January 31st Brexit Addendum

A point I wanted to make earlier about Brexit is on British/English exceptionalism.

When I was at school we were taught the history of ‘This Island Story’, something that is hardly mentioned in the 21st Century. But it was part of the Imperial story of the British Empire and distanced ourselves from Europe.

Britain first was at a distance from Europe when the landbridge that is now called Doggerland was swept away by rising meltwater in about 8,000 years BP and made us an Island.

As farming spread from Asia Minor it took an extra hundred years to bridge the Channel.

The most interesting difference is at the end of the Roman period. When the western part of the Roman Empire fell in the 5th Century, it was taken over by Germanic Kings. The Franks in France and Germany; the Anglo Saxons etc in England; the Lombards in Italy and Goths, Visigoths, Vandals in Spain (and N. Africa).

On the mainland the German Kings became native and the Latin language, and Christian religion maintained a strong tradition of Roman law and culture. French, Italian, Spanish,Roumanian are all romance languages based on Latin.

But cross the Channel to England and our German Kings didn’t adopt the Latin language and indeed the Celtic dialect of Brittonic (except of course in Wales), and changed the religion to pagan. So English culture is Germanic and not Roman.

So we do not have a foundation in Latin culture and Roman law.

In the 16th Century Britain further turned from Catholic Culture. But the next really significant difference was the changes instituted by Napoleon as he subdued and changed and to an extent rationalised and liberalised the continent with dreams of creating United Europe of Nations (in contrast to the Empires that held sway (such as the Holy Roman Empire, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire https://www.napoleon-series.org/research/napoleon/c_unification)

Most legal systems in Europe are based on Roman Law as amended by the Napoleonic code. England by contrast is based on the Common Law.

So these differences combined with our arrogance of Empire, the Industrial Revolution and belief we won World War 2 (not to mention our pride in Shakespeare, Newton and Darwin etc etc) probably lay behind ‘British Exceptionalism’ which led to the misguided belief that we are held back by Europe despite all the evidence to the contrary.

Here is a disillusioned Tory party donor who believes Brexit is a ‘complete disaster…. and total lies.’ And here an economic assessment.

And what is, in some ways, worse is that the government is planning a Bonfire of the EU Regulations. Rees-Moog is responsible to this obscene anti-democratic Bill presented to the House of Commons. He sees it as getting rid of a whole raft of EU regulations that have entered our legal system during our 40 years of membership of the EU.

He claims anyone who opposes his bill is reopening the Brexit debate. This is a natural autocrat’s lie. Brexit was presented as ‘bringing back control to the people and to Parliament’. What this Bill is, is bringing massive power back to Ministers in the Government. All these European regulations will be examined by Ministers and their departments, and THEY decide what to drop and what to not. European Regulations govern of lot of our laws on work, farming and industry and much more. If the Minister decides he does not like a regulation HE or SHE can get rid of it. It does not need parliament to approve it, nor an election. There is not enough time or resources put to this for proper scrutiny by the Department’s Civil Servants, nor the Government, and none for Parliament.

It is an outrage to my mind, and shows that people like Rees-Moog have really been trying to turn Britain into a de-regulated economy for the benefit of people like himself with very little thought for the health of our democracy.

January 31st Brexit Day


On this day, 2021, the United Kingdom, formally left the European Union.

I remember vividly the morning the referendum result was announced. We were all in Glasgow for my daughter’s Graduation, and we all burst into tears.

So how is it going? Just look at the graph above, exports down 7.7% compared to other advantaged economies since 2018.

Support for Brexit has gone right down. 51% think it was a mistake, 31% think it was the right decision.  We all guffaw when someone says ‘Brexit Opportunities’ and think Jacob Rees Moog  a throw back to the Age of Empire. (I’m being polite).

I’ve long seen the parallels with the Decline and Fall of Roman Britain.  In AD 407, Britain threw off Roman rule and took independent control.  We had 4 leaders of no great distinction in a short span. Seem familiar?

Reconstruction of Dark Age London Bridge
London in the 5th Century Reconstruction painting.

