Michelle Lovric’s website
Islands, with their closed communities, their remoteness, their uniqueness, have a special place in an author’s heart. Sometimes they become not just settings, but characters in themselves. I chose Skye for my second novel, partly because I wanted somewhere cut off (as it once was), and somewhere with its own folklore, its own beliefs. Others have gone a step further and created fictional islands: Atlantis, Azkaban, Atuan, Fraxos, Hedeby, Svalvard.
Once I’d started thinking about books set on islands, and asking others to give me their recommendations, I realised that there are in fact hundreds of excellent books set on islands. These include plenty of classics (Swallows and Amazons, Gulliver’s Travels, Treasure Island, To the Lighthouse, The Old Man and The Sea) and so many crime novels that I’m beginning to think going to small islands is a serious health risk.
There’s also a glut of brilliant historical novels set on islands. Here is a list of my top ten favourites, in which both ‘historical fiction’ and ‘island’ are given a broad interpretation. There will be many I’ve missed, so do comment below.
1.Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys, 1966
The novel in which Rhys gives voice to the ‘mad woman in the attic’. Antoinette Cosway is a Creole heiress and the wife of a man who, though he is never named, we understand to be Jane Eyre’s Mr Rochester. He renames her ‘Bertha’, declares her mad, and relocates her from the West Indies to England. Written in the 1960s but set in the early 1800s, this is a key postcolonial work, which deals with ethnic and gender inequality, displacement and injustice.
2. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, David Mitchell, 2010
Mitchell transports us 1799 and to Dejima, a tiny artificial island in the bay of Nagasaki where the Dutch East India Company established a trading post. Mitchell had been backpacking through the west of Japan looking for lunch when he stumbled upon the Dejima museum. ‘I never did get the lunch that day,’ Mitchell said. ‘But I filled a notebook with information about this place I'd never heard of and resolved one day to write about it.’
In the novel, a young Dutch clerk arrives to make his name but falls in love with a midwife, who is spirited away to a sinister mountain temple cult. It’s a fascinating work of ideas, longing, power and corruption.
3. Secrets of the Sea House, Elisabeth Gifford, 2010
Having fallen in love with the Hebridean island of Harris and its legends, Gifford came across an 1809 letter to The Times about a Scottish schoolmaster who claimed to have seen a mermaid. From this sprang her brilliant debut, a dual-timeline novel that tells the tale of a newly-ordained priest, Reverend Alexander Ferguson in 1860, assigned to a parish on a remote part of the island. Over a century later, Ruth, raised in children's homes after losing her mother as a young child, discovers the tiny bones of baby buried beneath their new house, the legs fused together like that of a mermaid. A beautiful story of love, hope, healing and stories.
4. The Light Between Oceans, ML Stedman, 2012
Tom Sherbourne returns home from the Western Front trenches of World War I. He and his wife, Izzy, move to an isolated lighthouse on Janus Rock off the coast of South West Australia. One day in 1926 a boat washes ashore, containing a dead man, and a crying baby. What happens next leads to a gripping exploration of grief, temptation and love.
ML Stedman said:‘The island of Janus Rock is entirely fictitious (although I have a placeholder for it on Google maps). But the region where the Great Southern Ocean and the Indian Ocean meet is real, and the climate, weather and the landscape are more or less as I’ve described them. I wrote some of the book there: It’s a very beautiful, if sometimes fierce, part of the world.’ And that is very much reflected in the novel.
5. The Book of Night Women, Marlon James, 2013
Marlon James’ searing second novel, The Book of Night Women, is set on a Jamaican sugar plantation in the late 18th century. It tells the story of green-eyed Lilith, born into slavery and orphaned at birth by her 13-year-old mother, one of the many slave girls raped by their white masters. Forced to grow up fast, Lilith begins to push at the edges of what is imaginable for the life of a slave woman. By no means an easy read, but an essential one, it’s a story that culminates in slave revolt, blood and atonement.
‘I don’t consider myself a historical novelist,’ James has said. ‘But I am obsessed with the past. And I am obsessed with stories that weren’t told, or that weren’t told in a good way.’ As the African proverb goes: ‘Until the lion’s story is told, the story will always belong to the hunter.’
6. The Lie Tree, Frances Hardinge, 2015
The Lie Tree, Hardinge’s seventh novel, opens with 14-year-old Faith Sunderly and her family leaving their home in Kent for the isolated (and fictional) island of Vale. Faith, forever spying, discovers they have fled to escape the growing scandal around her father’s recently published scientific findings. When her father is found dead, Faith sets out to find out what has really happened and discover the nature of her father’s investigations. This leads her to a tree that feeds off lies.
Supposedly YA, but really for all ages, this is one of my favourite Victorian-era novels, and definitely my favourite one about lying plants.
7. The Winter Isles, Antonia Senior, 2016
Antonia Senior plunges us in to the raw and often vicious world of 12th century Scotland where Somerled, son of an ageing chieftain, must prove his own worth as a warrior. It’s a compelling story of action, warfare, love and sacrifice and one which is clearly rooted in Senior’s love of the West Coast of Scotland.
‘All my favourite places are islands,’ she says, ‘From Corsica to Mull, Iona to Ponza. As a visitor they offer a manageable, enclosed world to explore. As a writer there is something magical about islands: a world within a world. There is often surface beauty, and a sinister underbelly. They are enclosed spaces, in which people are too close to each other - that strange interplay between isolation and oppressive familiarity.’
8. Mussolini’s Island, Sarah Day, 2017
In 1939 a series of Sicilian men were taken from their homes and imprisoned on the island of San Domino in the Adriatic Sea. Their crime? They were gay. Out of this little-known slice of history, Sarah Day has created a fascinating novel.
Francesco, a young gay man from Catania who grew up without a father, is one of those arrested and herded into a camp on the island. Meanwhile, a girl called Elena dreams of escape from her island home, imagining Francesco will save her.
