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Articles on this Page
- 10/19/18--16:30: _The Meon Valley Rai...
- 10/21/18--22:00: _Historical Fiction ...
- 10/22/18--17:30: _ Voices Unearthed: ...
- 10/23/18--16:30: _GO FORTH AND MULTIP...
- 10/24/18--17:00: _Crossing the Alps b...
- 10/25/18--16:01: _The Forgotten Summe...
- 10/26/18--16:30: _A Norfolk Wedding ...
- 10/28/18--11:03: _Gang of Suspects Na...
- 10/28/18--17:01: _Going out on a limb...
- 10/29/18--17:30: _Cabinet of Curiosit...
- 10/30/18--17:01: _October competition
- 10/31/18--17:01: _Four Queens and a C...
- 11/01/18--17:24: _The Books We Read, ...
- 11/03/18--01:00: _Agnes Richter: The ...
- 11/03/18--23:00: _The Elf-Mounds of I...
- 11/04/18--16:30: _Infamy again - Mich...
- 11/05/18--20:00: _The Men Behind The ...
- 11/06/18--17:30: _THE OUTRAGEOUS FORT...
- 11/07/18--16:30: _'If blood is not dr...
- 11/08/18--16:20: _Weaving Women's Sto...
- 11/09/18--22:00: _100 Armistice Days ...
- 11/10/18--16:00: _Nurses - the forgot...
- 11/11/18--23:00: _Remembering all the...
- 11/12/18--17:00: _Jersey Occupation F...
- 11/13/18--16:30: _Dancing into the Mo...
- 10/22/18--17:30: Voices Unearthed: Diane Purkiss's 'English Civil War.' Leslie Wilson
- 10/24/18--17:00: Crossing the Alps by Miranda Miller
- 10/25/18--16:01: The Forgotten Summer, by Carol Drinkwater
- 10/26/18--16:30: A Norfolk Wedding by Janie Hampton
- 10/28/18--11:03: Gang of Suspects Named in Kidnap Case
- 10/28/18--17:01: Going out on a limb with Cynthia Jefferies
- 10/30/18--17:01: October competition
- 10/31/18--17:01: Four Queens and a Countess - Review by Mary Hoffman
- 11/01/18--17:24: The Books We Read, by Gillian Polack
- 11/03/18--23:00: The Elf-Mounds of Ireland... (3) by Katherine Langrish
- 11/04/18--16:30: Infamy again - Michelle Lovric
- 11/05/18--20:00: The Men Behind The Glass Sheena Wilkinson
- 11/07/18--16:30: 'If blood is not drawn on Martinmas Eve ...' by Karen Maitland
- 11/08/18--16:20: Weaving Women's Stories
- 11/09/18--22:00: 100 Armistice Days - Day 98 - Joan Lennon
- 11/10/18--16:00: Nurses - the forgotten heroes of the First World War
- 11/11/18--23:00: Remembering all the Harrys
- 11/12/18--17:00: Jersey Occupation Food in #WW2 by Deborah Swift
|Route of the MVR, adapted from|
the map in R.A. Stone’s book,
The Meon Valley Railway, 1983,
Kingfisher Railway Productions.
Agriculture and horticulture
Watercress beds at Warnford Photo © Tony Grant / cc-by-sa 2.0
Strawberry fields in Hampshire
|The remains of the Mislingford goods yard.|
|Droxford Railway Station in 1968 By Lamberhurst|
[cc-by-sa/4.0] from Wikimedia Commons
Decline and death of the railway
“On Saturday last, February 5th, the Meon Valley Railway closed, and the last public trains left Alton to travel “down” at 4.30pm and Fareham to do the “up” journey at 7.46pm.”
“…the final obsequies are observed. The Meon Valley Railway – friendly, pleasurable, beautiful – had come to its end.”
Trackbed of the Meon Valley Railway, Chawton, Hampshire,
looking towards the south. Next stop along this line would
have been the halt at Farringdon. cc-by-sa/2.0
This is a slightly different blog this month, a picking-all-your-brains exercise if you will. I've been asked to be the historical fiction voice in a discussion about the differences/overlaps and, who knows, clashing points between historical fiction and historical fantasy and I'd love your help. Actually I'm desperate.
|Tom Gauld, The New Yorker 2016|
|The Daily Snooze|
Readers, my head is exploding which I think puts me firmly into the fantasy genre. While I go off and harness a dragon, please send me your thoughts.
But here is a work of history, written by a distinguished scholar, as fascinating as any novel. Of late years, I've noticed that historians are beginning to go through 'unimportant' bits of detail, diaries, account books, wills, to resurrect the lives of women, and though there is still much we cannot get at, we are getting enough to give us a much better idea than we previously had. Diane Purkiss is writing in this tradition; though The English Civil War does also give us the voices of men, and she tells the stories of the King and Cromwell, Henrietta Maria and women of the aristocracy.
But in this book you also can hear the common soldier , and ordinary, lower middle-class women whose voices were recorded because they became preachers in some of the Independent sects that grew during the ferment of this period, as well as those of the gentry are also heard. The book opens up the experience of a broad section of English society during the conflict.
As well as giving voice to the ordinary people (and examining the role starvation, which was widespread as the war dragged on, played in people's actions and reactions,) this book gives an in-depth, considered analysis of the causes and drivers of the conflict. Too many authors, for example, have described the religious issues of the times in the convenient portmanteau phrase: 'the Royalists were Anglicans, the Parliamentarians were Puritans'. In fact, many of the Parliamentarians were Anglicans, and Anglicanism in those days meant Calvinism, a theology nowadays more likely to be associated with Presbyterianism. The distinction between those who believed some humans were predestined for damnation, some for salvation, was far more complex than the Cavalier/Roundhead divide. This is important, because religion was a crucial part of people's lives in those days and needs to be understood.
Diane Purkiss also shows us the hideous anti-Catholic prejudice which meant many Catholics had their houses destroyed, were abused, attacked, and murdered. It was an atmosphere which reminded me of present-day Islamophobia, and gave an uneasy flavour of what might happen if it is nurtured, as it is at present. The mutilation of the Royalist camp followers after Naseby, who were considered to be whores and Irish Catholics (many of them were Anglican soldiers' wives), was what we would nowadays see as a horrific war crime. In addition, she tells the story of Matthew Hopkins's notorious Essex witchhunt, and makes a convincing case for the war's agency in the outbreak of a kind of witch prosecution otherwise absent from England.
What comes across, crucially, in this history, is that the protagonists of the Civil War didn't behave the way we would like them to; they were people of their own time. It's far too common for even historians to be partisan in writing about the conflict (and most of them taking the 'Cavalier' side). But what matters in the end is not who won, who had flowing locks and was romantic, who were people we'd like to identify with (none of them, once you really look at it). These people had ideas, many of which filled the ruling establishment with horror, which we would now view as mainstream or even old-fashioned, since few even of the Levellers and Ranters wanted women to have the vote. Indeed, some Ranters thought women had no souls (one was set to rights by George Fox, one of the first Quakers, an organisation that did give women the right to speak and continued that after the ferment of the wartime period had died down). But they had those ideas, and that was important. Yes, works of art were destroyed and images in churches were destroyed, but that was also part of their passionate belief in a religion that didn't rely on outward show.
As a Quaker, I can comprehend that, since I worship in a plain, unadorned room, mostly in silence, and the price of that precious worship was partly the destruction of statues in our cathedrals. Diane Purkiss says at the end of the book that she wouldn't exchange Milton's 'Paradise Lost' for the Rubens crucifixion that was destroyed during the war. 'Sometimes destruction is the price we pay for artistic breakthrough.' And spiritual, and political.
There is not enough written about the English Civil War. If you want to start reading about it, or want to revisit the period, this is the book to get going on. I wasn't able to put it down.
I belong to several historical forums and every few months, the subject of medieval swear words will arise and a discussion will begin about the origins of the word 'fuck' and when it became a swear word rather than a reproduction word. I thought I would do a little investigating.
There are numerous theories as to the etymology of the word. There is a false popular notion that it's an acronym for 'Fornicate Under Consent of the King' (the instruction supposedly intended as a population booster) but it can be immediately be dismissed as a modern urban legend. Acronyms were unknown in the Middle Ages.
