May Day May 1st

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

Maypoles were often stored during the year. A few days before May Day they were repainted, and bedecked with May Garlands – mostly made from Hawthorn. The Maypole used in London in 1660 was 134 feet high. Tall straight trees were used, sometimes of Larch, and they might be spliced together to get the requisite height. John Stow says that each parish in London had their own Maypole, or combined with a neighbouring Parish. The main Maypole was on the top of Cornhill, in Leadenhall Street, and it was stored under the eves of St Andrew’s Church which became known as St Andrew’s Undershaft as a result.

Padstow holds, perhaps, the most famous May Day festival on May 1st. Padstow feels very ‘pagan’ or do I mean it is fuelled by an enormous amount of drink?

Here is a video, watch until you see the ‘obby ‘orse and the teaser dancing.

The celebrations begin on May Eve because the Celtic calendar starts the day at Dusk. This seems strange to us even though we perversely ‘start’ our day at Midnight just after everyone has gone to bed! The other choice, and maybe the most logical is, Dawn, but Dawn and Dusk are difficult to fix. Midnight was chosen by Julius Caesar when he created the Julian Calendar. Midnight has the virtue of being a fixed metric, being half way between Dawn and Dusk.

Celebrations centred around the Bonfire, and for the Celts was sacred to the fire God Belinus, and May Day was called Beltane. Bonfires continued to be a part of the celebration into the 16th Century, and in places until the 20th Century. According to folklore tradition, the bonfire should be made of nine types of wood, collected by nine teams of married men (or first born men). They must not carry any metal with them and the fire has to be lit by rubbing oak sticks together or a wooden awl twisted in a wooden log. The people have to run sunwise around the fire, and oatcakes are distributed, with one being marked with a black spot. The one who collects it has to jump through the fire three times. Bonfires would have been on the top of hills, or in the streets in London.

May celebrations have a similarity to Halloween, which was also a fire festival and both are uncanny times when sprites and spirits abound. Hawthorn was a favoured wood not only because of its beautiful may flower but also because it was said to be the wood the crown of thorns was made from. It had the power of resisting supernatural forces, so was used to protect doors, cribs, cow sheds and other places from witches. Witches, it was said, got their power to fly from potions made from chopped up infants. The best protection was Christening and the custom was that christening took place as early as possible and normally three days after birth. Shakespeare was baptised on 26th April 1564, so we celebrate his birthday on 23rd April. See my post for more on this subject.

Cribs would be bedecked with Hawthorn and protection might be augmented by a bible, rowan, and garlic. Babies born between May 1 and 8 were thought to be special children destined to have power over man and beast. Weddings were frowned upon in Lent and in May, so April became a popular choice for marriage.

After celebrations in the evening of April 30th, women would go out in the woods to collect May, other flowering plants, and to wash their faces in May Dew preferable from the leaves of Hawthorn, or beneath an oak tree, or from a new-made grave. The dew was said to improve their complexion and was also used for medical conditions such as gout and weak eyes. Thinking of one’s lover on May Day might bring marriage within the year.

May morning would commence with dancing around the Maypole, followed by feasting, and summer games.

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.

Campden House Fire Sunday March 23rd 1862

Monument to Baptist Hicks and his, wife, Elizabeth in their Chapel at St James Church, Chipping Campden (Photo Kevin Flude)
Baptist Hicks and his, wife, Elizabeth in their Chapel at St James Church, Chipping Campden (Photo Kevin Flude)

This anniversary commanded my attention because I spend a few weekends each summer in the Cotswolds, and often see the ruins of Campden House in Chipping Campden, which was burnt down in 1645. Both Campden Houses, one in Kensington, and the other in Chipping Campden were built for Sir Baptist Hicks, both of his houses burnt down.

Baptist Hicks is an example of the flexibility of the British system of aristocracy, of how common people, provided they are rich enough and have the right education, can gain entry to the elite.

Hicks was the son of a wealthy Mercer from Cheapside in the City of London. His mother is said to have been a moneylender, but when her husband died she took over the business and eventually passed it on to her son. The family had a shop with the sign of the White Bear on the corner of Cheapside and Soper Lane, near the Great Conduit.

Soper Lane was in the Cordwainers Ward, and the haunt of soap makers and shoe makers (cordwainers as they were called). But Cheapside was the home of Goldsmiths and generally a wealthy area.

Hicks was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge and at the Inner Temple in London. But despite, the rudiments of an education as a lawyer, he developed the family business and supplied members of the Aristocracy with silk, velvet, taffety and other expensive fabrics. He rose to be Mercer to Queen Elizabeth I in 1598, and supplied James VI of Scotland. He provided velvet, damask, and satin for the coronation of James 1st on 25 July, 1603.

His business developed as his wealth allowed him to loan large sums of money to the aristocracy and the King, and was duly Knighted in 1603. He was still running his shop. He was also an MP, and needed a country estate to transition to the aristocracy, and in 1608 purchased the manor in Chipping Campden. In 1612 he built Campden House.

