Sins of a Tour Guide no 2

St Pauls from the Whispering Gallery, Photo by K Flude.

I was in St Pauls yesterday on an exploration of London’s History. My group had headsets so they can hear me talking into my mic without disturbing others. We went in, sat down in the nave to find an orchestra set up in the crossing with a grey haired man, informally dressed, at the podium. I hate talking through music so wondered whether I would continue.

I began my introduction to St Pauls with a piece about Londinium and Christianity. A tremendous universe shattering cord erupted from the Orchestra deafening me. Then a pause, so I continued. I ascertained that my group could hear me, and I continued. I paused during crescendos and to some extent improvised what I was saying to the amazing drama of the atonal music. It was quite an experience and the music was amazing

This morning I had a chance to check it out and it turns out that I spoke through rehearsals of Olivier Messiaen’s Et Exspecto Resurrectionem Mortuorum. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AU7gVYM5bVE)

And the grey-haired man was none other than Sir Simon Rattle conducting the LSO.

I think I have the right piece of music. They are performing in St Pauls on 23rd June

https://www.stpauls.co.uk/whats-on/london-symphony-orchestra-triomphale-gala-concert

I’m slightly shamefaced about it but on the other hand the group really enjoyed both the music and the explanation.

Summer Solstice

Hark! hark! The lark at heaven’s gate sings, And Phoebus ‘gins arise, His steeds to water at those springs On chalic’d flowers that lies; And winking Mary-buds begin To ope their golden eyes; With everything that pretty is, My lady sweet, arise: Arise, arise. Cloten Scene III Cymberline

Arise, O Sun!
Let the Darkness of Night
Fade before the beams of your glorious Radiance

Midsummer, astronomically is here, and summer has started. Meteorologically speaking it has been here since the beginning of June. In Christian London celebrations were at their height on the Church’s Midsummer’s Day, 24th June, on the Vigil and Day of St John the Baptist (23rd, 24th June). Stow points the way:

‘every mans doore being shadowed with greene Birch, long Fennel, Saint John wort, Orpin, white Lillies, and such like, garnished upon with Garlands of beautiful flowers, had also Lampes of glasse, with oyle burning in them all the night, some hung out braunches of yron curiously wrought, contayning hundreds of Lampes, light at once, which made a goodly shew, namely in new Fishstreet, Thames Streets, &c’

Survey of London, John Stow

Bonfires from the night before were smouldering, where the ‘wealthier sort’ set out tables, furnished with ‘sweete beade and drinks plentifully’ where ordinary people could rub shoulders with the rich and ‘be merrie with them in great familiaritie’. There were large processions of ‘Captains, Lieutenants, Sergeants, Corporals, &c Wilfers, Drummers, and Fifes, ….Ensign bearers, Sword Players, Trumpeters on horseback, … Gunners, …. Archers, …Pike Men, ….Pageants, and, poor people in straw hats holding cresset lamps to make a show in exchange for a wage. All accompanying the Lord Mayor, Sheriffs each with their own Giants, Henchmen and Pageants from the Little Conduit in Cheape to Aldgate, and back via Fenchurch Street.

Midsummer was a mix of May Day, Halloween and a street festival with ‘Robin Hood games’, bale fires, the ‘summer pole’ dancing, merriment and pervading sense of he uncanny.

Midsummer’s Evening – June 20th?

A gentle reminder – Facebook post.

Midsummer Solstice is the 21st of June so today is Midsummer Eve, but the Church hijacked Midsummer’s Day in the early medieval period and transferred it to June 24th St John the Baptist’s Day, so on the Christian reckoning Midsummer’s Eve is on the 23rd June. St John was born 6 months before Jesus, hence the June 24th date.

The Eve is so important because the Celts began their day at Dusk, so Midsummer’s Day begins at Dust today, which is at 22:09 in London where I am writing. In fact in 31 minutes.

Midsummer is a fire festival, dedicated to Belinus. His main festival is Beltane, May Day, but many of the attributes of May celebrations and indeed Halloween celebrations are also carried out in Midsummer. His name might mean Powerful One or Shining One, and he is linked to Apollo, one of the Greco Roman Sun Gods.

John Aubrey in the 17th Century writes:

‘Still in many places on St john’s Night they make Fires on the Hills: but the Civil Warres coming on have putt all these Rites or customes quite out of fashion.’

John Aubrey, Miscellanies, 1695

Like May Fires, the fire should be made from wood donated from all farms in the area, and using a range of trees, ideally collected by 9 men and from 9 different trees. Blazing branches should be carried sunwise around the fields to bless the crops, and it was good luck to jump over the ashes of the fire.

