The Beginning of the Universe as We Know It; Birthdays of Adam, Lilith, & Eve; Conception of Jesus, Start of the Year March 25th

Lilith is shown coming her hair and looking in a mirror
Study for Lady Lilith, by Rossetti. 1866, in red chalk. Now in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art (Wikipedia
Study for Lady Lilith, by Rossetti. 1866, in red chalk. Now in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art (Wikipedia)

March 25th is the Annunciation—the day that the Archangel Gabriel tells Mary she is pregnant. (to see some very fine paintings of this meeting, look at my other March 25th post here)

March 25th is also the anniversary of the birth of Adam and Eve (and presumably Lilith); the death of Jesus Christ; the anniversary of the Immolation of Isaac; the Parting of the Red Sea; the Fall of Lucifer; and, (until 1752 in the UK) the beginning of the Year.

Of course, it isn’t or to put it another way, no one can, or ever could, prove any of these dates except the last one. So what they speak to is the way the Church saw the world as logically structured by God. Christian thinking about the year, the world, the universe, creation, developed over many years and took influences from many cultures. It is also very complicated to work out the sequence, so I’m going to summarise from what I know (or at least what I think I know).

Christians chose Christmas Day as the Birthdate of Jesus probably because it was a prominent birthday already shared with several Gods, but particularly Mithras and Saturn. It was approximately at Solstice, the beginning of the Solar Year, and close to one of the main festivals of the Roman World, the Saturnalia. December 25th might have been chosen by the pagan religions because it is the time when the Sun begins to rise, to the naked eye, further north each day, lengthening the day, increasing light and the promise of warmer weather.

So, Jesus was born on/or around the Solstice, so he must have been conceived approx. 9 months earlier, which would be around the Spring Equinox. I have always thought that the 4 or 5 days difference between the Solstice, the Equinox and the Christian festivals was down to the fact that the Calendars were not well coordinated with the actual movements of the Sun (because the Sun does not circle the earth in 365 days, or in 365 and a quarter days, but 365 days, 6 hours, 9 minutes which makes Calendars hard to align with the Sun). But I have just realised the importance of something I discovered yesterday when preparing my two posts on March 25th. And since writing that sentence I have had another revelation. But be patient.

So, God sends his Son to save the human race. God is a logical being, so she would send the Son at an appropriate time. If the Child is born at or near the Solstice, which is an appropriate time for the Son of the Creator, then 9 months earlier, March 25th, is near the Equinox, which is the beginning of Spring. For many people, Spring is a new beginning, for example, the Anglo-Saxons saw Winter as the death of the year, and Spring as the young Year.

So to the Creation. God, having a free choice, would have created the world at the beginning of Spring. In fact, if you think about it, God creates everything necessary for life at the creation in 6 days, and it is going to immediately spring into new life, and the first season must, therefore, be Spring? Right? So March 25th.

This gives a nice symmetry with Jesus’s Life. Conceived on March 25th, born December 25th, and died 30-40 years later, according to the Church, on March 25th. (the only other famous person I know born and died on the same day is William Shakespeare).

Easter, when Jesus is martyred, isn’t March 25th I hear you saying. But remember, Easter is a lunar festival, so its date varies each year. Births and deaths, on the other hand, are fixed to the Solar Calendar and the Church chooses March 25th as the most appropriate day to pin the death of Jesus, on the anniversary of his conception and the anniversary of the creation of the Earth, and I am guessing that this is also the preferred date for the Day of Judgement.

It is also the Birthday of Adam, and his first wife Lilith (or so some say), and Eve. More about Lilith below. I thought this date was just one of the parallels that the Church liked, Jesus and Adam born on the same day but, I have just worked out why Adam is born on March 25th, and why these dates are not the Equinox, March 20th but March 25th, which has been bugging me.

Let’s go back to the Beginning of Creation. According to the Anno Munda‘s arrangement of the Year, the world was created 5500 years plus 2023 years ago so 7523 Before the Present. And it was supposed to have ended in 600AD, 6000 years after the Creation. So, they got that wrong.

The Creation, as described in Genesis, has the following sequence of Seven Days. As the Creation began at the Equinox March 20th. I have added dates to the 6/7 day sequence of Creation:

  • Day 1: Light – March 20th
  • Day 2: Atmosphere / Firmament – March 21st
  • Day 3: Dry ground & plants – March 22nd
  • Day 4: Sun, moon & stars – March 23rd
  • Day 5: Birds & sea creatures – March 24th
  • Day 6: Land animals & humans – March 25th
  • Day 7: The Sabbath of rest – March 26th
  • For more information www.bibleinfo.com

So there you have it! Adam, Lilith, and Eve were created on Day 6 with the Land Animals – March 25th. Jesus conceived, also on this date, and so 9 months later is born on December 25th. It all makes sense, and aligns the Christian year fully with the Solar Year.

And that, dear Reader, is the very first time anyone has been able to explain to me why Christmas is not at the Solstice, and why the Annunciation was not at the Equinox. Maybe you all know this, but it is very exciting to work this out for myself. And believe me, I have done a lot of reading about calendars and not spotted an explanation.

So that was yesterday’s revelation. What about the revelation I had about 45 minutes ago? (now about 5 hours). When writing items like this, there are numerous things that are interconnected, and I begin writing them before realising I am interrupting the story I am trying to tell. This is often to the detriment of the story arc, or to understanding (although often, I think, adds to the joy of this blog – after all ChatGBT couldn’t write this stuff – could it?).

So I began to write about Dionysius Exiguus and his invention of the AD/BC system and about eras, cycles, and ages. (He replaced the Anno Mundo year with the AD/BC system in the 6th Century AD).