Then we wrote, in AD 410, a letter to the Emperor Honourius asking him to take us back.  He said ‘Sorry, pals, the Goths are at the gates of Rome, but you can raise your own Armies to defend yourself.’

Now, the archaeology of this period is very difficult so it’s hard to know what happened in detail.  But we do know that coins went out of circulation, pottery manufacture ceased in Britain and Roman Towns declined dramatically. 

My friend, Oxford Professor Bryan Ward-Perkins, to wrote a book on the Decline of the Roman Empire in which he says that we next reached the level of international trade achieved at the height of the Roman Empire in 1500. 1000 years after the fall of Rome.

It would seem that the destruction of a free trade zone is a disastrous choice.

The second example would be when Henry VIII took Britain out of Christendom as Parliament adopted Protestantism.  The auguries are much better here despite the worst destruction of cultural heritage in England’s history.  It can be argued that the selling off of the one third of the land of the kingdom owned by the monasteries boosted the gentry and broadened the elite to include a more entrepreneurial class.

Also, the downside in terms of turning our back on Europe wasn’t so destructive because Catholic Europe wasn’t a free trade zone, and much of Northern Europe was protestant.

The other possible parallels are the Napoleonic War and World War 1 and 2. I think two major exceptions figure here. Firstly, the UK was a global trading nation and Empire which made it much less dependent on trade with Europe. Secondly, the economy was on a war footing so lost production was more than compensated for.

I’ve been writing these last two posts from Homerton Hospital where I am awaiting discharge after hernia surgery. Not too painful and I mention it just to remind everybody what a marvelous job the NHS does. What happens is that Labour Governments boost spending to a reasonable level while the Conservatives squeeze the NHS to unsustainable levels.

10 years of austerity followed by Covid and Ukraine have brought parts of the NHS to their knees, in particular the ambulance services.

So, yes, the country cannot trust a conservative government with the NHS, but perhaps another question has to be asked. Can the country trust a system that cannot trust 1 of its 2 main governing parties?

But maybe, we need not worry because this is by far and away, the worst government, most incompetent, most corrupt, most cruel, least able to plan, least respected of any government I have seen in my life time. Maybe we will soon see the back of them?

January 30 1649 Execution of King Charles I

To Royalists he was a martyr of the Church of England, a defender of the faith and the state. Every year on this day the Sealed Knot society, dedicated to dressing up and preserving Charles’ memory, have a parade in Whitehall to remember his beheading.

I led a Charles I Memorial Walk once upon a time. Stopping behind a parade of re-enactors I remember thinking a friend of mine would really like this. I then discovered he was standing right in front of me dressed in full Cavalier regalia! I’m guessing my unconscious mind spotted him.

To the Parliamentarians Charles was a murderer and traitor who started the whole thing by ruling without parliament and stretching the unwritten constitution beyond it’s normal bounds. He also tried to take the Church of England move towards an Anglo-Catholic direction.

As he could not call on normal tax raising methods without the sanction of Parliament he managed to annoy most sections of society with unorthodox fund raising methods. He charged fees for those offered knighthoods; abused the income making possibilities of ‘caring’ for wards of court; sold off monopolies on trade goods to the highest bidder amongst many other methods.

The most far reaching financial abuse was his method of forced loans. Rich people were asked to make loans to the Crown, and if they refused they could be imprisoned. This was tested in the House of Lord’s which found that the King’s prerogative allowed this.

So, if the king no longer needed to call Parliament to raise money; and could imprison people merely on the King’s say so, then Britain’s much vaunted parliamentary and legal systems were at an end. Magna Carta itself was essentially set aside.

Add a festering religious element and it it was clear an existential struggle was inevitable.

Through the years of Civil War Parliament’s position strengthened as they held the main industrial and commercial towns, particularly London. While the kings capital was a diminishing asset as the gold and silver plate were melted down.

The Cavaliers had an inflexible rank based military system while Cromwell put in a system based rather on merit and belief.

As Parliament’s victory seemed clear, Cromwell could not find a settlement supported by the nation. He was a conservative landowner, leading an army of radicals. Cromwell wanted to force the King to a compromise, but he found he could not trust the King or his son, who undermined negotiations by continuing talks with the French, the Scots, or the Irish.