Melissa Moher in her work 'Holy Shit: A brief history of swearing' believes that the more prosaic answer is that 'Fuck' it is a word of Germanic origin. It is related to similar in Dutch, German and Swedish, and means to 'strike' and to 'move back and forth.' Very possibly why, once arriving into the English language, it became another name for the bird of prey the kestrel known also as a 'fuckwind.'
So basically 'fuck' begins its life as a straightforward word for copulation, born from a meaning of striking and moving back and forth, and entered the English language somewhere between the waves of Scandinavian invasion and 1310 (see below). It wasn't a taboo or blasphemy word but a function word and nobody would have blenched at its use. It's supposed first observation of use as a copulation word in popular history comes from the early 16th century and a poem by William Dunbar titled 'In Secreit Place This Hyndir Nycht.' It's an amorous poem where the hero desires to have sex with his love, the heroine. 'his feiris he wald haif fukkit.' Also from the early 16th century, David Lindsay, tutor to the future King James V of Scotland wrote a poem with the line 'A fukkand like ane furious Fornicatour - accusing his subject of 'fucking like a furious fornicator.' In another work he also criticised the clergy who may 'fuck thair fill and be unmaryit.'
However, historian Paul Booth has recently found an instance of the word used in a copulatory context from the plea rolls of Edward II dated to 1310 and the mention of a certain felon named Roger 'Fuckbythenavele'. The context is sexual, but quite what he was up to has not yet been sussed! There is also a reference from 1475 from a work titled Flen Flyys, which has a line in mixed Latin and English 'fvccant vvivys of heli' which translates as 'they fuck the wives of Ely.'
It would seem then that the word had found its way with a sexual meaning into the English language by the early 14th century as far as written evidence goes, but since the written word tends to follow the spoken in terms of timeline, it argues for earlier useage.
When did it change into a 'swear word' and travel beyond the basic verb meaning to copulate?
There is an ambiguous comment in a piece of marginalia in a manuscript of Cicero from 1528 where the scribe has written 'O d fuckin Abbot.' However, we don't know whether it was a comment on the licentiousness of his abbot who was apparently not exactly known for his moral purity, or if it was an intensifier and comment of anger or irritation. If the latter, then it's 300 years before other recorded instances of the word's use in such a context so needs to be interpreted with that in mind.
Once the F work expanded into the area of the swearword while still retaining its old meaning, there was no stopping its career and proliferation of useage. It retained its meaning as a verb meaning to copulate (although never used in polite company) 'They fucked in the long grass.' It became a noun. 'That was a fantastic fuck' and an adjective. 'You fucking bitch' (Mark Morton tells us this one turned up in the mid 19th century). It's an interjection - 'Fuck!' (1929) It's an adverb 'that's fucking marvellous' (useage dating to 1940's) And it's an infix - 'abso-fucking-lutely (1920's). Other 'fuck' phrases in use today have a slightly longer history than you might think. 'Fucked up' meaning ruined dates to the 1930's. 'Fucked' with the same meaning can be traced to the late 18th century. 'Fuck you! dates to 1895 and Fuck off! as a command to the 1940's although the phrase was in use meaning to run away in the 1920's (as in 'let's fuck off out of here before we get into trouble.)
Bruce Willis's now famous quote in Die-Hard - (the words after the cowboy salute to Alan Rickman) dates to the 1920's.
It's still a taboo word in many circles and certainly not one for polite society, but it has expanded well into the mainstream and is so often used in daily street speech, and in films and books that it is becoming normalised. Its use has spread far and wide but in consequence its power to shock is gradually diminishing, like water wearing away a stone. When I was a child, anyone who used the word was far outside the pale, but now it''s eased through the door and into daily life. As Hugh Grant said in Four Weddings and a Funeral. 'Fuck, fuck, fuckity fuck.'
I do highly recommend the two books I've posted in the blog - they are hugely enlightening and entertaining and give much food for thought.
Elizabeth Chadwick is an award winning internationally best selling author of historical fiction set in the Medieval period.
While researching my current novel, which is set in 18th snd early 19th century Rome, I came across some interesting descriptions of how it was to cross the Alps before there were any railways. Crossing them on a train is still a memorable experience but our tourism is a very feeble experience compared to theirs. Most Grand Tourists had to cross the mountains to reach Italy, and a young man was not considered truly educated and civilised until he had experienced the wonders of Italian art and architecture.
Crossing the Alps usually took eight days. There were no coach roads through the Alps until the end of the eighteenth century and so, to cross the Alps, your entire coach had to be disassembled and carried over the mountains on mule back. The Mount Cenis pass, on the route from Lyons to Turin, was the most travelled route into Italy during the heyday of the Grand Tour. Tourists were carried over the mountains by Swiss chairmen in a sort of open sedan chair.
The mountains themselves inspired an awe that, perhaps, only mountaineers can know nowadays.The English journalist Joseph Addison described the Alps as this “awful and tremendous amphitheatre,” while the poet Thomas Gray said that Mt. Cenis carried “the permission mountains have of being frightful rather too far.” One route was the St. Gotthard Pass and its “Valley of Trembling,” which gave the name tremolite to a mineral found in its granite walls.
In the early 19th century the Romantics found mountains endlessly - well, romantic. In Book VI of The Prelude Wordsworth describes crossing the Simplon Pass on foot as a young man of twenty:
Imagination—here the Power so called
Through sad incompetence of human speech,
That awful Power rose from the mind’s abyss
Like an unfathered vapour that enwraps,
At once, some lonely traveller. I was lost;
Halted without an effort to break through;
But to my conscious soul I now can say—
“I recognise thy glory:” in such strength
Of usurpation, when the light of sense
Goes out, but with a flash that has revealed
The invisible world,
An invisible world, heroism, the sublime.... these ideas, even more than the physical danger and discomfort, caught the imagination of a whole generation. Schiller popularized the legend of a medieval Swiss hero, a freedom fighter of the mountains, in his play William Tell ( 1804).
In his long poem Manfred Byron’s alter ego gazes in wonder at the Jungfrau and Eiger mountains:
“Heard avalanches falling every five minutes nearly – as if God was pelting the Devil down from Heaven with snow balls... clouds rose from the opposite valley curling up perpendicular precipices – like the foam of the Ocean of Hell during a Springtide.”
Here is Manfred, looking particularly Byronic, about to be blown off the Jungfrau. Byron’s poem was later set to music by Tchaikovsky. Byron, like many passionate nature lovers, didn’t think much of his fellow human beings: “Switzerland is a curst selfish, swinish country of brutes, placed in the most romantic region of the world. I never could bear the inhabitants, and still less their English visitors,” he wrote to Thomas Moore in 1821.
Napoleon planned to launch a surprise assault on the Austrian army and in May 1800 he and his army of more than 40,000 men spent five days crossing the St Bernard Pass. Napoleon’s military tactic was successful and resulted in his victory at Marengo.
Here is David’s great propaganda portrait of a dashing young hero on a white stallion leading his army over the mountains. Napoleon did not actually lead his troops over the Alps at all but followed a couple of days after them, travelling on a narrow path on the back of an unpicturesque mule. Napoleon refused to sit for this portrait : “Nobody knows if the portraits of the great men resemble them, it is enough that their genius lives there.” One of David’s sons stood in for him, dressed up in the uniform Napoleon had worn at Marengo, perched on top of a ladder. Napoleon, acutely aware of the power of symbolism, insisted on an equestrian portrait.
Like everybody else in Europe, Turner was fascinated by Napoleon. He had not yet been to Italy in 1812 when he painted Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps.
Another great warrior, Hannibal, is leading his armies over the mountains to attack Italy. For Turner there were obvious connections between the two men, also between the Punic War between Rome and Carthage and the Napoleonic wars that were then raging between Britain and France. He had seen David’s heroic painting of Napoleon during a visit to Paris in 1802.
By 1818 Mr. B. Emery, of Charing Cross London, was organizing stagecoach tours of Switzerland. Hikers, mountaineers and honeymoon couples began to cross the Alps and it all became rather less sublime.
I am two novels along since I published THE FORGOTTEN SUMMER with Penguin in March 2016. For those who read my post last month you will know that my latest novel, THE HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE CLIFF, to be published 16th May 2019, is set in Paris during the 1968 student riots, and from there the story unfolds.
