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                                                                Saint Stephen Cathedral, Metz.

    Metz is a city in the northeast of France, Le Grand Est, capital of the Lorraine region, and one that I had never visited before last weekend. It sits alongside the winding Moselle river and is surprisingly inspiring.




    I was in town because my husband, Michel Noll, was inaugurating a film festival. The festival, titled Ma Planete, is dedicated entirely to films which, from one aspect or another, are concerned with the environment.
    Why Metz? I had asked him.
    Jean-Marie Pelt, was his answer. 

    Jean-Marie Pelt  1933 - 2015

    Jean-Marie Pelt was a highly respected biologist, botanist and ecologist. He was professor at the University of Lorraine specialising in medicinal plants and traditional pharmacopeia. He was the author of several books on pharmaceutical plants, plant biology and urban ecology, and was the founder in 1972 of the European Institute of Ecology and in 1987 founded the French Society of Ethnopharmacology, which is based in Metz. http://www.ethnopharmacologia.org

    Michel worked with Professor Pelt on a television series, Les Aventures des Plantes. They were in the early stages of a follow-up series when Pelt died. This festival, Ma Planete, is in its way a continuation of the work Michel and Pelt were collaborating on. It is also a homage to his brilliant and much-missed colleague.

    The opening night of the Ma Planete Festival.  Michel Noll, co-founder and artistic director, is right of image. The auditorium holds 250 spectators and it was packed to the rafters.

    Along with Simone Weil, Jacques Delors and other leading figures, Pelt was a prominent member of the Committee of 21. They were committed to implementing Agenda 21 which was a product of the Earth Summit held in Brazil in 1992. Agenda 21's aim is to achieve global sustainable development for the 21st century, for the planet. One of Agenda 21's objectives is that every local government should draw up its own plans and goals, its own understanding of urban ecology. People living and working together and keeping the carbon footprint light.

    Walking round the small city of Metz during these those few days I was taken by its evident commitment to the ideals of Pelt. His philosophy of urban ecology, which, broadly speaking includes that scientists, scholars of all disciplines should be working in collaboration with decision makers. Urban ecology is growing as a field that integrates social, biophysical and engineering sciences. It links directly into practices such as urban planning and urban design. Cities do and must play an increasingly important role in each of the three main pillars of sustainability: social, economic and environmental and their impacts need to reach far beyond their boundaries.
    Thanks to Pelt, Metz boasts that it is the birthplace of urban ecology. The city also claims that there is 45 square metres of green space for each inhabitant. 


    Metz, with Moselle in distance

    The city centre is pedestrian - its tram and bus services are exemplary. You can get anywhere without traffic jams, without congestion, both swiftly and economically.  Steps away from the many cafés and shops is the river. The banks of the Moselle offer walks, places to sit and reflect, opportunities to picnic, congregate, read beneath the shade of trees, river cruises.

    The old city also offers gems to visit too.
    Saint Stephen's Cathedral is a gothic splendour. Its stained glass windows constitute the largest expanse of ancient stained glass in any single building in the world and for that reason the cathedral is known as the "Good Lord's Lantern". These windows stop you in your tracks. It was a cold bright Sunday morning when I ventured inside the cathedral. The sun was shining through in a rainbow of brilliant colours offering radiance, light and warmth  to the lofty austere interior. 
    The earliest of the stained glass was made by the master craftsman Herman von Munster in the fourteenth century. Later, in the sixteenth, Valentin Bousch signed his skills. Between 1958 and 1968, nineteen windows were designed by Marc Chagall. They are a must see. Chagall also designed stained glass windows for the Cathedral of Reims. If you are travelling in northeastern France, I really urge to visit both.

    Marc Chagall designed windows in Metz Cathedral

    There are sections of the glass that still require work and I read that the artists Roger Bissière and Jacques Villon (pseudonym of Gaston Duchamp, brother of Marcel Duchamp) had both provided further sets of designs. 

    The cathedral and many of the city's most impressive buildings are built with yellow Jaumont stone. Pierre de Jaumont is a sand/lime stone, 175 million years old, from the commune of Montois-la-Montagne, in Lorraine. 

    My stay was far too short. There will be more films - a one-night-a-month-screening initiative is being put into place beginning in January 2019, offering thought-provoking environmental films throughout the year, running alongside the cinema's more commercial offerings. festivalmaplanete.fr
    I will return soon. There are exquisite churches to explore as well as a recently-opened Centre Pompidou, which is a short bus ride beyond the city's centre.

    Only one treasure I found, on the wall of one of the lovely sandstone buildings, made me shed a tear given the current Brexit controversy. This one:


    British Prime Minister Winston Churchill visited Metz in 1946. 14th July 1946. The first liberated Quatorze Juillet post WWII. Churchill began his speech by saying: "Take warning, I am going to speak to you in French," which he did. He went on to speak of the dream of a united, peaceful Europe. He stressed the importance of uniting Europe in this post-war period, urging France to take the initiative in order to advance Franco-German relations and peace within Europe.
    It pre-dated his famous September 1946 speech made at Zurich University when he finished with the words""Let Europe arise!"

    On 15 July 1946, the front page of the French daily newspaper Le Courrier de Metz illustrates the historic visit of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to Metz and emphasises the importance of his speech in favour of European unity.

    Do take a look at this marvellous short video of his visit. You can see the local costumes and the attractive sandstone buildings as well as the cathedral. This little film captures a corner of France celebrating victory, looking to its future. 

    Metz has been under German or French control at different times in its history. The frontier has been re-delianated on several occasions. Today, it is French and it is proudly European, forward-looking and is committed to a safer, cleaner world, to responsible urban living.








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    During the last four years we have seen the First World War from many angles. But how did the French see it? A few years ago I found two large-format bound volumes of the magazine L’Illustration in the street with a notice ‘Take Me’. Being an obedient citizen, I did. And then wondered what to do with them. Now I am glad I did not throw them out.  My school French can read the titles and the subject matter but not the detail. So I share with you some of the 100s of illustrations, drawn and photographed.

    A fictional village in Alsace the day after German occupation
    - suddenly the residents are very patriotic
    French soldiers crossing the Canal d'Yser under fire....
    ..while officers of several armies enjoy life in the Café du Paix in Paris...
    ...and their daughters play in the Bois de Boulogne...

    ...and refugee children from the North hope for morsels of food.

    Aeroplanes were a new weapon of war..
    ...but the French Army relied on donkeys for transport in the trenches.
    ...and reinforcements from the 43rd Battalion of Senegal.
    L’Illustration dealt with subjects other than war, including the dangers of high heels (with X-Rays of damaged ankles to prove it); how to bottle apples; and the Russian Revolution (the editor of L’Illustration did not seem to like the Bolsheviks). In December 1918, advertisements reappeared on the back page. 
    At the end of the war, there were celebrations across France. 
    ..while German prisoners-of -war wondered 'What next?'
    Nearly 130,000 prisoners were taken at La Somme in August 1918.
    France, depicted as a lovely woman, thanks a French soldier for saving her....
    ..while a surprised 'America' glares at a conquered 'Germany'.
    After the war, soldiers rescued a bronze sculpture of  Eve, made by Auguste Rodin
    in 1881 and buried in a garden in Douai, northern France
    The British Prime Minister Lloyd George was awarded a double-page  portrait on the last page of L'Illustration 1918.
    www.janiehampton.co.uk

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    by Ruth Downie

    If you’ve ever been left on the phone listening to tinny music and assurances that “Your call is very important to us,” then spare a thought for the outraged trader whose draft letter of complaint turned up near Hadrian’s Wall a few years ago.


    Parts of the letter are missing but there’s enough to piece together most of the story. The man seems to have got into a fracas with some soldiers who threatened to tip his goods down the drain, and subsequently beat him with sticks. When he objected, they beat him again.

    Then, to make matters worse, nobody wanted to listen to his complaint.

    He tried the men’s Commanding Officer, but the great man was off sick.

    He tried the Commanding Officer’s assistant but got nowhere.

    He tried various other centurions, but none of them wanted to know - and finally he’d had enough.

    We don’t know exactly which “Your majesty” the letter was intended for, but Hadrian was touring Britain at about the time it was written and, since in theory any citizen could appeal to the Emperor, it’s possible that the victim decided to go right to the top.

    As he explained, he was not only an innocent man with a good reputation, but a man from overseas. And now he’d been beaten until he bled, as if he were some sort of criminal!

    It’s hardly surprising that he claimed to be innocent and honest, but the third reason for his outrage is more interesting – he was an expat. He was more or less saying, “I’m one of your own people!” as opposed to being a native Briton. Giving a beating to a Briton, he implied, would have been perfectly acceptable.

    There are long decades of history during which we know very little of how the Britons and the Romans rubbed along together. British names appear in trading documents (and on curses!) from the relatively peaceful south of England, but the military letters that have turned up on Hadrian’s Wall barely mention the locals. There’s a disparaging report on their fighting skills that refers to them as “wretched little Brits” (Brittunculi), but that’s about it.

    There is other evidence, though. The other day I did one of my on-the-way-to-somewhere-else whistlestop tours of a museum – the sort where I rush around glancing at my watch, taking hundreds of photos and not stopping to read anything. Suddenly the rush came to a halt. I was in the Corinium museum in Cirencester, but wasn’t that the same tombstone I’d seen at Corbridge, miles away on Hadrian’s Wall?

    It wasn’t until I got home and compared the photos that I realized it was the same design, but commemorated a different cavalryman. I’ve no idea how many stones there are like this, but here are the ones honouring (from left to right) Dannicus, Genialis and Candidus. Each man is shown valiantly brandishing a weapon from the back of a prancing horse. You have to look a little more closely to spot the natives.


    In case you can’t make them out, I’ve highlighted them in red below. Greater minds than mine may be able to tell you if they represent the fallen from a specific battle or just generic barbarians, but either way, it’s pretty clear where Candidus’s boot is pointing. Hardly a design calculated to win the hearts and minds of the locals in an occupied country.


    So did our outraged expat get justice, or was he left to seethe at being beaten like a lowly native? We don’t know. All we have is a draft of the letter, so perhaps a fair copy reached the Emperor and justice was done. On the other hand, that draft was found in the quarters of a centurion – so maybe it was intercepted before it got anywhere, and all the man got for his trouble was another beating.

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    November's guest is very special. Not only is he a History Boy, he is the only guest we've ever had who lives inside one of the oldest historical spots in the UK. Meet Chris Skaife, a modest man with a very unusual job, who has recently become a bit of a media star. You'll find out why below.

    Before becoming Yeoman Warder and Ravenmaster at the Tower of London, Chistopher Skaife served in the British Army for twenty-four years, during which time he became a Drum Major as part of a specialist machine gun platoon. He has been featured on the BBC, the History Channel, PBS, BuzzFeed, Slate, and other media. He lives at the Tower with his wife, his daughter, and, of course, the ravens. Follow him on Twitter at @ravenmaster1. 

    Credit: Historic Royal Palaces
    I have what is often described as the oddest job in Britain.

    Odd? Maybe.

    The best? Definitely.

    My name is Chris Skaife and I am the Ravenmaster at the Tower of London.

    My official title is Yeoman Warder Christopher Skaife, of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, and member of the Sovereign’s Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary – that’s quite a mouthful, isn’t it!