Cromwell, devoutly believing he was doing God’s will would not do what most leaders had done in the past: have the old King quietly murdered (Richard II, Henry VI, Princes in the Tower). So, he had a special commission set up to try the King. Noone wanted to sit on it but it duly met and found the King guilty.

On January 30th 1648, (until 1752, and the advent of the Gregorian Calendar, the year changed at Epiphany so Charles though he was dying in 1648 we think he died in 1649) he was taken to Inigo Jones magnificent Banqueting House, under Reuben’s Ceiling showing the apotheosis of his father King James I. He walked out to a balcony where thousands of people gathered to see his death. People were clinging to roofs: Samuel Pepys was there to say good riddance.

The King seemed to have been wearing 2 white silk shirts, as two bloodstained shirts of his are claimed. (One conserved by my partner at the time). It is suggested he did not want people to mistake a shiver of cold with a tremble of fear.

There was a dull thud followed by a dull groan and the deed was done.

January 28th In Season

Rosemary flowering in december
Rosemary flowering in my garden

Wild Greens: Chickweed, hairy bittercress, dandelion leaves, sow thistle, wintercress

Vegetables: Forced Rhubarb, purple sprouting broccoli, carrots, brussels sprouts, turnips, beetroot, spinach, kale, chard, leeks, Jerusalem artichokes, lettuces, chicory, cauliflowers, cabbages, celeriac, swedes

Herbs: Winter savory, parsley, chervil, coriander, rosemary, bay, sage

Cheeses: Stilton, Lanark Blue

(from the Almanac by Lia Leendertz)

Mystery of Roman Concrete Solved?

Image credits: Concrete Interior or the Pantheon, FLICKR / CC BY-SA 2.0

The Society of Antiquaries Salon Newsletter has a fascinating report on an analysis of the virtues of Roman Concrete. Working as an archaeologist in the City of London, Roman concrete (opus signinum and opus caementicium) has long been a fascinating subject upon which I have pontificated (without a huge amount of research).

I first came across it at the GPO site just north of St Paul’s Cathedral and what I remember is the contrast to the sandy mortar of 10th/11th Century St Nicholas Church which we were also excavating.

Roman cement, which was pink, was incredibly hard. Medieval mortar was yellow and soft. You could successfully get through the medieval stuff with a trowel or, if you had to, with your finger nail. But opus signinum required a kango pneumatic drill. Properly, signinum has fragments of pottery bonded into the concrete, but we also found it used without inclusions.

Roman Cemement – Opus Signinum

According to the 10 Books of Architecture by Vitruvius (Marcus Vitruvius Pollio) it should be made using volcanic ash which outcropped around Rome and Naples. Without volcanic ash in Britain, the Romans ground down tiles/bricks and added it to lime and sand to make a very effective cement. It was often then ‘reinforced’ by using a mixture of cement and rubble limestone in the core of a wall.

As medieval Londoners dug under the City during building work or while digging pits, they often struck unlucky by hitting some rock-hard Roman foundations. The legend spread that the Roman cement was so hard because it was made of a magical formula that contained Bull’s Blood. (It was also normally said to be built by Julius Caesar!)

The Roman cement was also made in a water-proof version, allowing Roman amphitheatres to be flooded for naval re-enactments. All proper Roman archaeologists have also paid homage by going to Rome to see the totally amazing domed roof of the Pantheon, commissioned by Augustus’ right hand man Marcus Agrippa. Marcus Agrippa (27 BC – 14 AD).

So, this article by the Salon gives some explanation as to how the concrete vault of the Pantheon roof can have stayed up for 2,000 years and defied inevitable cracking. I have copied it word for word, (I did once ask if they minded and they said no) but also give a link to the original below.