Usually, when a book or any work of mine has been completed, I move on. Except for editorial or marketing purposes, I find it very difficult to revisit the material because I worry over how I might have improved it. THE FORGOTTEN SUMMER seems to be an exception. Not because I am pleased with my work but because there is such a richesse of material that I might have used, and might still use one day.
The story is set on a family-owned vineyard in the south of France. Within the family, there are secrets and factions. Jane, the English woman who moves into the family when she marries Luc, the French son of Clarisse, the widowed proprietor of the vineyard, only begins to discover how deep and dark are those secrets when a tragedy occurs. Clarisse, her mother-in-law, is a pied noir, a black foot, a French woman, an ex-colonialist, born and raised in Algeria. Her son Luc was also born there. They fled to France at the end of the Algerian war in the summer of 1962, soon after De Gaulle gave independence to Algeria. Once safely arrived in France, they set up home on the vineyard, which is where the main action of the novel takes place.
I must be honest and say that when I delivered the book to my agent and it went to auction there was a background seam within the story that I had not entirely dared to address. The shadows lurking from the Algerian past of two of the main characters were hinted at, but not followed through. It was only when Maxine Hitchcock, my editor at Michael Joseph, Penguin, acquired the book and sent through her notes to me that I was encouraged to face head on those shadows, the ghosts I was writing about.
Behind the beauty and seductive landscape of the South of France, there lies a a more lurid past, Luc and Clarisse's, set in French-ruled Algeria.
Why am I returning in my thoughts to THE FORGOTTEN SUMMER and that bloody period in French history? President Emmanuel Macron has recently made a gesture that might go some way to healing this troubled past.
France's relationship to the country that was, for close to one hundred and fifty years, its unwilling colony, remains complex and unresolved. The French colonials who inhabited that large tract of northern Africa lived well at the expense of the Algerians.
In 1954, when the Algerian War of Independence, finally got under way, after many years of conflict, subordination and cruelty, France, not long after relinquishing all its claims to Indo-China, (its colonial territories in Southeast Asia including Vietnam) found itself yet again embroiled in an ugly and very costly war. This time on the southern side of the Mediterranean, the northern part of the continent of Africa.
To this day, the very mention of Algeria causes many French citizens to draw breath. The cruelties that took place before, during the eight-year war of independence and even after Charles de Gaulle had granted the country its independence, conjure up feelings of shame, confusion, even pain and anger for many French. For a mixture of reasons. It remains the past that most prefer not to visit and don't talk about. Algeria, and France's treatment of its Algerian citizens, had been brushed under the carpet for a half a century. As well, there is a large population in France, French citizens, who are descended from Algerians who were obliged to flee the land of their birth at the end of the independence war because they had fought with the French. Once victory had been assured, they were condemned as traitors back at home. The punishments meted out by the new Algerian regime were harsh; in many cases death sentences by lynch mobs. France offered refuge to these ex-soldiers and their families. De Gaulle took them in, promised them equality, pensions, education for their children etc. Much of those promises have never been fully honoured or are only now recognised as debts that are due. It has created appalling conditions and resentments for the fourth and fifth generation French-Algerians living, mostly, in the poorest suburbs in France. They feel disenfranchised, lost, lacking allegiance. It makes them prime candidates for recruitment by the likes of ISIS.
They are perceived as a French "problem". A result of the "troubles".
In 2012 on a state visit to Algeria, fifty years after the end of that war, President François Hollande acknowledged the appalling treatment of the Algerians during the 132-year occupation of their country and during the French-Algerian war. Hollande was the first to take this step, to admit to the brutalities that had taken place during the occupation and during the war. He did not, however, apologise.
Many Algerians and some French were disappointed by the fact that, although this was a very necessary and long overdue first step towards a new era, new relations, between the two nations, no apology was forthcoming. During the time I spent in Algeria when I was working on my non-fiction book, THE OLIVE ROUTE, I began to get a sense of the the damage done to Algerian people during all those years of oppression; it had rooted itself deeply. For example, many spoke to me about the lack of education opportunities for their children and, without schooling, the dearth of possibilities to rise within their own country's system, for them to have a voice. As in South Africa and my own country of Ireland, when even one generation or two are given no opportunities to learn, to read, to engage, another form of poverty is created, an intellectual poverty, and that takes more than those one or two generations to re-enrich the system, to erase the hatred and anger and frustration and replace those energies with more positive responses to oppression.
In THE FORGOTTEN SUMMER, Algeria and its occupation under the French, is not the central theme in the book, not by any means. It is more a shadow that hangs over the characters. One of the reasons I was hesitant about including this aspect of the material, of addressing it head-on, was because the French themselves have barely addressed it in their literature and cinema, although that is slowly changing. (Jean-Luc Godard attempted a film in 1960, but it was banned.) Also, because, as I have written above, it is an unresolved period in modern French history.
I have received many letters from readers who tell me they had known little if anything about this period of France's twentieth-century past. France in Vietnam is far more widely written about. Some readers have gone on to dig out material, to acquaint themselves more fully with that period. This pleases me greatly, as it would any writer. And the subject stays with me. Questions nag at me. I feel reasonably confident that, at some point, I will return to this subject, to write another book set in France, in Algeria. I don't know precisely what it will be, but there remains so much there yet to be mined.
It is an evolving story. Layers of history being peeled away to uncover what really lies beneath the surface. Fascinating for any writer.
And so, when I read in the news several weeks ago ago that Emmanuel Macron (who was not even born at the time of the Algerian war) has gone a step further than Hollande, I felt that France might finally be making headway. Macron has offered up evidence to the torture and murder by the French state of one of their own citizens, Maurice Audin.
Audin was French, a journalist. But orders had been given to do whatever it took to crush the fight for Algeria's independence, to punish anyone who showed allegiance to the Algerian cause. Audin was a twenty-five-year-old mathematician, a communist, a reporter, and an ardent supporter of the Algerian Nationalists. Since his disappearance in 1957, more than half a century ago, Audin's family have searched and badgered to find out the truth about what really happened to the young man, who disappeared without trace. His widow, Josette, wrote letters every day, letter after letter, determined to root out the truth. The truth of Audin's ignominious end was buried and has remained out of reach until last month when Macron revealed the truth. He handed to the family an official document confirming that the French state had been directly responsible for the death of Audin.
I thought of this incident again last week after reading of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. The impenetrability of state lies and subterfuge.
The pain and angst for the victim's loved ones. The never knowing.
It was a summer evening, 11th July 1957. French paratroopers burst into the apartment on the third floor of the block where the Audin family lived in Algiers. Maurice was dragged away and never seen or heard of again. Now, it has been admitted by Macron that he was tortured and murdered on instructions from the State. At the time, Josette was told that her husband 'had been shot while trying to escape'.
She never remarried. The fight for justice became her raison d'être. She wrote to every new president after his election begging for the truth.
Until Macron, every French president has preferred to avoid the brutalities of the war, never owning up to France's role in the executions of those who sympathised with the Algerian cause.
Shortly after he was elected, Macron contacted Josette to reassure her that he was willing to address the matter. The official statement from the Elysée Palace is the result. An end to the silence and denial. In this one instance.
But will Macron's gesture make any real difference at this late stage? I hope it will offer Audin's family the possibility of laying the horrors and concealed past to rest. I also believe that it is an important step in the process of healing between the French State, its citizens, Algeria and the Algerians who are residents in France. It will, I think, help move all parties towards a reconciliation with the nation's recent colonial history, its shameful past.
There is dignity is Macron's decision to come clean about this story. One story, I fear, of many.
Maurice Audin was a young Frenchman who spoke out against his own government and openly reproached its inhuman behaviour towards its citizens. His open criticism cost him his life. Macron's admission of the facts of Audin's torture and death and the fact that France used torture as a means to its ends throughout the Algerian war came ahead of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, but as the world looks on in horror at the lies, the foul play, the mourning and grief Khashoggi's family is suffering, it makes this almost forgotten French story all the more poignant. Both men died under conditions no wild beast should be obliged to suffer. Audin's death is history to most, except to his family and, perhaps, French political historians. However, the calculated murder of journalists, the treatment of those who speak out against a regime is, tragically, obviously not history, given the recent events in Istanbul.
Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, our right to criticise, to call to account those who govern on our behalf: this is what is at stake. Macron's willingness to admit to the state's guilt is, I believe, at this time, so important not only for the history of France but for all of us and the world we are living in.
|The Norfolk wedding of Rachel Gurney & Rosslyn Bruce, 1908|
Rosslyn and Rachel fell in love. But it was not always easy. When Rachel’s nerves became frayed during their wedding preparations, she wrote to Rosslyn, ‘You Bruces are quite unordinary in your huge amount of love. I have got mine in me, only I can’t show it like you do.’ Rosslyn replied offering ‘double thoughtfulness, in thoughtful devotion, in not being too outwardly devoted.’ Rachel replied, ‘You don’t understand a bit… because you haven’t always lived in the same house with the same mother all your life and you are not very young like me, and you know all about the great world and I don’t.’
|The bridal carriage was pulled by two new horses called |
Bryant & May - because they were such a good match.
|'Miss Gurney's wedding, bridesmaids, page's and travelling costumes' in The Queen|
|The evergreen arch leading to the bride's home, Northrepps Hall.|
A few days later the villagers were invited to tea in the marquee to look at the presents. They included a silver tea pot from the parish committee, a travelling clock from the church choir and silver sugar tongs from the Sunday school. Rosslyn gave Rachel an upright Bechstein piano; she gave him a watch and a shooting stick. Rachel’s mother gave her a trousseau costing £404 and 2 shillings, which included three riding habits, six pairs of hunting boots, and enough serge suits, cloaks, combinations (knickers) and flannel nightgowns to last her entire life. Mrs Carter, the coachman’s wife was paid a pound for marking bodices, linen and 96 pairs of stockings. I inherited one of the dozen hand-embroidered white lawn night-gowns and wore it while ‘lying-in’ after the birth of my babies.
As a child, I watched my granny gardening in one of the Sunday School’s scarlet woolen cloaks. Beside her front door was a myrtle bush grown from her wreath, which she claimed came from the bush at Osborne House grown from Queen Victoria’s wedding wreath.
|Rachel's satin wedding shoes and gloves, on the Sunday School cloak.|
|The completed Bruce family at Northrepps in 1920.|
Verily, Erroll, Rhalou, Lorema and Merlin.
HELP OF GODDESS SUMMONED
GUILTY PARTY THREATENED WITH BECOMING LIQUID AS WATER
When no likely evildoer could be identified, the aggrieved party often reminded the goddess to suspect everyone, “whether man or woman, slave or free.” Children could be in the frame too -“whether boy or girl” - and once, “whether pagan or Christian”.
Cynthia Jefferies is a long-established writer for children, whose work has been translated into more than a dozen languages. She was born in Gloucestershire and her love of history was encouraged by regular family outings to anything of interest, from great cathedrals to small museums. Having moved to Scotland and back to Stroud, she has always made time to write and her abiding interest in Restoration England has never left her. The Outrageous Fortune of Abel Morgan is her first historical novel for adults.
The Outrageous Fortune of Abel Morgan…not a jolly book for children!
There I was, making a few notes about a new story for children. The protagonist would be a comic, rather hapless, gangly innkeeper, whose village had fallen on hard times, but I just couldn’t get the story to fly.
Many writers will recognise that moment when you realise your idea is a non starter. I came at it from several different directions, but no matter how I approached it, the poor fellow simply became sadder. He obviously wasn’t cut out to be the main character in a funny story for 9-12’s, but neither would he leave me alone.
He had recently returned to England from the continent after the Restoration and had every reason to feel distraught. Even so, it was quite a stretch to get from those faltering beginnings to researching C17th Prostheses, the teredo worm and early nurserymen. All of this was needed in the novel that grew out of that insistent character, but the research that took the most time and thought was the prosthesis, in the story that became The Outrageous Fortune of Abel Morgan.
|Science Museum, London|
It was exactly what one of my characters needed.
There can be little positive to be said about losing a limb. It has to be an extreme experience, performed in a modern hospital to save a life, or happening by accident or design, hundreds of years ago. Once a limb was lost, the question must have been the same in the C17th as it is now. How best to manage the situation, both emotionally and physically? As always, top of the range solutions cost money, lots of it, and the Cotehele hand must have been expensive, affirming status as well as practicality. Covered in skin coloured suede it must, at a cursory glance, have been almost indistinguishable from a real hand. Was that only to improve grip, or also to make the wearer feel happier with his appearance? What isn’t apparent with the Cotehele hand until you pick it up is its great weight. As far as you can get from Captain Hook or Edward Scissorhands, this hand doesn’t need attachments to become useful, or indeed to become a weapon.
Neither Abel Morgan, nor his father own this hand, but it is outrageous fortune that brings them into contact with it, and its owner. From a sad character who wouldn’t leave me alone, to an artificial hand and arm, researching this novel has certainly indulged the autodidact in me. A bullet extractor, liquefaction, rumfustian and a remembered pair of shoes: writing The Outrageous Fortune of Abel Morgan has led me down some blind alleys and has also turned up some absolute gems.
For me, the journey has been fascinating. It has launched me into a new direction, writing historical fiction for adults. I had always planned to write for adults, but the success I had some years ago with series fiction for children pushed that plan to the back of my mind. Now, at last, thanks to the insistent character that wouldn’t leave me alone, I am following my original ambition, with a second C17th novel on the way. Will I ever write for children again? I have no idea, but when a character comes along and insists on being heard, it’s the job of a writer to listen. Where that can lead is anyone’s
The outrageous Fortune of Abel Morgan is published by Allison and Busby in hardback on 22nd November 2018 at £19.99.
(This novel will be reviewed by Adèle Geras on 7th November)
As its Halloween, it is almost obligatory that I should write about things that go bump in the night. This year, I’ve been enjoying my spooky fix via Sky’s Discovery of Witches– a TV series featuring witches, vampires and demons, based on the All Souls trilogy of books by Deborah Harkness. I first read – and greatly enjoyed - the books some years ago, and have to admit to rather mixed feelings about the TV series. The actors are generally great (although personally I’m not sure about all the casting choices!) and the cinematography and locations are beautiful. But, as is inevitable with any adaptation, they’ve had to leave things out, or at least not give them the prominence they receive in the novels.
In Harkness’ books, the Twilight-style romance is leavened with a real passion for history. The protagonist Diana has a non-magical career an academic historian, and her love for the subject – or rather, that of Harkness (herself a professional historian before she turned to novel-writing) really shines through. In particular, significant time and space within the novels is devoted to loving, meticulous descriptions of the illuminated manuscripts Diana studies (and which cause her such supernatural trouble – her discovery of a bewitched book kicks off the plot).
Well, it is Halloween, when the veil between the mundane and the magical is supposedly at its thinnest, so maybe, just maybe…
To win a copy of Cynthia Jefferies' The Outrageous Fortune of Abel Morgan, just answer the question below in the Comments section:
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How to upstage a queen
Jill Armitage's previous book was about Arbella Stuart, a possible claimant to the throne of England when Elizabeth l died, and she does make a cameo appearance here. But the star of the show - and the "Countess" of the title is Bess of Hardwick, who was Arbella's grandmother.
I don't know if it's just that we know so much already about the Tudor queens and the Scottish thorn in Elizabeth's side but Bess would be a remarkable woman in any age. She was born in humble circumstances, the third child of a second son, a gentleman but only of minor gentry.
Elizabeth was always known as Bess, fortunately for us, or there would be two Elizabeths as well as two Marys in this book. Her first marriage was as a teenager, to a boy younger than herself, who died the following year. She never lived with Robert Barlow and is likely to have been a virgin widow. Nevertheless she had some claim on his property and spent a long time at law, trying to get anything out of his family.
Three years after Robert's death, Bess, still only around twenty years old, married Sir William Cavendish. They were married for ten years, until his death, during which time she bore him eight children, six of whom lived to be adults - a good record for the 16th century. Sir William had property in Derbyshire, including the Chatsworth Estates. (His heirs became the Dukes of Devonshire, who still own Chatsworth House. Andrew Cavendish was married to the famous "Debo," née Mitford, who made Chatsworth House what it is today. I think Bess would have approved of her.)
|Bess of Hardwick in later life|
Bess was now a very wealthy woman, with an annual income worth millions in today's terms. She soon attracted another husband, her fourth and last, George Talbot, the Earl of Shrewsbury. Countess Shrewsbury's vast income was appropriated by her husband in the custom of the time. But she was now a significant person at court, being one of Queen Elizabeth's Ladies of the Bedchamber.