I was thinking about the beginning of the year. The Celts chose October 31st, Julius Caesar chose January 1st, other cultures have other dates, and the Spring Equinox is another choice sometimes made. The Church and Dionysius Exiguus choose March 25th, although secular society also recognised the claims of January 1st. Britain kept to March 25th until 1752 when we adopted the Gregorian Calendar. But people like Samuel Pepys celebrated New Year’s Eve on 31st December. So January 1st was the New Year, but the year number did not change until March 25th. So King Charles I thought his head was being cut off on January 30th 1648; while history books will tell you it was cut off on January 30th 1649. Same day, different reckonings.

December 31st/January 1st is essentially a Solstice New Year Festival. And I have, previously, used the difficulty of keeping calendars as to why these days has slipped out of alignment with the Solstice. But, today I realised that it is as likely that the reason is the Solar/Lunar nature of our time keeping. The year, and its festivals, is largely arranged around the Solar Cycle. But our weekly and monthly cycles are derived from the Moon. So, I think that January 1st (or the Kalends of January as the Romans would have called it) would originally have been the First New Moon after the Winter Solstice. Keeping the Moon months and the Sun years in sync is very, very difficult, and so Roman and Christian cultures gave up and fixed the moon months, completely abandoning any attempt to keep the months to the actual lunar cycle. This is our current system, in which only Easter remains a true to the moon festival, much to our perennial confusion.

Maybe you all know this, but I’ve learnt a lot in writing these two posts.

Lilith

The April 2023 Issue of ‘History Today’ has a short piece called ‘The Liberation of Lilith’ which suggests that the story of Lilith, a figure from Jewish Folklore, is first attested in a Medieval satirical text called ‘The Alphabet of Ben Sira’. The story goes that Lilith is created using the same clay as Adam. Adam then demands she lies below him during sex. She refuses, saying that they are both made from the same stuff and, therefore, equal. Adam refuses to accept this, and so Lilith leaves the Garden of Eden. So the story goes.

The story of Lilith, Sarah Clegg suggests, is one of a series of similar stories found around Europe and Asia. And Clegg assumes that it is gradually modified to make Lilith a demon who will kill babies unless the names of three angels are spoken out loud. So, the story survives as a charm to keep babies safe, and perhaps to remind people of equality among the sexes. But this causes problems for, OK, let’s call them out, the Patriarchy. Lilith cannot be equal to Adam so she becomes a monster, not made from the same clay as Adam but from the scum and waste left over from Adam’s creation. I imagine the story then went on to propose that God creates Eve from Adam’s rib, and so she is created from Adam, and is, therefore nor equal, but subservient to him. Lilith is now a significant figure in feminist folklore circles.

I wrote about more about eras and ages in my post which you can see her: Greater Cycles and the Six or Seven Ages

Attached to the watercolour of Lilith by Rossetti (at the top of the page), was a label with a verse from Goethe‘s Faust as translated by Shelley. (Wikipedia)

“Beware of her fair hair, for she excells
All women in the magic of her locks,
And when she twines them round a young man’s neck
she will not ever set him free again.”

The model is Fanny Cornforth, Rossetti’s mistress. He painted another version a few years later, but the model in that is Alexa Wilding. His models are arguably more interesting than the man himself and include: Elizabeth Siddall, Jane Morris and Fanny Cornforth. Christina Rossetti, his poet sister, modelled for Rossetti’s painting, Ecce Ancilla Domini which you can see here.

I think I might have enough material to begin my own Cult.

For more on the Annunciation, look at my other March 25th post here.

Walk of Socialists 28th February 1887

Victorian lampoon on Socialist Values 'Yes Gentlemen, these is my principles, no King, no Lords, No Parsons, No Police, No Taxes, No Transportation,  no No'thing.'
Victorian lampoon on Socialist Values ‘Yes Gentlemen, these is my principles, no King, no Lords, No Parsons, No Police, No Taxes, No Transportation, no No’thing.’

Socialists at St. Paul’s 28th February 1887

My French friend went yesterday to St. Paul’s and saw a large procession of socialists. It is a strange move of the socialists to visit all the Churches. The Archdeacon of London preached to them from: “the rich and poor meet together, and the Lord is the maker of them all.” A noble sermon, they behaved fairly well.

Helen G. McKenney, Diary, 1887 (source: A London Year. Compiled by Travis Eldborough and Nick Bennison)

The quotation is from the Bible, Proverbs 22, where it sits with a number of other wise sayings. Perhaps, number 16 ‘One who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth and one who gives gifts to the rich—both come to poverty‘ is most likely to stir a Socialist, but generally, I imagine the Archdeacon was also making a point that the Lord made the Rich and the Poor, so there is nothing wrong with being Rich, as long as you are generous to the Poor, and equally, nothing wrong with being Poor.

It’s rather lovely to imagine the Socialists walking around Wren’s masterpieces in the City of London. However, later in 1887, things turned much worse, when the Social Democratic Federation and the Irish National League organised a march against Unemployment and the Irish Coercion Acts. The Police had been trying to prevent the ever-increasing use of Trafalgar Square as a protest venue. So, on November 13th, Bloody Sunday, the Police Commissioner, Charles Warren, ordered a massive police presence backed up with 400 Soldiers. His aim was to prevent the entry to Hyde Park. Among the 10 to 30 thousand citizens presence were William Morris, Annie Besant , George Bernard Shaw and Eleanor Marx.

By the end of the day there were 2 people dead, 100 seriously injured, 45 arrests, 75 accusations of police brutality and many Police Casualties. Warren had already resigned following criticism of the failure to find Jack the Ripper, but was acting as a caretaker until the new Commissioner was in place.

Engraving from The Graphic (published 19 November 1887). Wikipedia describes it as ‘depicting a policeman being clubbed by a demonstrator as he wrests a banner from “a Socialist woman leader, one Mrs. Taylor”, while other people are covering their heads to protect themselves from raised police batons.’ Pubic Domain

Before the Foundation of the Labour Party, progressive politics were in the lukewarm hands of the Liberal Party, which developed from the Restoration period Whig Party. The Liberal Party had a radical wing, but it had a reluctance to put forward working-class candidates. In the early 19th Century, much of the agitation was led by the Chartists, but as their goals became adopted by the main two parties, progressive politics was led by various reform, radical, socialist, marxist and anarchic groups.

