Maypoles were often stored during the year. They were then repainted, and bedecked with May Garlands – mostly made from Hawthorn. The Maypole used in London in 1660 was 134 feet high. Tall straight trees were used, sometimes of Larch, and they might be spliced together to get the requisite height. John Stow says that each parish in London had their own Maypole, or combined with a neighbouring Parish. The main Maypole was on the top of the Cornhill, in Leadenhall Street, and it was stored under the eves of St Andrew’s Church which became known as St Andrew’s Undershaft as a result.
The celebrations begin on May Eve because the Celtic calendar starts the day at Dusk. This seems strange to us even though we perversely ‘start’ our day at Midnight just after everyone has gone to bed! The other choice, and maybe the most logical is, Dawn. Midnight was chosen by Julius Caesar when he created the Julian Calendar. Midnight has the virtue of being a fixed metric. Dawn and Dusk vary and are difficult to precisely fix. Midnight is half way between Dawn and Dusk, and a fixed point.
Celebrations centred around the Bonfire, and for the Celts was sacred to the fire God Belinus, and May Day was called Beltane. Bonfires continued to be a part of the celebration into the 16th Century. According to folklore tradition, the bonfire should be made of nine types of wood, collected by nine teams of married men (or first born men). They must not carry any metal with them and the fire has to be lit by rubbing oak sticks together or a wooden awl twisted in a wooden log. The people have to run sunwise around the fire, and oatcakes are distributed with one being marked with a black spot. The one who collects it has to jump through the fire three times. Bonfires would have been on the top of hills, or in the streets in London.
May celebrations have a similarity of Halloween which was also a fire festival and both are uncanny times when sprites and spirits abound. Hawthorn was a favoured wood not only because of its beautiful may flowers but also because it was said to be the wood the crown of thorns was made from. It had the power of resisting supernatural forces, so was used to protect doors, cribs, cow sheds and other places from witches. Witches, it was said, got their power to fly from potions made from infants. The best protection was christening and the custom was that christening took place as early as possible and normally three days after birth. Shakespeare was baptised on 26th April 1564, so we celebrate his birthday on 23rd April. Cribs would be bedecked with Hawthorn and protection might be helped by a bible, rowan, and garlic. Babies born between May 1 and 8 were thought to be special children destined to have power over man and beast. Weddings were frowned upon in Lent and in May, so a lot of people married in April.
After celebrations in the evening of April 30th, women would go out in the woods to collect May, and to wash their faces in May Dew preferable from the leaves of Hawthorn, or beneath an oak tree. Thinking of one’s lover might bring marriage within the year.
May morning would commence with dancing around the Maypole, followed by feasting, and summer games.
This is the Podcast for the Virtual Tour of Edinburgh
To find out or book for the Edinburgh walk and other walks this week end click here
A Virtual Tour Through The Whole Island Of Great Britain. No.5 Edinburgh
Monday 2 May 2022 7 pm
A Virtual Walk Through the Athens of the North
Borrowing my title from Daniel Defoe’s early chorography, my first Circuit is from Chester to Edinburgh. Now on the last stop on this first circuit we are taking a virtual tour of the most extraordinary City – Edinburgh.
Edinburgh is a very unusual City as it was built on the saddle of a hill so its main street runs down the ridge of a hill and the City falls away on either side. This lack of flat land and restricted space led to the City growing upwards. This gave the City an extraordinary density and an unique atmosphere that we will be exploring.
In the Georgian period the City was extended with the addition of a new town quarter which was rationally planned and made a marked contrast on the old Town. Together it gives the Capital of Scotland, a combination of atmospheric and claustrophobic town planning with the elegance of a City that was one of the great Cities of the Enlightenment.
We will begin the virtual walk in the shadow of Arthur’s Seat at the shiny new Scottish Parliament and walk up the Royal Mile from Holyrood to Tollboth, to the Netherbow and onto the Castle at the pinnacle of the City
So on Saturday the 30th I am doing 2 guided walks and one Virtual Walk.
ROMAN LONDON – A LITERARY & ARCHAEOLOGICAL WALK
Saturday 30 April 20/22 11.30 am Monument Underground Station
This is a walking tour features the amazing archaeological discoveries of Roman London, and looks at life in the provincial Roman capital of Londinium.