    All of us Yeoman Warders are former servicemen and women with at least twenty-two years of unblemished service. We are the ceremonial guardians of the Tower of London. In principle we’re responsible for looking after any prisoners at the Tower and safeguarding the Crown Jewels. In practice, we act as tour guides and as custodians of the rituals of the Tower.

    As the Ravenmaster, I have the added responsibility for the safety, security and welfare of the ravens in my care. Without the ravens, so the legend goes, the Tower itself will crumble into dust and great harm will befall the kingdom.

    The legend of the ravens at the Tower of London is as strange and perplexing in its way as any of the great legends of the raven from around the world.



    What follows is my take on the legend of the ravens at the Tower.

    The story goes that Charles II was once visiting the Tower of London after the restoration of the monarchy to survey a new building. At the time, a young astronomer named John Flamsteed was using a room in the round turret house at the top of the White Tower for his observations of the stars and the moon, but he had found that the nesting ravens rather obstructed his view and interfered with his work. Flamsteed asked Charles II if he might be able to get rid of “ those confounded ravens.” Charles, being a decent sort of a king, readily agreed, until someone pointed out that the birds had always been at the Tower and were an important symbol of the city and the monarchy and that getting rid of them would therefore seem like rather a bad omen. Mindful no doubt that both the city and the monarchy had had a bit of a run of bad luck recently, what with his father Charles I having been executed and there having been a terrible plague in London in 1665 and then the Great Fire of London in 1666, Charles promptly issued a royal decree, commanding that instead of banishing the birds, at least six ravens should be kept at the Tower forevermore.

    But in all my research over the years, assisted by the incredible resources of the Tower’s library and my archives, in all the years I’ve been looking and searching, and with all the experts I’ve consulted. I have been able to find no mention whatsoever of the legend of the ravens at the Tower before the late nineteenth century.

    Let me just say that again, no mention of the legend of the ravens at the Tower until the late nineteenth century.

    Nothing, nada, zilch. Not a croak.

    Nothing about Charles II and his decree. Nothing about Flamsteed and the confounded ravens. Nothing about the kingdom falling if the ravens should ever leave the Tower. The truth is that there was no Royal Decree protecting the ravens issued by Charles II, though there was admittedly a Royal Warrant issued in June 1675, which provided John Flamsteed, who became the first Royal Astronomer, with the funding to set up a proper observatory in Greenwich.

    So it’s possible that the confounded ravens played a small part in the history of astronomy and navigation in this country simply by being so bloody annoying that Flamsteed had to move out to Greenwich to get away from them!

    Not only is there no evidence of ravens having played an important part in the history of the Tower before the late nineteenth century, there is barely any mention of the ravens at the Tower in the historical records before then at all.

    Merlina
    Take the old Authorised Guide to the Tower of London by W. J. Loftie published in its second edition in 1888. Any mention of the ravens? No, Nothing.

    The ever popular and magisterial Her Majesty’s Tower, by William Hepworth Dixon, first published in 1869? Nothing. Even William Benham’s The Tower of London, published in 1906, mentions not the mighty raven.

    One of the first official Tower guidebooks to mention the birds is Colonel E. H. Carkeet- James’s His Majesty’s Tower of London, which wasn’t published until 1950, and even then the birds are seen largely as an annoyance.

    “They are not popular with the residents of the Tower,” according to the Colonel. “They tear up the grass, flowers create an urge to destroy, they pick out the putty from windows and the lead from the diamond leaded lights in the Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula. Few motor cars are safe from their marauding and they find a strange fascination in ladies’ silk stockings.”

    As far as I’ve been able to ascertain, from my own research and from the work of various historians and scholars, the first significant depiction of the ravens at the Tower wasn’t until 1883 in an article in the Pictorial World newspaper on July 14, which has a drawing of what certainly looks like a raven by the entrance to the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, near the plaque commemorating the executions on Tower Green.

    Erin
    In the same year there was also a children’s book, London Town, by Felix Leigh, illustrated by Thomas Crane and Ellen Houghton, which tells the story, in verse, of a young girl named Prue touring London with her parents.

    The book includes a drawing of Prue and her parents at the Tower, observing a little girl outside Beauchamp Tower, looking rather frightened at the sight of two ravens and clinging to a Yeoman Warder. The text accompanying the drawing seems to be the first significant mention of the ravens at the Tower.

    Among the sights of London Town
    Which little visitors wish to view,
    The Tower stands first, and its great renown
    Has, you will notice, attracted Prue.

    At a well- known spot, to Miss Prue’s surprise,
     some fine old ravens are strutting about.
    If upon the picture a glance you cast,
    you will know the ravens next time, no doubt.

    The red-coated guard who’s watching her
    Is called a Beefeater— fancy that!
    And Prue discovers, as she draws near,
    A child by his side who is round and fat.

    “ Father and Mother… pray come here,”
    In tones so pleasant, laughs lively Prue:
    “ You’ve shown me things that are odd and queer,
    A Beefeater’s baby I’ll show you!”

    After Prue and her parents, the accounts of the ravens at the Tower start to proliferate… There is raven contagion!


    In Birds in London, published in 1898, W. H. Hudson claims,

    “For many years past two or three ravens have usually been kept at the Tower of London.” And so the stories begin to grow. You can see the beginnings of the legend of the ravens growing and blossoming before your very eyes in the work of Major-General Sir George Younghusband, of the Guides Cavalry, a formidable soldier who served in the Second Afghan War, the Mahdist War, the Third Burmese War, the Second Boer War, and the First World War, and who was appointed Keeper of the Jewel House at the Tower in 1917.

    In his book The Tower from Within, Younghusband provides a comprehensive guide to life at the Tower, its history and traditions as understood at the beginning of the twentieth century.

    According to Younghusband:

    "Round and about the site of the ancient scaffold, or sitting silent on a bench nearby, may be seen the historic ravens of the Tower. No doubt when forests grew close up to the moat the turrets of the old Tower made an ideal place in which ravens could build their nests, and rear future generations of Tower ravens. But as the city grew around and the forests receded, and with them fields for forage, the ravens would no longer nest or breed in their old haunts. They have therefore since then from time to time had to be replaced by new blood from outside.

    The present birds were given to the Tower by Lord Dunraven, and one of them is now of considerable age. It would be of historic interest if those whose ancestors have suffered at the Tower would send from their homes successors to the old ravens, as they die off, and thus maintain a very old tradition in a manner well in keeping."

    It seems likely that the “very old tradition” that Younghusband mentions was no more than thirty or forty years old at the time. Nonetheless, a few years later, in 1924, when he published another book about the Tower, A Short History of the Tower of London, he elaborated upon the theme of the Tower’s ancient raven traditions:

    "Walking about on the Tower Green, or perhaps perched on the steps of the White Tower, may be seen a few ravens, three or four, sometimes five. These are the Ravens of the Tower and as much part of it as are the Yeomen Warders. What their origin may have been is lost in the mists of antiquity, but possibly when the Tower stood alone— a rock- like edifice amidst the fields and forests which then surrounded it— ravens built their nests in its high turrets. An historian mentions that they were gazing on the scene when Queen Anne Boleyn was executed. Perhaps after the ravens ceased to nest in such unquiet surroundings as the Tower they formed part of the menagerie maintained by Kings of England in the Tower as one of their regal fancies. Whatever their origin may have been, they are now maintained on the strength of the garrison… are duly enlisted— having an attestation card as has a soldier— and daily receive their ration of raw meat and other delicacies issued by the Yeoman Warder in whose charge they are placed. [. . .] A whole chapter could be filled with stories about the Tower Ravens and their adventures and escapades and amusements, and these can be gathered from any of the kindly Yeoman Warders whom the visitor may meet, but here unhappily there is no more space for them."

    Merlina
    Personally, I have no doubt that ravens have long been present here. The White Tower was for many centuries one of the tallest buildings in London, and what with Smithfield Market nearby, and the amount of rubbish and decaying flesh that would anyway have been bobbing its way downstream in the River Thames, the Tower would have been an ideal spot for ravens to congregate and nest.

    In a letter written by Sir Walter Raleigh to Robert Cecil, 1st Viscount Cranborne, in the winter of 1604–1605, while he was imprisoned in the Bloody Tower, Raleigh implores his friend to “save this quarter which remaineth from the ravens of this time which feed on all things.” Poor Sir Walter was clearly having a bad day when he wrote the letter, though the good news is that he survived his imprisonment in the Tower and was in fact pardoned by the King in 1617 and granted permission to go off in search of El Dorado — though he was then admittedly beheaded in the Old Palace Yard at the Palace of Westminster in 1618!

    Anyway, his plea to Robert Cecil to save his wasted body from the ravens suggests that there were indeed ravens in and around the Tower at the time.

    What we know for sure is that the ravens only became a notable and remarkable feature at the Tower sometime in the late 1800s. Perhaps it was simply because the raven population throughout the rest of the country had declined so sharply having been hunted down and killed as vermin that the few remaining birds at the Tower became worthy of comment.

    But I think there’s more to it.

    Here’s what I think happened. This is the unproven and untested Skaife Theory about the creation of the legend of the ravens at the Tower, derived from many years of research and experience working at the Tower: you could also call it the Yeoman Warder Theory.

    The Yeoman Warder Theory is based on an understanding not only of the nature and behaviour of the ravens, but also on the nature and behaviour of human beings. The Yeoman Warder Theory is that it was the Yeoman Warders themselves who had a hand in inventing the legend of the ravens at the Tower and probably for their own profit.

    Credit: Mickayla Skaife
    Imagine the scene: It’s the 1880s. The Tower has begun opening its gates to ever greater numbers of the general public, to the great unwashed, accepting paying visitors to the most notorious prison and fortress in the land, with its gruesome history of murder, executions, and torture. And here you are among them— washed, unwashed, whatever— waiting in anticipation for the Tower’s ancient wooden gates to open and your Beefeater guide to meet you.

    Slowly the gates begin to part, creaking and groaning from almost a thousand years of use. From behind the great gate appears an old man leaning on a twisted wooden cane, wearing a dirty dark blue uniform decorated with scarlet and braid, an odd medal or two pinned to his chest. On his head is a curious hat, set at a jaunty angle. There’s a strong whiff of gin and stale tobacco about him.

    “Give me a shilling and you can come in,” he growls. “And I will tell you our dark, dark secrets.”

    You hand over your coin, he shoves it in his pocket, and then he turns and hobbles back inside the Tower. “Follow me!” he cries. “And keep up!” So you enter through the gates and follow him as he begins to recount his dreadful tales of the Tower’s history.

    As you reach the Traitor’s Gate, he stops and turns. “Do you dare to go farther inside?” You nod, fearful and excited, and he rubs his fingers together. “In which case, I will need another coin or two.”

    He scowls. And so it goes— the deeper you penetrate inside the Tower, the deeper his pockets are filled with your hard- earned cash. Until at last, at the scaffold site on Tower Green, the old Yeoman Warder claims actually to have seen the ghost of Anne Boleyn! And to have heard the pitiful whimpers of the two boy princes murdered deep within the Bloody Tower. And to himself have felt the shudders as the murdered Queens of England laid down their heads and the sharp edge of cold metal fell upon their dainty necks!

