Holocaust Memorial Day January 27th

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

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

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

Montaillou by Emmanual Le Roy Ladurie

On the subject of prejudice, genocide and abuse of power, I was reminded of one of the formative reads of my life. I met the great Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie at dinner at my father-in-law’s house in the 1980s. I was awestruck because Montaillou was one of the early histories ‘from below’, where the focus was not on kings, queens nor of the flux of states and empires, but on the lives (and deaths) of ordinary people. Something that has continued as a focus of my historical interest.

Nor, before Ladurie, had I imagined that medieval lives could be so minutely brought to life. The book was a sensation, selling over a quarter of a million copies. Professor Ladurie became a media star, and, it remains one of the great historical reads. (Of course, the book and the historiography now attracts some criticism, but do read it!)

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

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

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

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

But, reading Montaillou is a pleasure because it brings those persecuted souls back to life in all their human glory. It is also a reminder that it is by intolerance and ‘othering’ of normal homo sapiens that allows the conditions for evil to flourish. We need to treat all human life as sacred and to bring to bear our human empathy and capacity for mercy. Anything less allows the slaughter of the innocent.

First written in January 2023 and revised Jan 2024

St Cecilia’s Day, Henry Wood and the BBC Proms, 17th November

St Sepulchre-without-Newgate, Musician’s Chapel, St Cecilia window. 17 August 2022, Andy Scott

Today, I’m publishing the stories of two Saints with London connections.

The first is for November 23rd, and I have extensively rewritten it. It is all about St Clements of Oranges and Lemons fame.

The second is from November 17th and is about St Cecilia and the London Proms, which you will find below:

St. Cecilia

St Cecilia is the patron saint of musicians.  She was martyred in Rome in the Second or Third Century AD. The story goes that she was married to a non-believer, and during her marriage ceremony she sang to God in her heart (hence her affiliation with musicians). She then told her husband, that she was a professed Virgin, and that if he violated her, he would be punished. She said she was being protected by an Angel of the Lord who was watching over her. Valerian, her husband, asked to see the Angel. So Cecilia told him to go to the Third Milestone along the Appian Way, where he would be baptised by Pope Urban 1 and would then see the Angel. He followed her advice, was converted and he and his wife were, later on, martyred.

The Church in Rome, Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, is said to be built on the site of her house, and has 5th Century origins. My friend, Derek Gadd, recently visited and let me use these photographs:

St Cecilia in London

There is a window dedicated to her in the Holy Sepulchre Church-without-Newgate, In London, opposite the site of the infamous Newgate Prison.  Henry Wood, one of our most famous conductors and the founder of the Promenade Concerts, played organ here when he was 14. In 1944, his ashes were placed beneath the window dedicated to St Cecilia and, later, the Church became the National Musician’s Church.

The memorial to Henry Wood at St Sepulchre is engraved:

This window is dedicated to the memory of
Sir Henry Wood, C.H.,
Founder and for fifty years Conductor of
He opened the door to a new world
Of sense and feeling to millions of
his fellows. He gave life to Music
and he brought Music to the People.
His ashes rest beneath.

The Concerts are now called the BBC Proms and continue an 18th and 19th Century tradition of, originally, outdoor concerts, and then indoor promenade concerts. At the end of the 19th Century, the inexpensive Promenade Concerts were put on to help broaden the interest in classical music. Henry Wood was the sole conductor.

Wikipedia reports :

Czech conductor Jiří Bělohlávek described the Proms as “the world’s largest and most democratic musical festival”.

The Eight-week Festival is held at the Royal Albert Hall. It moved here during World War 2 after the original venue, the Queen’s Hall, was destroyed in the Blitz in May 1941.



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

Sunday 4th July 2021 6.30pm

An exploration of what happened following the Roman Period. How did a Celtic speaking Latin educated Roman City become, first deserted, then recovered to become the leading City in a Germanic speaking Kingdom?

To book


Virtual Zoom Walk on Sunday Sept 5th 6.30pm

On the Anniversary of the Great Fire of London we retrace the route of the fire of 1666 from Pudding Lane to Smithfield.

To book


Tuesday 21st September 2021 7.30pm

On this walk we look at London at the Equinox, its calendars, folklore and events associated with the beginning of Autumn

To book


SUNDAY 31st October 2021 6.30pm

The walk tells the story of London’s myths and legends and the celtic origins of Halloween. .

To book


Sunday 14 November 2021 6.30pm

We follow the route of a Zeppelin Raid through London. On the way we discover London in World War 1

To book

The Ultimate RAF London Blitz Story

Black and white photo from a german plane above another german bomber over docklands in the Blitz

Ray Holmes, Word War 2 RAF Pilot, flying a Hurricane took on three Luftwaffe Bombers Pilot over Central London, ran out of bullets and downed the last plane by ramming its tail.

The Dornier Bomber crashed into Victoria Station, 2 of the crew survived by bailing out. Holmes’ plane dived out of control but the Pilot managed to get out of his plane and open his parachute.

Story, with pictures, told in full here.