By the way, the GPO site was a landmark in Roman Archaeology because it completely changed the view of early Roman London when we discovered densely occupied Roman houses, a long way outside of the area thought to be the core of the early City. And Vitruvius’s book on architecture is well worth reading. I might add a sample tomorrow?. Finally, I remember reading that when the Custom House in London suffered a collapse after only a few years, it was rebuilt by Robert Smirke (who also bulit the Classical British Museum building) using a new formulae for cement was is said to be the first concrete in Britain to surpass the quality of the Roman original.


Analysis of Roman Concrete Reveals Self-Healing Properties

Many of us will have stood in the Pantheon in Rome and wondered how this beautiful structure can still be standing today. It is the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world, built under the emperor Hadrian in 126 AD. Researchers have recently been analysing the content and technique of mixing Roman concrete to identify why it has lasted so long and they may have uncovered its secret.

Admir Masic, Professor of civil and environmental engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, led the research project, working with Harvard University. In his paper published in Science Advances, Masic explains that Roman concrete contains millimetre-scale white lumps known as lime clasts, which may have helped seal up cracks, formed over time.

The Romans made concrete by made by mixing lumps of volcanic rock and other aggregates, together with a mortar such as volcanic ash, a source of lime (calcium oxide) and water. The lime clasts found were ‘porous with cracks’ and had most likely been formed at a high temperature in a low water environment. This suggests the quicklime was not mixed with water before it was added to the other ingredients as is the case in modern concrete, but was mixed with the ash and aggregates first. This ‘hot mixing’ produces heat, which helps set the concrete and reduces the water content around the lime clasts.

This means that, if subsequently, water seeps into the Roman concrete, it will dissolve the calcium carbonate and form new calcite as it passes through the lime clasts, which will help to seal up any cracks that have formed. Indeed, cracks filled with recently formed calcium carbonate have been found in Roman concrete.

Masic and his team tested this theory out by creating chunks of Roman-style concrete, containing cracks 0.5mm wide. They ran water over the concrete and in the samples containing lime clasts, within two weeks, the cracks sealed over with newly-formed calcite. Control samples of the concrete made without the lime clasts, did not seal.

Masic believes modern construction techniques could learn something from the Romans; ‘Roman-inspired approaches, based for example on hot mixing, might be a cost-effective way to make our infrastructure last longer through the self-healing mechanisms we illustrate in this study.’ An added bonus is that the development of a more resilient concrete ‘could help reduce the environmental impact of cement production, which currently accounts for about 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions’.

Image credits: Concrete Interior or the Pantheon, FLICKR / CC BY-SA 2.0′

January 27th – Holocaust Memorial Day

Today is also the Roman Festival of Castor and Pollux. (more on that on 15th July at the other festival of the Dioscuri.

photo of The Kindertransport statue, Liverpool Street Station, London 2006 by Frank Meisler and Arie Oviada.
The Kindertransport statue, Liverpool Street Station, London 2006 by Frank Meisler and Arie Oviada photo by K Flude

The statue commemorates the arrival of Jewish children by train (1938/9) in the Kindertransport, send by parents desperate to save their children from fascist genocide in Germany and Austria. The children were unaccompanied and, in the statue, stand proud as they arrive in a strange country. The children have tags on their clothes and the train track represents both the trains to the death camps and the train to safety. For more photos and information: talkingbeautifulstuff.com

Montaillou by Emmanual Le Roy Ladurie

On the subject of prejudice, genocide and abuse of power, I was reminded of one of the formative reads of my life. I met the great Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie at dinner at my father-in-law’s house in the 1980s. I was awestruck because Montaillou was one of the early histories ‘from below’, where the focus was not on events, dates, battles, kings, queens nor of the flux of states and empires, but on the lives (and deaths) of ordinary people. Something that has continued as a focus of my historical interest. I had never before imagined that medieval lives could be so minutely brought to life. The book was a sensation selling over a quarter of a million copies. Professor Ladurie became a media star and it remains one of the great historical reads. (Of course, the book and the historiography now attracts some criticism but do read it!)

The context of the story is appalling. In 1208 the Pope decided to launch a crusade against heretics in the South of France. The Cathars, as revealed under interrogation by the Cathodic Inquisition, had many unorthodox and heretical ideas, believing in a Good God and an Evil God, and that we are all angels trapped in this terrible world by the Evil God. Women and men were equal and could be reincarnated into each other’s bodies, awaiting the time they became become ‘perfect’ and released to their spiritual form for eternity.

