Sunday, 27 May 2018

A Day Trip to Windsor by Janie Hampton


Granny insisted on taking us on a history lesson
Last Saturday, two of my grandchildren and I went out for a history and anthropology lesson. We could have gone to Legoland in Berkshire but chose nearby Windsor instead. Bill, 10, Delilah, 8, and I left Oxford by train at dawn and were surprised by how many other people were waiting at Slough station for the six-minute ride into Windsor. It was a glorious, sunny morning and the train passed over the River Thames not far from where King John signed Magna Carta in 1215. Bill looked at his train ticket and asked ‘What’s an etton?’ ‘Eton is a small town just over there, on the river. It’s famous for a boarding school started in the 15th century for poor boys. It’s a charity, but the fees are more than what most people in Britain earn. Most British Prime Ministers went there.’ ‘Did Teresa May go there?’ ‘No, they still only allow boys, who have to wear tail coats.’ ‘I wouldn’t like that,’ said Bill. This led to a discussion of educational rights, privilege and power. Arriving at Windsor and Eton station, we compared Queen Victoria's taste for ornate architecture, with the concrete minimalism of the 21st century shopping mall now attached to it.
Oh look! There's a Royal Wedding on today! 
When we saw that the ancient winding streets of Windsor were decked with bunting, we realised that something was up. Apparently two lovely people were getting married – a British prince and an American TV star! Kindly policemen with machine guns ushered us towards the Great Park. ‘This is certainly a long walk,’ said Delilah as we looked up the Queen’s two-mile front drive. Above the Long Walk rose Windsor Castle, begun by William I in 1070, soon after he conquered England. Over the centuries the castle grew and became more and more elaborate. In 1992 after a curtain caught alight, a fire raged through the state apartments because royal residences don’t have to adhere to fire regulations. They also don’t buy house insurance, but craftspeople rallied round and everything was rebuilt even better, and safer, than before. Delilah noticed the huge Royal Standard fluttering above the Round Tower. ‘That means the Queen is at home,’ I told her. ‘And that’s where she lived as a child during the Second World War, safe from the Blitz.’
Windsor Castle on fire, 20 November, 1992.
We found a spot on the grass under a flowering chestnut tree and joined thousands of people enjoying picnics. In front of us was a huge screen on which we watched the participants of our social anthropology study arriving at St George’s Chapel. The men all wore a uniform of mid-20th century dark suits and ties. A few had tail coats, perhaps harking back to their school days at Eton. Most of the women wore the costume of aristocracy when attending Ascot races: pastel-coloured silk frocks, large hats and ridiculous stiletto-heeled shoes. It was a miracle nobody tripped on the 15th century flagstones. The conversation around us gave us an insight into both the viewed and the viewers.  People wondered why Princesses Eugene and Beatrice always look so frumpy; why Victoria Beckham looked so grumpy; and why Princess Anne was wearing her father’s dressing gown. While  the Duchess of Cambridge was commended for recycling her ivory suit – it had been seen at least twice before.
Swoons from the crowd for George Clooney, and admiration
for Amal's outfit by Stella McCartney. copyright Gareth Fuller/PA 
The first royal wedding at Windsor was in 1121, between Henry I and his second wife, the young and beautiful Adeliza of Louvain in Belgium. When the divorced, bi-racial, American bride, Ms Rachel Meghan Markle appeared, everyone cried. Her dress was a perfect blend of simplicity and grandeur; and her make-up did not hide her freckles. Her five-metre silk veil was both beautiful, and a political statement: the 53 flowers embroidered round the edge were a nod to the leaders of the Commonwealth who had voted for the Prince of Wales to take over as head when the Queen dies. The missing teeth of the page boys added homely reality. And the whispered endearments of His Royal Highness Prince Henry Charles Albert David of Wales brought sighs from all the women around us whose hopes were now dashed.
Page boy John Mulroney's reaction to the trumpet
fanfare on entering St George's Chapel.
St George’s Chapel was commissioned by King Edward IV in 1475 and is a masterpiece of Perpendicular Gothic architecture. The English matrimonial rite has been evolving for 1,000 years and this one was a traditional post-Reformation, Anglican marriage, with modern twists. The last mixed-heritage British royal was Queen Charlotte who married George III in 1761 and this ceremony certainly celebrated diversity. We had the Coptic Orthodox Archbishop, the Jamaican Chaplain to The Queen, and African-American Episcopalian Bishop Michael Curry. He broke with decorum and preached with noisy passion about love, slavery, equality and poverty – an unexpected blend of theology, history and politics that brought cheers from the crowd. 
Queen Charlotte was descended
from African Portuguese royalty 
The service was also a glorious lesson in the history of English music, beginning with the motet ‘If ye love me’ by Thomas Tallis (1505-85). Ever since 1348, boys have sung eight times a week in St George’s, including at Christmas and Easter, in exchange for a free education. My brother was a chorister there, and at the end of each term my family and I attended Evensong in the Quire before taking him home. As George Clooney admired the fine East Window dedicated in memory of Prince Albert, and the banners of the Knights of the Garter, he sat in the same 15th century carved oak stall as I did, nearly 60 years ago. The 600 VIP guests in the nave had to be content with looking up at the 16th century vaulted ceiling and frieze of 250 carved angels from their fold-up chairs.
George Clooney and I sat in the back row on the left,
behind St George's choir, only 60 years apart.
The sublime English music continued with Rutter, Elgar, Vaughn Williams and Holst and exquisite playing by teenage ’cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason. The highlight in the Long Walk came when the crowd joined the Kingdom Gospel Choir in singing ‘Stand By Me’ by Ben E. King. My, did we sing our hearts out! How many people knew this was originally a slave song?


Friendly police officers offered to share their helmets.
As the guests in the chapel and 120,000 others gathered outside, stood to sing the National Anthem, I was aware that this could be the last time my grandchildren would witness their 92 year-old Queen feted in this way. Then it was time to rush to the fence to watch the new Duke and Duchess of Sussex pass by in their open landau, pulled by four prancing horses. ‘I saw her,’ said Delilah panting with excitement. ‘She was really beautiful.’ ‘And I saw the soldiers with gold  helmets, holding real swords as they galloped along,’ exclaimed Bill. Bill and Delilah’s history lesson on Saturday was certainly an Excellent Adventure.
The Long Walk, Windsor Great Park. Can you spot us in the crowd on the right? 