    And there—he points finally, triumphantly are the ravens, reminders of our dark past, souls of the departed, the very souls of those who were executed on the private scaffold site on Tower Green!

    “Witness the ravens! Here since the beginning of time! Here since Anne Boleyn herself was executed!”

    What a way to enhance the story! Living, breathing representations of the life of the Tower.

    And all it would have taken would have been to trim the feathers of a few ravens and feed them the occasional scraps and that’ll be another penny, Madam!



    (All images author's own except where otherwise credited.)

    Thanks so much for visiting, Chris, and telling us your convincing theory!

    Followers – don't forget to visit tomorrow, when you'll get an opportunity to win a copy of Chris's book.















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  • 11/29/18--16:01: November Competition
  • To win a copy of Chris Skaife's The Ravenmaster, just answer the question below in the Comments section. Then send a copy of your answer to me at: maryhoffman@maryhoffman.co.uk

    Just for once, it's a question with a right answer! If we get more than five right answers, we will put names into a hat.

    Closing date: 7th December

    Name all seven ravens currently living at the Tower of London. 

    We are sorry that our competitions are open only to UK Followers

    Good luck!

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    A few months ago I wrote on this blog about an ending for me – finishing my life as a civil servant. Today is another ending – and, excitingly, a new beginning – because today I’m leaving London, and moving to Brighton.

    I’ve lived in London all my adult life and in Crystal Palace for nearly fourteen years. It has been a wonderful place to live. I’ve always loved its history and the sense of community and shared identity that brings, and I’ll miss it very much. 

    Me on Dinosaur Island, Crystal Palace Park
    Photo: L O'Sullivan 
    Crystal Palace wasn’t always known as such. But after the success of the Great Exhibition in 1851 it was decided to rebuild Joseph Paxton’s masterpiece on a permanent site, and run it as a commercial enterprise. A commanding position on top of a ridge in south London on the borders of Upper Norwood, Penge and Sydenham was chosen, the Palace rebuilt and a new identity forged.

    It became the defining feature of the area, bringing millions of people to visit and live over the next 80 years and changing it forever. Two train stations were built to manage the influx of visitors. Many of the bus routes in south London end in Crystal Palace even now because of the number of people who wanted to get to the attraction. And, as across London, huge numbers of houses were built, but in this case many of them were large and beautiful villas for the well-to-do, wanting to live in this now-fashionable spot.

    The Crystal Palace burned down in a catastrophic fire in 1936. The site of the Palace and grounds is now the local park. You can see the foundations of the Palace at the top of the hill, complete with a few of the original statues. There are two more complete reminders of the heyday of the Crystal Palace, however, which I have especially loved while living here:
    The Megalosaurus, striding through the
    autumn foliage. Photo C. Wightwic

    1) The Dinosaurs. I’ve written about them before, but I make no bones (boom boom) about doing so again. Declaring an Interest, I’m now on the Board of the charity that works to promote and conserve the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs (most of which aren’t actually Dinosaurs, but hey…) They were built in the 1850s as an attraction in the grounds of Crystal Palace and were the first ever life sized sculptures of dinosaurs (and other extinct creatures) anywhere in the world. The sculptures were created at the dawn of dinosaur palaeontology, taking into account the cutting-edge science of the day. We obviously know much more now, so many of them look weird and ‘wrong’ to our eyes. From the point of view of the history of science, therefore, they are a testament to how our knowledge changes and grows with each generation. For the general viewer today, their ‘wrongness’ adds to their charm.

    2) The Subway. This gorgeous subterranean space isn’t often open to the public, although the Friends of the Subway are doing an amazing job to provide occasional access days. One of the last remnants of the Crystal Palace and its associated infrastructure, the subway was the passageway between the ‘high level’ train station and the great Crystal Palace itself. The red-and-white patterned space is all that remains of the high level station, but gives an impression of the grandeur and excitement of a visit to one of the greatest spectacles of the age. 

    The Subway in 2017. Photo: C.Wightwick
    So, what to take to Brighton as part of my ever-expanding Cabinet of Curiosities? Well, the Ruling History Girl wasn’t very impressed a few months ago when I tried to bring a life-sized sculpture of a naked man into the Cabinet (apparently he wouldn’t fit) so I don’t suppose I can get away with a life-sized Dinosaur either. And I wouldn’t want to take them out of their natural habitat, even virtually. In designing the Dinosaurs, smaller maquettes were made, about 1/8th size of the final pieces. None of them survive, to our knowledge. But if they did, maybe I could fit one of those into the Cabinet?


    Find out more at:

    Crystal Palace Dinosaurs: https://cpdinosaurs.org/ The Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs are currently fundraising to build a bridge to improve conservation, maintenance and improve public access. Details – including how to pledge – are at www.spacehive.co.uk/bridges-to-the-crystal-palace-dinsosaurs

    The Crystal Palace Subway: www.cpsubway.org.uk



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    In
    The Foundling Museum, Brunswick Square
    I was in Brunswick Square a couple of weeks ago, to visit an exhibition at the Foundling Museum. It told a story I knew nothing about. I had, of course, heard of Thomas Coram, its founder, but knew nothing of the struggle he had experienced in getting his philanthropic venture off the ground.

    In the early 1700s, when Thomas Coram returned to England after eleven years in America, the London poor were in a bad way, especially their children. Mortality in the under-fives was running at 75%. it was even worse in the workhouses, where the rate was 90%. It was the time of the gin craze and many poor women who couldn't feed their children adequately gave this cheap spirit to them  to suppress their appetite, not realising the dangers. Thousands of children died from alcohol poisoning.

    About a thousand children a year were abandoned in the streets by desperately poor families who couldn't provide for them. Illegitimacy also bore a stigma and many abandoned babies were those who had been born out of wedlock. And yet there was no provision in London for the care of such "foundlings."

    In this way we lagged behind provision in Europe, where there was the Hopital des Enfants-Trouvés in Paris in the late 17th century. Italy was even better provided, having had the Ospedale degli Innocenti (designed by Brunellechi) in Florence since 1491 and the even earlier Conservatorio della Ruota in Rome in the 13th century. The "ruota" was the wheel, also used in Florence, in the wall of the building, where desperate women placed their babies and turned the handle to deliver them inside, into the care of nuns.

    In Britain, there was a fear that having somewhere to leave the results would encourage extra-marital or pre-marital sex.

    Into this scene stepped Thomas Coram, a man of such determination that he spent seventeen years getting the Foundling Hospital up and running.
    Thomas Coram in front of his hospital
    Born to a humble family in Lyme Regis, Thomas Coram went to sea and ended up in Boston in  America as a shipbuilder. He was evident a blunt and outspoken man, who made enemies in America, and eventually returned to his native country. He continued to do well as a shipbuilder and became quite wealthy. But he was appalled at the situation of abandoned children in London and the absence of any provision for them. He had no children of his own but was determined to do something to look after the unfortunate offspring of others.

    To establish a foundling hospital, he had to get a Charter of Incorporation from the king but he had no idea how to secure one. So he decided to start a petition and made extensive lists in his pocket book of the names of all the  churchmen, nobles and other dignitaries he could think of. Then he tramped the streets of London trying to get these influential people's support. This was to little avail.

    Coram decided on a another approach: he would approach the women, the wives of the great and the good, and appeal to their compassion. The first woman to sign his petition was Charlotte, the Duchess of Somerset in 1729, the first of eventually twenty-one "Ladies of Quality and Disctinction" to do so. That's her, on the left, below:

    Where one noble lady led, others followed. The exhibition currently at the Foundling Museum, shows portraits or copies or photographs of paintings of all twenty-one, because women of their rank would have sat to have their images preserved. Some paintings show them with their families, some alone. Here is Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, who signed in 1730, with her husband, the Earl, and their children Selina and Henry.


    Ann, Duchess of Bolton
    Many of these women were remarkable in their own right. Countess Selina, for example, in 1737, leading a group of titled women, broke into the House of Commons gallery and shouted comments, after they had been excluded from a debate on Spain.

    Each "lady" has her own story and I recommend visiting the exhibition to explore them all.

    When they had all signed, the petition was presented to the king in 1735 and there followed two years of gentle persuasion of husbands and kinsmen, until a second petition was presented, of "Noblemen and Gentlemen," which included "25 dukes, 31 earls, 26 members of the peerage and38 knights, along with the entire Privy Council, which included the Prince of Wales, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the House of Commons andthe Justices of the Peace, 375 signatures in total."

    Such a plea could not be ignored and, in 1739, King George ll signed the charter and the Foundling Hospital had its green light. Thomas Coram, now 70 years old, presented it to the Duke of Bedford, who was made its first President. 172 men from the age of 21 to 80, were appointed its first governors. (Anyone who donated £50 was eligible).

    Now all they had to do was raise the money. A committee of 50 governors was chosen by lot and they met every two weeks to discuss fund-raising and other matters. In 1740 a lease was taken on a house in Hatton Garden, to provide a home for sixty children. But it wasn't until 1753 that permanent premises opened, with half the cost of building (£2,000) donated by the king.


    From 1742-55 there was an admission system of lottery, using coloured balls. This was becaiuse there were always more babies that places. A white ball meant a definite admission subject to medical examination, a black ball meant there was definitely no place for the child and a red ball meant a reserve place if any of the accepted children failed the medical.

    Every child came with a token from its mother, which could be as simple as a piece of cloth, in the event that a child might be taken back at a later date when the parents could afford to support it. Infants were taken into the country to foster mothers until they were four years old. One of the inspectors of these foster-homes was the artist William Hogarth.

    Self-portrait with pug
     He was one of the original governors of the Foundling Hospital and he and his wife Jan, although childless themselves, fostered several foundlings themselves. He donated his portrait of Thomas Coram to the hospital.

    Coram himself was chucked off the committee within a year. He was obviously no easier to get along with than he had been in America. But obstinacy can be a good quality, as his perseverance shows.

    But he couldn't have succeeded without the support of his Ladies of Quality and Distinction. Some were happily married, like Elizabeth, Countess of Cardigan, whose husband wrote he was "the happiest man in the whole world by being married last Thursday to my Lady Betty Bruce." They had six children, two of whom are in this painting:

    Elizabeth, Countess of Cardigan
    Others were not so lucky, like Anne, Duchess of Bedford, whose first husband was the "intellectually weak" seventeen-year-old 3rd Duke of Bedford. Anne, the granddaughter of Sarah Churchill, the uchess of Marlborough, was six years older than her pathetic teenage husband, who didn't fancy her and wouldn't perform his marital duties. He was also gambling away hisfamily fortune.

    Grandma stepped in and suggested he might travel abroad, where he conveniently died in his early twenties. Anne swapped her title for the lesser one of Countess of Jersey a year later and had a happy second marriage. She signed the petition while her first husband was still alive.

    Anne, Duchess of Bedford
    It was a story I knew nothing about, all these duchesses and countesses, who lent their names to the great venture that was to become the Foundling Hospital and rescue so many children, although of course many more were lost. Not only did it help the ones who were fortunate in the lottery but it helped to change society's view of illegitimacy.

    (And the Hospital inspired two great children's books: Jamila Gavin's Coram Boy (2000), which won the Whitbread Prize and Jacqueline Wilson's Hetty Feather, which was turned into  TV series in 2015)


    Many thanks to volunteer Jane King for showing us around the museum.