‘It’s such a beautiful, peaceful place,’ Day says of San Domino, ‘and yet was used for such a dark purpose. As a visitor, arriving by boat, the island seems so idyllic, but as soon as you put yourself in the mind of a prisoner being brought there against your will, you realise how terrifying it must have been to arrive somewhere so isolated and stark. That context was really important to me when writing the book-an island can be a paradise or a prison, depending on who you are and the time in which you live.’
9. Sugar Money, Jane Harris, 2017
Martinique, 1765. The charismatic but damaged Lucien and his more cautious older brother Emile are tasked by their French master with returning to Fort Royal in Grenada to bring back the slaves stolen by the English. Emile knows this to be a reckless mission, but, as with most things in their lives, it is something in which they have no choice. What follows is part adventure, part tragedy, and entirely compelling.
Harris has created a setting we believe in and characters we desperately want to survive. There is nothing sweet about Sugar Money, nor should there be.
10. Mr Peacock's Possessions, Lydia Syson, 2018
It is 1879 and Mr Peacock and his family are struggling to scratch a life for themselves on a tiny volcanic island off the coast of New Zealand. At last, a ship appears, bringing six Pacific Islanders who have travelled across the ocean in search of work. All seems well until Mr Peacock’s son, Albert, goes missing.
This is a gripping mystery is woven from strands of real history. As Lydia Syson explained in her interview with History Girl Adèle Geras, the story came from her husband’s ancestors, Tom and Federica Bell, who in 1878 decided to take their six children to make their home on an uninhabited Pacific Island called Sunday Island. ‘The captain who brought them sailed away, promising to return in three months. They found their provisions were rotten and they never saw that ship again.’
Again, the island setting is crucial to the story, as Syson herself makes clear. ‘The island – so beautiful, so fertile and yet so treacherous - was a gift in terms of setting, plot and metaphor.’
Anna Mazzola is a writer of historical crime fiction. Her second novel, The Story Keeper, set on the Isle of Skye, will be published in July 2018.
Picture credits (where known)
Magpie: detail from medieval illuminated manuscript, British Library Harley MS 3244, 1236-c 1250
Garden of Pleasure, c 1487-95: Artist Unknown British Library, London, Harley 4425 f. 12v
Women fighting (unknown)
From a Book of Hours c. 1460 in the collection of the Walters Art Museum
I've got some French Huguenot blood in me* and so when I saw there was a programme about them, presented by the wide-eyed Amber Butchart and called The First Refugees,** I gave it a go. Which is where I stumbled across Bizarre Silks. These unlikely looking fabric designs were made between 1695 and 1720. They were big, bold, and bright, featuring strong diagonals and asymmetry, Oriental-style architecture, and giant flamboyant foliage. The silk - much of which was being woven in Spittalfields by Huguenot immigrants - was the height of fashion, and big names such as James Leman were swept up in it. (Leman's carefully preserved designs from the period are in the process of being made available to the public by the V&A.)
Here are some other patterns for Bizarre Silk fabrics:
Sadly, the term Bizarre Silk wasn't coined until 1953 (first used in the title of Dr Vilhelm Sloman's book Bizarre Designs in Silks). In its heyday, these exuberant fabrics were probably known simply as very, very desirable.
* along with 1 in 6 people in Britain, according to the programme
** available on BBC IPlayer - well worth a watch.
Joan Lennon's website.
Joan Lennon's blog.
Did Granda treasure the book? He certainly kept it, but then he kept everything, as that generation did. And after his death in 1978, Gran kept it too, but she treasured everything of his. It is in good condition, which might mean it wasn’t much read, or simply that he looked after it.
My opinion of individual members of the Royal Family changes over the years, according to how they're behaving, but certain things remain forever as they were. I fell in love with Prince Philip when I was 8 and none of his very obvious character flaws, and not even his rather disastrous decisions when it came to educating his eldest son, let alone his 'gaffes' have done anything to put me off him. I think he's very, very handsome and gallant and very good to the Queen. They are still, after more than 70 years of marriage, happy together. The compromises each has had to make along the way is their business, but there can be no doubt of their mutual devotion.
The Queen is admirable. My friends and I knew, back when we were very young, that Margaret was the naughty one and Elizabeth the dutiful, good one. I was at boarding school during the Peter Townsend affair and we thought the whole thing terribly romantic and sad too. We've learned a lot lately about what Margaret was really like but she was always touched with a kind of glamour for me because of her love of the arts, especially ballet.
One thing, though, has changed completely. I look at photographs from the 50s and see how lovely the young Elizabeth was. She had been a kind of frumpish figure in my eyes but now I can see that I was quite wrong and she was always the prettier of the sisters and even though not as outwardly glamorous as Margaret, beautiful and serene and yes, well-dressed for most occasions.
Norman priest's door at Church of St. Medard & St Gildard
Little Bytham, Lincolnshire. The two birds on either side of
the niche are probably the eagle of St Medard whose image
may once have occupied the niche.
Photographer: Simon Garbutt
Today, 8th June, is one of those days of the year when we should all pay close attention to whether the rain stays or goes, especially those of us who live in France or England, because this is St Medardus or St Medard’s Day, and similar weather lore is connected to this saint as to St Swithin’s Day which falls on 15th July.
St Medard (456–545) was the Bishop of Vermandois. He was invoked for protection against bad weather, but he was also a saint that medieval people prayed to when they needed rain. He was a particularly pious child and legend has it that Medard was shielded from the rain by an eagle who spread its wings to shelter him, so the saint is also protector of those who work outdoors. A useful saint for the farmers and gardeners amongst us.
|Martyrdom of St Barnabas|
“St Faustus said to St Medard, Barnabas and Vitus are my neighbours and together we will give the country folk a good washing till Frederick the Hollander comes and closes the doors of heaven.”
St Barnabas’ feast was celebrated on the 11th June and St Vitus on 15th June. But the feast day ‘Frederick the Hollander’, who would bring an end to the deluge, wasn’t until 18th July.
Frederick of Utrecht impaled by two daggers.
