A perpetual almanac of the Year. Folklore, Customs, Myths, Legends, Religions, Ceremonies. Calendars, How the year, months, days, hours, minutes work. Who started them. How different societies have different arrangements. Zodiacs, Seasons, Folklore, Gods and Goddesses. Its all here day by day.
Tomorrow there is a 10% chance of snow, in London and 95% in Glenn Shee, Scotland, according to the Snow Risk Forecast. So you might like to try this medieval recipe:
To make a dish of Snowe
Take a potte of sweete thicke creme and the white of eight egges and beate them altogether with a spoone then putte them into your creame with a dish full of Rose Water and a dishfull of Sugar withall then take a sticke and make it cleane and then cutt it in the ende fowre square and therewith beate all the aforesayd thinges together and ever as it ariseth take it of and putte it into a Cullander thys done take a platter and set an aple in the middest of it and sticke a thicke bush of Rosemarye in the apple then cast your snowe upon the rosemarye and fill your platter therewith and if you have wafers cast some withall and thus serve them forth
Before fridges, snow gave the chance for ice cream and other cold desserts. The problem was keeping it for longer than the cold spell. So many Stately Homes had ice-houses. The V&A had an ice-house just outside their glorious, Henry Cole commissioned restaurant. There is an ice house preserved at the Canal Museum, in Kings Cross. It was set up by Carlo Gatti in 1857 to store ice shipped in from Norway. Another one, in Holland Park, dates from 1770 and served the infamous Fox family (PM Charles James Fox etc).
The first ice house was in Mesopotamian, but in the UK they were introduced by James 1 at his palaces in, first, Greenwich Park, and then Hampton Court. An ice house generally consists of a pit in the ground, brick lined, which tapered to a point. Above was a circular, often domed building. The ice was protected by insulation such as straw, and this structure would allow ice to be available all through the summer.
My great-grandmother hung a basket outside the window in winter to keep things cold. On my fridge-less narrow boat, I have been known to keep milk and butter outside the door, and to suspend and submerge wine in a plastic bag in the canal in high summer.
For more on Icehouses and the history of ice cream, see my post from August.
Written November 28th 2022, revised and republished 2023
Gervase Markham in his ‘The English Husbandman’ of 1635 provides instructions on how:
To take Eels in Winter, Make a long bottle or tube of Hay, wrapped about Willow boughs, and having guts or garbage in the middles. Which being soaked in the deep water by the river side, after two or three days the eels will be in it and you may tread them out with your feet.
Eels have been eaten for thousands of years, but no one knew where they came from or how they reproduced. Aristotle thought they spontaneously emerged from the mud. Sigmund Freud dissected hundreds of Eels, hoping to find male sex organs. It was only last year, on 19th October 2022 that an article in the science journal Nature entitled ‘First direct evidence of adult European eels migrating to their breeding place in the Sargasso Sea’ was published, proving beyond doubt that the theory that Eels go to the sea near Bermuda to spawn was, incredibly, true.
Eel Pie Island
Eel Pie Island . Ordnance Survey In 1871 to 1882 map series (OS, 1st series at 1:10560: Surrey (Wikipedia)
Eel Pie island is on the Thames, near Twickenham, famous for its Eels, was home to an iconic music venue that hosted most of the great English Bands of the 50s. 60s, and 70s. The roll call of bands here is awesome. The Stones, Cream, Rod Stewart, Pink Floyd, you name it, they were here:
David Bowie, Jeff Beck, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Memphis Slim, Champion Jack Dupree, Buddy Guy, Geno Washington, Long John Baldry, Julie Driscoll and Brian Auger, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Ten Years After, Chicken Shack, and one of my all-time favourite bands. the Savoy Brown Blues Band. The Nice, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Joe Cocker, and the Who. And many more!
Jellied Eels have been a staple of East End diets since the 18th Century. They were to be found in many stalls dotted around the East End, from vendors venturing into pubs and in Pie and Mash shops. Tubby Isaacs is perhaps, the most famous and jellied eels are still sold in a diminishing number of places in the East End.