I have not been able to find out who led the 1887 City Churches Socialist walk, but because of William Morris’ membership, I am wondering whether it was the Socialist League? In 1885, the Socialist League was an offshoot of the Social Democratic Federation. But it was not a harmonious group. Its most famous members were William Morris, and Eleanor Marx. It included Fabians, Christian Socialists and Anarchists. By 1887 it was split ideologically into three main factions, Anarchists, parliamentary orientated Socialists, and anti-parliamentary Socialists. William Morris was the editor of their newspaper, ‘the Commonweal’ but he was sacked and replaced by Frank Kitz as the Anarchists took over the organisation.

So, without going into a long history of Socialism in London, what happened was that the Socialist groups made very little impact until the Independent Labour Party was set up in Bradford 1893. And in 1900, Keir Hardie, who was already an independent MP in Parliament, set up the Labour Representation Committee in 1900, which was soon renamed the Labour Party. The Independent Labour Party joined and Labour began to take over control of the working-class vote. It fought the Liberal Party for the progressive vote, but it was not until after World War 1, with the decline of the Liberal Vote that it was able to secure minority Governments and not until after World War 2 that it replaced the Liberals as one of the two Political Parties which could win a majority in Parliament.

London was one of the places where the Party experimented with policies that led to the National Health Service, particularly in the East End areas of Poplar, Limehouse and Bermondsey.

My Grandma who was born in Petticoat Lane in 1902, voted for Labour all her life. I’m pretty sure it was out of class loyalty because I always thought her opinions were not typical of Labour voters.

Burn’s Night January 25th

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

First published Jan 2023, republished Jan 2024

On Resolutions. Aquarius & T-Shirts January 21st St Agnes Day

black and ehite engraving Aquarius (detail from Kalendar of the Shepherds)
Aquarius (detail from Kalendar of the Shepherds)

The Sun enters the house of Aquarius

The man born under Aquarius shall be lonely and ireful; he shall have silver at 32 years; he shall win wherever he goeth, or he shall be sore sick. He shall have fear on the water, and afterwards have good fortune, and shall go into divers strange countries. He shall live to be 75 years after nature.’

‘The woman shall be delicious, and have many noises for her children; she shall be in great peril at 24 years and thereafter in felicity. She shall have damage by beasts with four feet and shall live 77 years after nature.

The Kalendar of Shepherds, 1604 (quoted in the Perpetual Almanac by Charles Kightly)

the Author sporting a Betsy Trotwood aphorism ‘Never be mean, never be false, never be cruel’

Resolutions & Predictions

The Kalendar of Shepherds predictions for those born in Aquarius, (see above) are so specific they cannot help but be wrong for most people. The art of the prophecy, surely, is to be vague, be general and to know human nature.

By the 21st of January, we should have an idea of whether we are going to keep to your resolutions or not. And perhaps we should now be tuning them or adapting them to fit our lives as actually lived, rather than on our pious hopes.

Last year, on January 21st, I had a chat with a taxi driver on the way to the railway station after my Uncle Brian’s Funeral. The driver told me that funerals make him wonder how his behaviour might influence the number of people who will, one day, make that special effort to turn up at his funeral. He was a young Asian guy, so he was thinking ahead quite some way.

I replied that ‘Funerals make me reflect on how much time I have spoiled by not being fully engaged in the moment’. All those conversations where my mind wandered, those radio programmes I only half heard as I tried to read a book at the same time, those train journeys, walks in the woods or along the canal while listening to headphones, those visits to relatives where I rushed back to get home as quickly as possible. Being present in the moment was, I said, perhaps, the key to improving the quality of life and interactions with others

We continued chatting through the short journey and as we arrived in the forecourt of the station he suggested we exchange a final bit of wisdom. As we had been talking about history, I turned to Charles Dickens and told him Betsy Trotwood’s words to David Copperfield:

“Never,” said my aunt, “be mean in anything; never be false; never be cruel. Avoid those three vices, Trot, and I can always be hopeful of you.”

Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

I said that Betsy’s words stem from Charles Dickens’ belief that the key to progress in the world was to ignore the dogma of religion but to live by just one tenet: Treat people as you want to be treated by others.

In return, he told me of an Islamic teacher who responded to his enquiry as to how he could be sure of salvation given all the many (possibly conflicting) moral teachings and texts there were. The answer was, if he lived wisely and thoughtfully on his impact on others, he could be sure of salvation.

By this time I had missed my train, but the two of us had had a moment of connection, and there are plenty of trains from Guildford to Waterloo.

T-shirts

Philosophy for life as told to St Patrick by a Druid

I have a lot of t-shirts with quotations from history on them. I suspect I am one of the very few people who store his t-shirts in chronological order. Above is the first, and the last is

“You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometime you’ll find
You get what you need”

Rolling Stones.

End note

Dickens philosophy was based on the broad understanding of Christianity, as expressed in these two quotations:

Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:37–39).

“Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31).

First written on 21st January 2023, revised January 2024.

January 23rd Hawthorn and Planting for Hedges

 Photo by Timo C. Dinger on Unsplash
photo of hawthorn flowers
Photo by Timo C. Dinger on Unsplash

Many plants can be used for hedges, but hawthorn is the most common. It can be planted as bare-root from Autumn to Spring, so January is as good a time as any. It can also be grown from the seeds from its red berries. But this takes 18 months to achieve. Interspersed along the hedge should be trees—either trees for timber, or crab-apples or pear-stocks. Trees were also useful as markers. Before modern surveys, property would be delineated by ancient trees. Hedges could be quickly moved, and perhaps not noticed. Trees couldn’t.

Hawthorn is an oasis for insects, mammals and migrating birds (who eat the berries). It is a lovely plant for May, and it is often called May, or the May Flower or May Tree and also whitethorn. The berries are called ‘haws’ hence hawthorn. For more on this, look at https://whisperingearth.co.uk.