1650, Cornelius Visscher
“On St Barnabas put the scythe to the grass. Barnabas bright – the longest day and shortest night.”
|Village of Elmley Castle, painted in 1912|
Rain was considered a bad omen at a wedding and a good omen at the funeral.
"Happy is the bride that the sun shines on.
Happy is the corpse that the rain rains on."
In the Middle Ages, if there was a drought various charms were used to try to call rain down. Most have an origin in sympathetic magic or perhaps vestiges of offerings once made to local deities or spirits, such as sprinkling water on certain stones. In Tarn Dulyn, Mount Snowdon, water was thrown at the furthest stepping stone, which known as the 'Red Altar'. Hurling flour into a spring then stirring the water with a hazel-rod was said to produce a mist that would rise and form a cloud. Ferns of all kinds were associated with thunder and lightning and so widely-held was the belief that burning ferns would make it rain that in 1636, Lord Pembroke is reputed to have asked the High Sherriff of Staffordshire to ensure that no fern should be burnt during the visit of Charles I, so that the king would not be inconvenienced by a down-pour.
Snowdon from Capel Curig
Phillip James de Loutherbourg, 1787
Yale Centre for British Art
I have been studying the remains and also the grave-goods of a 14-year-old girl from 3rd century Roman London as part of the inspiration for a new book provisionally titled The Girl with the Ivory Knife. Dubbed the Lant Street Teen, this girl’s grave was uncovered on Lant Street in Southwark when ground was being cleared for a new development near Borough Tube Station.
One reason she is of interest is that her DNA and isotopes have been analysed and tell us that she was of European ancestry with blue eyes, but grew up in the southern Mediterranean, perhaps even North Africa. (She was buried near other Roman Londoners of black African ancestry.) We know from her teeth and bones that she came to London aged about nine and died five years later, aged around fourteen.
Apart from the fascinating story suggested by her DNA and isotopes, her burial was notable for the richness of the grave goods. In a cemetery where other bodies were buried with maybe a couple of clay beakers and some glass beads, the Lant Street Teen had two exotic glass perfume bottles, a wooden box decorated with bone inlay and copper, a copper-alloy key on a chain and an iron clasp knife with an ivory handle in the shape of a leopard. The glamour of a knife with a handle of expensive ivory in the shape of an exotic leopard has slightly eclipsed the other items, in particular the little key.
One of my obsessions is with the apotropaic devices and charms of the ancient Roman world. We forget how terrifying it was to live in a world of invisible enemies. The Romans had no concept of infection apart from a vague idea of miasma or bad air. Most illnesses, accidents and other calamities were blamed on evil spirits or gods. For this reason, I believe that almost every manufactured item had an apotropaic aspect (i.e. to turn away evil) either as its primary function or in addition to its primary function. The girl’s knife, for example, obviously had many practical functions, but its fierce leopard-shaped handle made from piercing elephant tooth might have had the power to frighten off spirits.
The box may have contained makeup which not only beautified but protected.
Her clothing did not survive, but it almost certainly had built-in protection. In her book Dress and Personal Appearance in Late Antiquity, Faith Pennick Morgan points out that almost all embellishment on ancient garments was apotropaic. Borders, knots and sewn-in talismans were all designed to act as ‘flypaper for demons’, to confuse them and keep the wearer safe. Even colours had special properties. For example, red was considered repellent to demons which may explain why archaeologists have found so many children’s tunics in this colour. (Children were considered especially vulnerable, which is why they also wore apotropaic amulets such as the phallus-shaped charm.)
The two small flasks might have contained perfume; good and bad smells were used to manipulate spirits. In ancient times, the uterus of a woman was considered by the ancients to be a living creature – almost demonic – wandering around and causing damage or death to a woman by harming or squeezing her other internal organs. Plato (Timaeus 91c) writes that the wombs and uteruses of women have in them a living animal that craves children. (Our word ‘hysterical’ comes from the Greek word for uterus.) Ancient doctors suggested that girls marry as close to their first period as possible so that they could bear children and control the wandering womb.
If the restless womb moved too far down, doctors would place pleasant incense near the woman’s head to draw it up while at the same time wafting unpleasant scents such as burnt hair, pitch, cedar resin and squashed bedbugs (!) between her legs to repel the womb. If the womb had wandered too high and threatened to asphyxiate the woman by pressing on her lungs, then they would do the opposite, placing sweet-smelling things below her pelvis and ill-smelling substances by her nose. (see Magical and Medical Approaches to the Wandering Womb in the Ancient Greek World by Christopher A. Faraone)
This brings us to the last item found in her grave, the key on its chain.
What might this have symbolised?
In Roman times, a key on a woman’s belt might well have showed that she enjoyed responsibility in her domain, the household. Sets of keys dangling from belts on a chain became an important status symbol in Late Antique times and gave us the word chatelaine. But the Lant Street Teen’s key seems too small and delicate to be a house or storeroom key. It feels more like the key to a small chest or box. Although we have the evidence that she was buried with just such a small box (above), there is no trace of a lock, which one assumes would also have been in copper-alloy.
Perhaps the key symbolised the unlocking of the Gates of Death so that the girl’s soul could cross the threshold into the afterlife. This suggestion is made in connection with an iron key found above the pelvis of a Roman woman’s skeleton from Cirencester. (The Western Cemetery of Roman Cirencester p24 & p88) There is another possibility for the Lant Street Girl’s key that I have not seen suggested elsewhere.
Many Romans believed the soul to be immortal, but another way of ensuring ‘everlasting memory’ was to leave something of yourself behind. Literature, a monument or a fine tombstone were all ways of making a mark. Another way of continuing beyond death was to live through offspring. In this day and age of empowered women we tend to downplay the craving for children, but this was often the deepest desire of many women in ancient times.
In her book about Dress in Late Antiquity, Faith Morgan writes that keys were found on womb amulets, symbolising control of the opening of the womb to allow conception and pregnancy, and the locking of the womb to prevent miscarriage. (p36) And in his fascinating article about the Wandering Womb, Faraone highlights the many gems of hematite (bloodstone) depicting a womb above a key. The womb is shown as a kind of upside down beaker and the key is usually the kind with teeth like a comb. (The picture above shows a big iron key probably for a warehouse door. On the amulet below you can see the key with crank-like handle and distinctive teeth beneath the opening of the womb.)