The Earl had seven children already and two of his sons married two of Bess's young daughters in the year of their parents' marriage. Whether the Earl and Countess's marriage would have been happy in the long term, we can't know but Jill Armitage makes it clear that it didn't stand a chance once they had visited on them a Royal house guest.
Mary, known as Queen of Scots, was billeted on them by her cousin Queen Elizabeth shortly after their marriage and remained with them, under virtual house arrest, for the next fifteen years. But they didn't stay in one place: they were constantly on the move from one of their homes to another. And Mary had an extensive entourage and was expensive to keep. And of course there were constant plots to release her, to topple or assassinate Elizabeth and put a Catholic queen on the throne again.
|Mary, Queen of Scots|
It would have been natural for the two women to have chatted and gossiped, to have exchanged confidences, as women friends do. But, according to Jill Armitage, Mary used the rumours Bess unwisely passed on about the English queen's love life, to get her into trouble and put her out of favour.
And it seems she also used her charms on the ageing Earl, flirting with him and alienating him from his wife. Whether this is true or not, the Shrewsburys' marriage was on the rocks and they lived virtually apart for the ten years before his death. That was three years after Mary's execution at Fotheringhay Castle.
The Earl's death left Bess as Dowager Duchess of Shrewsbury and mother-in-law to the new Earl, Gilbert, who was married to her daughter, Mary. She was free to do as she liked for the first time for decades and what she liked was building projects. She was a shrewd business woman and always fought for her rights, from the day of her first husband's death. She was the second richest woman in England after the queen, enjoying income from the Barlow, Cavendish and St. Loe estates and a third of that from the Shresbury estates.
She also had a life interest in several properties, including land near her birthplace in Hardwick, where she set about building the new, now famous, Hardwick Hall. It had an unusual amount of glass for a late 16th century manor house and was much admired. Bess moved into Hardwick Hall around her seventieth birthday. She ordered a grand funeral monument for herself but lived until she was 81 in 1608, outliving Elizabeth and the other queens in this book.
Before Elizabeth, there was Lady Jane Grey, the "nine days queen" and then Mary Tudor, the first Monarch of England in her own right.
|Lady Jane Grey - the Streatham portrait|
Four years after this Lady Jane Grey was named as Edward Vl's heir and embarked on the disastrous course that led to her execution.
Because the people rejected her claim, albeit one sanctioned by the late boy king, and preferred Henry Vlll's daughter Mary.
Bess of Hardwick remains the real star of this book and I'd love to read a book just about her. She was one of the most remarkable women to emerge in Renaissance England and lived a life as eventful as any queen's.
|Jill Armitage, author of Four Queens and a Countess|
Some months ago, the brilliant @WomensArt1 account tweeted an image of a small linen jacket embroidered all over with lettering. They explained it had been created by a woman forced into an asylum in the 1800s, who had stitched her life story onto her clothing. It seemed an extraordinary item, so I determined to find out more about the jacket and the woman who created it.
A Victorian Seamstress
The woman was Agnes Emma Richter, born in March 1844 near Dresden, Germany, and who made her living as a seamstress. In 1893, police admitted Agnes to a local mental institution because of complaints from her neighbours. It seems she told them that people were plotting to steal her money and she ‘believed her life to be in danger’. This led to a diagnosis of paranoia. Increasingly angry and ‘non-compliant’ with her incarceration, she was transferred in 1895 to Hubertusberg Psychiatric Institution near Dresden.
The admitting physician described Agnes as a ‘poorly-nourished pale woman with very animated eyes and facial expression who looks old for her years.’ On admission, Agnes would have been stripped of her possessions, dressed in the uniform of the institution, and forced to submit to its rituals. It was perhaps in an attempt to retain her identity and her memories that she began to sew lines of writing into the linen jacket she was given.
‘I plunge headlong into disaster’
The lines of overlapping red, yellow, blue, orange and white threaded text are almost impossible to read. Many were sewn on the inside of the jacket and have worn away with use. In some places the thread has unravelled. However, several phrases have been deciphered, including ‘I am not big’, ‘I wish to read’, ‘my jacket’, ‘my brother,’ 'no cherries', ‘I am in Hubertusburg’ and ‘I plunge headlong into disaster’. Her hospital number, 583m, appears repeatedly. It is clear that Agnes wore the jacket, as it bears marks of use, including sweat stains. It also has a darted back, which may be an alteration for what her recovered files described as a deformity.
Agnes remained in the asylum for the rest of her life, dying there in July 1918. Her words, however, live on. Her jacket was rediscovered in 1980 during an exhibition of the Prinzhorn Collection in Germany. The jacket had been part of the collection of Hans Prinzhorn, an art historian with a particular interest in madness and creativity. Agnes’ jacket is now an iconic piece in the Prinzhorn Collection at Heidelberg, stored in a glass case, with a tag that reads simply, ‘Hand sewn jacket, Agnes Richter, circa 1895.’
Gail A Hornstein, Agnes's Jacket: A Psychologist's Search for the Meanings of Madness. Rodale Press, Incorporated
Anna Mazzola is a writer of historical crime fiction and Gothic fiction. Her first novel, The Unseeing, is about a Victorian seamstress convicted of aiding a murder.
|The Corlea Trackway|
Not so many elf-mounds this time, though there is a connection to Brú na Bóinne/Newgrange. This post is about an elf-labour undertaken by Midir, 'king of the elf-mounds of Ireland’. (If you missed them, my first two posts about Irish Elf-mounds are here and here.)
In his fascinating, closely argued book ‘In Search of the Irish Dreamtime’ (Thames and Hudson, 2016) archaeologist and linguist J P Mallory examines the suggestion that Irish mythological cycles preserve some memories and practices of the Irish Bronze or Iron Ages. He concludes (spoiler alert!) that there is little or no evidence for this - and that early medieval clerks mostly back-projected legends on to these highly visible, mysterious monuments. Newgrange, for example, appears in the Tochmarc Étaine (The Wooing of Étaine) as the palace of Oengus foster-son of Midir, ‘king of the elf-mounds of Ireland’, but of course the mound was never any kind of palace.
There is however one suggestive detail. Midir, this prince of the Sidhe, comes to Bru na Bóinne to ask his foster-son for a gift, and Oengus offers him the most beautiful woman in Ireland, Étain, for his wife. The story soon becomes very complicated: Midir’s original wife Fúamnachis understandably jealous. She transforms Étain into a purple, singing fly which lives for a thousand years before falling into a cup of wine, where it is swallowed by another woman who subsequently gives birth to Étain Mk II. (The accidental swallowing of small living things - insects or worms or even grains of wheat - causing pregnancy and birth or rebirth, is a recurrent theme in Celtic mythology.) The reborn Étain is then married to Eochaid king of Tara, and the immortal Midir, still in love with her, has to perform a number of what might well be termed Herculean tasks in order to win permission from Eochaid to embrace her. One of these tasks is to build a causeway over a bog called Móin Lamraige which no one had ever been able to cross.
This legendary causeway is similar to the great Iron Age timber causeway running out into Corlea Bog which was discovered in the 1980s during mechanical peat excavation. The timbers were dated by dendrochonology to 148 BC, and the construction took no longer than a single year. The causeway ended at a small island and is thought to have been made for a ritual purpose: it's estimated to have used the wood of 300 oak trees and must have generated up to a thousand wagonloads. Maybe the Sidhe were involved... However as JP Mallory points out, “The bog swallowed up the trackway soon after it was constructed." This means that no one "a thousand years later .. could generate a contemporary account of its construction.” And he therefore concludes that “it would be churlish not to accept … the argument that that the tale does retain remembrance that once a magnificent road had been built to cross a specific bog.”
Oh, you might like to know that the love story of Étain and Midir ends happily - for them, if not for poor King Eochaid. When Midir finally succeeds in holding Etain in his arms, the two of them fly up through the rooflight in the shape of two white swans.
The Corlea Trackway in County Longford, Ireland, 2009 (I assume a reconstruction): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corlea_Trackway
Midir and Etain flying up out of Eochaid's hall: “The Frenzied Prince, Being Heroic Stories of Ancient Ireland” 1943. Illustration by Willy Pogány
Venice is taking a small stand against all the Disneyfication, cruisification and forgetting of the last decade. A small piece of her history is … we hope … about to be restored to her: a column of infamy.