My mum loved them. It took me until I was over 60 before I could bring myself to try them and have not wanted to repeat, what for me, was a revolting experience. On the River Lee Navigation is another piece of Eel history which is the excellent Fish and Eel Pub at Dobbs Weir.
This was first published as part of another post in 2022, and revised and republished on 28th November 2023
To my mind, THE genius of the electric guitar, and a great songwriter.
Born Johnny Allen Hendrix in Seattle on 27th November 1942. He was spotted by ex-Animals Chas Chandler (bassist) when performing in small cafés In New York as Jimmy James. Chandler suggested he came to England. On the flight, they decided to change his name to Jimi. He arrived on September 24, 1966.
“It’s a different kind of atmosphere here. People are more mild-mannered. I like all the little streets and the boutiques. It’s like a kind of fairyland”
On his first day in London, he met Kathy Etchingham, and she found them a flat on the upper floors of 23 Brook Street, which is now part of Handel&Hendrix in London. Now, a small museum to the two musical giants who lived next door to each other (if they were time travellers). For the English middle class, it’s comforting to know that Jimi bought the furnishings of the flat from their favourite, the nearby John Lewis Department store. He got his look from Carnaby Street and Portobello Road Market.
London wasn’t an arbitrary choice for a young American Bluesman. The wave of British Bands that came to international prominence in 1964, was based on the almost forgotten (by the mainstream media) Black American Blues legends such as Woody Guthrie and Ledbelly. Bands like the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, and the Animals loved this music, and began their careers playing cover versions in Clubs in London. (For more on the British Blues Revival, look here🙂
Hendrix’s younger brother, Leon, spoke about the importance of London to Hendrix
“He loved England ‘cos it was like Seattle. It was like home. It was the same climate, y’know? And this is where all the music was. This is where all of his friends were – Eric Clapton, The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Brian Jones, everybody…”
He concluded: “After people played, they all went and jammed together. Like, when Jimi played a concert that was only the warm-up… After the concert, he was out and about lookin’ for somebody to play with and somebody’s studio to jam at. They’d just be jammin’ all night ’til, like, seven or eight in the morning. It was awesome.”
Chas Chandler was interested in managing bands, and thought Hey Joe, which he heard Hendrix play, could be a hit single. Hey Joe got to no 6, in Jan 1967) in the UK Top Ten, but failed to make an impression in the US.
Here is a YouTube film of Hendrix playing ‘Hey Joe’.
The Independent website above gives a good guide to Hendrix in London. An excellent documentary on Hendrix was recently aired on BBC Sounds, Everything but the Guitar. To finish off, just look at the bill on at the Saville Theatre.
For details of Hendix Gigs look at the Set list Web site, which shows he performed at the Saville Theatre in Jan,May and June 1967 on his First European Tour, and again in Aug and Oct on his 2nd European Tour.
I have also revised my post on Stir Up Sunday!, which you might like to see.
First published on Nov 27th 2022, as part of Stir Up Sunday! And revised onto its own page on the same day, 2023.
Stir-up Sunday is the last Sunday before advent and the day for stirring the Christmas Pudding. It gets its name from the Book of Common Prayer, which has a verse:
“Stir-up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.’
So, the Christmas pudding was made with dried fruit and had 13 ingredients for Jesus and the Disciples. It is stirred from west to east, in honour of the Three Wise Men, and stirred by every member of the household who get to make a secret wish.
Normally, a coin in put in the pudding for the lucky one to get. My grandma, a Londoner, used to put in a couple of ‘silver joeys’, long out of legal tender when I was young. She would watch us like a hawk while we ate, and claim the coins back as soon as we found them! She would then put them in an old folded brown envelope and put them away for next year.
MJ Hughes Coins website gives the following excellent history of the Silver Joey:
‘Originally a Joey was the nickname given to a groat (4 pence) but when that went out of circulation in 1855 the silver 3 pence inherited the name. The name came about due to the reintroduction of 4 pence coins in the 1830s by the politician Joseph Hume, MP (1777-1855).‘
For some great, coin-based facts! Look no further.