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Home To Vote, by Carol Drinkwater





As I write this, planes from everywhere are disgorging bands of women into airports across the Republic who have flown home to Ireland to vote YES to the repeal of the Eighth Amendment. It is a vital vote in Ireland today and by the time you read this, the result will be in. I am praying that it will be an overwhelming YES.

The Irish diaspora is coming home to vote for the repeal of the eighth amendment.
This is a clip from Dublin airport yesterday

But what is the eighth amendment? 

Have a look at this video. I found it on the British Independent newspaper site and I thank the paper for allowing its use to spread a clear understanding of the situation and what is at stake.


The eighth amendment was brought in to law in Ireland on 7th September 1983. Its implementation gave equal rights to the unborn and to the carrying mother. This has meant that any woman who has aborted a child in Ireland  for whatever reason including as a rape victim has been subject to up to fourteen years in prison.
Pregnant women from Ireland have been travelling to Britain, Holland, elsewhere in Europe, even to off shore boats carrying medical facilities to offer abortions. Why? Because their own doctors are not allowed to offer  termination under any circumstances.  Backstreet abortions still exist in Ireland. And, of course, we all know the risks involved with these.

                                                                    Savita Halappanavar

Savita Halappanavar died from a septic miscarriage in Galway Hospital in 2012. She was a dentist, thirty-one years of age. When it was clear to everyone that she would miscarry the child, she requested an abortion and it was denied under the Eighth Amendment. She lost her life.

The reality is that women need the right to choose for themselves knowing their own circumstances better than anyone else. Our bodies, our choice.

Today, I hope, history will be made. Be wise and forward-thinking, dear Ireland.

As I sign off, less than an hour before this post goes live, The Irish Times is predicting a landslide  YES vote. Up from the ashes, Ireland, and into the twenty-first century.
History in the making.






Friday, 25 May 2018

London Zoo by Miranda Miller



    Recently I visited the zoo with my three little grandsons, whose favourite place it is. Felix, aged 22 months, is obsessed with octopuses and butterflies. I was struck by the generous space the animals are housed in now, and by this mission statement:


Respecting and valuing animals and the natural world:Our belief is that a diverse and healthy natural world is valuable in its own right and is essential for ensuring secure and healthy lives for people.

Over a million people a year visit the zoo and there are lots of imaginative educational programmes to interest children in biology.

   When I was a child it was very different; I’m sure that many people who worked at the zoo then DID respect the animals but they were kept in cramped cages and seemed to exist for the amusement of human beings. I remember queuing up for rides on the elephant ( see above) and the camel, who presumably were not asked if they wanted to carry squealing children around on their backs. The highlight was the Chimpanzees’ Tea Party, when chimps dressed in human clothes sat down at a table and threw buns at each other while we all laughed at their uncivilised table manners.


   The Zoological Society of London was founded by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1826, on a 5 acre site in the new Regent’s Park, which was then on the northernmost edge of London. It wasn’t the first zoo in Europe but, in England,  the only major public collections of exotic animals were the Exeter Change menagerie, in a filthy arcade on the Strand, and the mangy  assortment of animals at the Tower. Henry I created England's first 'zoo' in 1110, when he collected lions, tigers, porcupines and camels at Woodstock, in Oxfordshire. Later, this menagerie was moved to the Tower of London, where it remained for 600 years.


   Raffles, of course, is most famous for founding Singapore. He was also a remarkable collector and scholar who enthusiastically researched the natural and cultural history, civilization and languages of the countries which are now Indonesia and Malaysia. Raffles himself died a few months after founding his zoo, aged only 45. His ambitions for the expansion of the British Empire were undoubtedly mixed up with this project to introduce other scholars to some of the Empire’s most exotic inhabitants. After Raffles’ death his project continued, supported by distinguished scientists, aristocrats, and clergymen.


   Decimus Burton was appointed to lay out the grounds and design houses for the animals, many of them very beautiful, as can be seen from these designs:

   The Literary Gazette wondered “how the inhabitants of the Regent’s Park will like the lions, leopard and linxes [sic] so near their neighbourhood.” They didn’t, and the objections of people living in the grand houses John Nash had recently built in and around the park delayed the construction of the new buildings. The zoo finally opened in 1828 and, for the first twenty years, only Fellows, and those who could obtain permission from them, were allowed access. Sadly, many of the first generation of exotic animals died of the cold because it was not understood that they had to be kept in carefully regulated temperatures.

   Charles Darwin visited while he was writing The Origin of Species and was fascinated by an orangutan, Jenny, the first ape he had ever seen: “The keeper showed her an apple, but would not give it her, whereupon she threw herself on her back, kicked & cried, precisely like a naughty child. - She then looked very sulky & after two or three fits of pashion [sic], the keeper said, 'Jenny if you will stop bawling & be a good girl, I will give you the apple.' - She certainly understood every word of his, &, though like a child, she had great work to stop whining, she at last succeeded, & then got the apple, with which she jumped into an arm chair & began eating it, with the most contented countenance.” This experience probably contributed to his famous conclusion that: “Man in his arrogance thinks himself a great work, worthy of the interposition of a deity. More humble, and I believe truer, to consider him created from animals.”

   When the zoo did open to the public, for a shilling, it rapidly became a much loved part of London life. A giraffe was an early star and so was Jumbo, an African bull elephant, who even entered the dictionary. A hippopotamus, Obaysch, arrived, given by the Abbas Pasha of Egypt, in exchange for four brace of deer hounds. In 1850 Punch published The Diary of the Hippopotamus:

As many of our country readers naturally feel anxious to know how the Hippopotamus passes his time in a strange land, where he is so far away from home and all his relations, we have gone to the expense of procuring the following particulars, which are now printed for the first time.... HIP, HIP, HIP, FOR THE HIPPOPOTAMUS.

EVERYBODY is still running towards the Regent's Park, for the purpose of passing half an hour with the Hippopotamus. The animal itself repays public curiosity with a yawn of indifference, or throws cold water on the ardour of his visitors, by suddenly plunging into his bath, and splashing every one within five yards of him.

   Twenty years later a music-hall artist, the Great Vance, sang:

Walking in the Zoo, walking in the Zoo.