We disembark at the Roman Waterfront by the Roman Bridge, and then explore the lives of the citizens as we walk up to the site of the Roman Town Hall, and discuss Roman politics. We proceed through the streets of Roman London, with its vivid and cosmopolitan street life via the Temple of Mithras to finish with Bread and Circus at the Roman Amphitheatre.
Publius Ovidius Naso and Marcus Valerius Martialis will be helped by Kevin Flude, former Museum of London Archaeologist, Museum Curator and Lecturer.
The walk tells the story of London’s myths and legends and the Celtic Festival of Beltane.
The walk begins with the tale of London’s legendary origins in the Bronze Age by an exiled Trojan called Brutus. Stories of Bladud, Bellinus, Bran and Arthur will be interspersed with how they fit in with archaeological discoveries. As we explore the City we also look at evidence for ‘Celtic’ origins of London and how Imbolc may have been celebrated in early London.
The virtual route starts at Tower Hill, then down to the River Thames at Billingsgate, to London Bridge and Southwark Cathedral, to the Roman Forum at the top of Cornhill, into the valley of the River Walbrook, passed the Temple of Mithras, along Cheapside to the Roman Amphitheatre, and finishing up in the shadow of St Pauls
This is a London Walks Virtual Walk. Look at their web site for a list of other of their amazing walks.
By tradition, Shakespeare was born on St George’s Day April 23rd 1564, 457 years ago. He died on April 23rd 1616 at age 52. Cervantes died on the same day. The death date is given by the burial register at the Holy Trinity Church, Stratford on Avon where he was buried. His baptismal record also survives at the same church and is on April 26th 1564. but we don’t actually know when he was born.
Anne Shakespeare would have ‘taken to her chamber’ about four weeks before the due date. The windows or shutters would have been fastened as fresh air was thought to be bad for the birthing process. Female friends and relatives would come round, and the room would be decorated with fine carpets, hangings, silver plates and fine ornaments. It was felt that external events could influence the birth, and any shocks or horrors were thought to be the cause of deformities and anomalies, so a calm lying-in room was clearly a good idea.
When labour began female friends, relatives and the midwife were called to help out. A caudle of spiced wine or beer would be given to the mother to strengthen her through the process. Today the maternal mortality rate is 7 per 100,000. An estimate for the 16th Century is 1500 per 100,000. So most women would have heard of or attended the birth of women who had died during or following children birth. There were also no forceps so if a baby were stuck and could not be manually manipulated out, then the only way forward was to get a surgeon to use hooks to dismember the baby to save the life of the mother. Doctors were not normally in attendance, but could be called in emergency,
Immediately after washing the baby was swaddled. The swaddling was often very tight and could affect the baby’s growth, and might have affected the learning process as movement of hands are now considered very important in the early learning process. Swaddling lasted eight to nine months, and only went out of fashion after Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote against the practice.
Puerperal fever killed many women after successful childbirth for example Queen Jane Seymour who died after 5 days. During these dangerous early days the mother was kept in a dark room, and then, perhaps three days after birth friends were invited to celebrate ‘upsitting’ when the mother was no longer confined to bed. This is when christening would take place.
Edward VI was christened to a huge audience in the chapel at Hampton Court three days after his birth. Licensed midwives could baptise newborn babies provided they used the correct wording and informed the Church so that the registration could be properly reported. Thomas Cromwell was responsible for the law in 1538 which insisted on a parish register to record weddings, christenings, and funerals. The law was reaffirmed by Queen Elizabeth in 1558 and registers had to be stored in a locked chest in the Church. (In 1597, the records had to be on parchment not paper, and in 1603 the chest had to have three locks!).
If the Christening were in the church the mother might not be there as she was expected to stay in her chamber for another week or so.
A week or a few weeks later the mother would be ‘churched.’ This was a thanks-giving ceremony, although Puritans did not like the idea that it could be considered a purification ceremony.
Breast feeding would last a year or so and many high status women choose to use a wet-nurse, but there was a real concern that the wet nurse was suitable as it was believed that the breast milk was important for the babies development both physically and temperamentally. Poor children who lost their mothers were very unlikely to survive as, without breast milk, the baby would be fed pap – bread soaked in cow’s milk.
Yesterday I had a meeting with a couple of archaeologists at Tower Hill to discuss my recent letter to the London Archaeologist which suggests a piece of conservation of the wall was wrong and based on an misunderstanding of the physical remains. To my relief they agreed with my assessment of the wall and we agreed to follow it up.