Hawthorn produces white flowers in Spring, and it is one of the great pagan fertility plants, its flowers forming the garlands on May Eve. One of the chemicals in the plant is the same as one given out in decay of flesh, so it has been, in folklore, also associated with death. So, is not to be brought into the house.

It was also said to be the thorn in the Crown of Thorns, so sacred. A crown from the helmet of the dead King Richard III was found on a hawthorn at Bosworth Field, and so adopted as a device by the victorious Henry VII. For more on the plant, https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk

a triangle of stained glass on a black background.
A 'Quarry' of Stained Glass showing the Crown, a hawthorn Bush and initials representing Henry VII and his, Queen, Elizabeth of York.  Possibly from Surrey. Early 16th Century and from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Public Domain).
A ‘Quarry’ of Stained Glass showing the Crown, a hawthorn Bush and initials representing Henry VII and his, Queen, Elizabeth of York. Possibly from Surrey. Early 16th Century and from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Public Domain).

John Worlidge, wrote in 1697

‘And first, the White-thorn is esteemed the best for fencing; it is raised either of Seeds or Plants; by Plants is the speediest way, but by Seeds where the place will admit of delay, is less charge, and as succesful, though it require longer time, they being till the Spring come twelvemonth ere they spring out of the Earth; but when they have past two or three years, they flourish to admiration.’

Systema Agriculturae 1697

Hawthorn is an excellent wood for burning, better than oak, having the hottest fire so that its charcoal could melt pig-iron without the need of a blast. It is also good for making small objects such as boxes, combs, and tool-handles. It takes a fine polish, so also used for veneers and cabinets.

This is the time, according to Moon Gardeners, to plant and sow plants that develop below ground. So rhubarb and garlic, fruit trees, bushes, bare-root plants and hedging plants.

Hawthorn has many medicinal benefits according to herbalists. Mrs Grieve suggests it was used as a cardiac tonic, to cure sore throats and as a diuretic. But don’t try any of these ancient remedies without medical advice!

First Published in January 2023, revised in January 2024

St Agnes Eve January 20th

Porphyro looking at the sleeping Madeline by  Edward Henry Wehnert (1813-68)
Scanned image and text by Simon Cooke https://victorianweb.org/art/illustration/wehnert/8.htm
Porphyro looking at the sleeping Madeline by Edward Henry Wehnert (1813-68)
Scanned image and text by Simon Cooke https://victorianweb.org/art/illustration/wehnert/8.html

I first discussed St Agnes and the Fraternity of St Anne and St Agnes on Distaff Sunday . St Agnes was a martyr who, at 13 years old, refused to marry a pagan, and was martyred by being stabbed in the throat. She is well attested and on a list of martyrs dating to AD345. She is the patroness of young women and of chastity.

Folklore held that a maid would dream of her future lover on St Agnes Eve if she took certain precautions. John Keats use this tradition in his epic poem, which begins with a great description of winter.

The Eve of St. Agnes

By John Keats

St. Agnes’ Eve—Ah, bitter chill it was!
       The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;
       The hare limp’d trembling through the frozen grass,
       And silent was the flock in woolly fold:
       Numb were the Beadsman’s fingers, while he told
       His rosary, and while his frosted breath,
       Like pious incense from a censer old,
       Seem’d taking flight for heaven, without a death,
Past the sweet Virgin’s picture, while his prayer he saith.

Keats sets up the drama with a poetic description of the folklore:

They told her how, upon St. Agnes’ Eve,
       Young virgins might have visions of delight,
       And soft adorings from their loves receive
       Upon the honey’d middle of the night,
       If ceremonies due they did aright;
       As, supperless to bed they must retire,
       And couch supine their beauties, lily white;
       Nor look behind, nor sideways, but require
Of Heaven with upward eyes for all that they desire.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org

In the poem, the maid Madelaine goes to sleep to dream of her love Porphyro . He risks everything to visit the young girl, and watches her while she sleeps. She dreams of him and seeing him when she wakes she lets him in her bed thinking she is still dreaming.

When she realises her mistake, she tells him she cannot blame him as she loves him so much but says if he leaves her, she will be like “A dove forlorn and lost / With sick unpruned wing”.

The two lovers escape and run away together.

Keats lived in Cheapside, later in Hampstead, and was published in Welbeck Street in the West End. Keats was trained as a surgeon at Guys Hospital, but never practised, although he did consider a post as a Ship’s Surgeon.

First written in January 23, republished on January 20th 24

Next Walks

The Peasants Revolt Anniversary Walk Thurs 6.30 13th June 2024 Aldgate Tube. To book
Chaucer’s Medieval London Guided Walk Sat 2.30pm 6th July Aldgate Tube. To Book
Myths, Legends, Archaeology and the Origins of London Sat 6pm July 6th 24 Tower Hill Underground To book
Roman London – A Literary & Archaeological Walk Sun 11.30 am 4th August 2024 Monument Underground Station To book
1066 and All That Walk Sat 2.30pm 9th Nov 24 Blackfriars Underground Station To book
For a complete list of my walks for London Walks in 2024 look here:

Royal Africa Company Founded by Charles II January 10th 1663

Map of the Guinea Coast and Colonial territories
‘Negroland and Guinea with the European Settlements, Explaining what belongs to England, Holland, Denmark, etc’. By H. Moll Geographer (Printed and sold by T. Bowles next ye Chapter House in St. Pauls Church yard, & I. Bowles at ye Black Horse in Cornhill, 1729, orig. published in 1727) Source Wikicommons.

The Royal Africa Company was set up with a monopoly on trade with the west coast of Africa in:

“redwood, elephants’ teeth, negroes, slaves, hides, wax, guinea grains, or other commodities of those countries”

On January 10th. 1663 King Charles II affirmed the new charter for the Company that, above all else, was responsible for British continuing involvement in slavery. Shareholders included his nephew, Prince Rupert, Samuel Pepys, and much of the British Establishment, Aristocracy, and City Merchants. Its headquarters were in Cornhill, not far from the East India Company’s HQ. The company was closed in 1752.