    With acknowledgmentsto the exhibition brochure and The Foundling Museum: an Introduction by Caro Howell et.al. (2014)

    (Images by author and Wikimedia Commons)

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    One of the reasons I went to France earlier this year was to check for myself what happened in the Somme region after World War I. I read many accounts, but they couldn’t tell me what I needed to know. What did I need to know? The cultural impact of war.

    Historical fiction builds culture. It gives so many of us pathways into understanding how our world sees its past and how people might have lived in it. As fiction, it has fuzzy boundaries, and this is an important part of creating that wonderful past. Some writers use the fuzzy boundaries to create adventure, and some use it to create small private worlds that readers feel they can step into. Some use it to create trauma and let us see the horror of the past. Whatever the writer chooses, they are adding to culture.

    I used to think that war added to culture, too. This is because some aspects of war do precisely that. We’ve just had a flurry of memory of poets who died in World War I. Those terrible, beautiful, simple rhymes came from horror and represent death. Exquisite and agonising, they are a core part of how we see that war.

    There is a Somme tourism that specialises in military matters. In July, I met a few of the tourists along the Somme, they ere following the routes and visiting the sites and the museums. There were so many Australians. I talked with some of them. A few were there for family who died. They wanted to see a piece of paper or find out more about the man or where he died. Another group was there because they want to commemorate the war in this hundredth year. A few were there to remind themselves that they vowed “Never again.”





    This is also cultural creation. These personal reactions to damaged lives and to a damaged landscape are part of our healing, and we talk about that, but they’re also part of the act of cultural creation. We create a culture of memory when we engage in war tourism. We’re remembering the war and giving it sets of values. Culturally, it’s how we connect past to future. 

    This doesn’t simply roll into historical fiction. Most historical fiction writers will take the emotions that rise from seeing death and the culture we use to explain those emotions and that death, and will weave it into the fabric of their novel. Thus one type of cultural creation feeds into another type. It can be beautiful. It can be sensible. It can be tragic. From any direction, however, it’s cultural creation, often of a powerful kind. It has the power of drawing from several cultural elements and bringing them together and triggering emotions.

    None of this is the opposite of historical fiction. The opposite of historical fiction is not the scarred landscape, nor is it the scarred lives. We’ve given them story. We’ve created culture for them and we’re very busy creating culture for them every day.

    The opposite of historical fiction is the past that never makes it into story. One of the reasons humans commit genocide is to wipe the stories of people, their cultures, their memories, their very existence from the planet. This is an aspect of culture that’s so hard to talk about that we often dump the story and add numbers together to turn it into data. 

    This is a terribly difficult subject, for so many reasons, so I’m going to give you just two examples of how these things are the opposite of history. If there’s enough interest, I can post more on it, for it’s part of my research into cultural fabric. Only if there are readers who want, however, or it’s a difficult subject to write about.

    My first example will concern World War I and my second, World War II.



    In and around Amiens, I talked with people and I took pictures of places and I visited museums. I needed to understand how families from the region recovered after the war. A man I spoke to was from a town that no longer exists. He told me that his family lost everything and that, a hundred years ago, they moved to Amiens to start again. He is a ceramicist and I bought a salt shaker to remind myself that every single bit of the physical culture for that family had to be re-created. 

    We don’t think of locals who never travel more than 20 miles from the place of their ancestors as refugees, but some of the losses the ceraicit's family suffered are the same as the losses refugees suffer. The family didn’t lose their country, or their language. Some of the culture could be re-created and all the oral culture and the cooking and the family stories survived… unless they were linked to physical items. The destruction of private property was so immense that families are still trying to rebuild their physical heritage. They will never get all of it back. It's gone.

    Local heritage for that region has big holes. The opposite of historical fiction. Not lack of evidence. Destruction of all the objects that link us to the past. If someone had a mourning brooch… it’s gone. If someone had a chair passed down from the Middle Ages and carefully preserved... it’s gone.  No number of salt cellars can replace the loss of the family kitchen, in the house the family had lived in for as long as records exist. The house itself is gone.



    This is not restricted to the Somme. It’s everywhere where towns are destroyed and people are forced to move. Culture is simplified in a brutal way and when it is rebuilt, it’s not the same.

    My second example is represented by the one book I hoped was stolen when 1209 books were taken by thieves. It’s the cookbook I’ve not had the courage to cook from. 

    We all know stories about World War II. We (the broader cultural 'we') don’t tend to read a lot about the women sent to the concentration camps and the death camps. Several groups of women, historians have discovered, sat around talking food. We know (for historians have investigated) that some of these women starved to death while they were remembering recipes and dinner parties. How do we know they were talking food? There are manuscripts, written down on whatever material they could obtain and hidden so that even if they died, people would know who they are. So that their families might have their recipes. So that there was memory. So that their history lived.

    I can give you any number of reasons why the recipes might have been written down in such terrible circumstances, but that’s guesswork. That’s me trying to re-create the culture that has been destroyed. All we have are the recipes and any notes the recipe-writers gave us.

    One of these collections has been translated into a cookbook. In Memory’s Kitchen. This is the book I needed to understand. The one that hurts when I see it. 

    It hurts right now, because it’s on my desk because researching the Somme and writing this blogpost has brought me to a realisation. When the recipes of these murdered people sit unread on shelves in libraries, they’re part of the culture death those who killed them so desire. We know that Jewish women on the verge of death wrote down their favourite recipes. That’s all we take into our culture. 









    Yet these amazing women gave us a gift. Something that ought to be wiped from the planet with the people that lives, sits right now on my desk and tells me, “We do not have to accept such destruction. We can remember this group of women through what they have given us.” 

    I need to make something from that cookbook, soon. I need to remember these women and their culture and not share in the erasure of people from the planet.

    There’s a Jewish festival that starts tonight. This is a good moment to make that impossible step and to move one small part of a destroyed past into living culture.

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    The Turn of the Screw opens on Christmas Eve with a group of guests sitting around a fire listening to a story that is said to be, 'gruesome, as, on Christmas Eve, in an old house, a strange tale should essentially be'.

    Henry James was alluding to the tradition of telling ghost stories during the dark winter months, a practice which goes back thousands of years to when people, lacking iPads and Netflix, would gather at the fireside to share folk tales of spirits and ghouls. ‘A sad tale's best for winter,’ Maximillius says in The Winter's Tale. ‘I have one of sprites and goblins.’

    A little help from the Victorians


    From A Christmas Carol, 1938

    So when in 1843 Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol– in which Scrooge is tormented by a series of ghosts on the night before Christmas – he was building on an age-old custom. However, it was one that he and other Victorians did much to consolidate and commercialise. The Christmas issues of the magazines Dickens edited (Household Words and All the Year Round) often included ghost stories. Indeed, it's believed that it was the rise of the periodical press that released the ghosts. Publishers wanted short, cheap, generic stories that could pull an audience, and ghost stories did just that.


    The best known of the 19th century ghost story glut are perhaps the stories by Sheridan le Fanu, Wilkie Collins, Elizabeth Gaskell and of course the masterful M R James, whose Lost Hearts was published in 1895, but there are many, many more. Ghosts also proliferated on the stage, in spirit photographs and in drawing room séances. It was in 1848 that the Fox sisters heard the rappings they claimed were spirit communications, and so spiritualism began.

    By the 1890s, Jerome K. Jerome was able to write: ‘Whenever five or six English-speaking people meet round a fire on Christmas Eve, they start telling each other ghost stories. Nothing satisfies us on Christmas Eve but to hear each other tell authentic anecdotes about spectres. It is a genial, festive season, and we love to muse upon graves, and dead bodies, and murders, and blood.’

    Halloween takeover? 


    After the turn of the century, some of the ghosts floated from Christmas to Halloween, influenced by the US where Scottish and Irish communities brought with them the customs of Samhain.

    As late as 1915, Christmas annuals of magazines were still dominated by ghost stories. However, by the middle of the century the magazine ghosts had mostly been sidelined in favour of consumerism and wholesome cheer.

    But, in England at least, the Christmas ghost story has never really gone away. It has lingered in our fiction, our TV, our theatre, our storytelling. Like The Turn of the Screw, Susan Hill's The Woman in Black begins on Christmas eve. Other Christmas ghost stories of the 20th century include those by Edith Wharton, JB Priestley, L.P. Hartley, Algernon Blackwood, Robert Aickman, Stephen King and Robertson Davies, whose High Spirits is a compilation of the ghost stories he told at his university's annual Christmas party. Andrew Taylor's Fireside Gothic features a brilliant story in the style of M R James that takes place over Christmas. The title story of Tom Cox's Help the Witch is set during the Christmas period.


    Adaptations of M R James’s and Dickens' ghost stories have been aired on British TV and radio over Christmas since broadcasting began (with people such as Mark Gatiss injecting new energy into the tradition), and ghosts have had a habit of making appearances in Christmas specials of various series including Downton Abbey, The Bill and, apparently, Bergerac.

    Many people say that they still read ghost stories on Christmas eve, either alone or with their families, and many attend live storytelling events in churches, graveyards and haunted halls.

    A ghostly upsurge


    My entirely unscientific research suggests that the Christmas ghost story is on the up. There seems to be a surge in ghost story events this year, with storytellers serving hot toddies and chilly stories across the UK.

    Professional storyteller Kirsty Hartsiotis says, 'ghost stories are part of my stock in trade at Christmas time - people want them more now than at Halloween, in recent years'.

    This perhaps ties in with the rise of the Gothic and the supernatural. Witches and vampires have been swooping across our screens and a host of Gothic and ghostly novels have been published in the past year (Melmoth, The Corset, A House of Ghosts, House of Glass, The House on Vesper Sands, The Lingering and my own novel The Story Keeper to name but a few). November saw the release of Vanessa Lafaye's Miss Marley: A Christmas ghost story - a prequel to A Christmas Carol. In troubled times, we reach out for the fantastical.

    I for one would far rather be telling ghost stories to my family on Christmas eve than scrambling to wrap up their presents. Perhaps this Christmas I’ll try replacing Home Alone with The Haunting of Hill House and see if anyone notices.

    From The Haunting, 1963



    __________________________________________________________

    Anna Mazzola is a writer of historical crime fiction and Gothic fiction. Her second novel, The Story Keeper, is out now. 

    https://annamazzola.com
    https://twitter.com/Anna_Mazz



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    In Lady Wilde’s ‘Ancient Legends of Ireland’ there’s a story about a young man, a poet, who attempts to seduce a farmer’s daughter. He’s used to having his wicked way with girls, for we're told that Irish poets were known for possessing ‘the power of fascination by the glance … so that they could make themselves loved and followed by any girl they liked.’
     
     
    With this particular girl, however, the power doesn’t seem to work very well at first. The poet arrives at her farm and begs for a drink of milk, but the young woman happens to be on her own in the house – the maids are busy churning in the dairy – so she refuses to let him in. Annoyed by this, the poet takes action. Lady Wilde continues:
     
    The young poet fixed his eyes earnestly on her face for some time in silence, then slowly turning round left the house and walked towards a small grove of trees just opposite. There he stood for a few moments resting against a tree, and facing the house as if to take one more vengeful or admiring glance, then went his way without once turning round. 
     