The O.K. thing on Sunday is the walking in the Zoo.

The Fellows of the Zoological Society of London disapproved of this undignified new slang word but it caught on, anyway.

   An unusually tame female black bear called Winnie lived at London Zoo from 1914, when she was left there by Canadian soldiers on their way to fight in France, until her death in 1934. A A Milne and his son Christopher Robin were so charmed by her that Milne changed Pooh’s name to Winnie-the-Pooh.

   London Zoo seems to have adapted admirably to changing ideas about animal rights, although it can of course be argued that zoos shouldn’t exist. The National Zoo in Washington, for instance, now prefers to call itself a biopark. Many people believe that wild animals should remain in their natural habitat and shouldn’t be made to live in captivity at all. But while it’s here some  of us will continue to enjoy our visits.






Thursday, 24 May 2018

THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAIL: By Elizabeth Chadwick.

One of the joys of writing historical fiction for me is the detective work of  discovering the lives of the characters who populate my novels.  Although it's fiction, I want to get as close to their personalities and their daily experiences as possible.

  At the outset of any project I always ask myself: 'Who are you? What are you really like?  What can you tell me that you have never told anyone before?' (Present tense intentional).   And then I begin sifting through the primary and secondary source evidence, and pursuing my time travel delvings with my friend and very talented psychic, Alison King.  Here's an url to an earlier piece about how it works in tandem with conventional historical resources.
 Alternative research: the psychic strand

When diving under the surface I often come across facts and details that change the course of my work and it fascinates me how these items make a difference to my creative choices. If I hadn't come discovered these facts, I would have written scenes that could never  happen, or that might have made a different impact on history.  I'm sure I have made many unwitting 'it didn't happen' choices because there is only so much research a writer can do. Of course it all boils down to that blend of story and fact combining to create the marvelous genre of historical fiction.  The facts we use and don't use, that we know and don't know,  are the building blocks of our personal experience and journey.

When writing about Eleanor of Aquitaine in THE SUMMER QUEEN,  most of her biographies said she was born in 1122, but then I came across newer research which put her more likely birth date at 1124. (Andrew Lewis's article on the birth date of King John in Eleanor of Aquitaine Lord and Lady, edited by John Parsons and Bonnie Wheeler)  You might say two years doesn't make a difference, but it does when your character is married either at 13 or 15.  Two years in this case is the distance between just out of childhood, and established teenager and the description of one biographer of Eleanor as being 'saucy and hot-blooded' (without any evidence I have to say) at her marriage, immediately sounds a very wrong note.  My choice was to go with the new findings and write Eleanor as being married at 13, just out of childhood and at that stage a pawn of powerful middle-aged men, rather than at 15 and a demanding little madam. No other author of historical fiction had tackled Eleanor from the angle of marriage at 13 and it made a huge difference.

There was the matter too of her illegitimate brother Joscelin.  If I was going to write about her life, I had to know about him because several biographers said that she had given him land in Sussex when she was queen of England. He must have been important to her.   I subsequently discovered that no such brother existed and it was a misreading of the primary sources by her biographers.  I wrote about it for The History Girls here. Eleanor of Aquitaine and the brother who never was   Needless to say, I omitted his presence from the novels.

At the moment I am busy on the third draft of THE IRISH PRINCESS, the story of Aoife Machmurchada, daughter of King Diarmait of Leinster who married Richard de Clare, lord of Striguil (Chepstow), her father having bestowed her marriage in payment for de Clare's help in regaining Diarmait's lost lands.  Richard de Clare is known to history as 'Strongbow'  as was his father. Once again, digging under the surface, delving into other histories and talking to excellent castle historian Paul Martin Remfrey, a detective himself par excellence, I now know that in all likelihood, 'Strongbow' was never called by that title in his lifetime. The elaborate stories about how he came by the name (either by leading a contingent of skilled archers, or being able to pull a great warbow that no one else could) is all so much myth and legend.  The real reason he became known in future centuries as 'Strongbow' was that the scribes who wrote 'Striguil', the caput of his earldom were idiosyncratic in their spelling and handwriting and the word became mangled and changed in the Chinese whispers of time.
I still have a warbow in my story as a nod to the legend, but I have omitted calling Richard de Clare 'Strongbow'  because what is known cannot now be unknown.
While researching the same novel, I have also been intrigued to find that Aoife, Richard de Clare's wife, who I had earlier thought had lived much of her life in Ireland, now seems to have dwelt mostly in England and Wales during her widowhood.  Her purported death date of 1189 has been pushed back to 1204, (circumstantially but convincingly enough for me), and I have a whole new set of possibilities with which to play!).

I'm slowly gearing up to prepare the next project.  I wonder what I'll discover next time around!

Elizabeth Chadwick's most recent work, TEMPLAR SILKS, details William Marshal's journey to the Holy Land in the course of which Elizabeth discovered all manner of research details she had never come across before!


Wednesday, 23 May 2018

1968, looking back, by Leslie Wilson

Robert Schediwy
On this day in May 1968, 'Les evenements' were in full swing. Left-wing workers and students together were challenging the stuffy status quo of postwar France; that was all my fifteen year-old self knew, but I was deeply excited. Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the French student leader, had been evicted from France, but rumours were rife that he would be nipping back across the border. In the Quartier Latin, tear gas was swirling round and students - among them my brother's French penfriend Yvon, were throwing cobble stones at the police, or rather the CRS riot force, and chanting (with some justification) 'CRS, SS!' and 'We are all German Jews' (Nous sommes des Juifs Allemands) because a right wing politician had dismissed Cohn Bendit on the grounds that he was a) German and b) Jewish.

I was supposed to be revising for my O Levels, but spent more time reading novels from the library, slipping them under my duvet (having a German grandfather, I had one, ahead of everyone else) when my parents entered my bedroom to demand if I was working. I was almost sixteen, and in many ways rather young for my age.

I lived in Nottingham, and at the university, there were 'sit-ins' and demonstrations, to the ire of our family friend who was Reader in classics there, a gentle, scholarly man. He took me to watch the award of an honorary degree to JRR Tolkien (I was crazy about Tolkien's work), but nothing could be heard at all because Lord Seebohm was getting an honorary degree that day, and students were demonstrating against his involvement in South Africa. I remember them climbing up to the window and shouting through it. I was disappointed not to hear Tolkien, though I felt vaguely guilty for resenting the demonstration, and also bad that I was inside with the uncool adults while the committed people were outside.