Gold from the Gold Coast was used to make coins, which became known as ‘guineas’. They were originally made from one quarter of an ounce of gold. Below is a sketch of a two guinea coin from the reign of Charles II. Note the elephant at the bottom of the coin.

The guinea was original worth 1 pound but fluctuated with the price of Gold. Pepys records it at 24 or 25 shillings. It was eventually phased out, but it became a posh way of expressing value. Ordinary goods would be priced in pounds, but expensive ones in Guineas. By then valued at 21 shillings. (£1 pound 5 pence). Wikipedia suggests it was used for ‘prices of land, horses, art, bespoke tailoring, furniture, white goods and other “luxury” items’. I remember going shopping with my parents in London and wondering at the fur coats being priced in Guineas. It died out, as a practice, in the 70s.

Sketch of a two guinea coin from the reign of Charles II showing an elephant below the image of the King, referencing Africa and the use of an elephant on the Royal Africa Company of which Charles was the patron
Sketch of a two guinea coin from the reign of Charles II showing an elephant below the image of the King.

There are many sites giving a history of slavery, and the British involvement with it, which I encourage everyone to investigate. But, here, I would just like to point out, how involved the British Royal Family was in the trade. Also, to note that the British education system has emphasised the role of Britain in the abolition of slavery, rather than our involvement in setting it up and continuing it. This has begun to change, and a new generation of school children in London can visit the excellent London: Sugar & Slavery Gallery at the Museum of London in Docklands.

University College, London has undertaken a profound project where they took the records of compensation payments to:

The slaves? No, not to them but to the slave owners! UCL have created a resource where you can click on the streets of London and other areas, to find out the holders of slaves in that street. The compensation of £20m pounds is probably around £16billion in modern terms, and it makes me believe that the least we can do is to fund projects to correct the educational and life disadvantages of people and countries impacted by slavery to the tune of £16 billion.

I have just looked for the closest slave owner in my area of the East End of London, and it is about 500 yards away from me. Here are the abridged details from the database. It is very simple to use. Have a go by following the link below.

Solomon Nunes Flamengo of Kingston, living at Mutton Lane in Hackney when he wrote his will in 1778. Merchant. Estate probated in Jamaica in 1779. Slave-ownership at probate: 6 of whom 2 were listed as male and 4 as female. 4 were listed as boys, girls or children. Total value of estate at probate: £21356.26 Jamaican currency of which £332.5 currency was the value of enslaved people.

Presumably, the value of his compensation was £332.5. Solomon was Jewish, which is unusual for the records, by far the majority being Christian. I chose Solomon to show simply because he was the closest to my house.

Please do have a look at the UCL website:

https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/

Britain began regulating the Slave trade in the late 18th Century, abolished the Slave Trade in 1807. Slavery, with the compensation to slave owners in 1833, was abolished but they replaced slavery with apprenticeship – in effect bound labour. This was ended in 1838.For more details look at https://www.parliament.uk/

Finally, I have been updating, revising and republishing many posts which you might enjoy reading before Christmas and the New Year seem too far in the past!

A Radical Twelfth Night January 6th

‘Drawing for Twelfth Cake’ at St. Annes Hill
’12th Night Cruikshank, Isaac, 1756-1811 printmaker. Published Janr. 10, 1807 by Thomas Tegg, 111 Cheapside’

I used the print above, two years ago for my post on New’s Day (in fact this is an update of it) and I use it in lectures on Christmas and Jane Austen. But I have always presented it in the context of explaining Twelfth Night Cake and the game that was played on Twelfth Night, which is, satirically, illustrated here.

Rushing to get the post done, I didn’t examine it in detail but assumed the papers they were reading, gave them satirical occupations to pretend to be, which would be funny to the contemporary audience in 1807. This year, I noted the title mentioned St Anne’s Hill, and thought I ought to at least try to find out what that referred to. And I then went down a deep and very enjoyable research rabbit hole.

But, more of that, later. Let’s begin with the more trivial aspect of the Print above from 2022 January 6th post, edited a little.

Yesterday was Twelfth Night for the modern Church of England, but today is Twelfth Night for the Catholic Church and in England in former times. It is also Epiphany or Three Kings Day and because of calendrical differences, Christmas Eve for the Orthodox Church. In Ireland, it is Nollaig na mBan: Women’s Little Christmas; when Women get to rest and let men do the work.

It used to be the big party night, featuring the famous Twelfth Night Cake and theatrical entertainments; mumming and wassailing. The cake transmuted into our present Christmas Cake. This, I regret because I have had a lifetime when a very heavy Christmas Dinner is followed both by Christmas Pudding and, then, the Christmas Cake is brought out. No one, in their right mind, wants a slice of heavy Christmas Cake at that time. Many of my American friends disparage fruit cake, but they are mistaken. Good Christmas Cake is something to be thoroughly enjoyed, but on the days following Christmas Day.

I gave a recipe for the Twelfth Night Cake in another post, (here it is) but the important point is that it had a bean and a pea in it. The one who got the bean was selected thereby as King for night and the pea the Queen. Cards/papers were then given to all the participants detailing a role they were to play for the rest of the night, with an introductory speech, or rhyme The King and Queen led the way and for the rest of the evening the party members adopted the persona; an aristocrat, a soldier, a cook, a parson, a dairy maid etc. The French do something similar with their Galette des Rois. The bean is called the feve, and may be replaced by a porcelain model.

In the illustration above, you will see the participants, pulling their role cards out of their hat. In the game, the women’s cards were drawn from a ‘reticule’ (bag) and the men’s from a hat. In the illustration above, the hat seems to be a revolutionary sans culotte’s cap. (and I have only just realised, while doing a third proofread of this article, that all the people in the Print are men.)