The Crusade and Inquisition that followed were savage, with many thousand slaughtered. At the massacre at Beziers, for example, 22 July 1209, the Catholic forces led by Arnaud-Amaury, a Cistercian abbot and commander battered down the doors of St Mary Magdalene to get at the refugees inside. The commander was asked how the soldiers could separate the Catholics from the Cathars. He is said to have replied Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius—”Kill them all, the Lord will recognise His own”.

All 7,000 men, women and children seeking sanctuary were killed. Thousands more in the town were mutilated, blinded, dragged behind horses, used for target practice and massacred. Arnaud-Amaury wrote to Pope Innocent III

“Today your Holiness, twenty thousand heretics were put to the sword, regardless of rank, age, or sex.”

But, reading Montaillou is a pleasure because it brings those persecuted souls back to life in all their human glory. It is also a reminder that it is by intolerance and ‘othering’ of normal homo sapiens that allows the conditions for evil to flourish.

January 24 – 26 Sementivae Dies – the Days of Sowing

Victoria and Albert Museum” by Nick Garrod, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. First V&A Director, Sir Henry Cole to the left of the picture.

Paganalia, also known as Sementivae, was a festival dedicated to seed, to Ceres (from who we get the word cereal) and also the Earth Goddess of your choice Tellus, Demeter, Cybele, Gaia, Rhea etc.. Ceres can be seen on the top left roundel resting on the Globe on the marvellous Ceramic Staircase at the V&A, and in my slightly out of focus photograph below.

Ceres represented Agriculture, Mercury Commerce, and Vulcan Industry. Old Photo by the Author. To be honest in real life it looks a little more like my photo than the gorgeous photo above!

To create life we need earth for nurture and seeds for fertility. And so into the cold dead world of January the Romans created a festival of sowing. It had two parts one presided over by Mother Earth (Tellus) and the other by Ceres, the Goddess of Corn. The actual day of the festival (aka Paganalia) was chosen not by rote on a set day of the calendar but by the priests dependent upon the weather, as there is no point sowing seeds in terrible weather conditions. I’m assuming the Priests took professional advice!

On the 24th-26th January Tellus prepared the soil, and in early February seeds were sown under the aegis of Ceres. Tellus Mater (also Terra Mater) was known as Gaia to the Greeks. Gaia was chosen by James Lovelock & Lynn Margulis in the 1970s as the face of their Gaia hypothesis.

To me, the importance of the idea is not a scientific principle that environments co-evolve with the organisms within them but as a personification of our world a complex living ecosystem that we have to care for. Gaia exists as a series of feedback loops, and she will spit us out unless we can control our appetites to live in balance with our alma mater.

This is what Ovid has to say about Sementavia in ‘Fasti’ ( www.poetryintranslation.com )

Book I: January 24

I have searched the calendar three or four times,
But nowhere found the Day of Sowing:
Seeing this the Muse said: That day is set by the priests,
Why are you looking for moveable days in the calendar?
Though the day of the feast ís uncertain, its time is known,
When the seed has been sown and the land ís productive.
You bullocks, crowned with garlands, stand at the full
Your labour will return with the warmth of spring.
Let the farmer hang the toil-worn plough on its post:
The wintry earth dreaded its every wound.

Steward, let the soil rest when the sowing is done,
And let the men who worked the soil rest too.
Let the village keep festival: farmers, purify the village,
And offer the yearly cakes on the village hearths.
Propitiate Earth and Ceres, the mothers of the crops,
With their own corn, and a pregnant sow ís entrails.
Ceres and Earth fulfil a common function:
One supplies the chance to bear, the other the soil.
Partners in toil, you who improved on ancient days
Replacing acorns with more useful foods,
Satisfy the eager farmers with full harvest,
So they reap a worthy prize from their efforts.
Grant the tender seeds perpetual fruitfulness,
Don’t let new shoots be scorched by cold snows.
When we sow, let the sky be clear with calm breezes,
Sprinkle the buried seed with heavenly rain.
Forbid the birds, that prey on cultivated land,
To ruin the cornfields in destructive crowds.
You too, spare the sown seed, you ants,
So you’ll win a greater prize from the harvest.