In this position the key clearly symbolises the locking or unlocking of the womb. Again, the womb is like a creature that needs controlling. Sometimes a magic name is carved on the other side of these magic womb amulets. This may be the name of the demon or spirit in charge of wombs. Sometimes a sentence on the back addresses the demon or even the womb directly. E.g. ‘Contract, womb, lest Typhon seize you!’ (Faraone Gems of Heaven p 66)
Reading about keys on womb amulets made me wonder about the small key found with the bones of the Lant Street Teen. Perhaps it was the key to the now-lost wooden box, originally worn with her knife on her belt. But perhaps she also wore it as a talisman to protect a growing baby in her womb. Dr Rebecca Redfern, who probably knows this girl’s bones better than anybody, told me that although the Lant Street Teen was young there is a chance that she might have been a young mother. And we have just seen that it was recommended that girls begin to bear children as soon as possible. Perhaps our girl even died in childbirth. In that case, the little key that protected her womb and helped her bear fruit would be a testimony of her achievement on earth. This is my own idea, and a far-fetched one, I admit, which may or may not end up in my fictionalised account of her life.
Whether the Lant Street Teenager had a child or not, she has now gained a kind of ‘everlasting memory’ in the ongoing mystery of who she was.
You can see the Lant Street Teen’s grave goods (though not her bones) at the current Roman Dead exhibition at the Museum of London Docklands. The remains of other Roman Londoners shed light how they lived but also bring home how much we still have to learn.
The Sixties, that is. I don't think it really hit me that the 1960s now count as history until I saw Angela Davis on Channel 4 News and realised it was part of a feature on 1968 and that was fifty years ago.
We have debated often on this blog what constitutes "history;" is it a generation ago, 25 or 30 years? Well 50 years certainly counts and this decade in my life was a momentous one on the national stage. In particular it was the time when young people became what is now called "woke" and social protest became effective, long before there were any social media to support it and help it spread.
As Angela Davis said, "I couldn't afford international phone calls – I had to write letters." (For those of you who don't know or can't remember who she is we'll get to her later on). Here is a snapshot both public and personal of the years about which it was said "if you can remember [them] then you weren't there."
It was the era of the Cold War, Apartheid, the Berlin Wall, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, the Vietnam War and the reign of the Kray twins in London. It was also the time of the Beatles, flower power, psychodelia, the moon landing, the Civil Rights movement and the beginning of second wave feminism.
At the beginning of the decade my boyfriend was Roger Rees, who went on to become a huge star of stage and screen, living with a male partner for 34 years. (RIP, lovely Roger). Briefly in the middle I dated Roger Scruton and smoked pot (unconnected, though it would be a sort of explanation). Two months before the sixties ended I met the man I married three years later. Being neither gay nor Tory, he suits me very well.
1960 The Sharpeville Massacre opened the eyes of the rest of the world to what was going on in South Africa. For years and tears, till the end of Apartheid, we bought no South African fruit and veg. Harold MacMillan made his "Winds of change speech,"To Kill a Mockingbird was published and in London there was the obscenity trial of Lady Chatterley's Lover.How well I remember the copy being passed round at school which fell open at the rude bits. When I read the whole novel I found it disappointingly dull.
1961 Charismatic and (relatively) young John F. Kennedy became President of the United States.
I can't honestly say I remember his election or inauguration but I remember the night of his assassination two and a half years later very well. My older sister and I were babysitting a friend's 8-months-old son and he would not sleep. Surely everyone who was alive and beyond babyhood then remembers that night? And I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 too. It was the period that shaped the consciousness of those who were young in the 60s. We really believed that WW3 was imminent and we were all going to die.
In the early 60s I joined CND, while I was still a schoolgirl.
1961 The Berlin Wall was erected as the effective division between not just the city but East and West Germany. I was amazed to discover it was as recent as that when researching my novel When she was Bad (written as Amy Lovell).
Catch-22 and The Pride of Miss Jean Brodie were published. The Beatles first played the Cavern Club though, as a Londoner, I had yet to hear of them. I fell in love in Spain with an English boy called Tony but omitted to discover his surname and his parents whisked him away before we could exchange addresses. He had a twin sister called Tina. The trial of Adolf Eichmann began in Jerusalem.
1962 The Cuban Missile crisis was in October/November. Earlier in the year Fonteyn and Nureyev first danced together and I was besotted with him (ever since his defection to Paris the year before and his arrival in the UK). I heard about Marilyn Monroe's death while I was on holiday with my parents in Spain. Max Perutz won the Nobel prize for Chemistry, which I didn't pay much attention to at the time, but I later met him In Cambridge as his daughter was a friend.
1963 Please, Please Me, introduced me to the Beatles and in particular George Harrison. The Bell Jar was published but I didn't read it till a year or two later. And Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, though it took a while for feminism to reach these shores. Martin Luther King made his "I have a dream" speech and, on St. Cecilia's Day, JFK was assassinated in Dallas (see above). I don't think we knew if we were on the verge of something wonderful or something terrible. I'm still not sure.
|"los Beatles" in Madrid|
1965 Malcolm X was assassinated. T S Eliot died a more peaceful death but I was sad to see him go. The bombing of North Vietnam by the US and South Vietnam intensified, though I don't think I knew about it then, not till much later in 1967/68. I certainly didn't know about the marches to Montgomery now well-known from the film Selma. I spent the summer in Florence, determining much of the rest of my life. I'll be there again in a week's time. The Race Relations Act was passed in the UK.
1966 The demonstrations against the Vietnam War really picked up in the US, where I spent the summer but I'm ashamed to say they didn't feature in my awareness. I was living in a flat in NYC on the Upper East Side, wearing clothes bought in Carnaby Street ad eating Euphrates crackers with Philadelphia cheese and ground pepper, living a life incomprehensible to my parents.