     
    The young girl had been watching him from the window, and the moment he moved she passed out of the door like one in a dream, and followed him slowly, step by step, down the avenue.
     
     
    As the girl passes through the farmyard, the dairymaids notice her entranced state. They raise the alarm and her father comes running from his work, shouting for her to stop, but his daughter doesn’t seem able to hear. The poet does, though,
     

    …and seeing the whole family in pursuit, quickened his pace, first glancing fixedly at the girl for a moment. Immediately she sprang towards him, and they were both almost out of sight, when one of the maids espied a piece of paper tied to a branch of the tree where the poet had rested.  From curiosity she took it down, and the moment the knot was untied, the farmer’s daughter suddenly stopped, became quite still, and when her father came up she allowed him to lead her back to the house.
     
     
    Recovering, the girl tells her family how she’d felt impelled to follow the young man ‘wherever he might lead’, only coming to her senses when the spell was broken. But what was the spell?
     
     
    The paper, on being opened, was found to contain five mysterious words written in blood, and in this order:
     
    Sator
    Arepo
    Tenet
    Opera
    Rotas
     
    These letters are so arranged that read in any way, right to left, left to right, up or down, the same words are produced; and when written in blood with a pen made of an eagle’s feather, they form a charm which no woman (it is said) can resist…
     
     
    (In a sceptical aside, Lady Gregory adds, ‘but the incredulous reader can easily test the truth of this assertion for himself.’)
     
     
     
     
    The Sator, Rotas, or Rotas Sator Square as this acrostic is called, is both very old and tantalisingly obscure; at any rate, no one has yet succeeded in explaining to everyone else’s satisfaction exactly what it means. Carved in stone or painted on walls, it crops up all over the place, at sites in Italy, Britain, Sweden and even Syria, ranging in date from Roman to medieval to near-modern. The words are obscure in themselves and have given rise to various tortuous interpretations (explored in this interesting article by Duncan Fishwick MA, "An Early Christian Cryptogram?"), which range from the reassuringly rural though still opaque, ‘The sower Arepo works the wheels with care’ – to Satanic invocations.AREPO is a nonsense word, and it seems that the rest, though they may resemble Latin words, are so ungrammatical as to be pretty much nonsense too. 
     
     
     
     
    However, back in the 1920s two German scholars discovered (or re-discovered) that the Square hides an anagram: it can be arranged as the word PATERNOSTER written twice in a cruciform order which uses the N only once, and leaves four letters over: two As and two Os – Alpha and Omega.  
     
     
     
     
    There’s really no chance that this is not deliberate, but to assume a Christian solution is problematic. The earliest known examples of the SATOR square are two graffiti from Pompeii which predate the Vesuvian eruption of AD 79.  Duncan Fishwick summarises the difficulties thus: there's no convincing evidence of any Christians in Pompeii before it was destroyed; the Cross is not found as a Christian symbol before about AD 130; Christians of the First Century used Greek not Latin for teaching and liturgy; the Christian use of Alpha and Omega as symbols for God was inspired by verses of the Apocalypse, which by AD 79 had not yet been written; finally, ‘cryptic’ Christian symbols first appear only ‘during the persecutions of the third century’ when overt Christianity had become politically unsafe. 
     
     
    But as various graffitti testify, there a Jewish population living in and around Pompeii, and Fishwick suggests that rather than Christian, the Sator Square may have been Jewish in origin. The Alpha and Omega may derive their significance from Old Testament passages such as Isaiah 44, 6 in which God declares, ‘I am the first and the last’, while as for the Paternoster anagram, Fishwick explains that, ‘Far from being a Christian innovation this form of address [eg: 'Our Father'] has its roots in Judaism’, citing various Judaic prayers. He concludes that the Square may likely have been a charm constructed by Latin-speaking Jews, the magic of which resides in its satisfying symmetry and the concealed invocation which, revolving around the single letter N, hints at the unspoken nomen or name of God. Another scholar, Rebecca Benefiel, points out in a fascinating article,"Magic Squares, Alphabet Jumbles, Riddles and more: The culture of word-games among the graffiti of Pompeii,"that the Sator Square is only one of many different word-squares found at Pompeii.
     
     

    Even if not Christian in origin, the Square was soon adopted as a Christian charm and invested with more specifically Christian symbolism: a belief arose that the five 'words' of the palindrome were the names of the five nails which fastened Christ to the cross.  And it went on from there to enjoy a long subsequent history as a potent magical spell. It was used in the 12th century, according to medieval scholar Monica Green (quoted by Sarah E. Bond in a post, 'Power of the Palindrome', in her blog History from Below), as a charm which could be written on butter and eaten, to help women who had miscarried. At some time in the 18th century the Sator Square was brought from Germany to America: in the Pennsylvanian Dutch example shown below, dated circa 1790, you can see that mistakes have been made in the lettering, so that it becomes simply a piece of magical gibberish. One wonders how early any awareness of the Paternoster anagram had vanished. 
     
     
     
     
    In 1820 printer and chapbook seller, Pennsylvanian John or Johann Hohman published German and English versions of a book of spells, charms and remedies called 'The Long Lost Friend' or 'The Long Hidden Friend'. On the page reproduced below, we find in charm number 121 the Sator Square, used 'To Quench Fire Without Water':
     
     
     
     
     
    It's clear that people tried it. The photo above, from the Oberhausmuseum in Passau, Bavaria, shows 'a plate with magic inscription, used as a fire fighting device to expel the evil spirits of fire.'  Perhaps people prepared them in advance? I suppose it might even have worked to damp out a very small fire, but one hopes those who tried this charm were busy stamping out the flames at the same time. (At least it's fairly brief, unlike the elaborate spell Hohman provides for 'Preventing Conflagration' which involved throwing into the fire a bundled-up sheet stained either with the menstrual blood of a chaste virgin, or the blood from child-birth.)
     
     



    A charm written on wood, intended to put out fires



    In fact 'The Long-Hidden Friend' itself had a long history as a popular folk-magic text: as late as 1904, Carlton F. Brown wrote in The Journal of American Folk-lore (Vol. 17, No. 65, Apr. - Jun., 1904, pp 89-152) that 'in eastern Pennsylvania whole communities, even whole counties, firmly believe in the realities of "hexing", and protect themselves from its influence by the charms and incantations of witch doctors.' Subsequent investigation by the Berks County Medical Society into the practices of the witch doctors showed that 'the principal source of the charms which they were using was this very book of Hohman's.'  And they charged high prices for their services.



    Who would have thought that a word puzzle dating from at least as early as first century Pompeii would still be in use as a popular charm in 19th century America, and appear in a 19th century Irish folk tale? Whether Judaic or Christian, Roman or medieval, European or American – whether religious symbol, magical aid for women in childbirth, a charm to put out fires or a spell to lure young Irishwomen away – the Sator Square will surely continue to puzzle and intrigue.



     

    Picture credits

    Fair Rosamund, by Arthur Hughes, 1854. (So no real connection with Lady Wilde's story, but a sweet young woman in a summer garden with something doomful looming.)
    Rotas square from St Peter ad Orotarium, Capestrano, photo by Poecus, at Wikimedia Commons
    Rotas square from Cirencester,  photo by ThrowawayHack, at Wikimedia Commons
    Pennsylvania Dutch talisman c. 1790, Wikimedia Commons
    Plate from Passau, Bavaria, with Sator charm against fire, photo by Wolfgang Sauber at Wikimedia Commons
    Sator square from Freistadt, Austria: Mühlviertler Schlossmuseum: Magic formula against fire, photo by Wolfgang Sauber, Wikimedia Commons

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    Photographs and film footage from the past are always evocative, now matter how shaky or blurred.  Recently, advances in technology are being applied to them, partly in the name of preservation and partly as a way of bringing them even more vividly to modern audiences.*  Have a look at A Trip Through Paris, France below - 


    Instead of the jerky movements we're used to seeing in early film, the footage has been slowed down to a more natural pace.  Instead of adding a (sometimes really dire) music sound track, there are the noises of horse traffic, bicycle bells and people talking.  Watching this, I had a real sense of people wearing clothes, not people in costume.  I loved the kid who stood right in front of the camera until poked out of the way with an umbrella.  And those moving walkways in the snow - if I had seen this before writing Slightly Jones and the Case of the Hidden City, set in 1890s Paris, I would definitely have found a way to include them in the story!


    * Peter Jackson's piece They Shall Not Grow Old, done as a commission from the Imperial War Museum, is another example, though I haven't summoned up the courage to watch it yet.  (There's a short news report on it here.)


    Joan Lennon's website.
    Joan Lennon's blog.
    Slightly Jones and the Case of the Hidden City.

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    In just over a week, on 14th December 2018 it will be the centenary of the election where some women in Britain and Ireland had the right to vote for the first time in a parliamentary election.


    Last week in Dublin I saw commemorative posters of Constance Markievicz on almost every lamp-post. Markievicz was of course the first woman elected to Westminter, though as an Irish Republican she never took up that seat, recognising Dáil Eireann instead. I knew then that I’d have to find something fresh to say about the 1918 election for my upcoming History Girls post.



    commemorative posters in Dublin 
    Fresh? How? I’ve been living with this date for over two years, since I started writing my 2017 novel Star By Star which focuses on that election. I’ve done suffragist-themed events from Aberdeeen down to London, and from Derry to Kerry. I've written lots of relevant articles and blogs. I’m pretty much electioned-out, especially as during that time I also found myself campaigning in real life during both NI Assembly and UK Westminster elections. 



    So today I’m thinking not of Constance Markiewicz, not even of Winifred Carney, who stood for Sinn Féin in an east Belfast seat she hadn’t a hope of winning, but of an obscure woman in a terraced parlour house in that same East Belfast electoral ward.

    Fanny Duff 
    Fanny Duff was my great-grandmother. I know very little about her. She was, according to my grandmother, her daughter Frances, a gentle and quiet woman. She brought up a large family. She saw her sons off to good skilled shipyard jobs like their father, and one to emigration. Two daughters went into shirt factories, and one died in her teens. Fanny was widowed young, and took in sewing to help provide for the family. She died suddenly in 1936, the day after my grandmother's 28th birthday. 


    Was Fanny eligible to vote in 1918? I assume so. She was over 30, and married to the householder of a respectable three-story terrace house whose rateable value would have been over the necessary £5 threshold. 


    She lived in an area that was then more mixed than it is today, but even so it was a safe unionist seat and Fanny’s family were unionists. The newspapers -- it is most likely the Duffs read The News Letter -- were full of exhortations to vote and instructions on how to do so. 

    I love the idea of her defying family tradition – and possibly her husband, James, and casting her vote for a woman, feminism trumping tribal identity, but that was even less likely in 1918 Belfast than it would be today, and there is no evidence that Fanny was a feminist. 

    Maybe she didn’t vote at all. In December 1918 the flu pandemic was still raging. It affected both the election campaigns and turnout. Fanny may have been nursing one of her children, or have been ill herself. Or she may have been well but reluctant to queue up at a crowded polling station and risk infection. 