I have written previously of my own long campaign to restore this fascinating and important relic of Venice’s early modern history. Not many cities have seven hundredth anniversaries. But Venice has: that of the conspiracy of Baiamonte Tiepolo in 1310, an event that led to the formation of the game-changing Council of Ten, which ruled Venice for the next four-and-a-half centuries.
In my innocence, thought it would be an excellent idea to resurrect that column for the 2010 anniversary. Venice’s bureaucracy disagreed. Now, where I failed eight years ago, others have at last succeeded.
Almost. In two senses.
The restored column is a replica. It’s taken over five years to produce and get permission to put it in the campo of Sant’Agostin, the place where the original column stood as a warning to anyone else who might think of murdering the Doge and setting up a new kind of state.
The original column has not been lost. It still languishes in the ‘deposito lapidario’ of the Palazzo Ducale, and for reasons best known to themselves, the Venetian Musei Civici are keeping it down there. They have at last included the column in their online register of works. Catalogue entry Cl. XXV n. 0984 includes two photographs. This is certainly an advance on the tragicomical vacuum of information I found when I was hunting for the column all those years ago.
The replica column is to be placed closer to the centre of the campo, near the well-head.
|the wellhead in Campo Sant'Agostin|
|This drawing shows how the column was damaged|
by a supporter of Baiamonte Tiepolo some years after
the original conspiracy
|Frustrated by lack of|
access to the real column,
I commissioned this
atmospheric painting of it by
Venice is indebted to Andrea Bizio Gradenigo and the Societa’ di Mutuo Soccorso Carpentieri e Calafati. The work has been executed by the sculptor Riccardo Gatti with the help of Lorenzo Gersich, a student at the liceo artistico at Santo Spirito. The project is sponsored by a travel agent, Albatravel. To celebrate properly, the campo of Sant’Agostin was to a full cleaning at the hands of the Associazione Masegni e Nizoleti. All credit to everyone involved. And the column was supposed to be put in place on the anniversary of the conspiracy, which famously took place on Saint Vito’s day, June 15th, in 1310. It would have made an enormous difference to those of us who care about Venetian history and the column to let that happen.
Unfortunately, to the very last minute, Venetian bureaucrats seem to have shown a Irish-style begrudgery towards this column that their indifference finally could not keep hidden. I should not have been surprised. Despite all the best-laid plans of the above-mentioned citizens, bureaucratic delays have meant that the replica has still not reached the Campo Sant-Agostin.
Added to the bureaucracratic imbroglio there was apparently a Comune architect or engineer who was poorly and some other functionary who went on holiday at a crucial moment. I'm sure I wish them a speedy recovery and a lovely break respectively.
For the last six months, I have been hoping to bring news of the column’s placement. And hoping. And waiting. And fuming.
Meanwhile … back at the London loft … Some time ago, in this place, I wrote a very emotional post about the demolition of a Victorian tier gate belonging to the charming building that was once ‘Mr Roots Horse Hospital’. Now known as Blows Yard, it nestles by London’s Borough Market. The unpunished amputation of the column was a clear sign to me, and many people who wrote in, that something is not well, conservation-wise, in the Borough of Southwark.
Ever since then, the site has been shrouded in hoarding. The hoarding has recently come off, revealing that the mate of the lamented column has also been done away with too.
Michelle Lovric's website
For those of you looking forward to Joan Lennon's latest piece, normally scheduled for the 5th of the month - she will post on the 10th, and this special post is well worth waiting for!
|The British border in Ireland during the Troubles|
|My story in this anthology was inspired|
by research in another school archive
And pleasure is what The Outrageous Fortune of Abel Morgan provides. Not just a general pleasure either, but several different kinds of pleasure at the same time.
First, there's the narrative, which follows two people: Christopher Morgan and his son, Abel. Chapters from each point of view alternate for most of the novel and Jeffries has Christopher's account unfold in the third person while his son gives a first person account of events. By doing this, she varies the tone and style, and makes things much more interesting.
Left: Cornelius Claesz van Wieringen Right: Willem-Alexander van de Velde ll
Secondly, readers of this book won't be bored. I'm going to use a reviewer's cliché and call it a 'roller-coaster ride.' It's a very exciting story, full of adventures, secrets, mistakes that seem uncorrectable, wicked men, a woman who's far from angelic, pirates, slaves, and traffickers, smugglers and even a walk on appearance from King Charles II and Samuel Pepys. I'm going to give away nothing about the plot, except to say that the widowed Christopher is left with a baby to care for. He loses the child, then finds him, then loses him again. He spends the best part of the novel on a quest to find him. And while he does this, Abel is having adventures of his own.
Thirdly, the characters (and we meet many) are brought to life very well. We can see them and hear them and several of them (especially the villain with the false arm and hand) stay in your mind long after you've closed the book. We care about Abel and his father because Jeffries has involved us so closely in their thoughts and feelings.
Fourthly, every place we visit as we're reading is vividly there. We move from the West Country to Constantinople, to London, to the Caribbean, to Jamaica and the Netherlands and it's wonderful to be able to travel so far while sitting snugly by the fire. I did actually read some of this book in front of my gas fire while my central heating was briefly on the blink, and it's the perfect way to enjoy this story. Because my main feeling as I read was that this is an old-fashioned novel in the very best sense of the term: happy to tell a thrilling and moving story in elegant and evocative prose and above all, one that everyone in the family can share. I really hope there's an audio version on the way. Listening to that would be a splendid way to pass a long car journey. Meanwhile, I can heartily recommend the book.
All other photos provided by Cindy Jeffries.
St Martin renounces his weapons.
Artist: Simone Martini (1284-1344)
Martinmas quickly became established in the Christian calendar as the day when the work of killing and preserving of meat for winter began, and the community feasted before the 40 days of St Martin’s Lent or Advent. In Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 2, Falstaff, is referred to as ‘the martlemas’. The ‘Martlemas’ or ‘Mart’ was an ox or a bull that was fattened and slaughtered for the Martinmas feast. In some towns and villages, the bull would first be run through the streets.
|'Falstaff'' by Edward Von Grutzner 91846-1925)|
Writing in 1646, Richard Butcher described the running of the martlemas in Stamford, Lincolnshire. The butchers provided the town with the wildest bull they could buy. The bull was released and the townspeople gave chase, trying to kill it with wooden clubs. Iron weapons were forbidden. The bull was then roasted and eaten, washed down with plenty of strong drink, for St Martin was also patron saint of wine growers and protector of the inebriated.
The legend behind the bull running, which was probably derived from a pre-Christian custom, was that St Martin had encountered a wild cow possessed by the devil which he had exorcized. Of course, it is likely that this tale was created to explain why it was auspicious to begin the slaughter of livestock on this day. Pigs were also butchered and gifts of sausages and black puddings at Martinmas were known as ‘pig cheer’. Fixing a seasonal activity like ploughing, sowing or slaughter to a well-known saints’ day ensured the vital task was blessed and protected by that saint. It also helped to co-ordinate community life, so that everyone in village knew exactly when it would begin, and equipment could be made ready.
|'The Fishing Boat' by Gustave Courbet, 1865|
One of St Martin’s symbols is a goose, because it was believed he was tricked into becoming bishop and tried to escape this office by hiding in a barn, but a honking goose gave him away. So, a goose was traditionally eaten at his feast, and the wishbone kept. In 1455, the physician, Johannes Hartlieb, wrote -
'When the goose has been eaten on St Martin's Day the oldest and wisest keeps the breast-bone and, allowing it to dry until the morning, examines it all around, in front, behind and in the middle. Thereby they divine whether the winter will be severe or mild, dry or wet, and are so confident in their prediction that they will wager their goods and chattels on its accuracy.’On the Aran Islands, west of Ireland, there was a legend that St Martin begged for food at the door of a woman who was so poor she had nothing to give him, so she sacrificed her child and boiled the infant to provide meat. But after he left, the child was found miraculously asleep in its crib. Families on the islands used to slaughter an animal on Martinmas in memory of this miracle, and anyone who came begging at their doors on St Martin’s Day was offered roast fowl or goose.
St Martin and a goose on
St Martin Busskirch in Jona, Obersee,
Switzerland. Photographer: Roland zh
In Germany and Holland, the festival had been traditionally celebrated with bonfires on Martinmas Eve and with lantern parades led by ‘St Martin’ on horseback. But the Reformation in 16th century meant that in Protestant countries, Catholic saints could no longer be celebrated. But recognising they could not supress such a popular festival, the ‘Martin’ who was celebrated on ‘Martin’s Day’ became instead, Martin Luther, the German founder of the Protestantism who was born on November 10, 1483 and, according to legend, was baptized on the 11th November.