I took more notice of the conviction of the Moors murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley and the disaster in Aberfan that killed over a hundred children. And hearing about the flood in Florence that destroyed or damaged so much art. Never dreaming that fifty years later I would be writing about it in in an App on Michelangelo.*
1967 Elvis Presley got married! If this had happened a few years earlier, I would have been devastated. At the age of fourteen, I had decided he would marry me. And indeed he did meet Priscilla when she was about that age, so it wasn't quite as delusional as some of my crushes. (OK, it was still delusional). But now I was older and wiser and graduated a month after this seismic event. It was followed by the "Summer of Love," which wasn't for me, though I loved the dresses and the music and the pacifism.
1968 Martin Luther King was assassinated and Bobby Kennedy, who had been going to run for President, was killed two months later. This was when I really became aware of what was happening in Vietnam, appalled by the pictures in the newspapers. I started a Postgrad linguistics course at UCL, taught be Michael Halliday, who died a few weeks ago. This was another profound influence on the direction my life would take.
|Angela Davis in the middle|
In France, "les evènements," the student riots, took place in Paris and beyond, protesting against capitalism, consumerism and American influence. They were accompanied by national strikes.
Czechoslovakia was invaded by the USSR. We had Czech students stranded at UCL and I remember vividly the marches, occupations and the fundraising Czech Appeal to help students cut off from families and finds.
1969 Richard Nixon became President of the United States. The Charles Manson "family" murdered Sharon Tate and four others and two more people the next day. The murders seemed even more horrific because Tate was eight months pregnant. She was married to Roman Polanski.
The Beatles gave a last impromptu performance together on a rooftop. Monty Python got its first TV airing. My sister and I stayed up late to watch the moon landing. It was her birthday, a fact that neither of us remembered later until reminded. It kept being delayed so we set an alarm and got up again in the early hours to watch it.
I moved into my first flat in London in Swiss Cottage, sharing with two others. Became a vegetarian. And at a Halloween party in Roehampton met my husband-to-be.
So those were the 60s, those were, remarkable in so many ways but viewed through the eyes of a teenager turning into an adult, a girl who had crushes on public figures and boys she met in real life, turning into a woman with a degree, some knowledge and and a serious relationship. What began as a sort of Adriana Mole view of the world turned to a commitment to civil rights, pacifism, feminism and socialism. When my first book was published in 1975, my publisher Rex Collings said drily, "I don't think we'll put on the jacket flap that you are a vegetarian, feminist, socialist" and he was probably right. But I am all those things and my views were formed in the decade I do remember, in spite of the pot. And I was there.
* Buried Alive: the Secret Michelangelo took to his grave, is an App created by Time Traveler Tours & Tales and can be downloaded for free on to iPhones and Android devices.
When she was Bad by Amy Lovell is published by the Greystones Press and available in paperback and on Kindle.
All photos are from Wikimedia Commons
(The montage at the top of the page is by Vitek - the images are:
On the night of January 14, 2001, some of Oxford's most learned fellows could be seen marching around All Souls College behind a wooden duck held aloft on a pole. They were engaged in the bizarre ritual of "hunting the mallard" that occurs once every 100 years at the College. I was up at Oxford at the time, and one of my tutors was present and so I got the eye-witness account of the matter.
After a commemorative feast the fellows paraded around the College with flaming torches, singing the Mallard Song and led by “Lord Mallard” carried in a sedan chair. They were in search of a legendary mallard that supposedly flew out of the foundations of the college when it was being built.
The ceremony supposedly dates back to 1437, when the foundations of The College of All Souls of the Faithful Departed of Oxford (now known as All Souls College) were being dug.
The college’s founder, Henry Clichele, Archbishop of Canterbury, was trying to decide where to put his new building and in a dream he was told that if he built it in the High Street, next to the church, when he dug the foundations he would find: “…a schwoppinge mallarde imprisoned in the sinke or sewere, wele yfattened and almost ybosten. Sure token of the thrivaunce of his future college.”
He dug where directed and heard: “horrid strugglinges and flutteringes”. He said a few prayers, reached into the hole and pulled out a duck the size of: “a bustarde or an ostridge.” The bird flew away and the Fellows of All Souls chased it around the college. They caught it and ate it.
A document detailing the event appeared in 1750, and was supposedly based on an original fifteenth century manuscript.
All Souls loves its Mallard and the bird appears all over the College: there is a model of the duck in most common rooms, the ornate 19th century chairs in the Hall are carved with the college crest and a Mallard, there is a Mallard-shaped telephone near the Library, and there is a splendid and very accurately painted plaster Mallard drake on the wall of Hawksmoor’s college Buttery, which came from a Gothic pavilion built in the garden in 1753.
|Dr West with the plaster duck|
When everyone was in an excess of good spirits, four of the younger fellows hoisted the Lord Mallard up in his special sedan chair (the same one used in 1901 - but we're not sure if it was also used in 1801) and they chased a wooden mallard duck around the quad. In the days before Animal Rights (a very serious consideration in Oxford, given letter bombs to scientists and sabotage of laboratories), they chased a real duck. But this century, for the first time, a fake duck had to do. So, with the Lord Mallard hoisted high in his sedan chair the whole congregation of fellows chased this wood duck around the quadrangle bellowing out the Mallard Song.
Now, given that he was not expending any energy and was the centre of attention, the Lord Mallard was anxious to repeat the experience. "Again, again" he cried, and he was carried around the quadrangle again, and then for a third time at his excited urging. But, when he said "Again", wanting a fourth perambulation, the poor sedan carriers rebelled and dumped him on the ground. Then there were wonderful fireworks, including fireworks in the shape of a mallard.