First Published Nov 27th 2022. The Jimi Hendrix content transferred to its own page, and this post republished Nov 26th 2023
Starlings begin to roost in September but their numbers increase as November passes. The RSPB says:
They mainly choose to roost in places which are sheltered from harsh weather and predators, such as woodlands, but reed beds, cliffs, buildings and industrial structures are also used. During the day however, they form daytime roosts at exposed places such as treetops, where the birds have good all-round visibility.
Early evening, up to 100,000 birds will rise above their roosts wheeling and turning in tight formations. Starling numbers have been declining because of ‘loss of permanent pasture, increased use of farm chemicals and a shortage of food and nesting sites in many parts of the UK.’2022 was a particularly bad year but, a count in Brighton in March 2023, suggests numbers were considerable up on 2022. (Starling Numbers Up)
See the above RSPB website for more information which also contains video.
Starlings were sacred to the Celts and were used for divination by the Romans – their augurs scrutinised the geometric patterns made by the murmurations to interpret the will of the Gods. In the Welsh Mabinogian a starling appears in the story of Bran, God-King of prehistoric Britain and his sister, Branwen, who was married to the King of Ireland.
To cut a long story short, (a version of which you can read on my February 18th’s blog post here), Branwen was banished to the scullery. So she trained a starling to send a message to her brother. He took an army over the Irish Sea to restore her to her rightful state, but Bran was mortally wounded in the battle that followed. He told his companions to cut off his head and take it back to the White Hill, London. His head was as good a companion on the way back as it was on the way out, but the journey home took 90 years. At last they got to London and his head was buried on the White Hill, near the Tower of London, and as long as it were there Britain was safe from invasion. This was one of the Three Fortunate Concealments and is found in ‘the Triads of the Island of Britain.’
I am giving a Walk on the Myths, legends, and Archaeology of London, for London Walks on 4th February.
Shakespeare and Starlings
Shakespeare in Henry IV Part 1 has Hotspur, annoyed with Bolinbroke say:
I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak nothing but ‘ Mortimer,’ and give it him
Now if you think the idea of a talking starling is nonsense have a look at this video.
Almost ‘one in three women have been subjected to physical and/or sexual violence at least once in their life.’ says the UN on its page Ending Violence Against Women Day.
In writing my Almanac of the Past, I have been struck by how violent are most of the stories of the Saints of the early Catholic Church. At the bottom of this post, you will find an essay touching upon this thorny subject.
But before you read this, today is St Catherine of Alexandria’s Day, which makes an appropriate Saint for the UN Day. So I have updated this very interesting story and republished it today. Have a read.
Also, buffed up and republished are the following seasonal posts:
Finally, St Margaret is the Saint who suffered probably the most torture in her convoluted route to Martyrdom, and here is a pertinent reflection on the subject, illustrated by a reredos on display at the V&A, in Kensington, London.
Catherine was high-born, beautiful and learned. She disputed with pagan learned men against the worship of idols. She wiped the floor with them, and Emperor Maxentius had 50 of the learned men burnt alive for their failure to answer adequately.
Catherine was imprisoned where many people came to visit her and were converted to Christianity. The most illustrious visitor was the Emperor’s wife, Valeria Maximilla who was, herself, martyred. Then, the Emperor offered to marry Catherine, but she refused to abandon her faith, so he had her tortured. In prison, she was fed by the holy dove and had visions of Christ.
Her gaolers then tried to break her on a wheel, although the wheel broke, killing spectators with the splinters, she stood steadfast. Two hundred soldiers were converted to the faith on the spot. They were then beheaded, followed by Catherine herself. Milk, not blood, flowed from her severed veins.
The persecution in the early 4th Century was real, but it wasn’t driven by Maxentius, who came to power promising religious tolerance. But, following the accession of Constantine the Great, Maxentius’s reputation was blackened. There is no contemporary evidence for the events of Catherine’s life. There is a modern theory that her tale was conflated with the remarkable story of Hypatia of Alexandria (d. 415), a pagan and a real learned woman; The first female Mathematician we know any facts about. She was murdered by a rampaging mob of xenophobic Christians.