It is a complex issue and I will try to upload a copy of the report at the bottom of this page. But briefly. at some point in the past the inner face of part of the wall collapsed (the piece closest to the camera). You can see that only the bottom Roman tile courses continue to the camera end of the wall – the ones above were swept away in the collapse on the inner face, they survived on the outer face.
The section just visible at the front used to show this collapse graphically because only half of the width of the tile courses survived (i.e. on the outer face not the inner face.) At some point someone in the 1980s picked up some fragments of the tile and stuck them superficially on the wall to complete the tile courses. This shows a complete lack of understanding of the archaeology of the wall and ignores the collapse. You can just see the end of that false tile course a few feet above the bottom genuine Roman tile course.
Not a great nor important bit of history but the Wall Walk plaque is wrong on this matter too so it would be good to get that changed.
Its difficult to date the original collapse but the wall at the top looks clearly medieval.
What was even more exciting is that while waiting for the archaeologists to turn up I was looking from afar at the section above. If you look very carefully at the wall nearest the camera you will see a few feet above the bottom of the wall a string of stones which are aligned to the Roman tile course and it seems that whoever recreated this section of the Roman wall after the collapse tried to copy the Roman wall but did not have any tiles so did it in stone. This part of the ‘repair’ is clearly different in style to the medieval repair above (although I had not noticed the difference in 40 years of looking at this wall).
I was very excited about this and thought maybe this is Post Roman work, because it is different to the section above which is medieval, and mimicking or continuing the Roman design the Roman. Identifying a pre-Medieval repair to the wall would be, I think, unique.
I pointed it out to Jane Sidell and Jenny Hall, and they were also interested in this finding. Jane pointed out that it seems that whoever did this seems to have been copying the Roman core of the wall just to the left, rather than copying the original Roman inner face which you can see at the end of the wall away from the camera. She thought it was more likely to have been a 19th or 20th Century repair. But we are following it up.
Here is the letter as published in London Archaeologist Vol.16 No. 2 / Autumn 2020
‘RRRRRare Chelsea Buns’ as Jonathan Swift called them in a letter to Stella in 1711.
T!he tradition was that on Good Friday Georgian period Londoners would go to Chelsea to buy Chelsea Buns. Thousands of people would turn up at the Five Fields which stretched from Belgravia to what is now Royal Hospital Street. There were swings, drinking booths, nine pins and ‘vicious events that disgraced the metropolis’. The Bun House was on Jew’s Row as Royal Hospital Street was then called. As several King Georges visited the Bun House it became known as the Royal Chelsea Bun House. It was run by the Hands family. They were said to sell 50,000 Buns on the day. Stromboli tea garden was nearby.
Fragrant as honey and sweeter in taste As flaky and white as if baked by the light As the flesh of an infant soft, doughy and slight.
The buns were made from eggs, butter, sugar, lemon and spices. Inside the Chelsea Bun House was a collection of curiosities. Chelsea became known for its collection of curiosities in the 18th Century. Of course, there was the great Hans Sloane’s collection which was the founding collection of the British Museum, And then there was Don Saltero’s which was a coffee house that had curiosities on the wall. The Bun house displayed clocks, curiosities, models, paintings and statues on display to attract a discerning Public.
Me. I love a Chelsea Bun above all buns, But can you get them any more? The British Library Cafe was the last place I found that sold them. And that was 5 years ago I reckon. If you see any let me know.
The first sunny day of the year inviting enough to eat in the garden, partly because is is north facing, and its only now getting a decent time in the sun; and partly because it was a stonking warm sun. The Haggerston Rivera in the background is full of people deciding that this is the day to get it all out out in the sun. But also there is still a small proportion of people dressed ready just in case a chill north wind arrives unexpectedly.
Its also the death of the daffodils day – at least in my garden. Still a few tulips and even one or two yet to bloom. But the star of my garden at the moment is Honesty, which you can see to the left of the table (an old door repurposed). I first grew it on the balcony and it has now spread down and appeared in three places, and is rather lovely.
Its latin name is Lunaria annua because the silver seed pods look like a full moon, but they also look like silver coins. Therefore it symbolises wealth. It’s name Honesty is said to come from the translucent pod revealing the seeds beneath, honestly.
The book you see on the table s written by a friend from my Museum of London days who has recently published a book on Shakespeare’s time living in the Parish of St Helen’s near Bishopsgate.