What should be remembered is that All Souls College has no undergraduates and its fellows are considered to be among the finest minds in the world. Lord Mallard in 2001, who lead the midnight procession, carried high on a sedan chair, was Dr Martin West, one of the greatest classicists of his generation.
|This gorgeous 19C oak bench is found in All Souls Hall.|
This is the text as reconstructed from the older copies:
The Griffine, Bustard, Turkey & Capon
Lett other hungry Mortalls gape on
And on theire bones with Stomacks fall hard,
But lett Allsouls' Men have ye Mallard.
Hough the bloud of King Edward,
by ye bloud of King Edward,
It was a swapping, swapping mallard!
Some storys strange are told I trow
By Baker, Holinshead & Stow
Of Cocks & Bulls, & other queire things
That happen'd in ye Reignes of theire Kings.
Hough the bloud, &c.
The Romans once admir'd a gander
More than they did theire best Commander,
Because hee saved, if some don't foolle us,
The place named from ye Scull of Tolus.
Ho the bloud, &c.
The Poets fain'd Jove turn'd a Swan,
But lett them prove it if they can.
To mak't appeare it's not attall hard:
Hee was a swapping, swapping mallard.
Ho the bloud, &c.
Hee was swapping all from bill to eye,
Hee was swapping all from wing to Thigh;
His swapping tool of Generation
oute swapped all ye wingged Nation.
Ho the bloud, &c.
Then lett us drink and dance a Galliard
in ye Remembrance of ye Mallard,
And as ye Mallard doth in Poole,
Lett's dabble, dive & duck in Boule.
Ho the bloud, &c.
The second verse, which refers to English chroniclers of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, was discarded in 1752, and the fifth was expunged on grounds of decency in 1821. The original verses were restored for the new millennium. No one knows which King Edward is referred to, or why.
The 1901 Menu for the Dinner
Potâge des Tourterelles du Siècle Nouveau.
Tourbot, Sauce du Warden.
Éperlans à la Custodes Jocalium.
Vol-au-Vent du Ris de Veau à la Sub-warden.
Filets de Boeuf de L'Estates Bursar.
Châpons Rotis à la Roi Edouard.
Selle du Mouton.
Mallard Swapping Sauce.
Pouding d'All Souls
Gâteau de Chichele.
Sardines de Chichele
Merluches Salade des Junior Fellows
Dessert du Common Room.
by Antonia Senior.
A few years ago, we bought a house with a beautiful, large and overgrown garden. I had never lived in a house before, let alone had a garden. How hard can it be, I thought, to look after such a lovely thing? Ha Ha Ha.
At the end of our garden is a railway line, which houses businesses in the arches beneath the train tracks. Beyond our bank fence, a long-bankrupt business had left a rubbish dump. Metres high mounts of rubble and discarded plaster and broken odds-and-sods. Beneath the rubble lurked foxes and worse.
Network Rail agreed to clear the site, and I watched, grumpily as they took down my back fence to get at the horrors behind. But as the workmen began to clear things away, they uncovered some filthy, treasure. It turns out that the bankrupt business had been a theatre-set designer. Hiding back there were some extraordinary fibre-glass moulds from something ancient. The workmen thought I was mad, as I climbed over the rubbish pile pointing to things I wanted to keep - that and that and that!
Here are some of them..
For scale, these tragic masks are about the same height as me - 5ft 6 ish, and much wider. There were fibreglass columns and vases, and a lifesize horse which my neighbour bagsied, much to his wife's horror. And two, gorgeous moulds for art-deco style doors:
The treasures joined the weeds and ivy in my garden, at the same time as I started to research my work-in-progress - the story of the exiled Julia, daughter of Augustus. We visited Pandateria, and saw the ruins of her villa, a luxury, holiday pad complete with extensive gardens. (In the same trip, we visited Hadrian's villa at Tivoli, and the incredible gardens of the Villa D'Este inspired by its ancient predecessor)
So over the past two years, I have been spending some of my research time on Roman gardens at the same time as trying to become a gardener, watched over by my fearsome masks.
The Romans loved their gardens. They feature in the literature from Virgil to Pliny. My favourite poem about gardens is in Horace's odes. We seem to catch him, in the very moment, stretching out in the shade and reaching for his cup. Which of us has not been Horace, this glorious summer? This version is a translation by Gerard Manly Hopkins, himself no slouch on describing the exact, quiet joy that nature inspires:
Crowns composite and braided bast
They tease me. Never know the part
Where roses linger last.
Myrtle will suit your place and mine:
And set the glasses from the sun
Beneath the tackled vine
Commonly represented shrubs include laurel, myrtle, oleander and vibernum. In terms of decorative plants, the Romans loved roses, sacred to Venus. Lilies were acclaimed for their purity and perfume. Only the chaste could pick irises, according to Pliny. Periwinkles, poppies, chrysanthemums and daisies are visible in frescoes. Columella, the agricultural writer, talks of beds dedicated to violets.
With the Romans in mind, I replanted one border last year with roses, underplanted with lavender and rosemary. Rosemary was loved by Pliny, and was associated with love and death - couples wore sprigs at their weddings and corpses carried rosemary on their journey to the underworld. In the Autumn, I'm going to go even more Roman, and put in some lilies and irises.
I have one bed in a sunny spot which has become raddled with age and weeds. My plan is to rip up the existing plants over this winter and replant the bed on Ancient Roman principals. Roman shrubs and flowers, watched over by my masks. I just hope they have some ancient slug repelling magic woven into the fibreglass.
by Deborah SwiftThe concept of dieting would have been alien to our 17th Century forbears. In those days, the plumper you were, the better. Plumpness indicated wealth and class, and women aspired to be plump and white, rather than thin and tanned as is the fashion now. The 17th Century was when sugar became a major component of most people’s diet.
|Still Life with Bread and Sweetmeats - Georg Flegel|
The Nouveau Riche
The dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s had led to new land ownership, and consequently to a new class of non-aristocratic landowners and despite the English Civil War, (or even because of it) this new class of landowners and rich merchants was here to stay. With political stability and the restoration of the King, came an increased desire for luxury goods and London soon became the richest supplier of foodstuffs in the country. Charles II's marriage to the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza in 1662, coupled with his long exile in France led foreign food to become all the rage, especially French food.