It felt as if the world was changing, and would never be the same again. As if people were standing out against hypocrisy and for freedom, and against war. The Vietnam war was going on, and in America students were burning draft papers; also offering people flowers and saying 'peace, man,' generally in a fume of pot. Hippy fashion, of course, percolated down to us, even such girls at my school as were deeply conservative.

Enoch Powell made his 'rivers of blood' speech, and one of my teachers said he was 'a voice crying in the wilderness.' At tutor time, I got into an argument with another girl, who told me she was racially prejudiced and proud of it; others weighed in against me. I argued against prejudice, with nobody to back me up, and the form tutor accused me of being intolerant and argumentative. I probably was argumentative, and I was certainly intolerant of racism. Teenage girls are sharp-edged; they don't see many shades of grey, in general. I was quite sure my teacher was unfair, and I still am.

That summer, in the heavenly, relaxed time after the exams, I lay in the grass of someone's garden, at a UNA youth group event, alongside a Czech student called Jiri, who'd come to England in the Prague Spring. We all knew that Communism was being transformed in Czechoslovakia, and I somehow expected Jiri to be living in the bliss of a new heaven and a new earth, but he was rather stressed, probably homesick. Something about him was deeply familiar to me, having lived up with people who'd been traumatised by living under dictatorship, though it's only now, looking back, that I can see this. He was very attractive, I seem to remember, with very dark curly hair, long of course, because all boys and young men were growing their hair long. Beards weren't allowed at school; they had to wait for university to grow. John Lennon was the template.

'Hey Jude' came out that year, but the summer, for me, was Yellow Submarine and All You Need is Love, and, of course, still Sergeant Pepper. I sang Joan Baez, my brother was keener on Bob Dylan. We sang 'We Shall Overcome' rather a lot.

Meanwhile, De Gaulle survived a vote of no confidence, and our friend Yvon quit the 'Evenements' when he saw the CRS seize a woman student and bang her head on the pavement. I felt a little disappointed and cast down about that, but now I can see his point of view.

Robert Kennedy, Wikimedia Commons
I have no idea where I was when I heard of John Kennedy's assassination, but I do know exactly where I was when I heard about Robert. I was in the kitchen with my mother; it was a lovely day and the dining table, in the next door room, glowed in the sunlight. My father came in and said: 'Terrible news. They've killed Bobby Kennedy.' He said it was a dreadful day because Kennedy had been 'the great hope of the black man in America.' What I can't remember  is Martin Luther King's assassination, which was arguably a much worse day for black people in the States. Possibly this is, I'm embarrassed to admit, because Robert Kennedy was definitely dishy, as we used to say in those days. He did also seem to stand for anti-racism, for the breaking down of barriers, for liberal values.

But Dubcek and Svoboda were still standing up for Communism with a human face in Prague.
After my O Levels, I was sent off to stay with Yvon's family, the Dufours, in France, who had become close family friends of ours; my dear friend Francoise, who'd also stayed in the family, became my adopted big sister. Having split from her husband, she'd come back with her little girl Jeanne to live with her parents, and she talked to me and entertained me and drove me up to Paris to see the graffiti from the Evenements before they were all washed away. It had all come to an end in the Quartier Latin then. I remember streets of earth where the cobbles had been grubbed up, tidy piles of cobblestones, buses of police and tourists with cameras. It felt rather like the aftermath of Reading festival, and I had an overwhelming sensation of emptiness.
The Dufours drove me down with them to Roaix, in Provence, where my parents were to join us for a camping holiday, in the bumper-to-bumper traffic of the annual French exodus. The campsite was fun: all the young people got together to enjoy themselves. One hot, cicada-noisy night, we danced to a gramophone on an empty threshing floor and the farmer turned up, fired a shot, and drove us away. It was on that holiday that a van arrived and sprayed the trees with pyrethrin (I think, remembering the smell). I don't know what the purpose of this was, but I remember the silence the following night. There were no more cicadas. When later I read Carson's Silent Spring, I remembered that, with deep sadness.

My brother went on a language course in Kiev that year; he was studying German with Russian at Cambridge. On the way back from Kiev, his train had been held up for hours at the frontier while trainloads of tanks went through on the way to Brest-Litovsk. The talks were going on at Bratislava, and there was a bad feeling. The Russians were losing patience.
I remember how the news came through of the Russian invasion. We cried. For me, it felt as if everything was collapsing; there had been a frost that had destroyed the hopes of May. The cicadas had stopped singing, and maybe there was no point in singing 'We shall Overcome' any more. My father said it was the fault of the Czechs, who would have got the freedoms they wanted if they'd only been patient. I was shocked to hear him say so, for earlier in the year he'd been saying quite different things.
One of the tanks that rolled into Prague: Gerritse at Dutch Wikipedia

In the autumn, I went to Germany to spend the first term of the 6th form in a school in Traunstein, Upper Bavaria. I forgot all about politics for a while and just enjoyed the food, the wonderful landscapes, learning to talk Bavarian, and my friendship with Gaby, the girl whose family I stayed in and whose class I was in.
It's fashionable now to say that the 1968 generation became the selfish Thatcherites of the 80s. I know a lot of people my age who are anything but (though I was a very young member of that generation). For me, 1968 lit a flame which has never been extinguished, a belief, in spite of Russian tanks, pesticides, the CRS and De Gaulle, that change is possible, though I guess the year showed me that talk of ground-breaking revolution is often premature.
Twenty years later I was one of 62 peace protestors who got over (in my case round) barricades to mark the outside of the MOD with ash (barbecue briquettes) in an Ash Wednesday protest against nuclear weapons. I already had a criminal record for cutting a strand of the fence at the Burghfield nuclear bomb factory the previous year. I was a regular day visitor at Greenham Common. Unlike my 16 year-old self, I knew exactly what this was about; a life for my children, and every living person on the planet for starters; but Greenham taught us all to 'make the links', showing how inequality and neo-colonialism fuelled war all over the earth. I was committed to non-violence; no cobblestones and Molotov cocktails flying through the air for us peaceniks. But I had no problem with taking a hacksaw blade to the Burghfield fence, or to the courageous campers at Greenham scissoring the fence apart with businesslike bolt cutters.
One gets older; one learns to understand how complex things are. Complexity seems a cause worth campaigning for nowadays, where memes on social media are demonstrating how destructive they can be. Truth is another crucial value, and women's rights, which weren't considered particularly important in the '60s. But for me, 1968 doesn't represent a fixed ideology, rather a year when hope blazed high, a year that made me aware, alive.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

A Short History of Mermaids by Catherine Hokin

I've been pondering on mythical creatures lately (too many publisher/audience/bookseller witticisms here to indulge in so I'll resist) and in particular mermaids, largely because I've just lost the best part of a weekend to the very wonderful The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gower.