Catherine is remembered by the firework: the Catherine Wheel and is, of course, the patron of Philosophers, Theologians, and Royal women; young women, students, spinsters, and anyone who lives by a wheel: carters, potters, wheelwrights, spinners, millers. And, I imagine, Formula 1 drivers.
St Catherine in London
There are several Churches in London dedicated to St Catherine or St Katherine, dedicated to St Catherine of Alexandria. The one in Coleman Street, rebuilt by Christopher Wren and his team, was demolished in the 1920s. There was a Chapel to St Catherine at Westminster Abbey (c1160), the ruins of which are visible in St Catherine’s Garden. I would guess that St Katherine’s Dock and St Katherine’s Cree Church are also so dedicated, but cannot as yet find a dedication for either.
First published on 25th November 2022. Revised and republished 25th November 2023
Thanksgiving is a festival given over to celebrating God’s Bounty. There are unanswerable debates about which was the ‘First’ Thanksgiving but the date of the 4th Thursday in November was set by Abraham Lincoln. It is basically a harvest festival, but was adopted by Lincoln as one method to unite a divided nation during the Civil War.
Thanksgiving today is mostly roast turkey with stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie, with many other variants and additions such as a first course of soup, and vegetables like brussel sprouts and broccoli. Very like an English Christmas dinner, but replacing the Christmas Pudding with pumpkin pie.
As to what the first Pilgrims would have eaten is not known, but their chronicler Edward Winslow noted:
“Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labours; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the Company almost a week.”
So the birds shot by 4 marksmen would have been wild turkey but also other birds such as ducks, geese, and swans. Seafood; Mussels, lobster, and eel were also available.
As to ‘gathering the fruits of our labors’. This might have included onions, beans, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, carrots, and peas. Stuffing might be seasoned with sage, thyme, parsley, marjoram, fennel, anise or dill, The Pilgrims had plenty of Corn from their first harvest which would have been turned into cornmeal, and eaten as a mush if savoury or sweetened with molasses as a porridge, or made into cornbread, or for stuffing.
Indigenous Wampanoag Americans might have been present, but only to investigate the shooting of canons in celebration by the Pilgrims. Relationships were tense between the natives and the immigrants. Some Indigenous Americans consider it a day of mourning; others use it as a day of gathering for the family, but generally, consider images of the Pilgrims and Indigenous Americans sitting down peacefully celebrating together to be ‘a lie’. (Native Americans and the First Thanksgiving.)
First Published on 24th November 2022, Republished on 23rd November 2023
St Clement was a very early Bishop of Rome, shortly after St Peter. Although thought to be a historical and therefore a very important peron in the history of Christianity, his mode of martyrdom is a matter of legend. He is supposed to have been tied to an anchor and thrown in the Black Sea in around AD 99. He is, therefore, particularly venerated by Blacksmiths and Sailors. Others argue that he is earlier than this and place his letter as early as AD60.
Towards the bottom of this post you will find out more about St Clements place in Christian History, but first, lets find out his associations with London.
London & St Clements
The maritime connection may explain the three St Clements connections in London. Trinity House On Tower Hill has been working to keep shipping safe since being founded in Deptford in the 16th Century as:
‘The Master, Wardens and Assistants of the Guild Fraternity or Brotherhood of the most glorious and undivided Trinity and of St Clement in the Parish of Deptford Strond in the County of Kent.
They look after light ships, lighthouses, navigation buoys and licence Deep Sea Pilots. The HQ moved to Tower Hill in 1796.
London has two churches dedicated to St Clements. Both are by early London waterfronts and rebuilt by Christopher Wren and his team.
St Clement’s Eastcheap is on the terrace above the Roman port of London, near London Bridge (which leads to Wikipedia speculation that it might have been an early Roman foundation). And St Clements Danes is where the Strand meets Fleet Street on the terrace above the Lundenwic Saxon waterfront.
Lydia and Wickham get married
St Clements is where Lydia and Wickham finally get married in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. But which of the two St Clements? Wickham had lodgings in the area. East Cheap area, and the Gardiners, who were the only people at the wedding except Darcy, lived in nearby Gracechurch Street. But perhaps St Clements Dane was more fashionable and might be more the raffish Mr Wickham’s cup of tea? (Jane Austen bought her family’s tea from Twinings, just off Fleet Street, where you can still buy it in their shop? )
Oranges & Lemons
St Clements appears in the nursery rhyme/game Oranges and Lemons and both churches claim it refers to them, but as both are by the waterfront, either will do.
