Worlidge ‘s ‘Systema Agriculturae’ 1697 says this is the time to destroy snails. He suggests that, at Michaelmas, you create a shelter for snails against a wall using bricks or boards. In Early December the plantsman can get his revenge on the little blighters, unsuspected and snuggled up in their cosy den. (First spotted in Charles Knightly’s Perpetual Almanac)
The RHS has some more modern advice, but generally takes a negative opinion of snails. The Birmingham and Black Country Wildlife Trust take a much more positive view of snails and slugs and proposes their contribution to nature should be rewarded by learning to love and live with the little critters.
Improving the cider before Christmas
If your cider is a bit off add half a peck of wheat to restart the fermentation to make it more mild and gentle. Use Mustard or two or three rotten apples to clear the cider.
Although it’s all a little Thomas Hardy, Cider expert Gabe Cook provides instruction in how to make cider from your own cider tree without investing in a huge fruit press.
First Published on December 5th 2022, revised and republished on December 5th 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
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.
This was the period of the year for ‘Night-fowling’ Gervase Markham wrote a whole book about it in the 17th Century. It was called Hungers Prevention: or, the Whole Art of Fowling by Water and Land. (Printed London: for Francis Grove, 1655).
In it, he tells the reader to go to a stubble field in November when the air is mild and the moon not shining. There take a dolorous low bell, and net. Spread the net over the stubble where there may be fowl, ring the bell, light fires of dry straw, and the fowl will fly and become entangled in the net.
November 19th is also World Toilet Day, which is a significant development target for the world as it impacts badly on women in those areas where decent hygiene cannot be guaranteed.
First published Nov 19th 2022. Republished Nov 19th 2023
‘Leaping is an exercise very commendable and healthful for the body.’
The Compleat Gentleman 1634
Thomas Fuller in his book published in 1642 says:
Running, Leaping, and Dancing, the descants on the plain song of walking, are all excellent exercises. And yet those are the best recreations which besides refreshing enable, at least dispose, men to some other good ends. Bowling teaches mens hands and eyes Mathematicks, and the rules of Proportion: Swimming hath sav’d many a mans life, when himself hath been both the wares, and the ship: Tilting and Fencing is warre without anger; and manly sports are the Grammer of Military performance. But above all Shooting is a noble recreation…..
‘THE HOLY STATE’ BY THOMAS FULLER, B. D. and Prebendarie of Sarum
Published St Pauls Churchyard 1642
The Holy State is a fascinating book – it provides instruction on how to be the Good Wife; the Good Advocate; the Good King; Bishop etc. etc.; has general rules of behaviour; some case studies of good lives to emulate and discussion of profane states not to emulate.
Mexican Day of the Dead, in fact, the second day of El Dia de Muertos. Here is a video from Mexico, which you will enjoy for its Latin song and images of the Day of the Dead in Mexico. (It’s on Facebook, so may not work unless you have a login).
Today is the day to celebrate all those loved ones who have passed away. To keep them in mind, to remind you still care about them. It is the third day of the season of Allhallowstide, following All Hallows Evening (Halloween), and All Saint’s Day.
Beata, who comes from Poland, tells me that, November the 1st is a happy day when relatives visit the cemeteries of the dead loved ones bringing chrysanthemums to decorate the graves. It’s a happy day for the dead because they are being remembered and visited by their loved ones. Today, November 2nd, is a more sombre day – a day to stay at home and think of the loved one’s perhaps looking through albums of photographs.
In England it was the time of year in which ‘Souling’ used to take place. Households made soul-cakes, children or people in need of food come to visit and are given soul cakes in exchange for praying for the dead.
Soul, soul, for a souling cake. I pray good Missus for a souling cake. Apple or pear, plum or cherry. Anything good to make us merry.
Traditional rhyme from Shropshire and Cheshire
This is based upon the idea of Purgatory, and the belief that intervention on Earth can influence the amount of time an ancestor spends in purgatory for their sins.
John Aubrey (1626 – 1697), antiquarian, collector of folklore and writer, mentions a custom in Hereford which shows a variant of the idea.