 Mermaid from The Medieval Bestiary, British Library
Given how much water there is on the planet, it's hard not to wonder what might be down in the depths and it's equally hard not to hope that its mermaids rather than some of the more terrifying creatures that stop me watching nature programmes. From the little one to the mischief makers who lived in Peter Pan's lagoon, the mermaid of Zennor and all the others who flitted through Andrew Lang's fairy books, mermaids were a big part of my childhood, as Ariel was in my daughter's. Perhaps because I was brought up in the Lake District and loved to swim, a mostly human creature who could live underwater, had great hair and wore a lot of pearls always struck me as an ideal playmate.

Our curiosity about these creatures, and belief/hope that they exist, goes back thousands of years, although they have always had a sinister side outside children's tales, particularly among sailors who viewed them as both beautiful and dangerous. The earliest known depiction of a mermaid dates back to the 18th century BC on a Babylonian sealstone and there are mermaid paintings still visible at Pompeii. One of the earliest stories is about Alexander the Great’s sister, Thessalonike. After her death, a legend sprang up that she had turned into a mermaid who would ask the sailors on any ship she would encounter the question: “Is King Alexander alive?”. If the sailors answered “He lives and reigns and conquers the world” then she would leave the sea calm. If there was any other answer, she would stir up a terrible storm, destroying the ship and all its crew.

 Medieval carved mermaid with mirror & comb
This dual and conflicting aspect, beautiful and seductive or siren-esque beast, is a key part of mermaid mythology. Who needs to blame God for a storm or a mysterious wrecking that sinks a ship, when you can blame a malicious beautiful woman out to kill human men in the full knowledge that the Church would happily support your view? Unsurprisingly, as the Christian Church sought to crush pagan beliefs, mermaids were increasingly depicted as vain and lustful, tempting men to risk not only their lives but also their souls. Their iconography of comb and mirror stems from this idea of vanity and mermaids were regularly used as pictorial shorthand for the deadly sin of lust. The image of a mermaid continued to have dark sexual connotations down the centuries and was employed as a euphemism for a prostitute with even Mary Queen of Scots falling foul of it: the people of Edinburgh depicting her as a mermaid when she married Bothwell in May 1567, a few weeks after Lord Darnley's murder.

The reality of mermaids existing was assumed during medieval times, when a belief endured that anything that moved on land had a counterpart in the sea. In 1430 in the Netherlands, it was said that, after the dikes near the town of Edam gave way during a storm, some girls rowing around in a boat found a mermaid floundering in shallow, muddy waters. According to the Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend, They got her into the bat, took her home, [and] dressed her in women’s cloths. She remained, however, totally mute. Interestingly, by the 1600s the story had evolved somewhat. This time the injured mermaid was taken to a nearby lake and soon nursed back to health. She eventually became a productive citizen, learning to speak Dutch, perform household chores, and eventually converting to Catholicism. Little miss lusty turned into a proper woman then.

 John William Waterhouse: Sketch for a Mermaid
Other sightings include John Smith, of Pocahontas fame in 1614, who saw a mermaid swimming about with all possible grace. He noted that she had large eyes, a finely shaped nose that was somewhat short, and well-formed ears that were rather too long and that her long green hair imparted to her an original character that was by no means unattractive. Christopher Columbus in 1493, however, was less impressed,  writing in his diary: The day before, when the Admiral was going to the Rio del Oro, he said he saw three mermaids who came quite high out of the water but were not as pretty as they are depicted, for somehow in the face they look like men. Perhaps his lack of enchantment would have made him better placed to listen to Olaus Magnus, a 16th century writer and cartographer whose map Carta Marina catalogued the many monsters of the seas around Scandinavia. He warned that fishermen maintain that if you reel in a mermaid and do not presently let them go, such a cruel tempest will arise, and such a horrid lamentation of that sort of men comes with it, and of some other monsters joining with them, that you would think the sky should fall. 

What had they seen? Probably manatees or dugongs which have a flat, mermaid-like tail and two flippers that resemble stubby arms. Not a beautiful maiden by any stretch but many 'sightings' were from quite a distance away, possibly in poor light or during storms when fear was high and, being mostly submerged in water and waves, only parts of the 'mermaid's' body would be visible. A glimpse of a head, arm, or tail just before a creature dives under the waves in those circumstances might be just enough to spawn a legend.

 The Fiji Mermaid, Mead Art Museum
By the 1800s, the fake mermaid trade was big business with hoaxers churning them out by the dozen. One of the best known was the Feejee Mermaid displayed by P.T. Barnum in the 1840s. However, your 50 cents bought not a svelte, fish-tailed lovely combing her hair but a small and rather more grotesque fake corpse made (probably in Japan) of monkey bones, papier-mache, painted wood and the bottom part of a fish. 

Since then, mermaid encounters tend to be of the oddly-coloured hair/Starbucks cup/Disney type although news reports in 2009 claimed that a mermaid had been sighted off the coast of Israel in the town of town of Kiryat Yam, performing tricks for onlookers before just before sunset, then disappearing. One of the first people to see the mermaid, Shlomo Cohen, said, I was with friends when suddenly we saw a woman laying on the sand in a weird way. At first I thought she was just another sunbather, but when we approached she jumped into the water and disappeared. We were all in shock because we saw she had a tail. The town's tourism board offered a $1 million reward for the first person to photograph the creature but no one came forward and the mermaid has disappeared. I'm betting she's run off with Nessie.