To prepare for Midsummer’s Eve remember that it is, like Halloween, an uncanny night when Hobgoblins, Fairies and Sprites, are, like in Midsummer’s Nights Dream, all abroad making mischief.

First in your line of defence is St John’s Wort, known as Chasse-diable, Demon Chaser, Fuga Daemonum amongst many other appellations it could be used to keep demons away, and to exorcise haunted houses. John Aubrey in Miscellanies talks about a haunted London house which was cured by a Doctor who put St John’s Wort under the pillow of the bed at night. Bankes Herbel 1525 says:

‘The virtue of St John’s Wort is thus. If it be put in a man’s house, there shall come no wicked sprite therein.’

Vervain, yarrow, corn marigold, and orpins were also used often woven into garlands, and hung around the necks of cows, or on door lintels as protection. If the St John’s Wort withered the picker was to die or at least endure disappointment. If orpins entwined themselves on Midsummer’s Night, marriage would follow.

A girl seeking love should walk around the Church seven or twelve times (accounts vary!) at midnight scattering hempseed, and singing:

Hempseed I sow
Hempseed I hoe
Let him that is my true love
Come after me and mow

In the SW of England there was a custom to watch the church porch on Midsummer Evening, when the spirits of all the living people of the village could be seen entering the church. Those not seen coming out again would surely die as would the watcher who fell asleep.

Orpine, (Sedum Telephium) aka Live Long, Life Everlasting was valued for the length of time it remained fresh after being gathered. Medicinally it is good outwardly to cool scaldings, inflammations and wounds.

Sedum_telephium by Bernd Haynold wikipedia

St John’s Wort is known for helping with depression, menopausal symptoms, ADHD, anxiety and other conditions.

St John’s Wort Photo by Lex Melony on Unsplash

Thanks to the ‘Customs and Ceremonies of Britain’ by Charles Kightly.

Druids at All Hallows, by the Tower

Summer Solstice Walk, 21st June 2022.

Click here:

Distilled Wild Strawberries – a sovereign remedy against palpitations of the heart

Photo by Sergiu Nista on Unsplash.jpg

The Perpetual Almanac of Folklore by Charles Kightly reminds us that

‘The water of these strawberries distilled is a sovereign remedy and cordial in the palpitations of the heart, that is the panting and beating thereof’

William Coles Adam in Eden 1657

Mrs Grieve tells that it is good against feverish conditions, for the stone, gout and dysentery. The fresh fruit removes discolouration of the teeth if the juice is allowed to remain on the teeth for 5 minutes (then clean the teeth with warm water and bicarbonate of soda).

Wiping the face with a cut strawberry will whiten the skin and remove slight sunburn. Tougher sunburn rub the fruit well into the skin, leaving it on for 30 minutes, wash off with warm water with a few drops of tincture of benzoin (a balsamic resin.

Warning, the remedies are ancient and I have no idea how effective they are!

Druids at All Hallows, by the Tower

Summer Solstice Walk, 21st June 2022.

Click here:

The London Equinox and Solstice Walk

Druids at All Hallows, by the Tower
Druids at All Hallows by the Tower


Tuesday June 21st 2022 7.30 pm Tower Hill Underground Station
(meet by the Tower Hill Tram coffee stand) |


We explore London’s History through its celebrations, festivals, calendars, almanacs and its myths and legends.


As the Sun and Moon move around our skies we look at how Londoners organised and celebrated their year throughout history.

The tour is led by Kevin Flude, a former archaeologist at the Museum of London, Curator and Lecturer

One of the most popular forms of publication in London was the Almanac. It was full of seasonal advice, of prophecy, traditional wisdom, and important events past and future. Different cultures, religions and institutions had their own methods of organisation and celebrations. We explore the varied calendars that ruled people’s lives from the prehistoric period to the present.

On the way we look at customs, and folklore of the Celts, Romans, Saxons, and into the Medieval and Modern period. We look at different calendars such as the Pagan year, the Egyptian year, the Roman, Christian, Jewish, Church and Financial years. On the route we discover the people who lived in London and walk through fascinating areas with their deep histories.

This is a London Walks Guided Walk. Look at their web site for a list of other of their amazing walks

To Book: click here

BECKET PAGEANT FOR LONDON

Brangwen A City Pageant .jpg
A City Pageant in Olden Times’, Frank Brangwen, Skinners’ Hal

17-18 June 2022: Guildhall Yard, London

This looks like it might be fun! I was hoping it would be the full recreation of the Becket Pageant in in 1519 but it a day of ‘performances inspired by the 1519 Midsummer pageant, and accompanied by a Livery Crafts Fair organised by the Skinners Company.’