    I talked to my own granny a lot about what we both called the olden days. But I never asked about that election day when she was ten years old. I never asked if her mother went to vote or if politics was talked about in the house. There can be nobody alive now who remembers Fanny Duff, who died in 1936. She’s just one more working class woman who may, or may not, have played a part in that historic election. But she was my great-grandmother, and next Friday, on the 14thDecember, I choose to think of her striding proudly down Beechfield Street, perhaps on her husband’s arm, perhaps alone or with a group of neighbours, ready to cast her vote for the first time. 






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    Below is a photograph of the book I'm reviewing today.  It's not in the same class as all the other pictures on this post, which were taken by Jane Brocket, the author of How to look at stained glass. However, it has the advantage of showing a glimpse  of the back cover.

    Jane Brocket knows a great deal about a great many things. I came to her blog (link in the author biog below) because it was beautiful. She posted photos of flowers, cakes, knitted socks, and the creative nail polish choices of  her teenage daughter. She travelled and noticed things as she went and drew them to her readers' attention. She is someone who's endlessly curious about  many things and who moreover makes a point of becoming enormously well-informed about everything  she intends to write about. 

    She's originally from Stockport and the first time I met her was in a café in Didsbury, Manchester. Now she's moved to Cambridge, I have met her all over again. My attention was drawn to this book when I read an wonderfully-illustrated article in the Daily Telegraph.  It was only at the end of the piece that I noticed that the book in question was by Jane Brocket. I was amazed  and delighted but not in the least surprised. 







    Stained glass interests me. I love it, of course. Most people do. But I lived for a very long time in a house in Manchester which had 1910 stained glass  panels in every window and even in the glass on  the doors inside. If Jane had lived in my house she'd have found out the name of the firm that installed it and probably also the name of the person who designed it...she's that sort of person. I just stared at it over years and wrote the odd poem about it. 

    When I moved to Cambridge, I went to visit Ely Cathedral and there's a brilliant stained-glass museum there. And just recently, I had two stained glass experiences. The first was a visit to the Sainte Chapelle in Paris where the windows are miraculously beautiful and glorious in every way, and the second was an Imagine programme on the BBC which was about the dazzling window David Hockney designed for Westminster Abbey, at the Queen's invitation.


    By the brilliant Irish designer Harry Clarke. In St Mary, Sturminster Newton, 1921

    You're actually going to need two copies of this book. The first can sit on a convenient table where people can pick it up and look at it carefully, reading some of the witty, entertaining and hugely informative text. The second has to be kept in the car if you're travelling round the country, so that you can look up your county in the index and check to see if there's a convenient church you can pop into, in order to admire the stained glass.



    The only windows by Marc Chagall in England are in All Saints, Tudeley, Kent. Amazing set of windows - this is a detail (1985).



    This book is very well-organised. There's a list detailing what's in the illustrations, a list of 50 churches to visit, an index of churches arranged in counties, and so on. Best of all, the book is divided into short chapters (you don't want to be reading endless screeds when you're looking round a church on a day out) under headings such as Angels, Grisaille, zzzz (for people sleeping) and so on. Dogs and cats, flowers, fire, insects, lead, textiles, saints, restoration, science, feet, crowns, etc. Brocket has encompassed almost everything a person can imagine being depicted in glass. This method of classification things makes it easy for anyone to look out for what particularly interests them. Also, it encourages a search for specific things when you're standing in front of a huge window whose details may at first seem too much to take in.


    Lovely semi-abstract glass in Manchester Cathedral by Anthony Hollaway, 1980.

    The friendly and approachable tone can't hide the enormous knowledge of the subject that's on display. Brocket explains a great deal about the processes, history and present-day state of stained-glass. She knows the artists. She knows the glass makers. She knows how all the varied strands of stained glass history come together.
    In Christ Church in Southwark, which was flattened by bombs in WW2 and rebuilt in late 1950s. By FW Cole, 1961.


    It strikes me that this book is a kind of literary stained-glass window. The separate elements are bound together into a satisfying
    whole, and you can look at bits of it, one at a time, as you're looking at the actual glass. Or you can do what I did for the purposes of writing this post...start at the beginning and read all the 
    way through to the end. 



    Detail of vast scheme of windows by Heaton, Butler & Bayne (1860s and 1870s) in St Mary, Banbury.

    I'm now fired up to go and explore the Cambridge churches that are mentioned in the book. And I will henceforth know what I'mlooking for when I go anywhere where stained glass is part of the building.




    By Joan Howson and Caroline Townshend (1940). In St Credan, Sancreed. (Cornwall, hence Cornish tin miner.)

    Three of my favourite books are The Gentle Art of Domesticity and The Gentle Art of Knitting and Vintage Cakes. Brocket has written lots of others, too, but this one will take its place on the shelf and give me pleasure for years to come.

    I'm going to end with a quotation from the book, taken from the section on Beards, to give you a flavour of Brocket's tone and style. I am certain there are many, many people out there who would love to find it under the tree. Merry Christmas!

    "Young, virile, heroic saints such as St George and St Michael are usually clean-shaven, the better to show off their remarkably strong jawlines, but older saints, such as St James the Greater and St Peter, who have come through a long life or martyrdom, are often depicted with unruly, unkempt beards, in keeping with a long pilgrimage or an earlier life as a fisherman."





    Jane Brocket is an author, blogger and Master of Wine. In 2005, after an MA in Victorian Art & Literature at Royal Holloway, she created her well-known blog, yarnstorm https://www.yarnstormpress.co.uk/in order to write about knitting. Discovering very quickly that she couldn’t knit fast enough to produce enough material for frequent posts, she widened her subject matter to include all things domestic, plus plenty of buns, bulbs and books. She has subsequently written eighteen books on a variety of creative and cultural themes, the latest of which is How to Look at Stained Glass. Jane is married to Simon; they live in Cambridge and have three grown-up children.






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    St Michael and All Angels, Princetown, Dartmoor
    Photographer: Theroadislong
    Situated 436 metres above sea level, St Michael and All Angels in Princetown, Devon is one of the highest locations for a church in the country. But it is also unique in being the only church in England to have been constructed by American prisoners of war. Most British people know that Napoleonic prisoners were incarcerated in England, but we often forget that American POWs were also imprisoned in England at the beginning of the 19th century.

    The granite church sits on the top of windswept and wild Dartmoor, close to the notorious Dartmoor Prison. The building of the church began in 1812, by French prisoners and was completed in 1815 by American POWs. The prisoners had to quarry the hard stone in all weathers, summer and winter, shape them and then transport the great blocks to the site, before each piece could be hoisted in place.

    During the war of 1812 between Britain and America, which lasted 32 months, many American prisoners of war were captured during sea-battles They were initially held on the prison ships in Plymouth, ironically, where the Pilgrim Fathers had sailed from, but after riots on board, the authorities decided to move them to the remote and grim prison at Princetown on Dartmoor. In groups of 250, they were marched a gruelling 17 miles up onto the moors, to Princetown, often swathed in mist and rain, surrounded by forbidding tors and deadly sucking mires.
    Dartmoor Prison in the Mist
    Photographer: Rob Purvis


    The prison had been built between 1806-1809 to house 10,000 men. Between 1809 and 1812, 8,000 Napoleonic prisoners had passed through it’s gates, and 6,500 US sailors were imprisoned there in the years between 1813-1815. Conditions were bleak and harsh, with frequent floggings, though these were often ordered by the prisoners’ own courts. But in contrast, there are reports of music and plays being performed by the prisoners. Sadly, more than 280 Americans died in prison from food poisoning, measles, pneumonia and small pox. The stained-glass east window in the church was eventually installed as a memorial to them.

    Perez Drinkwater, from Maine, a lieutenant on the schooner Lucy, was captured by the British Navy in 1813. He wrote to his brother in 1814, one of the few letters ever to make it out of Dartmoor Prison.
    'We arrived in Plymouth on 20th January was put on board the prison-ship Brave on 24th and landed from her on 31st and marched to this place in a snow storm. The prison is situated on one of the highest places in England and it either snows or rains the whole year round and is cold enough to wear a great coat the whole time. There is 10,000 men here now but the French are about going home … we have but 1lb and a half of black bread and about 3 ounces of beef and a little beef tea to drink and all that makes us one meal a day.
    Interior of St Michael's Church with the British, American 
    and French Flags.


    He also complains about getting little peace between the ‘Englishmen’ and ‘creepers’ (lice and bedbugs) which force them up in the mornings. What seems to have been worse for him is that he had nothing to do or think about except his imprisonment. Working on the church, for some of the prisoners at least, must have at least got them outside those high walls for a few precious hours.

    At the end of the war in 1815, there was a delay of some months in releasing and repatriating the prisoners. That and food shortages, led to what some reports called a ‘protest’, others called an ‘uprising’ or ‘riot,’ which was quelled with armed forced. Tragically, seven American prisoners were shot dead and somewhere between 31 and 60 were wounded according to differing accounts.
    Some of the small granite stones
    marking graves of prisoners 
    after 1900.


    The churchyard of St Michael's contains over 1,000 burials. When Dartmoor prison was reopened for convicts in 1850, prisoners were buried anonymously in their own area in the churchyard and without a grave marker, unless their families could pay for one. Now, thanks to local researchers their names and history are recorded inside the church. By 1900’s, prisoners were allowed a small granite marker with just their initials and date of death, though when I examined these rows of little stones, even these scant details seem largely unreadable now. There is, however, a large granite cross, with an arrow on each corner, carved by the prisoners themselves to remember all their fellow inmates who lie in unmarked graves.

    But it was not just prisoners who had no grave stones. A large empty area between the gates and the cross is where the local people are buried who could not afford a stone, especially during the measles and typhoid epidemic in which some families in Princetown lost several of their children, siblings dying within days or even hours of each other. 

    I visited the church just before Armistice day, when like so many across the country, it had been decorated with the transparent outlines of soldiers in the pews. Somehow, these ghostly figures seemed even more poignant inside St Michael’s one of England’s most stark but haunting churches, a moving memorial to the French and Americans POWs who created it.
    Poppies and the transparent outline of the solider 
    who never returned in the pew in St Michael's church.




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    Our Saturnalia host, Steve Cockings
    by Caroline Lawrence

    For many years, my motive for studying Classics and writing historical fiction has been an intense desire to know what it would really have been like in the ancient world of Greece and Rome. So when I was invited to a Saturnalia banquet in Bedford around this time last year, I jumped at the chance. 

    Steve Cockings is a re-enactor who loves to collect real and replica artefacts. He is a stickler for detail and has read several early drafts of my books, always coming back with valuable corrections.

    Alisa, Simon, Caroline and Elizabeth

    Alisa fights in many countries
    There were five of us in all. Steve, his wife, gladiatrix Alisa and her husband Simon, also a re-enactor. We all dressed up in Roman garb. Although we didn't recline and there were no frescoes on the walls, we ate recipes from Apicius off real Samian plates with antique Roman spoons to the flickering light of oil-lamps. Roman music played softly in the background and Steve had prepared Saturnalia gifts for each of us: epigrams of the poet Martial, translated into English, written on papyrus, wrapped around a candle and tied with a thin strip of red-dyed leather.  

    hard boiled eggs in sauce
    The three course meal consisted of:
    1) Gustatio (Starter)
    • Hard boiled eggs in a sauce of honey, fish sauce, ground pepper, celery seed and chopped almonds.
    2) Mensa Prima (Main Course)
    • Chicken in Thyme (chicken, ground pepper, thyme, cumin, fennel, mint, rosemary, wine vinegar chopped dates, honey and olive oil)
    • Leeks with Celery in a pepper honey sauce.  
    • Mushrooms with a Rich Sauce of honey, olive oil, ground pepper and celery seed.
    3) Mensa Secunda (Dessert)
    • Poached Pears in a sauce of cinnamon, cumin, honey, sweet white wine, olive oil, egg yolks and nutmeg
    • Walnut Cake
    • Figs, grapes and apples

    pears poached in sauce of honey, wine, olive oil and spices

    The experience was illuminating in many ways. 