Monday, 21 May 2018

Your (Tudor) Dinner Awaits by Imogen Robertson



The kitchens at Hampton Court have re-opened and I had meatballs with ginger and cinnamon to celebrate. I wrote a while ago about my involvement scripting the sound landscape for Hampton Court Place Base court and how much fun I had doing it. Once that was complete we moved on to the kitchens and this time we got to use pictures as well as sound. I was hired by Matthew Rosier of Chomko Rosier again, and once Matt had done all the hard stuff like working out the initial concepts for each area we were working on, the budgets and where all the wires went, I got to join forces with him, James Bulley and Kyle Waters for the fun stuff. Researching, scripting and, as we filmed and recorded, a little light directing.

We were providing elements for five areas. The Carpenter’s Court was where food stuffs arrived throughout the day. The Board of the Greencloth was the administrative centre of the operation. A group of senior household officials gathered there each morning to make sure the needs of the Court were being met and accounted for, supported by clerks doing the counting and book keeping. They worked out what they would pay suppliers, what dishes would be served to whom and kept a close eye on all of the money flowing out of the palace, and all the food stuffs coming in. 

Installing Board of the Greencloth


In the Boiling House vast numbers of joints were seethed for the table in a giant copper. 


In the kitchens themselves, visitors can touch the chopping boards to see the cooks preparing the meat in front of them. The special speakers used for this bit mean you can feel the knife coming down to mince the meat and the vibration of the pestle and mortar as the spices are ground. 




On the other side of the wall, invisible fires crackle and the pots seethe, spit and bubble as the cooks go to and fro.

Intensive pot listening with Matt and James

My job was primarily getting into the detailed research with the guidance of the brilliant Hampton Court team, and coming up with the words. The research was much trickier than it was for Base Court - general gossip about historical figures of whom we know a fair amount is one thing, making sure you’re getting it right quoting the price of fish in 1538 is another. What does a 16th century cook say to himself as he’s making a pie mix, stirring his pottage or shredding herbs from the garden? It’s quite like novel writing in fact. You have to find those small very specific details to make a place and a time come alive, and then find a way to make them feel natural.

Filming Board of the Greencloth
I do miss the collaborative elements of this sort of work. Novel writing is a megalomaniac’s paradise in many ways. It’s your world, and you get to run it as you see fit. Film and sound production is a team sport - especially when you are dealing with the complex demands of a three dimensional sound scape and visual field. The technical side of the projection mapping, speakers, media players, loops and channels flew over my head like a cool breeze, but I think the results are pretty impressive. There’s also a particular pleasure in hearing what you’ve written come alive in the voices of talented actors. We were very lucky in our Greencloth performers who handled very complicated scripts with aplomb. As we filmed I read in the lines of the clerks coming to hand over their accounts wearing an odd hat to get the shadows right and the fact I didn't put them off completely is a testament to their professionalism. 

Kitchen Selfie. It was ironically cold.

When we were clearing up after filming the preparation of the meat, one of my take home perks was the meatballs, so if you go to the kitchens and see that dish being made, rest assured it was delicious. 

Sunday, 20 May 2018

The complexity of medieval Soberton (2) by Carolyn Hughes

In this second part of my story of the manorial structure of Soberton parish, in the Meon Valley, I continue my discussion of the various manors distributed across the parish. If you would like to read part 1, which includes an introduction to the purpose of my investigation into Soberton’s medieval past, click here.

Last month, I discussed the principal manor of Soberton, located, I presume, around the site of the existing village. But within the parish of Soberton there were (eventually) six other manors: Longspiers, Flexland Englefield, Wallop’s Manor, Russell Flexland, Bere, and East Hoe. 
Bensted is identified in the Domesday Book, as Benestede, although it is attached to the Droxford Hundred rather than the Meonstoke Hundred, as Soberton is. The Victoria County History, however, doesn’t mention such a place at this location. I am interested in it largely because of its proximity to the other Soberton manors, especially Bere, and I have found another source of information to fill in the History’s gap.
This sketch shows the likely positions of the
various Soberton manors.  © Author

Longspiers
A large part of the estate held, in 1086, by Herbert the Chamberlain was, in the 13th century, held by a Thomas de Windsor, and throughout the 14th by the de Winton family. This manor is possibly, though it isn’t at all clear, the same manor as one called Longspiers. However, according to the Victoria County History, nothing is known after 1384 about this manor of the de Wintons, unless it is indeed the same as either Longspiers, or another manor held by the Fawconer family for the following three centuries. (Exactly where Longspiers or this Fawconer manor were located is unclear. Confusing!) However, in the late 15th century, a manor called Longsperys, with lands in Soberton and Flexland (for more about Flexland, see below) was sold to the John Newport we met briefly in last month's post, the lord of Soberton manor.
In 1544, as already noted in relation to Soberton manor, Longspiers was sold, along with the manors of Soberton and Flexland Englefield, to Walter Bonham who, five years later sold them all on to the Earl of Southampton.
And I presume it was these three manors, Soberton, Longspiers and Flexland Englefield, that were purchased, probably in 1714, by the same Thomas Lewis who had married Anna Curll in 1678.
The combined manors ultimately passed into the possession of Humphrey Minchin of County Tipperary in Ireland, who was a member of Parliament, first in Okehampton, Devon and later in Bossiney in Cornwall. In 1791, the manor that was Longspiers was referred to in a document as Faulkner’s Pleck or Pluk or Pluck, but that name subsequently disappeared. Although it does appear as one of those lordship titles on the Manorial Counsel website I referred to earlier, but then so does “Longspiers”, so it’s hard to know whether Longspiers and Faulkner's P are the same manor or two different ones!
Anyway, the manors remained in the Minchin family at least until the early 20th century.