The final twist in this blood-drenched festival was that the 11th November 1918, was the date chosen for the guns to fall silent at the end of World War I – the day dedicated to the saint who was a solider in the mighty Roman army and who laid down his weapons, declaring he would fight no more.
Lantern Parade, St Martin's Day 2016
Photographer: Pieter Delicoat
I was going to post a different blog but have just been listening to a brilliant podcast for Classics Confidential. It was specially produced in honour of the Being Human Festival and in particular two events centred around ancient weaving: a poetry performance next Friday 16 November and a hands-on weaving workshop on Saturday 17 November 2018.
Jessica Hughes (left) the host of Classics Confidential starts out by interviewing Dr Emma Bridges (Institute of Classical Studies) who talks about the links we still make between weaving and storytelling in phrases such as ‘spinning a yarn’ and ‘weaving a tale’. The word texta, woven, gives us the word text. The ancient sources also used metaphors of weaving. For example, Odysseus ‘weaves a scheme’ in Homer’s Odyssey.
Dr Ursula Rothe from the Open University talks about the different fabrics they used: wool, linen, cotton and silk, which was a very expensive (even decadent) prestige product. Camel and goat hair were used for bags and sacks and we know of felt workshops in Pompeii.
|Replica loom at Fishbourne Roman Villa|
Professor Mary Harlow is a Roman historian who specialises in textile production. Her own warp-weighted loom will be one of the focal points of the Being Human Weaving Women’s Storiesperformance and activity day. Mary started out dutifully researching all the literary and visual sources but it wasn’t until she went to Denmark to work at the Centre for Textile Research that she had a revelation about ancient textiles. ‘I had to rethink the whole process from the beginning,’ she says. ‘And in so doing I’ve also become a practitioner. I’m an avid hand-spinner and addicted to natural plant dyes… And most recently I’ve begun to learn to weave on a warp-weighted loom.’ She goes on to say that she has really begun to realise that the idea of the finished garment must have already been in someone’s head, because every stage is geared to the specific product.
‘Now I’ve started weaving,’ adds Mary, ‘the other thing I have begun to understand is the amount of inherent mathematics it takes to set up a loom…’
Almost all the beautiful ancient textiles we have are woven rather than embroidered. This requires a huge amount of skill. When Mary considered the amount of mathematics involved, it led her to see the ancient texts in another way. ‘Philosophers use odds and evens to talk about the way the cosmos is developed… just like a warp-weighted loom.’
Mary mentions a friend of hers, the scholar Magdalena Ormond, who is doing research on the sound a loom makes and the way the cadences of Ovid’s poetry possibly imitate this sound in some way.
Textile production was embedded in the ancient world. Everybody knew something about it and could use that knowledge. It would have been built in to everybody’s experience. ‘It’s a shame textile production is still not considered one of the very big themes of ancient history,’ concludes Mary, ‘because it feeds in to so much more.’
There are many other great revelations in the podcast.
• Emma Bridges (again) shows how male poets like Homer and Ovid portray women who weave and also how the story of Penelope has been retold in more modern times. Emma points out that the loom provides a medium for women to express themselves when they are repeatedly silenced by men, e.g. the way Penelope is silenced by Telemachus in the Odyssey. Circe and Calypso both sing at the loom but Penelope is silent. So is Philomela, who is raped and then silenced by her abuser. Ovid has her ‘tell’ her story in her weaving.
Emma talks about Waterhouse’s 1912 painting of Penelope and her suitors and also an extraordinary art installation by Brazilian artist Tatiana Blass called Penelope.
• Ellie Mackin Roberts (Royal Holloway, University of London) talks about the arrephorroi (the group of very young girls who lived on the acropolis for a year and wove a peplos for Athena’s statue) and what their sensory experience would have been. For example these girls of perhaps seven or eight might have been asked to card the wool. This would have made their hands greasy with lanolin this would have made washing at the end of the day a different experience than usual.
• Ben Ferris (Sydney Film School) talks about his 2009 feature film, Penelope, a fantastical treatment of Homer's tale of Penelope, depicting her psychological struggle as she waits twenty years for her husband to return from the Trojan War.
• Anna Fisk (University of Glasgow) is a knitting practitioner and academic researcher in contemporary craft practices and implicit religion. One of her observations is that some women find knitting almost like entering into a prayerful state.
To hear the whole podcast either subscribe to Classics Confidential or listen on SoundCloud HERE.
A performance of women reading original poetry inspired by weaving will take place on Friday 16 November 2018 and on the following Saturday there will be weaving workshops. The afternoon session is sold-out but the morning drop in is free.
I don’t usually emerge from my writer’s lair on dark winter nights but I’m making an exception for this and I am sure it will be worth it. I hope to see you there!
Canadian Army Medical Corp
The repeating words I chose were "not the end" and the poem begins like this -
You can visit the page for Day 98 here.
(There is a selection of centenas stunningly performed by their writers on YouTube here. And a beautiful book has been produced which is available from Just Giving (profits to go to the charity War Child).)
(I did a photo post for The History Girls back in 2013 about my mum in China before her father died called, unimaginatively, China and My Mum.)
During the War, 388 Australian nursing sisters were decorated, with 42 wining military nursing’s greatest honour, the Royal Red Cross. Eight were awarded the Military Medal, and 23 received decorations from the Governments of allied countries.
A patient’s recovery, although due in part to a patient’s own powers of resistance and recuperation, was often attributable to the nursing care he received. Careful nursing prevented the onset of secondary pneumonia or further infection which could be fatal, and constant observation allowed the nurse to act quickly to prevent dehydration and excessive blood loss.
British nurses may have regarded their colonial colleagues with some disdain, refusing to work with them unless ‘fully qualified’, but Australian trained nurses knew they had much to offer. The willingness of Australian nurses to take on whatever type of nursing work presented itself made them highly prized in Casualty Clearing Stations on the front line, and for theatre work. Australian nurses were particularly proud of their ability to act independently when required, unlike the British nurses who were used to a more rigid nursing hierarchy. And the Australian nurses soon needed to use all their ingenuity and pluck.
No. 2 AGH, under Matron Gould, took over Mena House (right), also a former luxurious hotel but smaller than the Heliopolis Palace. It may have had a spectacular view of the Pyramids, but it was just as unsuitable for a hospital.
The Australian nursing sisters visited friends, shopped and took trips to the Pyramids and the Sphinx. A perennial problem, however, was shortage of money, as the Army was notoriously lax about paying its staff.
The heat in Egypt was almost intolerable (in a letter of 19 June 1915, Olive Haynes (below) mentioned that it was 122 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade (50 degrees Celsius)), and yet the nurses were expected to wear their long and heavy grey serge frocks with the thick red woollen cape over their shoulders. Haynes complained in a letter to her mother:
‘Matron has a fit when she sees us without our capes. Everything military is quite mad and unreasonable; they can’t see a foot ahead of their noses for red tape.’ In the same letter Haynes took comfort in the news that the nurses were getting ‘new thin red capes – muslin collars and short sleeves with turn-back cuffs – will be much cooler.’(Letter Olive Haynes to her mother, 28 May 1915)
From April 1915 these vessels would collect the wounded from Gallipoli and transport them to hospitals on nearby islands. Conditions on the overcrowded ships were horrific. Patients who could not be fitted below decks were treated on the open rolling deck, lying side-by-side on stretchers. On the Gascon, Hilda Samsing wrote of performing her duties as ‘stray bullets pattered on board like rain drops after a shower’, and she graphically described her experiences:
The August offensive on Gallipoli was in full swing and only one or two tents had been hoisted before the first load of two hundred wounded from Gallipoli arrived.
The injured men were laid on the ground and the tents that were to serve as wards were pulled up around them as the nurses attended to their wounds. The nurses simply had to make the best of things. When they ran out of bandages, they tore up their petticoats and anything else that they could find to serve the purpose. And, as is clear from the photo right, they had to sleep rough until the tents and equipment arrived.