    I saw what felt right. 

    I saw what was very un-Roman.

    I saw what might have been improved. 

    It is traditional to give gifts on the Saturnalia. Next time I attend such a dinner I’ll know what gifts to bring. 

    a thirsty bronze double-flame oil-lamp
    I. Olive oil 
    Oil-lamps guzzle oil and need to be refilled fairly often. I took one of my own replica oil-lamps one with a chariot design bought from the British Museum gift shop perhaps a decade ago. I had a piece of twine in it but Steve said it should be plaited linen. The thicker the wick, the brighter the flame. At one point I tried to ‘trim the wick’ with a tiny pair of real Roman tweezers and sent a shower of angry embers onto the linen tablecloth. 

    linen wicks
    II. Linen wicks
    I should have brought some proper linen wicks. You can order them on Amazon, mainly in cotton. They are intended for use with kerosene lamps. 


    III. A fan 
    Every time a wick was replaced or oil replenished I got a lungful of smoke. A papyrus or silk fan would have discreetly dispersed the offending miasma.  


    A loom woven linen napkin from Naples
    IV. A napkin
    Even using my dual-purpose Roman spoon (one end pointy, one end spoonish), my fingers quickly became very sticky. Most ancient Romans carried a napkin down the front of their tunics. This multi-purpose item can be spread over your clothes to avoid stains, used to wipe mouth and fingers, as a handkerchief for a runny nose and as a personal doggy bag. 


    real and replica glass vessels
    V. Wine
    You need wine to wash down those strange Roman dishes. I bought the cheapest, blackest wine I could find: a £4 bottle of Australian Shiraz from my local Co-op. It was fabulous. 


    VI. A replica beaker or jug  
    In Roman times it was considered barbaric to drink wine neat. What with watering down the wine, you need as many beakers and jugs as possible. 

    Saturnalia scene from The Roman Mysteries TV series
    VII. Pillei 
    Professor Llewelyn Morgan, an illustrious Oxford Latinist, saw my tweets and asked, ‘Where are your pillei?!’ And he’s right. We should be wearing the conical hats that show we are free from the usual restrictions. A real pilleum would have been made of coloured wool or felt. For a cheap one buy a Santa hat at Poundland and take off the fake fur trim. After all, the origin of Santa hats are the Saturnalia. 

    clay figurines of girls dicing
    VIII. Dice
    I should have brought dice. They can make everything fun. Roll the dice to see who gets the real Samian ware plate. Roll the dice to see who gets the antique Roman spoon. Roll the dice to see who gets the last poached pear in a sauce of honey, cinnamon and olive oil. 

    CD of Roman Music
    IX. Music
    Ideally a live performance of lyre, tambourine, pan-pipes and aulos. But re-imagined Roman music will do nicely. Our host was playing the very well-researched CD Musica Romana Pugnate on a vintage boom box hidden behind a tapestry. But you could play tunes curated by Armand D'Angour as well, easily found on YouTube. 

    X. Epigrams of Martial 
    It is my personal theory that these were the origins of the mottoes in Christmas crackers. A little two-line poem that also served as a gift tag. Ideally on papyrus in both Latin and English.

    Epigram of Martial on papyrus

    And speaking of Martial, here is one of his Saturnalia poems: 


    Unctis falciferi senis diebus
    regnator quibus imperat fritillus
    versu ludere non laborioso
    permittis, puto, pilleata Roma. 

    In these well-oiled days of scythe-bearing Saturn
    When the dice box is king of all
    I pray that all you cap-wearing Romans
    Will permit me some playful poems... 

    (Martial XI.6)

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    Five years ago I posted a piece about a fascinating and little-known Venetian scuola – The Company of Christ and the Good Death, the kind men who retrieved drowned bodies from the canals and provided funerals for those corpses who were not reclaimed by any family or friend.

    On many afternoons, over many years, I’ve stood wistfully outside this 1644 building at San Marcuola and tried to imagine what it was like inside. It was always closed. Until I could see the interior for myself, I could not use it in my latest novel.

    My interest was regenerated when I came across this strange painting at the tiny museum above Sant’Apollonia. It shows the Company at work, accompanying a corpse, dressed in extraordinary and rather terrifying costumes. (Apologies for the bad photograph, snatched against the rules.)

    Then, on a recent Saturday afternoon, I limped off the vaporetto at San Marcuola. I was tired, full of notes that desperately needed transcribing (before even I myself would be unable to decipher my doctor’s-daughter scrawls). But, for some reason, instead of turning right towards home, I wandered off to the left. And so I came across the entrance of the scuola– not only open for the first time in my experience, but also bedecked with intriguing objects.

    The scuola had been opened for a charity sale to support the parish.

    The items for sale would be described in Italian as 'cianfrusaglie' - stuff/bits & pieces. A judgmental person might translate 'cianfrusaglie' as 'junk' or even 'frippery'. I am not that person.
     
    You can guess how fast I scampered inside, and how earnestly I asked for permission to take photographs. Here they are.


     
    Surely these are the processional lamps brandished by the Company in the painting above left?
     
     
    The building’s interior appears greatly foreshortened – there are two rooms and a staircase behind the altar. Surely these steps (below) lead up to the chambers where the bodies were laid out and prepared for burial. What remained up there? I was shooed away from a full inspection when I dared to open the doors for this tantalizing glimpse.
     
    Now my imagination needs to declutter the space and find my way to its original state, with at least three important paintings on the wall, the candle-holders arrayed with fragrant wax and disposed with dignity, men quietly praying.
     
    I’m working on it.

    Michelle Lovric's website 

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  • 12/12/18--03:54: Reading for pleasure
  • by Antonia Senior

    I was a bookish child who became a bookish teenager. I was not entirely the introverted stereotype - there was a sociable wildness as well, and a fondness for boozing, smoking and boys. But always with a book, just in case.

    Always. I would leave parties early to read; or if I couldn't escape, hide behind a sofa with a book. I would abandon the dancing, and read in the toilets of dodgy nightclubs, waiting for my friends to be ready to leave. My college boyfriend once almost dumped me when he caught me reading my book underneath the table during lunch with friends. 'But it's A Suitable Boy!' I argued, to little effect.

    I'm telling you this to remind myself of that girl - the one who curled into the corners of loud rooms to read; the one who was never, ever bookless. About 60 per cent of the time, the book was historical fiction: Mary Renault and CS Forester, Patrick O'Brian and James Clavell. Some people used those nightclub toilets to shag someone or snort something - I was on a frigate rounding the Horn, or standing shield by shield with my lover against the advancing Spartans.

    My shelves of best beloved books I have carried round with me for twenty odd years. Minus my lost, much lamented copy of Last of the Wine.

    Sometimes, I need reminding of that girl because the downside of reviewing historical fiction is that it has turned my passion into something which can feel a little joyless. A compulsory TBR pile is daunting. A chore. But it also a privilege, and when I look askance at my 2019 pile building up, book by book, I imagine turning to that girl and telling her that she will one day review historical fiction for The Times. She would swear, and leap for joy, and down a shot of something.


    My TBR Jenga
    There are books which still make me excited. Books I would hide in toilets to read, in the unlikely event I ever again find myself in a nightclub in Hoxton at 2AM. These are the ten books I loved best in 2018, which appeared in The Times' Christmas pics:

    Top Ten 2018

    The Black Earth, Philip Kazan (Allison & Busby, £14.99)

    Mr Peacock’s Possessions, Lydia Syson (Zaffre, £12.99)

    Only Thieves and Killers, Paul Howarth (One, £16.99)

    The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, Imogen Hermes Gowar (Harvill Secker, £12.99)

    Frieda: The original Lady Chatterly, Annabel Abbs (Two Roads, £14.99)

    Little, Edward Carey (Aardvark Bureau, £14.99)

    The Poison Bed, EC Fremantle (Michael Joseph, £12.99)

    A Treachery of Spies, Manda Scott (Bantam Press, £16.99)

    Smile of the Wolf, Tim Leach (Head of Zeus, £18.99)

    Dark Water, Elizabeth Lowry (Riverrun, £16.99)


    There are plenty of upcoming books that are making my pulse quicken. Top among these is Philip Kazan's The Phoenix of Florence, out in February from Allison & Busby. Kazan's The Black Earth was one of my favourite books of 2018, a love story set in WW2.  He is back on his usual ground of Renaissance Italy in this one. Kazan writes beautifully - and has a rare knack of conjuring joy as deftly as sorrow.

    I'm also looking forward to Wakenhyrst, the new adult novel from Michelle Paver, out in April from Head of Zeus. Her previous horror-laced stories were mesmerising. My daughters love her children's books as well, and they have entertained all of us on more than one long car journey, which makes me well disposed towards her.

    Blood & Sugar, a debut from Laura Sheperd-Robinson, out in January from Mantle, looks tasty; as does A River in the Trees by Jaqueline O'Mahoney, also out next month from Quercus. I'm hearing good things about The Binding by Bridget Collins, from HarperCollins. What are you looking forward to reading in 2019? What have I missed.

    When the TBR jenga gets too high, or I get eye-rollingly irritated by the deluge of books with ghosts in them, or historical celebrities investigating murders (fashions come and go in publishing) I need to imagine a conversation with the young me. 'When you are old and saggy, you will get to review historical fiction for The Times.'

    'Fuck me, you're not serious,' she'd say, drawing deep on a B&H. 'You get sent a load of books for free, and you get to review them in a national newspaper, and champion the ones you really, really love. And you get paid for that? And she'd whoop, and cheer, and crack open a beer and settle in the corner of any room for a celebratory read of HMS Surprise. 

    @tonisenior

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    by Deborah Swift

    Russian Slave Workers of Organisation Todt

    My latest research has been into the German Occupation of Jersey during WW2. At first, the surrender by the British and the occupation by the Germans was polite, and the aim by both sides was to make as little disruption as possible, but inevitably as time progressed, relationships between the German occupiers and British citizens began to break down, leading to many reports of trauma and atrocity.

    One of the things that caused fear and distress on the island of Jersey was the treatment of the forced labourers of Oganisation Todt. Named for its founder, Fritz Todt, an engineer and senior Nazi, Organisation Todt was a civil and military engineering confederation responsible for building infrastructure such as defence works and railways.

    Hitler saw The Channel Islands as key to the control of Europe and Great Britain. With this in mind, he became obsessed with the idea that The Channel Islands should not be lost, and became determined to defend them, with the idea that eventually, after Europe was defeated, they would become the ideal base for Nazi families to enjoy holidays in a 'Strength through Joy' (Kraft Durch Freude) Camp. Worryingly, when I searched for more about the KDF, I found it still exists, and has branches in the North of England. Here is a typical Propaganda poster, the only one I could find not emblazoned with swastikas.