Flexland Englefield
A modern reproduction of
mediaeval falconry gloves
So, we already know something of Flexland Englefield. At Domesday, this appears to have been part of the Soberton estate owned by Herbert the Chamberlain, which he later granted to his daughter on the occasion of her marriage into a member of the de Venuz family. But it was not referred to as Flexland until the beginning of the 13th century, when it was still held by a de Venuz, Robert. When Robert died, his widow Constance gave to her son John a third of the rents from the estate, which she was holding in dower, in exchange for rents of de Venuz estates elsewhere. When John died, he was succeeded by his brother Thomas, whose daughter Agnes, in 1249, granted one carucate (the land eight oxen could plough in a single annual season) of land in Flexland to William de Cobham, for the rent of a pair of white gloves or 1d. at Easter. How charming!
In the same year William bought more land in Flexland and, thirty years later, his daughter Joan passed the manor to an Agnes de Cobham (what relationship Agnes had to Joan is not mentioned – aunt, perhaps?) to hold for life for the rent of a chaplet of roses. Charming, again! By this time, the manor was called Flexland Cobham.
Some years later, Joan’s sister, Mary, laid claim to the manor (presumably against her relative, Agnes) and by 1316 she succeeded. Nine years later, Mary granted a portion of the land and a pound of pepper to a Roger de Englefield. Twenty years after that, Roger obtained a licence from the bishop of Winchester to celebrate mass in the oratory of his house in Flexland. When Roger died in 1361, the ownership of the land, rents and facilities of his Flexland property seems to have been divided between the king (Edward III), Beaulieu Abbey and a Sir Maurice le Bruyn. Sir Maurice granted the custody of his portion of the lands in Flexland Cobham to a Geoffrey Dene of Chidden (5.5 miles to the north west) to hold during the minority of Maurice’s son and heir. However, Constance, Roger de Englefield’s widow, subsequently forcibly ejected Geoffrey and was prosecuted by him for doing so in 1364. What the outcome of the dispute was I don't know. 
This seems to be the last mention of the manor of Flexland Cobham, its name thereafter changing to Flexland Englefield or Inglefield. Its history then becomes obscure until 1544 when, as we have already seen, it was purchased by Walter Bonham, along with Soberton and Longspiers. 
So, in this story of Flexland Englefield, we have Constance, Agnes, Joan, Mary, and another Constance, all inheriting property and dealing with it in a way that suggests they had considerable control over their own affairs. And a couple of them sound decidely ruthless!
The site of the manor is today marked by Ingoldfield Farm, which apparently has early 13th century origins.

Wallop’s Manor
The estate called Wallop’s Manor was probably in origin the manor which Henry the Treasurer held at the time of the Domesday Book. The Wallop family held a manor here from very early times. In the 13th century the overlord was the abbot of Hyde, and the manor was held by a Richard de Wallop but, in the 14th century, the overlordship changed to the bishop of Winchester. However, three centuries later, the manor was still in the Wallop family, being held by Sir Robert Wallop, whose principal estate was at Farley Wallop near Basingstoke. Robert made a very good marriage, to Anne Wriothesley, daughter of Henry Wriothesley, the third Earl of Southampton.
But Robert was one of the judges at the trial of King Charles I and, although he did not actually sign Charles I’s death warrant, at the Restoration of the monarchy in the 1660s, Parliament denied Robert receipt of any benefit from his estates, and sentenced him to be drawn upon a sledge to and under the gallows of Tyburn with a halter round his neck, and to be imprisoned for life. The sentence was carried out in 1662. He died intestate in the Tower in 1667, and was buried at Farley. In 1661 the king had granted Robert Wallop’s property in Soberton (and perhaps elsewhere?) to Thomas Wriothesley, the fourth Earl of Southampton, and others, empowering them to sell the whole or part of the premises for the benefit of Lady Anne, sister of the earl and Robert’s wife, and of their son and heir, Henry. 
At the beginning of the 18th century, the manor was sold, probably to Thomas Lewis, the lord of the chief manor of Soberton, who was adding to his property in the parish. He was now in possession of the best part of Soberton’s manors.
The site of this manor is marked by Wallop’s Wood Farm, which apparently has its origin in the early 13th century.

Russell Flexland
John de Drokensford,
Bishop of Bath and Wells (1309-1329)
The manor of Flexland or Russell Flexland was originally a dependent of the main Soberton manor belonging to Beaulieu Abbey. In the 15th century, it was held from the Abbey for the rent of a pound of pepper. However, in the 13th century it was held by a Ralph Russell, and remained in the Russell family until the early 14th century, when it passed to Sir John de Drokensford (Droxford), who was the bishop of Bath and Wells from 1309-1329.
In the 1370s, Sir Maurice le Bruyn pops up again, with his wife Margaret, who was probably the sister and heir of John de Drokensford’s grandson, also John. The le Bruyns’ holding of the manor was entailed in two parts on Margaret’s two daughters by a previous husband, both apparently called Margaret (?). But, in 1405, it was the husband of (the younger?) Margaret, Sir Peter Courtenay of Devon, who held the whole manor on behalf of Margaret. She passed it to her grandson, William, Lord Botreaux, and his heir was his daughter, another Margaret.
The manor then seems to have been subdivided and settled on several different people: a William Warbleton and his wife Margery; William's aunt, Elizabeth Syfrewast; and three of his cousins, Agnes Skulle, Margaret Breknok and Sybil Rykys, all Elizabeth's daughters. When William died in 1469, his heirs included a male cousin, but also his cousins Margaret Breknok and Sybil Rykys, and his second cousin William, son of Agnes Skulle. And it was this William to whom Russell Flexland descended. 
The history of this manor for some time after this is obscure, but it eventually fell into the hands of the William Dale of Soberton, whom we have met before, and at length the manor was sold to Thomas Wriothesley, the first Earl of Southampton (again!). 
The site of the manor is marked by Russell’s Farm, which apparently has its origins in the 13th century, and Russell’s Wood, in the east of the parish. It is extraordinary, in a way, that the manor continued to be called “Russell”, and that the farm maintained that name, despite the Russell family holding it for less than a century…

Bere
The remains of Soberton Mill © Author
From early times the Wayte family held the manor of Bere in the extreme west of the parish and to the north of the Forest of Bere. They held it from the bishop of Winchester, and it had a mill, later called Soberton Mill, which still has a turning wheel, though it is not a functioning mill.
In 1561, William Wayte, who owned extensive lands throughout Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, died leaving six daughters and coheirs, Eleanor, Mary, Honor, Margaret, Elizabeth, and Susan, and, I presume, no son. The manor of Bere passed to Elizabeth, and from her to her son, Sir Richard Norton. When Richard died in 1612, Bere is referred to only as a “messuage” (a dwelling with its adjacent buildings and lands) rather than a manor, even though it included 100 acres of land, and it does seem that “manorial” rights, if Bere had them, had by this time lapsed.
The site of the manor is marked today by Bere Farm.