Here is an example of a Twelfth Night gathering, attending William Snooke were:

‘Mr and Mrs William Clifford and their seven children (and maid), John Fox Snr. and Sally Twining, Mr and Mrs William Fox, and William Weale. To feed this crowd took “Ham, Greens, 3 fowls roasted, Soup, Leg of Mutton, potatoes, Boiled rump of beef (large)” Desert included pudding, mince pies and a forequarter of home lamb. For supper, the assembled party consumed tarts, stuffed beef, mince pies, cold mutton, oysters, cold sliced beef, cold lamb, apple pies and pears.

6th January 1775, William Snooke’s Diary taken from this Pinterest post

St Anne’s Hill

Now, let’s go down that rabbit hole and look a little deeper.

The caption mentions St Anne’s Hill. I believe this refers to St Anne’s Hill, near Chertsey (SW of London on the River Thames) where the grand house was owed by Charles James Fox, the leader of the Whigs, a persistent opponent of King George III. He was a supporter of the American and French Revolutions, which explains the red bonnet used to pull out the cards in the illustration.

I am, as I write, researching this and am now struck with the fact that Fox died in Sept. 1806, but the print is dated Jan. 1807. But if I am right about St Anne’s Hill, the central character is Fox who, just before he died, saw his Foreign Slave Trade Bill of 1806 began the dismantling of this pernicious trade in the British Empire. He was Foreign Minister and assumed a couple of civil chats with the French would end the long-standing war, but he soon discovered that Napoleon was not to be trusted in negotiations and the war went on for another 9 or so years.

Charles James Fox was a mercurial figure with many radical views. He was also a notorious gambler and loved the high life. One of his many lovers was Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. He married, Elizabeth Armistead, an ex-mistress of the Prince of Wales, and it was in her house that they lived in at St Anne’s Hill. I am pleased to report that she is credited with calming his life-style time, and he spent more time at St Anne’s where they would ‘read, garden, explore the countryside and entertain friends’ (Wikipedia).

Cruikshank’s illustration is, of course, not designed to document quaint Twelfth Night customs but is a political satire and I have now just discovered the British Museum version of this print, and. It is dated to 1799 which makes much more sense!

At the back right of the print is a notice which says:

‘Rules to be observed at this Meeting
1. That the Cake be decorated with appropriate insignia
2 That the tickets be deposited in a Bonnet Rouge and drawn in Rotation
3 That the Old Fashioned Game of King and Queen be exploded & Catch as Catch can Substituted in its stead.’

The bonnet rouge is defined by the Collins Dictionary as a ‘redcap worn by ardent supporters of the French Revolution’ or ‘an extremist or revolutionary’. The last point relates to Fox’s opposition to the King, and the expression Catch as Catch Can refers to a free form of wrestling without rules.

The characters in the scene (all men) are all political figures, mostly associated with the opposition to the very right-wing Government of William Pitt. During the war with France, the opposition was led by a supporter of the French Revolution, a position that, many on what we would now call the left of the political spectrum, agreed with. But, for those on the right, which included Pitt’s government, this was tantamount to treason. Pitt suspended many civil liberties in ‘Pitt’s Reign of Terror’; arrested and indeed executed leading members of those demanding political change. The Government even suspended Habeas Corpus to make it easier to arrest their opponents,

Fox is seen drawing a 12th Night Game ticket which is marked ‘Perpetual Dictator’. To his right is Frances Burdett, a radical politician, who supported universal male suffrage, equal electoral districts, vote by ballot, and annual parliaments. Note that this is well before these aims became the core of the Chartists campaign for electoral reform. (for other figures, look at the British Museum notes on the print. )

Burdett is shown holding a ticket saying ‘Keeper of the Prison in Cold Bath Fields’. This is a satirical reference to a serious political crisis. The Cold Baths Fields was the site of a medical spring in Clerkenwell, London, where a prison was situated where radicals were imprisoned. They were held in poor conditions despite the recent rebuilding under the aegis of the prison reformer, John Howard. Burdett exposed it in the House of Commons and began a campaign against the magistrates involved in the arrests.

One of the prisoners was Edward Despard who had associations with the London Corresponding Society, the United Irishmen and United Britons. Despard was married to Catherine, the daughter of a free black woman from Jamaica, and it was she who, with Burdett, led the campaign against these arrests without trial. The attorney general spoke about her letter in this demeaning manner:

‘it was a well-written letter, and the fair sex would pardon him, if he said it was a little beyond their style in general’

He did not comment on her colour. She described the imprisonment of her husband as being :

“in a dark cell, not seven feet square, without fire, or candle, chair, table, knife, fork, a glazed window, or even a book”

Despard was freed in 1802, went to Ireland, and back to London, where he was arrested again and accused of a being the alleged ringleader of a plot to assassinate the King. There was little real evidence. Horatio Nelson was a character witness, and appealed to the King for clemency. It was given, but only in so far as Despard was not disembowelled but ‘only ‘Hanged and Drawn’ at Horsemonger Lane Gaol (1803) – the last time someone was drawn through the streets at the tail of a horse before execution for treason. These are his last words:

Fellow Citizens, I come here, as you see, after having served my Country faithfully, honourably and usefully, for thirty years and upwards, to suffer death upon a scaffold for a crime which I protest I am not guilty. I solemnly declare that I am no more guilty of it than any of you who may be now hearing me. But though His Majesty’s Ministers know as well as I do that I am not guilty, yet they avail themselves of a legal pretext to destroy a man, because he has been a friend to truth, to liberty, and to justice

(a considerable huzzah from the crowd)

because he has been a friend to the poor and to the oppressed. But, Citizens, I hope and trust, notwithstanding my fate, and the fate of those who no doubt will soon follow me, that the principles of freedom, of humanity, and of justice, will finally triumph over falsehood, tyranny and delusion, and every principle inimical to the interests of the human race.