Further Details are here:

THE SOCIETY OF ANTIQUARIES ON RETURNING THE ELGIN MARBLES (FROM SALON IFA ISSUE 491)

Return of the Elgin Marbles – Talks Begin

(The following is the verbatum text of the Salon IFA note on this subject. My opinion is that it sounds promising but will not happen under a Conservative Government)

Under increasing pressure from Greece and UNESCO, the British government has agreed to talks about the repatriation of the Elgin Marbles, the collection of sculptures which were taken from the Parthenon in Athens in the early 19th century by the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Lord Elgin. At the time the ambassador claimed to have received a permit, since lost, to remove the sculptures from the Acropolis, which was then an Ottoman military fort. The excavation and removal were completed in 1812 at a personal cost to Lord Elgin, of £70,000.  The marbles were bought by the British Government in 1816 for £35,000 and placed in the British Museum.

On a visit to Britain last November, the Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, insisted that the statues currently in the British Museum, had been ‘stolen’. Last week at a UNESCO meeting, the debate centred on whether the sculptures had been lifted from the rubble around the monument or hacked off the walls, using marble saws, as the contemporary documents seem to suggest. The Museum’s Deputy Director, Jonathan Williams FSA said the objects were not all hacked off the building. Anthony Snodgrass FSA, Honorary President of the Committee for the Reunification of the marbles, argued that the state of preservation of t

he sculptures shows the vast majority could not have fallen 40 ft to the ground but were carefully removed and had their backs sawn off. 

The Greek Prime Minister has suggested that the Parthenon sculptures could be loaned to Greece in exchange for other artefacts including the golden Mask of Agamemnon. In January, Palermo’s archaeological museum returned a small fragment of the Parthenon frieze, depicting the foot of Artemis, to Athens’ new Acropolis Museum, on long-term loan. Plaster cast replicas currently stand in the Acropolis Museum, representing the statues in the British Museum.

Perhaps the resolution to this long-running dispute is, surprisingly, to be found in Apple’s latest technology. Recently, Oxford-based researchers from the Institute of Digital Archaeology (IDA), without permission – although in plain view of security – scanned 3D images of some of the sculptures using iPhones and iPads.  A ‘robot sculptor’ can now create perfect replicas, using chisels and blocks of the same Pentelic marble used by the sculptor Phidias in the 5th century BC. The 3D scans were taken using a combination

of Lidar, which uses laser lights to measure distances within a fraction of a millimetre, and photogrammetry, which stitches together multiple images of a subject.

The British Museum had refused a formal application by IDA to take the 3D scans, saying it was already using 3D scanning to reveal some of the secrets of the marbles. Roger Michel, Executive Director from the Institute for Digital Archaeology (IDA) now hopes that the manufacture of incredibly-accurate replicas may pave the way for the original marbles to be returned.

I would be very interested to hear your views on the Elgin Marbles debate, and whether creating an identical copy helps or hinders finding a resolution to the issue. Please do write in to saloneditor@sal.org.uk with your views.

Image Credits: Marble relief (Block XLVII) from the North frieze of the Parthenon, British Museum, Marble relief (block XLI) from the North frieze of the Parthenon, British Museum, Scanned 3D Image, Institute for Digital Archaeology

NEW BROOMS & MAY GIFTS

May – Hawthorn Flowers

Its bad luck to buy, make or use a new broom in May.

Sweep with a broom that is cut in May
You’ll sweep the head of the house away.

To give good luck to a friend leaving a branch of hawthorn flowers on the doorstep. Other woody messages were not so friendly according to traditional verses.

Alder for a scrowler; pear for the fair

Nut for a Slut; plum for the glum
Bramble if she ramble; gorse for the whores

Not sure quite how some of the rhymes work, and it does seem rather at the expense of women.

I’m taking groups around Britain for much of the summer, and separated from my books will not be posting so frequently, which you might already have noticed.

MAY DAY 1

Bringing the Maypole, Bedfordshire. Image from ‘Romantic Britain’

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.

PODCAST FOR A VIRTUAL TOUR THROUGH THE WHOLE ISLAND OF GREAT BRITAIN. NO.5 EDINBURGH

View From Edinburgh Castle
View From Edinburgh Castle

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

To Book:

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