Sketch from a display of Campden House, Chippping Campden.  St James Church at the back, House in the Centre, Banqueting Houses in front of, and other side of the house. (A Banqueting House was originally where you had your pudding.)
Sketch from a display of Campden House, Chippping Campden. St James Church at the back, House in the Centre, Banqueting Houses in front of, and other side of the house. (A Banqueting House was originally where you had your pudding.)

At about the same time, he won a game of cards with Sir Walter Cope of the Strand, who was building a mansion (Holland House) on top of the Hill in Kensington. Hicks won a few acres of the Estate and asked Cope’s architect John Thorpe to design him a house, which Hicks also called Campden House. Thus, Kensington became fashionable, and Campden Hill got its name.

Among the many tenants of the house were Princess Anne before she became Queen, and Lady Burlington and her son, who became Britain’s first Palladian Architect.

Hicks was made a Baron in 1620 and Viscount of Campden in 1628. (a viscount is 4th in the ranks of aristocracy, being below an Earl and above a Baron). He died in 1629, and was buried in a very impressive marble monument in St James Church, Chipping Campden shown above.

The house in Chipping Campden was held by the Royalists in the Civil War but as the Parliamentary Army forced the King’s men to retreat towards Oxford, Prince Maurice ordered the house to be burned down. All that survives of the property are two banqueting houses, and the entrance. All show what a fine building it was.

Sketch from photo of the entrance to Campden House, Chipping Camden.
Behind the wall can be seen the fire reddened ruin of the Banqueting House of Campden House, Chipping Campden
Behind the wall can be seen the fire reddened ruin of the Banqueting House of Campden House, Chipping Campden. Photo of the other Banqueting House to follow in April

The fire at Campden House on 23rd March, 1862 gutted the building.  It is really well described in a post which I recommend you read.  Briefly, a neighbour saw the fire, a fire engine was summoned but before it could arrive a servant was seen at a window.  Her son tried to push past her and she fell out of the window but survived.  When the fire engine arrived it was too late and the house and its wonderful contents were destroyed.  The owner was sued by the Insurance Company for fraud but they lost the case.

Sketch from contemporary Magazine,showing the servant dropping out of the window. )In reality it was a first floor window.)

I came across the anniversary in a second hand book I picked up by my old boss, Sir Roy Strong. The book is called ‘The English Year’ and is written with Julia Trevelyan Oman and it is described as ‘A Personal Selection from Chambers’ Book of Days. (I just bought Chambers book on Abebooks for £ 2.10!). Both books are like, this blog, almanacs of the past.

Sir Roy Strong was the Director of the V&A. I didn’t really have much contact with him, being a lowly Assistant Keeper, but at the one Keepers’ Meeting I attended he seemed rather ineffectual as the chairman of the meeting. I remember some proposal was made to general approval, which Sir Roy didn’t seem to like, and the meeting ignored him. I also remember one of his assistants saying, he received a call from Sir Roy when no taxi was at the Airport to meet him, and expecting him to sort it out from the other side of the Atlantic!

Sir Roy is a dapper dresser with oiled moustache, probably with what one might call a neo-Georgian look, certainly, a dandy. But I always think he resembles Charles 1. However, when I consider the revival of the V&A under his tenure, I have to admit that my judgement of him was facile because a lot of the old architecture was revived under his control, the Victorian Cafe was transformed, the shop turned into a retail paradise and generally, the V&A ceased to be dusty and old under his control, and the wonders of the Victorian Museum shone with vibrant and rich colours. It reminds me that good leadership is allowing beneficial change to happen, it’s not about the leading being a dynamic alpha-person, but about moving an institution positively forward.

Nettles and the Grecian Spring March 10th

Image of web site for Hesiod's works and days, showing pandora's box an illustration by William Blake

In the early modern almanacs there is much weather and horticultural advice to be had (Weather Lore. Richard Inwards).

March damp and warm
Will do farmer much  harm

or

‘In March much snow
to plants and trees much woe

The store cupboards are getting denuded of the fruits, nuts, preserves, pickles, salted and dried foods saved from the summer and autumnal abundance. Of course this is alleviated by the reduced consumption of the Lenten fast.  (I’m currently giving up, giving up things for Lent). But nettles are budding. I’ve recently taken to a regular cup of nettle tea provided by the excellent Cowan’s tea emporium in the Covered Market in Oxford. But I’m running out and not due to visit Oxford for a month or two. So Charles Kightley in his Perpetual Almanac tells me that young stinging nettles are appearing, and perhaps, I might change up the tea for a nettle beer:

Take a gallon measure of freshly gathered young nettles washed well dried and well packed down. Boil them in a gallon of water for at least a quarter of an hour. Then strain them, press them and put the juice in an earthenware pot with a pound of brown sugar and the juice and grated skin of a lemon. Stir well, and before it grows cool put in an ounce of yeast dissolved in some of the liquid. Cover with a cloth and leave in a warm place for four or five days and strain again and bottle it, stopping the bottles well.  It’ll be ready after a week, but better if left longer.