(a warning from the Sheriff)

I have little more to add, except to wish you all health, happiness and freedom, which I have endeavoured, as far as was in my power, to procure for you, and for mankind in general.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Despard

After his death, his family denied that Catherine was his wife but merely his ‘house-keeper.’ I assume, without knowing, this might have been because they wanted the inheritance rather than, or perhaps, as well as naked prejudice.

Francis Burdett married into the fabulously rich banking family the Coutts, and their daughter was the famous Angela Burdett Coutts who was a philanthropist who collaborated extensively with Charles Dickens.

@Phew! What a ride – this is what I love about my job, you find things out that link disparate parts of your knowledge, creating an ever-interwining web of history.

I have republished my post of the Chinese New Year which you can see here:

Archive of Events and Walks (2024)

I keep an archive of the walks I have done each year. This is the first entry for 2024.

My new year’s resolutions for my walks are:

  1. Make the Virtual tours shorter.
  2. Try some new technology to make the virtual tours more like a walk.
  3. Begin publishing them.

I should note that 1 and 3 have long been on my list of desired improvements.

Ring in the New Year Virtual Walk

Old New Year Card


Monday 1st January 2024 7.00pm
On this Virtual Walk we look at how London has celebrated the New Year over the past 2000 years.

The New Year has been a time of review, renewal and anticipation
of the future from time immemorial. The Ancient Britons saw the Solstice as a symbol of a promise of renewal as the Sun was reborn. As the weather turns to bleak mid winter, a festival or reflection and renewal cheers everyone up. This idea of renewal was followed by the Romans, and presided over by a two headed God called Janus who looked both backwards and forwards. Dickens Christmas Carol was based on redemption and his second great Christmas Book ‘The Chimes’ on the renewal that the New Year encouraged.

We look at London’s past to see where and how the New Year was celebrated. We also explore the different New Years we use and their associated Calendars – the Pagan year, the Christian year, the Roman year, the Jewish year, the Financial year, the Academic year and we reveal how these began. We look at folk traditions, Medieval Christmas Festivals, Boy Bishops, Distaff Sunday and Plough Monday, and other Winter Festival and New Year London tradition and folklore.

At the end we use ancient methods to divine what is in store for us in 2024

ROMAN LONDON – A LITERARY & ARCHAEOLOGICAL WALK

Reconstruction View of Roman Riverside Wall being built
Reconstruction View of Roman Riverside Wall being built

Sunday 21st Jan & 3rd March 2023 11.30 am Monument Underground Station

Our Guides will be Publius Ovidius Naso and Marcus Valerius Martialis who will be helped by Kevin Flude, former Museum of London Archaeologist, Museum Curator and Lecturer.

To book

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.

REVIEWS
“Kevin, I just wanted to drop you a quick email to thank you ever so much for your archaeological tours of London! I am so thrilled to have stumbled upon your tours! I look forward to them more than you can imagine! They’re the best 2 hours of my week! 🙂 Best, Sue


Jane Austen’s London Sunday Jan 21st 2.30 pm Green Park underground station,

Georgian female engraving

An exploration of Mayfair, the centre of the London section of Sense & Sensibility and where Jane came to visit her brother

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a Jane Austen devotee in possession of the good fortune of a couple of free hours today must be in want of this walk.”

People associate Jane Austen and her characters with a rural setting. But London is central to both Jane Austen’s real life and her literary life. So, this tour will explore Jane’s connections with London and give the background to Sense and Sensibility, a good part of which is based in this very area. We begin with the place Jane’s coach would arrive from Hampshire, and then walk the streets haunted by Willougby; past shops visited by the Palmers, the Ferrars; visit the location of Jane Austen’s brother’s bank and see the publisher of Jane’s Books. The area around Old Bond Street was the home of the Regency elite and many buildings and a surprising number of the shops remain as they were in Jane Austen’s day.

This is a London Walk Guided Walk lead by Kevin Flude


Sat 6pm 25th May 2024 Green Park Tube


Myths, Legends, Archaeology and the Origins of London

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

Sunday 4th February & Saturday 23 March 2024 11.30pm Tower Hill Underground

The walk tells the stories of our changing ideas about the origins of London during the Prehistoric, Roman and Saxon periods.

The walk is led by Kevin Flude, a former archaeologist at the Museum of London, who has an interest both in myths, legends and London’s Archaeology.

The walk will tell the story of the legendary origins of London which record that it was founded in the Bronze Age by an exiled Trojan and was called New Troy, which became corrupted to Trinovantum. This name was recorded in the words of Julius Caesar; and, then, according to Legend, the town was renamed after King Ludd and called Lud’s Dun. Antiquarians and Archaeologists have taken centuries to demolish this idea, and became convinced London was founded by the Romans. Recently, dramatic evidence of a Bronze Age presence in London was found.

When the Roman system broke down in 410 AD, historical records were almost non-existent, until the Venerable Bede recorded the building of St Pauls Cathedral in 604 AD. The two hundred year gap, has another rich selection of legends. which the paucity of archaeological remains struggles to debunk.

The walk will explore these stories and compare the myths and legends with Archaeological discoveries.

The route starts at Tower Hill, then down to the River at Billingsgate, London Bridge, and into the centre of Roman London

Tudor London – The City of Wolf Hall

Sunday 4th February 2024 2.15pm Barbican Underground Station

Tudor London – The City of Wolf Hall Virtual Tour Sunday 4th February 2024 7.30 pm To book

Thomas Bilney martyred in Smithfield. Black and white engraving
Thomas Bilney martyred in Smithfield.



The Walk creates a portrait of London in the early 16th Century, with particular emphasis on the life and times of Thomas Cromwell and Thomas More during the Anne Boleyn years.


More and Cromwell had much in common, both lawyers, commoners, who rose to be Lord Chancellor to Henry VIII, and ended their careers on the block at Tower Hill.

The walk starts with an exploration of Smithfield – site of the stake where heretics were burnt alive and of St Bartholomew’s Monastery – given to Richard Rich after his decisive role in the downfall of Thomas More. We continue to St Paul where Martin Luther’s books were burnt, and later, where Puritans preached against dancing round the Maypole.