There were no streams or springs on Lemnos. The Greek villages that were located in the valleys had wells, but these could not be used for fear of typhoid. This meant that for the first few weeks the nurses were allocated only one small bottle of water a day to serve for drinking and washing purposes. Eventually some of the officers managed to fit up a water distiller. Although there was now enough water to drink, they never had enough for a luxury such as a bath. Nor was there was any electricity in the camp. They used hurricane lamps or candles in their tents, or they sat in the dark.
Every type of surgical and nursing work took place in these large and crowded hospitals, and the Australian nurses needed to take on increased responsibilities. In wartime conditions nurses also had to master the use of equipment that had formerly been used only by doctors. Often they did so with no formal training, such as this Red Cross nurse in the photo left who administers anaesthetic, which would never have occurred when she was a nurse in Australia.
Sometimes, however, maintaining a cheerful face was difficult:
|An early image of the church where John Hood was baptised.|
|Herne Hill's town crier announcing the silence|
|German soldiers on British soil|
When the Germans invaded The Channel Islands, Jersey was cut off from English food supplies, and with thousands more hungry Germans on the island, the finding of enough food became a priority. Potatoes and swedes were a staple, but food was so scarce in the Channel Islands that every last morsel of the potato was eaten, including the peel. By the Summer of 1941, the ration of meat was four ounces per person per fortnight. Bread was scarce, and soon become a rough, hard, mouthful, often adulterated with bran, chaff or sawdust. The British 'cuppa' was made with tea recycled by drying out the leaves.
'The shops were empty, you couldn't buy anything. If you went into town, everyone was talking about food.'
Dorothy Blackwell - farmer's daughter Jersey
Finding and preparing food mostly fell to the women, and was enormously time-consuming. On an island as small as Jersey, the beaches were a source of food, though the beaches were mined by the occupying forces, so it was a dangerous mission to collect mussels or crabs. Seaweed, and moss were avidly collected, and used as vegetables or to make setting agents for preserves or blancmange.
Sugar was not available, so islanders made syrup from sugar beet. Coffee substitute was made from collecting and drying dandelions or parnsips. In harvest time, corn was gleaned grain by grain from any missed by the Germans, and painstakingly ground in home mills originally intended for coffee or spices. Breeding rabbits for the pot, and catching sparrows from hedgerows supplemented the diet with a little protein. Bird's eggs of any type were filched from nests.
According to the book The Model Occupation by Madeleine Bunting - here is a typical day's diet on Jersey during 1943:
'Grape nuts' made from mangel-wurzel with drop of rationed milk
Bread with smear of cocoa substitute mixed with sago
Boiled potatoes, peas, swede or cabbage
Pudding made of baked breadcrumbs & milk thickened with maize meal.
Bread & 'butter'
Stewed potatoes & peas
Living in Fear
Thousands of islanders traded on the Black Market, or stole from the Germans to survive. Farmers were luckier, if thery could hide a pig or chickens, but those in towns suffered real hardships. In the face of German authority, islanders were powerless. One wrong word could lead to an appearance before the court and transportation to a French or German prison camp. Islanders witnessed the inhumane treatment of the slave workers brought over from occupied territories in order to build the German fortifications, and they feared the same treatment. Between 1940 and 1945, more than 300 islanders were taken from Jersey to concentration camps and prisons on the continent, for crimes committed against the German occupying forces.
As the occupation progressed, cooking grew difficult, as finding enough fuel became harder. The island was denuded of trees by the German forces. Not only was there no wood for fuel, but nowhere to hide for any type of Resistance, and no hope of escape from such a large invasion force, without capture.
Communal kitchens were set up to minimize the amount of fuel needed for cooking, but to stay warm in the winter months it was still essential to search for kindling and wood, and anything else that could be burned. Everything had to be made - soap soon ran out, and toothpaste had to be made by mixing soot and chalk dust.
By Christmas 1944, electricity was no longer available. Candles became scarce, and winter evenings were spent in semi-darkness by the light of a tin can full of oil, with a bootlace for a wick. Lack of warmth and gnawing hunger made winter on Jersey a true misery.
All food supplies were cut off altogether after the D Day landings of 1944 when France was liberated. Starvation began to stare people in the face. Many succombed to illnesses associated with malnutrition. When the first Red Cross parcels arrived on 27 December 1944, people wept.
My new novella, The Occupation is based on the story of a Jerseywoman who hid her Jewish friend from the Germans. The real life story can be found here.
You can order the book (in an anthology with another ten WW2 novellas) by clicking the picture.
Channel Island website: https://www.theislandwiki.org/index.php/Food_and_Rationing
Read more about the occupation of Jersey on the BBC
Or in The Telegraph
My website www.deborahswift.com
|November 1868: Emperor Meiji enters Edo in his phoenix palanquin|
Shoguns had held power in Japan for many centuries. During those years the emperors had been like popes, spending their lives sequestered in the imperial palace in Kyoto and never leaving. For 250 years the country enjoyed uninterrupted peace. Japanese culture flourished - the world we see depicted in woodblock prints and on the stage of the kabuki theatre, the world of Basho’s haiku, Zen and much else.
|The rickshaw, invented in Japan in 1869|
The fifteen years of turmoil that followed ended with the shogun being overthrown. The fifteenth and last shogun retired to his family lands and the teenage Emperor was borne in splendour into Edo, now Tokyo. And straight away things started to change.
|Ginza Bricktown 1874|
Tokyo mushroomed much as China is mushrooming now. New buildings shot up in the western mode, of brick and stone, not wood. One of the first was the Mitsui House, a splendid wedding cake-like confection, owned by the wealthy shopkeeping and money exchanging Mitsui family, soon to found a business and banking empire.
Then in April 1872 an area called the Ginza, full of furniture shops and second hand shops, mysteriously burnt down. No one was hurt, generating the suspicion that the fire had been set deliberately. The area was rebuilt entirely in sparkling new brick buildings and called Ginza Bricktown. The street was lined with all sorts of wonderful shops - a brand new newspaper office, a post office and a beef restaurant where people could dine on an exciting new dish - beef. In 1874 the Ginza was lit with Japan’s first gas lamps.
|First train at Shimbashi station by Shōsai Ikkei, circa 1870 -|
donated to Wiki Commons by the Metropolitan Museum of Art
|View of Benten Shrine: The Emperor and Empress cherry blossom viewing with their attendants|
by Utagawa Hiroshige III 1881 - donated to Wiki Commons by the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Women were more conservative in their dress choices. Geisha being trendsetters were the first to try western clothes - bustles and bonnets. The very first person to wear high heeled shoes was a Nagasaki geisha in the 1880s.
Then in 1883 the Rokumeikan - the Hall of the Baying Stag - opened in central Tokyo right opposite the Imperial Palace. It was a rather flashy Italianate mansion of white painted brick with colonnaded verandas, set in landscaped gardens. There Japanese high society - gentlemen in frock coats, ladies in bustles, bows, corset and bonnets - dined on French food cooked by a French chef, using knives and forks, played billiards, had charity bazaars, sang western songs and played western musical instruments.
|Dancing into the future - at the Hall of the Baying Stag|
|From Aguranabe, 'Sitting round the beef pot'|
by Kanagaki Robun
All this modernising was a lot of fun but it also had a serious purpose - to persuade the western powers that the Japanese were every bit as civilised as them so that they would repeal the hated unequal treaties, by which the Japanese had to pay inflated export duties and the exchange rate was rigged in the westerners’ favour and many other humiliating clauses besides.
But despite all the dancing and modern clothes, the treaties were not repealed until 1895, after Japan defeated China in the Sino-Japanese War. As a Japanese diplomat said wearily a decade later, after Japan defeated Russia in the Russo-Japanese War: ‘My people had been sending artistic treasures to Europe for some time, and had been regarded as barbarians. But as soon as we showed ourselves able to shoot down Russians with quick firing guns, we were acclaimed as a highly civilised race.’
In case anyone might like to hear more, I’m giving a couple of lectures to mark the 150th anniversary of the Meiji Restoration - at the Ashmolean in Oxford on Friday November 23rd from 1 to 2 and at the British Library on Tuesday November 27th at 7.15.
Lesley Downer’s latest novel, The Shogun’s Queen, is an epic tale very much based on a true story and set in Japan at the time of the turmoil preceding the Meiji Restoration- out now in paperback. For more see www.lesleydowner.com.
All pictures courtesy of Wikimedia Commons or private collection.