Here comes a candle to light you to bed, And here comes a chopper to chop off your head! Chip chop chip chop the last man is dead
I remember playing this as a child. Two children form an arch with their hands and the other children go through the arch reciting the rhyme until the chopper comes down when the hands forming the arch traps one of the children. The trapped child then whispers which side they want to be one, and they leave the procession to stand behind one or other of the arch-makers. I seem to remember we ended it off by having a tug of war between the two teams.
Alternatively, the trapped/chopped children make an additional arch and the remaining kids have to rush through a large space, fearing the chop.
St Clements and the Early Church
A letter of St Clements survives and is addressed to the Christians of Corinth. This letter is of fundamental importance, as it appears to have been written when the martyrdoms of St Peter and St Paul were relatively recent memories. The letter is also important as a counterargument to the Protestant view that there is no evidence that Peter was ‘Pope’. In this letter, St Clement is giving advice to the Church of Corinth as a Pope would. This can be used as early proof of Papal supervision of the early Church.
The letter is therefore worth reading, and you can read a version of it if you follow the link below. I have chosen two extracts from a long letter. (You can read the whole letter here). The first letter illustrates how close to the deaths of Peter and Paul it was. The second extract gives a great view of an early Christian World View. I think there is also very little here that a Pagan would object to? The main message of the letter is to follow the example of Jesus and adopt humility.
Chapter 5. No Less Evils Have Arisen from the Same Source in the Most Recent Times. The Martyrdom of Peter and Paul.
But not to dwell upon ancient examples, let us come to the most recent spiritual heroes. Let us take the noble examples furnished in our own generation. Through envy and jealousy the greatest and most righteous pillars [of the church] have been persecuted and put to death. Let us set before our eyes the illustrious apostles. Peter, through unrighteous envy, endured not one or two, but numerous labours; and when he had at length suffered martyrdom, departed to the place of glory due to him. Owing to envy, Paul also obtained the reward of patient endurance, after being seven times thrown into captivity, compelled to flee, and stoned. After preaching both in the east and west, he gained the illustrious reputation due to his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, and come to the extreme limit of the west, and suffered martyrdom under the prefects. Thus was he removed from the world, and went into the holy place, having proved himself a striking example of patience.
Chapter 20. The Peace and Harmony of the Universe.
The heavens, revolving under His government, are subject to Him in peace. Day and night run the course appointed by Him, in no wise hindering each other. The sun and moon, with the companies of the stars, roll on in harmony according to His command, within their prescribed limits, and without any deviation. The fruitful earth, according to His will, brings forth food in abundance, at the proper seasons, for man and beast and all the living beings upon it, never hesitating, nor changing any of the ordinances which He has fixed. The unsearchable places of abysses, and the indescribable arrangements of the lower world, are restrained by the same laws. The vast unmeasurable sea, gathered together by His working into various basins, never passes beyond the bounds placed around it, but does as He has commanded. For He said, Thus far shall you come, and your waves shall be broken within you.Job 38:11 The ocean, impassable to man and the worlds beyond it, are regulated by the same enactments of the Lord. The seasons of spring, summer, autumn, and winter, peacefully give place to one another. The winds in their several quarters fulfil, at the proper time, their service without hindrance. The ever-flowing fountains, formed both for enjoyment and health, furnish without fail their breasts for the life of men. The very smallest of living beings meet together in peace and concord. All these the great Creator and Lord of all has appointed to exist in peace and harmony; while He does good to all, but most abundantly to us who have fled for refuge to His compassions through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom be glory and majesty for ever and ever. Amen.
According to the Kalendar of Shepheardes 1604, women born on this day should marry at age 13, shall have many sons and live to 72 years old. Men will be merciful, far-travelled, prosperous after early dangers and live to 72 years and 8 months.
First published 24 Nov 2022. Republished 22 Nov 2023.