In the County of Hereford was an old Custom at Funerals, to hire poor people, who were to take upon them all the Sins of the part deceased. One of them I remember (he was a long, lean, lamentable poor rascal). The manner was that when a Corpse was brought out of the house and laid on the Bier; a Loaf of bread was brought out and delivered to the Sin-eater over the corps, as also a Mazer-bowl full of beer, which he was to drink up, and sixpence in money, in consideration whereof he took upon him all the Sins of the Defunct, and freed him (or her) from Walking after they were dead.v
John Aubrey, Remains of Gentilism 1688
This belief in the power of action in the Here and Now to lubricate passage through Purgatory to the Ever After was a major part of fund-raising for Catholic Institutions before the Reformation. For example, in the records of St Thomas Hospital, Southwark, a wealthy widow called Alice (de Bregerake – if I remember the spelling correctly) left her wealth to the hospital in return for an annual Rose rent; lifetime accommodation in the Hospital in Southwark, and for the monks and nuns to pray for her soul and the souls of her ancestors.
Revised 2nd Nov 2023. First published 2nd Nov 2021
The first unambiguous British reference to April Fools Day is by diarist John Aubrey’s “Fooles holy day” in 1686, although he might have been referring to Germany. (‘We observe it on ye first of April… And so it is kept in Germany everywhere.)” For more details read hoaxes.org
But there is a possible earlier reference in Chaucer in the Nun’s Priest’s Tale which I find quite compelling but most Chaucer scholars don’t. This is the text:
When that the monthe in which the world bigan That highte March, whan God first maked man, Was complet, and passed were also Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two
So, if you have been keeping up with me, you will know that the first lines are referring to March 25th, when God made Adam and Eve, and when the Church started the New Year and the year number moved one on. This was a major Church festival, usually followed by a week of holiness. The Roman New Year, January 1st, ended with a light hearted festival called Saturnalia, and it is suggested that April 1st was, similarly, a day of release after the festival of the official Church ceremony of the New Year.
Chaucer’s last line says ‘Since March began thirty two days have passed.’ A foolish person would not realise this is a reference to April 1st. Hence this suggests a Fools Day already existed. Scholars tend to prefer to think that Chaucer was referring to May 2nd, counting the 32 days not from the beginning of March but from the end of March. I think they look at the second and third lines which read ‘That high March…. was complete’ and so add the 32 days to the end of March. Foolish in my opinion and not reading what Chaucer wrote.
I nearly always forget to honour April Fool’s Day (or April Fish Day as the French call it). But in Britain, we generally find that somewhere in our newspaper or TV station there is a April Fools Joke slipped in. The most remembered is the BBC piece showing film of Italian Farmers picking spaghetti from trees. This year Harry and Megan proved irresistible and the Guardian reported that:
Generally, in Britain, we play a prank and say ‘April Fool’ with great delight. But we are not allowed to continue beyond midday. The Scots used to call it ‘Hunting the Gowk’ and the main prank was to give someone a letter to deliver, and the person who opened the letter would read:
“Dinna laugh, dinna smile. Hunt the gowk another mile” and send the fool onto another leg of his or her’s fool’s errand. In Ireland the letter would read ‘send the fool further’.
April comes from Latin and it was Aperilis from aperio from ‘to open’ as this is the month when the Earth opens. In Anglo-Saxon the Venerable Bede mentioned that they called the month Eostremonath. But there really is no other evidence for the Goddess Eostre from where we get our word ‘Easter’. In Gaelic it’s the Cuckoo’s month ‘Ceitein na h-oinsich’. In Welsh it is Ebrill which comes from the Latin.
The image from the medieval Kalendar of Shepherds shows all the beautiful flowers blooming and a female sitting on the grass embroidering, and the star signs of Aries (a Fire sign, brave, independent and impulsive) and Taurus (an Earth Sign: stubborn, down to earth, sensual with good taste).
March 25th is the day that the Archangel Gabriel tells Mary she is pregnant. But it 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 logical structured by God. Christian thinking about the year, the world, the universe, creation, developed over many years and took influences from many cultures. Its 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 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.
So Jesus was born on/or around the Solstice, so he would be 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. But I have just realised the importance of something I discovered yesterday when preparing these two posts on the Annunciation. And since writing that sentence 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 her 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? 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. Birthdays, 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, yesterday I worked out why Adam is born on March 25th, and why these dates are not 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. But, ignoring that, 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:
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 any one 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 its 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 a lot of 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 this system until 1752 when we adopted the Gregorian Calendar. But people like Samuel Pepys celebrated New Year on 31st December. 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 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..
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 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, lets call them, the Patriarchy. Lilith 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 suggest that God creates Eve from Adam’s rib, and so she is created from Adam, and is subservient to him. Lilith is now a very important figure in feminist folklore cycles
Attached to the watercolour of Lilith at the top of the page by Rossetti, 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 yesterday’s Rossetti painting, Ecce Ancilla Domini!