The ‘Kickshaws’ of French Cuisine
French cuisine soon piqued the English palate, as their recipes included strong tastes such as anchovies, capers and wine. At this time the culinary words coulis, roux, ragouts and fricassé were introduced, and fancy French dishes were nicknamed kickshaws, after 'quelquechose', the French word for 'something'.
‘Service à la Française’ became the norm instead of the old medieval buffet style meal, with sets of cutlery laid out besides a personal plate and glass. Samuel Pepys was impressed to learn that his colleague the Earl of Sandwich was to employ a French chef, writing in his diary that the Earl had 'become a perfect courtier'.
Feasting in Charles’ court was renowned for excess. Once he had four huge pigs, dressed like a horse and cart, with sausages as reins and pulling a huge rag pudding like a coach behind it. When he had guests, Pepys too had meals of gigantic proportions;
'my dinner was great, and most neatly dressed by our own only maid. We had a fricasee of rabbits and chickens, a leg of mutton boiled, three carps in a dish, a great dish of a side of lamb, a dish of roasted pigeons, a dish of four lobsters, three tarts, a lamprey pie (a most rare pie), a dish of anchovies, good wine of several sorts, and all things mighty noble and to my great content.' Pepys Diary 1663The East India company increased the cheapness of oriental goods such as sugar, spices and dried fruit. Of couse much of this bounty was based upon slave labour, but the human cost of sugar's production did not penetrate the consciousness of most Londoners.
The pages of 17th Century drama are full of references to sweet food, Dekker talks of ‘biskets’ 'carowayes' and 'marmilade', 'sugar-plums', 'pippin pies' and gingerbread, or of ‘sucking pigs – a fortnight fed with dates, and muskadine’. In the picture right at the top of this post you can see many sugar-coated objects. Two are obviously pears, but the others could be an onion ring, or...well, what? Often the sugar coating was on actual meat, and obviously judging by the picture, the sugar coating was quite thick!
There was also a fashion, as witnessed in Mary Fairfax’s diary for sugared flowers; she used violettes, marigiolds and roses, and even clover blossom in her puddings. Below is a recipe for sugared roses.
Recipe and Revolution
This was the great age of 'Receipt' or Recipe books. Following the fall of the monarchy, many house chefs from the landed gentry were redundant or had lost their livelihood, and this is probably why so many new cookery books were published at this time. Literacy amongst women was lower than amongst men, so most 17th century cookery books were written by men, although the recipes themselves were often from the women of the house.
The publication of one of the first cookery manuals, Le Cuisinier François by François Pierre de la Varenne in 1651 caused a culinary revolution in France. La Varenne refines existing recipes, and suggests ways in which menus could be balanced, paving the way for a much more considered way of dining.
The first course consisted of bowls of soups or stews, accompanied by prepared meats, the second of roast meats with salads and vegetables. Thanks to the French influence, the English realised that it was perfectly safe to consume vegetables raw, and began to enjoy 'salats' with their meals.
|Tomás Hiepes - Sugared Fruits And Pastries 1640|
Of course the poor never had such fare. Sheep’s trotters, sweetmeats; every bit of the slaughtered animal was used, and the cheapest unsavoury parts such as cow’s stomach – tripe – and the extremities like ears and tails, were the diet of the poor.
But for the well-to-do, the importance and status of costly food was such, that while the Great Fire of London grew ever closer, Pepys was desperate to save his bottles of wine and his parmesan cheese from the approaching inferno by burying them in his garden.
I am currently enjoying dining with Pepys in research for my trilogy of books based around the women in Pepys's Diary. A Plague on Mr Pepys will be out on 5th July from Accent Press.
The English at Table - John Hampson
Food in England -Dorothy Hartley
More about 17th Century Food from Food Historian Ivan Day
Find out more about my books at www.deborahswift.com
|The Tale of Genji, Chapter 34|
until the fifth month
I recall from long ago
the scented sleeves of one now gone
Kokinshu poem number 139 (published 915 AD)
Of all the senses, perhaps smell has the greatest power to evoke and transport, to bring sudden sharp memories flooding back of a person or place once beloved and long forgotten.
A thousand years ago in Japan, while on another small island on the other side of the world Beowulf was fighting Grendel, the Wanderer was sitting desolately by the seashore bewailing his fate and monks were putting together the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Japanese poets were examining their senses and probing their feelings in a way that would not be unfamiliar today.
In this society - depicted in the world’s first novel, The Tale of Genji - noblewomen lived hidden away in their palaces, occasionally allowing a brocade sleeve to waft its scent from a carriage window as a hint of their beauty. Noblemen would exchange poems with them, decide on the strength of their poetic skills and the beauty of their calligraphy if they were worthy of pursuit, then creep in to visit them at dead of night. No matter how dark it was the ladies always knew exactly who the visitor was by his distinctive perfume.
In the perfume competition chapter in The Tale of Genji the judge, Prince Hotaru, complains that it’s so smoky that he finds it very hard to judge the perfumes properly. The author, the court lady know as Murasaki Shikibu, describes one of the perfumes as ‘a calm, elegant scent,’ another as ‘full and nostalgic’, one as ‘bright and up-to-date with a slightly pungent touch’ and another as having ‘a gentle aroma and rather touching tenderness.’
The exquisite world of the Heian nobles was as fragile as the scent of orange blossom. It faded away but the tradition of creating and appreciating scent lived on.
|Kimono laid over rack above censer to scent|
|Preparing for incense guessing game|
There’s a whole connoisseurship of the different incenses, much like wines. To the novice they may seem similar but to the trained nose they’re quite different. Some are musky, some more like sandalwood or pine or plum blossom. The most exquisite and expensive scent of all is kyara. Imported from Vietnam, it’s an ancient wood that takes thousands of years to develop and, so I’m told, costs many times more than the equivalent weight of gold.