East Hoe
In the reign of Edward the Confessor, the crown manor of East Hoe was held by Ulward (or Wulfward) but, by the time of Domesday, it had become another of the many possessions of Hugh de Port. It continued with the de Ports until, in the 12th century, it passed to the Hoe family. 
In 1302 there is a record of another charming (and rather curious) form of rent, when half the manor was granted to a Roger Launcelevee and his wife Joan for the rent of one rose annually on the feast of St. John the Baptist (June 24th).
In the late 14th century, the lord of the manor of East Hoe was Sir Bernard Brocas, who was a prominent commander in the English army during Edward III’s French campaigns of the Hundred Years War. He was also a close friend of both the Black Prince and William of Wykeham, who became the bishop of Winchester. 
Bernard married an heiress, Mary des Roches, who brought him a residence at Roche Court (now a private school) near Fareham in Hampshire, though the Brocas’ main residence was Beaurepaire, also in Hampshire, and they owned another manor at Clewer Brocas in Berkshire. Presumably, then, Bernard didn’t spend much time, if any, in East Hoe. Apparently, he was a great patron of Southwick Priory, which is six or so miles to the south of East Hoe. The Priory was founded by Henry I in 1133 for Augustinian canons, originally within the walls of nearby Porchester Castle, although it had moved to Southwick by 1153. In 1385, Bernard granted his East Hoe manor to the Priory, in return for the canons praying daily for the benefit of the king, Richard II, of Bernard himself and his wife Katherine while they lived, and for their souls after death, and for the souls of the late king, Edward III, Mary des Roches, Bernard’s previous wife, and the parents and ancestors of Bernard and Mary.
East Hoe manor continued to be the property of Southwick until the Dissolution, when Henry VIII granted it to a Thomas Knight, and it continued in the Knight family until 1619.
A century later, East Hoe was sold to the same Thomas Lewis we have met before, lord of the chief manor of Soberton, and by this time the owner of nearly the whole parish.
The Victoria County History suggests that the site of East Hoe is marked by Hoegate Farm, but an East Hoe Manor still exists, which is presumably the actual site of the original manor. Hoegate Farm is about two miles to the south, closer to the putative manor of Huntbourn(e) (according to the lordship title indicated on the Manorial Counsel website), but which has no record in either Domesday or the History.

Bensted
Finally, I am including mention of Bensted, despite it not being part of Soberton parish, because it sits on the boundary of Soberton – the River Meon – about a mile and a half from Soberton village, and its ownership as a manor includes many of the names we have already met: the bishop of Winchester, Hugh de Port, the Waytes, Richard Newport and (of course) Thomas Lewis…
My information about Bensted has come from a document written for the Hampshire Field Club and Archaeological Society, The manor of Bensted St Clair.
In the 10th century, the place was known as Bienestede, and was a possession of the bishop of Winchester. At Domesday, it was still in the bishop’s possession, but the manor was held, again, by Hugh de Port. Although there is scarcely any settlement now at this location, in 1086 it was a fairly significant estate. According to Domesday, the estate had six tenant households and six slave households, so perhaps 50 or so people. Interestingly, the manor was among a minority in Domesday where the demesne lands (the lands farmed for the lord's personal benefit) were much larger than tenants’ lands and, until the 16th century, the manor was worked almost entirely for the demesne.
Over time, Bienestede became the manor of Bensted St Clair, then Seyntcleres Court, and eventually St Clair’s Farm. The change of name came from the family of St Clair (or Seyntcler, Sencler, Sinklar, Sinkles – there are many variations), which held the manor from about 1160 until the end of the 14th century. It seems to have last been referred to as Bensted in 1558, after which the name disappeared.
What of those other Soberton people who had an interest in Bensted St Clair?
During the 14th century, associations grew between the St Clair family and the Waytes, from Bere manor, a short distance across and down the river, and it seems likely that the Waytes were tenants of the Bensted fulling-mill, shown as Sinkles Mill on Taylor's 1759 map. The mill was located a little over half a mile downstream from the manor house, here shown simply as Sinkles.
From the 1759 map of Hampshire by Isaac Taylor.
In 1450, Richard Newport, the then holder of the chief Soberton manor, was appointed firmarius (a sort of farm manager) of Bensted manor.
Finally, in the early 18th century, Thomas Lewis, by then the lord of almost the whole of Soberton parish, extended his holding still further by acquiring St Clair’s farm under a lease from the bishop of Winchester.
The manor of Bensted St Clair is marked today by St Clair’s (Sinkles) farmhouse, a 17th century building.

The picture I have drawn of Soberton's manors is not, perhaps, as lucid as I would like. I might of course obtain further clarification by reading more widely but, for now, I feel I have learned enough to sate my immediate curiosity. To get a fuller, clearer picture of the manorial structure of Soberton, I could explore other, contemporary, documents. The Victoria County History’s information is detailed but, as I have said, at times confusing. But to be honest I don’t need more, well, not right now. I wanted to gain a general picture of the shape of mediaeval Soberton, and perhaps to discover some of the people involved, and I’ve done that. I have learned, at any rate, that, by the early 18th century, after all that complicated toing and froing of ownership, one man – Thomas Lewis – held nearly all the manors in the parish. However, he died in 1736 and whether he passed his great holdings on to his heirs I haven't discovered.
But, to finish, a couple of thoughts occur to me about Soberton’s manors...
Firstly, I do wonder again – for I have mentioned it in previous posts – what the ordinary Soberton inhabitant made of all the toing and froing of ownership, or indeed whether it even affected them very much. I suspect “not much”, in either case. I imagine it was largely of little concern to them who their “lord” was. They probably just kept their heads down and got on with their work... I suppose, in many cases, tenants scarcely even knew who their lord was, especially if the lord was of the absentee variety. As far as tenants were concerned, their masters were the reeve and steward or bailiff, and their own lives were lived with little or no connection to the individual who actually benefited from their labours.
Secondly, there do seem to me to be quite a lot of manors here in Soberton within a relatively small area. I wonder to what extent they were successful economic units? Presumably they must have been reasonably lucrative otherwise wealthy men would not have been so eager to acquire them. But what I also suspect is that the Soberton manors were, for many of the owners, not their main, or even a major, source of income. To what extent the owners, especially those higher up in the social hierarchy, spent any time in their little Soberton manors is anybody’s guess. One suspects that the answer is, not much!
Although I do like to think that perhaps Thomas Lewis might have been the exception…