    In order to defend the islands a massive programme of fortification began, and the Organisation Todt provided the labour. This obsession with Jersey was seen by many Germans as Hitlers inselwahn - island madness. Before Hitler's supposed final victory, the islands were to be a stronghold and submarine base for forays into English waters.

    For those living on the island, they had to endure the appearance of nearly 500,000 metres of reinforced concrete to make anti tank walls, gun emplacements, underground barracks and bolt holes. Historic castles were fortified with concrete, and new roads cut through the previously quiet lanes to carry truckloads of building materials, plus the many workers needed for this enormous enterprise. To prevent landing by sea, the beaches were mined by more than 100,000 mines.


    The workers for this frenzy of building were imported labourers and prisoners of war from Russia, Poland and the Ukraine. According to Nazi propaganda, the Slav races were untermenschen and treated as slaves to the Nazi building machine.

    To house the workers,  camps known as lagers were constructed in several places, all named after famous German poilots such as ‘Richthofen’ and ‘Immelmann’. The treatment of the workers was appalling, and most were on inadequate rations because the food was progressively stolen by German employees and guards - either for their own use, or for sale on the black market. The lorry that brought the inadequate soup to the quarries and construction sites, also took away the corpses of those who had died from malnutrition, cold, exhaustion or disease.

    Note the armed guard supervising these construction workers

    Jersey people were suddenly reminded through these atrocities, that their occupying force could treat pepople in this barbaric way, and this made the constant fear of the occupation much worse. The Germans shot workers caught stealing potatoes from the fields. Suddenly, their Germman neighbours seemed much less civilized when the treatment of their 'slaves' was exposed. Civilians were warned of the penalties for giving the workers food, but a number of Jersey people did try to rescue them, taking them into their homes at great risk to themselves.

    According to 'The IslandWiki' - the Channel Island Website, German records show that by May 1943 there was a total of 16,000 foreign workers in Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney. In November of the same year, numbers had halved to 8,959 and by July 1944 only 817 remained.

    Workers from Organisation Todt feature in one of the stories in a new collaboration by writers fron many countries - all proceeds are in aid of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The stories focus on the theme of Resistance, and the collection of ten novellas is available now.

    More about the stories here


    Sources: The Model Occupation - Madeleine Bunting
    The First Casualty - Jersey's Occupation Experience
    Jersey Evening Post


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    On August 11th 1863 seven British warships steamed into Kinko Bay in the southern Japanese province of Satsuma and dropped anchor in the shadow of the great volcano, Sakurajima, draped, then as now, with a plume of black ash.

    The British crew and marines and legation officers on board were some of the first westerners ever to see the beautiful bay with its fringe of palm trees, balmy blue skies and precipitous hills soaring behind. I was there just last month and found myself trying to imagine how they must have felt as they saw this scene which has changed surprisingly little in the last 155 years. Later visitors called it the Naples of Japan.

    But the British hadn’t come to sightsee. They’d come to attack the city of Kagoshima on the opposite shore.
    Sengan-en Villa with Sakurajima behind

    In those days Japan was made up of two hundred and sixty princedoms, each ruled by a daimyo lord, much like the earls and barons of Elizabeth I’s day. The Satsuma domain, in the far south, was so far from the capital, Edo, that it felt like another country. To this day the people of the area still think of themselves not so much as Japanese but Satsuma. The old clan loyalties remain.

    The Prince of Satsuma was one of the wealthiest and most powerful in the land. Besides his imposing castle set against a dramatic hillside covered in dense forest, he had an exquisite seaside villa surrounded by pleasure gardens, overlooking the bay.
    Replica of Princess Atsu's lavish palanquin,
     belonging to Shimazu Nariakira

    But the lord who had brought the domain to its pinnacle had died five years before the British arrived. Shimazu Nariakira, a brilliant and wise man, was fascinated by Dutch knowledge, the only western knowledge available in Japan at the time. He spoke Dutch, met the Dutch scholars who spent time in Japan, collected western books, studied western technology, and even kept a diary written in the Roman alphabet. He had a telegraph system, the only one in Japan, installed in his castle grounds, and owned Japan’s first camera, a daguerreotype, bought in 1853 in Nagasaki. The first photograph to be taken in Japan was of his castle and the first photographic portrait was of him.
    Kagoshima Castle

    He also established Japan’s first glass works which produced beautiful red and blue Satsuma cut glass. And he had built a whole industrial complex under the cliffs down by the bay, looking across to the volcano. There he had a foundry and the first reverberating furnace in Japan where he cast cannon. He also had a secret shipbuilding yard on the lower slopes of the volcano where he built his own warships in defiance of the shogunal decree forbidding such activity because he anticipated western attack and wanted to be ready.

    But this great and enlightened lord had no surviving children and when he died was succeeded by the young son of his ruthless and unscrupulous half brother, Hisamitsu, who thereafter held the reins of power.

    Satsuma glass ware with Sakurajima behind
      When the British sailed into Kinko Bay it was ten years after Commodore Perry had appeared in Edo Bay with his four Black Ships to force Japan to open to the west. So the people of Kagoshima had certainly heard of these monstrous ships even if they hadn’t seen them. All the same it must have been an awe-inspiring sight - seven mammoth warships, fifteen times bigger than the largest Japanese ship, steaming into the bay in a long line, bristling with cannon..

    First the British seized three merchant ships and pillaged them. But the people of Satsuma were not easily frightened. Hearing the British were on their way they set up gun emplacements all along the seafront and turned the cannons, cast in the late lord Shimazu Nariakira’s iron foundry, on the British ships.

    Bombardment of Kagoshima by the Royal Navy
    August 15th 1863, Le Monde Illustre
    They also knew there was a typhoon coming and that it would cause havoc for the British ships. The British were taken by surprise. They'd seen themselves as administering punishment to unruly natives; they didn’t expect the Satsuma to fight back. It took them a couple of hours to regroup. Then they sailed along the coast bombarding the city.

    The reason for the attack was the death of a British merchant, killed the previous year by samurai of the Satsuma domain. Charles Richardson, a British merchant from Shanghai, had been visiting Yokohama for a few days and wanted to go riding. He’d been warned not to go on the highway because there was a huge procession coming through. But he ignored the advice. After all, he was British.

    He and three friends were on the Tokaido highway riding towards Edo. At Namamugi village they met Hisamitsu himself, Nariakira's haughty half brother, heading straight towards them at the centre of a huge procession with an escort of a thousand retainers. The procession was a mile long. It filled the entire road, from one side to the other. Like Trooping the Colour, it didn’t do to barge into it. When such a procession passed, Japanese fell to their knees and bowed their heads. An American merchant, Eugene Van Reed, meeting this same procession did the same, to the disgust of the foreign community. But at least he managed to keep his head.

    Richardson (in the middle, with hat) meets Hisamitsu (to the right) at Namamugi
    Richardson refused to dismount. He rode down the middle of road and came between Hisamitsu’s palanquin and his bodyguards - like getting right up close to the queen’s carriage at Trooping the Colour. The bodyguards cut him down. 

    The British were outraged. The death of an Englishman was an unforgivable offence. They demanded that the shogun’s government pay a huge indemnity of £100,000, more than £10 million today, and 1/3 of the Japanese government’s annual revenues, enough to bankrupt the shogunate. They threatened to bombard Edo if payment was not made. They also demanded that the offending clan, the Satsuma, arrest the perpetrators and pay £25,000 compensation, nearly £3 million today.

    The shogunate paid up but Satsuma refused. The British waited a year and eventually sent seven ships from Yokohama to attack Kagoshima.

    In the end Kagoshima burnt down and many beautiful buildings and treasures were lost. However the city had already been evacuated and only 5 Japanese were killed as opposed to 11 British.
    Under the volcano: Sengan-en Villa with Sakurajima behind

    To the British it was just another small war, a very long way away. Probably very few British people ever even heard of it. This was an era when Britain was waging wars and taking colonies all over the globe. It was not long after the Crimean War in which Britain along with France and the Ottoman Empire had defeated Russia while in China the Second Opium War had only recently come to an end. Britannia definitively ruled the waves. But in the annals of Satsuma it looms large as the Anglo Satsuma War.

    The long term result was that Satsuma recognised the superior fire power of Britain and wooed the British who were impressed in their turn by the spirit of the Satsuma. They ended up backing them against the shogunate and, as usually happened in those days, the side the British backed won.


    Lesley Downer’s latest novel, The Shogun’s Queen, is the epic tale of Princess Atsu, Shimazu Nariakira's adopted daughter, whom he sent to Edo to marry the shogun. Out now in paperback. 

    For more see www.lesleydowner.com.

    The pictures of Kagoshima Castle, the bombardment of Kagoshima and Charles Richardson at Namamugi are courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. The rest are mine.

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    This month my blog is a brief one. The reason is simple: I am moving house for the second time since August. I write surrounded by boxes that are yet to be unpacked and glasses without a home. But amidst the debris of the move, I am minded how lucky I am to have a home when so many do not.

    We have become accustomed, of late, to think of the lonely at Christmas; those without family or friends, those who are widowed or suddenly alone after a period of togetherness. Media coverage tends to focus on elderly people at Christmas, quite justifiably conscious of the gap between the haves and the have-nots in terms of social connection and belonging during a season marked by togetherness.

    The world's first Christmas card, produced in 1834

    Of course, for many people, families bring sadness and discomfort and a gap between the real and the ideal. The Victorian invention of Christmas, with all its trimmings: turkeys and sprouts, long hours spent at leisure, Christmas cards and carols, is just that for many: an invention. I have written about this invention for the Wellcome Collection, which is devoting a series of articles to loneliness during the Christmas week.

    There are many kinds of Christmases, many different versions of family. Yet for homeless people and refugees, Christmas brings a particular kind of loneliness. The history of loneliness has received very little attention, though we know it is both an urban, modern problem. Early modern politicians worried about 'masterless men' roaming the countryside, many of whom were soldiers, but homelessness grew exponentially as a result of urbanisation and industrialisation in the nineteenth century.

    It is impossible as 2018 draws to a close, not to see the numbers of homeless people increasing.  Since the 1980s, homelessness has been a particularly growing problem in the UK (and the US), but never before has it been so visible on our streets. Tory austerity and benefit cuts have resulted in more people than ever before being homeless at Christmas, as well as all year round. This Christmas, more than 24,000 people will sleep rough in Britain over the festive period. It's a shocking statistic.

    As the weather becomes colder and the spirit of Christmas falls upon us, why not spare a thought for those with no place to call home. Organisations that support the homeless at Christmas include Crisis, which not only provides a Christmas meal and companionship, but also crucial medical and physical care. The Salvation Army provides support for homeless families and individuals, while other charities support specific groups, like veterans.

    Support for the homeless is needed all year round, not only at Christmas. Charities facing a glut of volunteer in the festive season find themselves chronically understaffed  the rest of the year.  Like loneliness, the emotional effects of homelessness are exacerbated by the symbolism of the season. Not everyone wants to be with other people at Christmas; not everyone celebrates Christmas. But everyone wants a place to feel safe, and somewhere to come home to.

    Wishing all readers and fellow History Girls a safe and happy Christmas.

    www.fayboundalberti.com





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