We walk along the main markets streets of London, to Thomas More’s birthplace, and to the site of More’s and Cromwell’s townhouses before, if time allows, finishing at the site of the Scaffold where More and Cromwell met their ends, overlooking where Anne Boleyn was incarcerated in the Tower of London

The Leap Year Pub Walk Thurs 6pm 29 February 2024 Tower Hill Underground

Sketch of the text 29 February, in brown and black
Sketched from a photo by simple-aign on pixaby

Thurs, 29 February 2024, 6pm Tower Hill Underground

We explore London, the Leap Year and 29th February through history
A strange amazing day – and walk – that comes only once every four years. For the rest of the time it does not “exist.” A day – and walk – of temporal tune-up. A day – and walk – of unlocked potential. A day – and a walk – of unlocked London.

As the Sun, Moon and Seasons have different cycles and don’t fit into a set number of days, Londoners have had to cope with fixes to their Calendars to align the Cosmos with everyday life. As we walk through the streets of the ancient City of London, we explore how Londoners organised and celebrated their year throughout history

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. We will look at Almanacs and Diaries to find how Londoners spent their Leap Year.

We start with the Romans at the City Wall, near the Tower of London, and walk through history until we reach a historic pub to celebrate the New Year.

The Leap Year Almanac of the Past Pub Walk is led by Kevin Flude, a lecturer, curator and former archaeologist at the Museum of London. Join him to explore London’s History through its celebrations, festivals, calendars and almanacs.

This is a London Walks Guided Walk.

Roman London – A Literary & Archaeological Walk Sun 11.30 am 3rd March 2024 Monument Underground Station To book
Jane Austen’s London Sun 2.30 pm 3rd March 2024 Green Park Underground station (Green Park Exit. Fountain in Green Park), To book
Myths, Legends, Archaeology and the Origins of London Sunday 11.30am 23rd March 2024 Tower Hill Underground

London. 1066 and All That Walk

Black and white engraving of Chapel of St Johns Tower of London
Old illustration Chapel of St Johns Tower of London


Sunday 2.30pm 23rd March 2024 Blackfriars Underground Station
The Archaeological Walk that explores the City of London at the end of the Saxon period and at the beginning of the Norman.

The Norman Conquest of 1066 defines Britain in a way unmatched by any other event. And on this walk we explore the London that William conquered and how he changed England for all time.

London was England’s most important City, but not yet the capital. It was crucial to William in his attempt to conquer the realm. But his army could not fight their way across the heavily defended London Bridge after the defeat of the English King, Harold, at the Battle of Hastings.

The future of England was in the balance as he ravaged the country seeking a way across the river and to persuade the English that resistance was hopeless.

Once across the river, the English leaders sued for peace, and William was crowned at the newly built Westminster Abbey. The English hoped for a strong King who would rule with the people. But William began by building Castles to oppress the Citizens, and soon swept aside the English Aristocracy and establishment and replaced them with the Conquerors.

This was a death blow to Anglo-Saxon culture, but the City made an accommodation with the new regime and the first Lord Mayor of London was an Englishman.

So, on the walk we explore the Late Saxon City of London, and how it changed in the last 11th and 12th Centuries.

Walk is by Kevin Flude, former Archaeologist at the Museum of London
Kevin

Chaucer’s Medieval London Guided Walk

Medieval Newgate reconstruction painting
Medieval Newgate


Sunday 7th April 2024 11.30pm & Saturday 6th July 2.30 Aldgate Underground

A Walk around Medieval London following in the footsteps of its resident medieval poet – Geoffrey Chaucer
One of the spectators at the Peasants Revolt was Geoffrey Chaucer, born in the Vintry area of London, who rose to be a diplomat, a Courtier and London’s Customs Officer. He lived with his wife in the Chamber above the Gate in the City Wall at Aldgate. His poetry shows a rugged, joyous medieval England including many scenes reflecting life in London. His stories document the ending of the feudal system, growing dissatisfaction with the corruption in the Church, and shows the robust independence with which the English led their lives.

His work helped change the fashion from poetry in French or Latin to acceptance of the English language as suitable literary language. This was helped by the growth of literacy in London as its Merchants and Guildsmen became increasingly successful. In 1422, for example, the Brewers decided to keep their records in English ‘as there are many of our craft who have the knowledge of reading and writing in the English idiom.’

Chaucer and other poets such as Langland give a vivid portrait of Medieval London which was dynamic, successful but also torn by crisis such as the Lollard challenge to Catholic hegemony, and the Peasants who revolted against oppression as the ruling classes struggled to resist the increased independence of the working people following the Black Death.

A walk which explores London in the Middle Ages, We begin at Aldgate, and follow Chaucer from his home to his place of work at the Customs House, and then to St Thomas Chapel on London Bridge, and across the River to where the Canterbury Tales start – at the Tabard Inn.

This is a London Walks event by Kevin Flude

The Decline And Fall Of Roman London Walk

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

Sat 1.30pm 25th May 2024Exit 2 St Pauls Underground Station

An exploration of what happened at the end of the Roman Period, and how the City became deserted, and then, reborn as an English City

The first British Brexit?   The Roman Britons kicked out the Romans in 407AD, and, soon, asked them to come back after a catastrophic collapse.  Faced with plague, civil war, invasion, mass immigration,  industrial decline, reversion to barter; the authorities struggled against anarchy and descent into a dark age.

But was that how it was?  Wasn’t it a rather a transition into the Late Antique period in which life for most people went on much as before except paying taxes to local rulers rather than distant Romans?

The walk investigates why the Roman system in London broke down, and what really was the impact of the end of the Roman system in London? What is the evidence?  and can we trust it? Or can we really do nothing much more than guess? 

We tramp the streets of London in search of light to shine on the dark age of London.

This is a London Walks event by Kevin Flude, ex Museum of London Archaeology and Museum Curator.