Reconstruction of Dark age London

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January 25th Burn’s Night

Edinburgh Writer’s Museum ‘Burns Monument from Campbell’s Close Canongate by John Bell

Burns Night is an increasingly important date on the calendar of Scotland’s Cultural Heritage. Wikipedia says it began ‘at Burns Cottage in Ayrshire by Burns’s friends, on 21 July 1801′ 5 years after his death. It is now celebrated around the world, and makes it clear how important Robert Burns is to a sense of an independent and proud country.

Burns himself was modest about his attainments. He said, in his introduction to the Commonplace Book:

‘As he was but little indebted to scholastic education, and bred at a plough-tail, his performance must be strongly tinctured with his unpolished rustic way of life. ‘

Address to a Haggis

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great Chieftain o’ the Puddin-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang ‘s my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o’ need,
While thro’ your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see Rustic-labour dight,
An’ cut ye up wi’ ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

(for the other five verses have a wee lookie here)

The Writer’s Museum

Often bypassed by the tourists on a visit to the wonderful City of Edinburgh is the Writer’s Museum. It is in one of those wonderful Tower houses which seem unique to the High Street in Edinburgh, and provides a great introduction to the great writers of Scotland.

Is it not strange’ wrote philosopher David Hume in 1757 ‘that a time when we have lost our Princes, our Parliament, Independent Government …..that we shou’d really be the people most distinguish’d for literature in Europe?’ (Museum display panel)

Edinburgh Writer’s Museum Burns, Scott, Stevenson.
Window in the Writer’s Museum, Edinburgh by K Flude
Writer’s Museum photo K. Flude
Reconstruction of Dark age London

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January Time for a Good Cider Cup

John Worlidge in 1697 has a calendar discussing the farming year. and this is part of the discussion of January.

This Moneth is the rich mans charge, and the poor mans misery; the cold like the days increase, yet qualified with the hopes and expectations of the approaching Spring: The Trees, Meadows and Fields are now naked, unless cloathed in white, whilest the Countryman sits at home, and enjoys the fruit of his past labours, and contemplates on his intended Enterprises. Now is welcom a cup of good Cider, or other excellent Liquors, such that you prepared the Autumn before; moderately taken, it proves the best Physick.

John Worlidge in Systema Agriculturae, 1697

January 24th – St Cadoc’s Day

S Cadoc of Llancarfan

St Cadoc was born in 497 AD, a Saint and Martyr who founded a monastery at Llancarfan, near Cowbridge, Glamorgan, Wales but also has associations with Scotland, Brittany as well England. His story is not written down until the 11th Century, but it is fascinating and, in its own way, a charming story. The gentle son of a savage, robber King, he was educated in Latin under an Irish priest, and refused to fight on his father’s orders. But lived to eventually convert his parents. He is known as Cattwg Ddoeth, “the Wise”, although his sayings are mired in the forgeries of Iolo Morganwg

His story brings Cadoc into conflict with King Arthur. In Welsh literature King Arthur is a brave but wilful King who demanded Cadoc give him compensation after the Saint sheltered a man who had killed three of Arthur’s men. The compensation was delivered as a herd of cows, but as soon as Arthur took charge of them they turned into ferns.

Cadoc was forced out of Britain by the Anglo-Saxons but eventually he felt he had to return despite the grave danger he would return to. He wanted to obey his own maxim:

Would you find glory? Then march to the grave.

He therefore moved to the Saxon settlements to give spiritual succour to the native British Christians who had survived the massacres of the pagan Saxons. He met his martyrdom at Weedon in Northamptonshire where he was celebrating a service when it was interrupted by Saxon horsemen, and Cadoc was slain as he served the Eucharist.

The Catholic Church celebrates him in September, elsewhere on the 24th January.

For more look at https://celticsaints.org or wikipedia.

Reconstruction of Dark age London

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