As with tea ceremony, the implements are works of art. There is an ash smoother, chopsticks to handle small incense pieces, an answer sheet holder and tweezers. The central piece of equipment is the incense censer which holds hot ashes on top of which you put a tiny fragment of incense.
|Listening to incense|
In a game there are five or six scents to choose from. Players kneel in a row or a square and pass the censer around, holding it in the prescribed fashion. You take turns to inhale long and slow and guess which of the scents it is. The referee writes down your guess. Then you go on to the next. The person who gets the most right is the winner.
It’s a social activity yet also peaceful and contemplative. Instead of guessing you can just sit back and ‘listen’ to the incense as they say in Japanese or compose a poem or talk about the scent.
The fragrance -
more alluring than the colour -
whose scented sleeves have brushed
the blossoms in my garden?
Lesley Downer’s latest novel, The Shogun’s Queen, is an epic and fragrant tale set in nineteenth century Japan and is out now in paperback. For more see www.lesleydowner.com.
|Anthony Bourdain with then President Barack Obama|
Heated debates about Bourdain's death erupted all over social media. Some suggested he was murdered by Weinstein. Others wrote about the pressure on people to live perfect lives, especially since Bourdain's death swiftly followed that of the designer Kate Spade, who was equally successful, equally admired and apparently content, who died from suicide on June 5. After the detailed descriptions of death came the blame, and then the claims of selfishness; 'From every corner of the world you were loved. So selfish. You've given us cause to be so angry', said the actor Val Kilmer.
|David Goodall, bidding goodbye to his family before leaving for Switzerland|
|Saint Augustine of Hippo, attributed to Gerard Seghers|
|Seppuku with ritual attire, courtesy of Wikipedia|
I recently started volunteering on the SS Great Britain, Isambard Kingdom Brunel's famous ship, the first iron ship in the world: once a rusty hulk abandoned in the Falklands, but now a thing of beauty back in Bristol's dry dock, where she was built.
I've been interested in the Great Britain for quite some time. I even wrote a children's book set on the ship, Emily's Surprising Voyage - so I thought I knew a fair bit about it.
But in these few weeks, working with experienced volunteers who've forgotten more about engineering than I'll ever know - one captained two ships in the Royal Navy, for heaven's sake! - I've realised that actually, I know very little - either about the ship, or about the man. I'm sure I'll come back to both in future posts, but there's something in particular that has struck me as I've listened, looked, read and learned.
Brunel was in his time, and still is, famous for being as an innovative and incredibly successful engineer. His works are all around us: the Great Western Railway, the Clifton Suspension Bridge, Paddington Station, the Great Britain - and there are lots more besides, both in this country and abroad. He worked at an astonishing rate, firing off ideas, eagerly taking on challenges and responsibilities that would have daunted most people. His statues are all around us too: instantly recognisable with his cigar, his stovepipe hat, and that slightly pudgy face, he pops up all over the place. In 2002, he came second in a BBC poll to find the people's choice of the greatest Briton.
Yet as I started to learn more about his career, I was struck not only by how successful he was - but also by how often he encountered failure.
|The ship aground in Dundrum Bay|
Or, if a solution wasn't forthcoming or was beyond his control, he accepted reality and moved on to the next thing, and did the very best he could to make a success out of that.
* From 'If'', by Kipling.
Margaret Atwood - alias grace
Emily Brontë - Wuthering Heights
Charles Frazier - Cold Mountain
William Golding - To the Ends of the Earth Trilogy
Cormac McCarthy - Border Trilogy
Hilary Mantel - Wolf Hall, Bringing Up the Bodies and A Place of Greater Safety
Annie Proulx - Accordian Crimes
Mary Renault - The King Must Die, The Bull From The Sea
Rosemary Sutcliff - Eagle of the Ninth
Leo Tolstoy - War And Peace
Imperial history is full of scandal. Nero murdering his mother, Caligula sleeping with his sisters, Tiberius getting up to all sorts of things on the island of Capri. Even so called good emperors aren't immune to it:
But how much of this is true?
|Julia photo attributed José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro|
One thing we need to get out the way is this charge of incest. If Julia and Domitian were involved it wasn't technically incest. Emperor Claudius had legalised marriage between an uncle and a niece in 49AD, purely so he could marry his own niece Agrippina.
Julia had been feted as a wife for Domitian by his father, the emperor Vespasian.
Vespasian did not arrive in Rome to take his throne until late in 70AD. This holds out the possibility that Domitian gave into his infatuation with Domitia and married without his father's permission.
Suetonius mentions that Domitian was 'persistently' pressured to marry Julia.
Was the pressure placed on him to marry Julia, pre or post marriage to Domitia?
Whichever it was, Domitian held firm.
|Emperor Domitian and Empress Domitia.|
Image attributed Classical Numismatic Group
Shortly after Domitian succeeded his brother Titus as emperor in 81AD something went badly wrong in Domitian and Domitia's marriage.
This separation from Domitia did not last long.
|Julia. Image by Twdk|
Domitia and Domitian had no children, only a son that had died in infancy. Julia's child would have been one born of two Flavians, a much needed heir maybe?
There is one further piece of evidence that undermines the story that Julia died of an abortion. A poem by Martial that would have been presented to the emperor. It was written shortly after Julia's death in 91AD
“TO DOMITIAN, ON THE EXPECTED BIRTH OF
I believe the real passion, the real love affair, was with Domitia. The woman he defied his father to marry. The woman he refused to give over despite family pressure. The woman he recalled from exiled after she’d cheated on him because ‘the people demanded it’.
Was this passion reciprocated? There were rumours that she was involved in Domitian’s assassination in 96AD. Yet years after his death Domitia continued to call herself Domitian's widow. Surely a sign of deep affection.
The Morality Laws
|Courtesy of Wellcome Images|
So what is really behind this story of an affair between and emperor and his niece? Is there more to it than just a bit of tittle tattle that apparently only gained traction in the years after Domitian's death?
Domitian was a reforming emperor and one of his key reformations was in the sphere of public morality.
Then there is this:
I think it is a distinct possibility.
L.J. Trafford is the author of a four book series detailing the Year of the Four Emperors