I think I might have enough material to begin my own Cult.
The map of the centre of Brussels shows the area where I have identified topographical evidence of an early Wall circuit. The two red lines coming from the top left point to a red rectangle which is on the curved road called ‘Vieux Marché aux Grains’. This road follows the curved line of the NE section of the wall and was confirmed by the discovery of a surviving section of the Wall on it (see previous posts).
So, on my 4th and last day in Brussels I want to find the rest of this circuit. If you look at the map you can convince yourself there is a circular route – Rue des Riches Clares (Street of the Clare nuns); Rue des Teinturies (Street of Dyers); Kolenmarkt (Coal Market) and to the Grand Place. But I can find nothing that proves it and its a bit weird to have the Town Square (Grand Place) of the town outside the circuit. Maybe this is because the Bourse was the original centre of gravity I wondered? Whatever the case, the roads have the irregularity of medieval town centre streets.
It started to rain so decided to see about a guided tour of the Town Hall, but the attendant suggested I’d be better off at the free ‘House of the King’ across the square which I discover with rising excitement is subtitled ‘The Brussels City Museum.’ Initially I’m disappointed as it is full of fragments of Gothic statues, but upstairs, I strike pay dirt with not only maps, engravings and photographs of the Old Wall Circuit but also a massive model.
It takes me a lot of time to work out what is what and which direction we are looking. But the section of the wall at the bottom of the photo above is the wall I identified on the Vieux Marché aux Grains. St Catherine’s is the Church seen just inside the Wall, just to the left of the Gate at the middle bottom of the photo. Other evidence makes it clear that the present day St Catherine’s was moved a little to the left (east).
So, a confirmation of sorts, but also a revelation, in that a river is flowing just behind the wall, and the wall circuit is much bigger than I suspected.
The River is the Senne, it was navigable to an extent taking 8 days to take cargoes to the River Schelde. The River is completely gone, and I think the other part of the wall I pencilled in was actually not the wall but roads following the route of the River.
The River Senne, originally the reason for the foundation of Brussels, became a stinking sewer and was filled in leaving no trace, except the roads that ran alongside it or replaced it.
The River was augmented and then replaced by a Canal, which reduced the journey time to the Schelde to one day. The Canal came into the expanded City at no 29 (above_ which is the River gate of the 2nd Wall circuit, and, you might just be able to see a wide street going diagonally from 29 towards no 26, which is St Catherine’s Church. This street used to be the new canal, now a dry linear park and market place.
At the end of the canal was a T-Junction so that boats could turn around. When this was filled in and reclaimed St Catherine’s was moved and rebuilt in this space. The Wall was just south of the t-Junction and No 30 in the panorama is the Black Tower, part of the original 13th Century Wall Circuit.
But back to my search for the 13th Century Walk circuit. Look below at the whole model you will see how wrong I was about a small roundish early wall circuit.
This view of the town is the opposite direction to the previous one, so the wall in the far distance was the section I correctly identified. But I had absolutely no idea that the walled area was so large. The bulge in the wall at the front of the picture was on high ground and was original the site of the Duke of Brabant’s Castle, on Coundenberg Hill and founded in the 11th Century. My exploration was not particularly successful, as far as the 13th Century circuit was concerned, as I had no idea where most of the wall circuit was. I was thinking that there must have been a castle on top of the Hill, but didn’t think the wall circuit would be that big.
Brussels itself began as a small trading town on the River Senne and in the marshy valley of the River. It collected grain from the rich area to export to Antwerp and other urban centres.
The map above shows the two wall circuits. The earliest built 1210 -1230 and the large circuit built in 1357 -1383. That later was extensively developed with the addition of demi-lunettes in 1578, and turned into full bastions in 1671 to cope with the increasing power of artillery. The letters on the plan refer to pictures of the wall that survive.
The second wall circuit can clearly be seen in the picture above, with Porte de Flandres in the centre, and demi-lunettes in front of the 14th Century Wall.
I finished the exploration by finally getting into the 14th Century Gate – Porte de Halle which was wall worth the two trips.
This image below will give a good idea of the final form of the defences before they were almost totally demolished and replaced by a ring road.
So all in all Brussels is a very interesting City with great museums, amazing pubs/bars, fabulous remains of Art Nouveau dotted around, and an interesting history. As to my exploration, very enjoyable, a little disappointed I didn’t find the River, or identify more of the 13th Century Circuit. With another day I would have walked the entire 13th and 14th Century circuits. But I suspect the surgeon who did my hernia operation would have thought I overdid it as it was.