A more sinister use is provided by William Coles who gives a method of detecting virginity.

Nettle tops are usually boiled in pottage in the Springtime, to consume the Phlegmatic superfluities in the body of man, that the coldness and moistness of the winter have left behind. And it is said that if the juice of the roots of nettles be mixed with ale and beer, and given to one that suspected to have lost her maidenhood, if it remain with her, she is a maid, But if she’s spews forth, she is not.

William Cole’s Adam in Eden 1657.

Mrs Greaves in her ‘A Modern Herbal’ tells us that William Camden relates that Roman soldiers used nettles to heat up their legs in the cold of a British winter.  The 18th century poet Thomas Campbell is quoted on the virtues of nettles:

“I have slept in nettle sheets, and I have dined off a nettle tablecloth. The young and tender nettle is an excellent potherb. The stalks of the old nettle are as good as flax for making cloth. I have heard my mother say that she thought nettle cloth more durable than any other linen.”

Greaves tells us that when the German and Austrians had a shortage of cotton during the blockade of World War 2 they turned to nettles to replace cotton production believing it to be the only effective substitute.  It was also substituted for sugar, starch, protein, paper and ethyl alcohol. 

Pepys ate Nettle Pudding in February 1661 and pronounced it ‘very good’.  Nettles were added to horse feed to make their coats shine, and as a hair tonic for humans.  Nettle Beer was used for old people against ‘gouty and rheumatic pains’, and flogging with nettles was a cure for rheumatism and the loss of muscle power!

I can see I’m going to have to get out there and carefully pick myself some nettles! ( For Folklore of nettles look here). But this post was conceived as a piece on Spring starting with Hesiod!

The Works and Days is a farmer’s Almanac written for Hesiod’s brother. It has a mixture of seasonal good advice and moralising. He is, one of the first great poets of the western world, and near contemporary with Homer. He is an important source for important Greek Myths, and, for example, tells us that the story of Prometheus and Pandora is the reason the Gods cannot give us a simple wholesome life. He also talks about the ages of humanity which are: Golden Age, Silver Age, Bronze Age, Heroic Age, and our own decadent Iron age. This system was borrowed by C. J. Thomsen at the National Museum of Denmark in the early 19th Century to create out modern Three Age System of Stone, Bronze and Iron Age. Our system is more optimistic with a progressive trend while the Greek system degenerates through successive eras..

Hesiod sees Spring as a time to begin trading by sea but he warns us not to put all our eggs in one vessel as Spring can bring nasty nautical surprises.

In Rome early March is taken up much with celebrations of the Great God Mars, the one who enabled the Romans to conquer most of the known world. For the Anglo Saxon their poetry saw Spring as a great release when the ‘fetters of frost’ fall off and allow a welcome return to sailing on the high seas .

The Seafarer

The woods take on blossoms, towns become fair,
meadows grow beautiful the world hastens on;
all these things urge the eager mind,
the spirit to the journey, in one who thinks to travel
far on the paths of the sea.
….

So now my spirit soars out of the confines of the heart,
my mind over the sea flood;
it wheels wide over the whale’s home,

Poem from the Exeter Book known as the Seafarer, quoted in Eleanor Parker’s ‘Winters in the World a journey through the Anglo Saxon year’.

Hesiod ‘Works & Days’

‘Spring too grants the chance to sail.
When first some leaves are seen
On fig-tree-tops, as tiny as the mark
A raven leaves, the sea becomes serene
For sailing. Though spring bids you to embark,
I’ll not praise it – it does not gladden me.
It’s hazardous, for you’ll avoid distress
With difficulty thus. Imprudently
Do men sail at that time – covetousness
Is their whole life, the wretches. For the seas
To take your life is dire. Listen to me:
Don’t place aboard all your commodities –
Leave most behind, place a small quantity
Aboard. To tax your cart too much and break
An axle, losing all, will bring distress.
Be moderate, for everyone should take
An apt approach. When you’re in readiness,
Get married. Thirty years, or very near,
Is apt for marriage. Now, past puberty
Your bride should go four years: in the fifth year
Wed her. That you may teach her modesty
Marry a maid. The best would be one who
Lives near you, but you must with care look round
Lest neighbours make a laughingstock of you.
A better choice for men cannot be found
Than a good woman,’

HESIOD’S WORKS AND DAYS Translated by Chris Kelk

By the way none of this is good advice to follow!

I have more on Hesiod:

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.

The Great Freeze February 12th 1895

Skating on the Serpentine by Lucien Davis
Antique wood-engraved print. Illustrated London News double page from 2 March 1895 (print owned by K Flude)

London, February 12. There is no abatement of the abnormally cold weather which has prevailed in northern Europe for the last week. The Upper Thames is frozen over, and huge blocks of ice breaking away from the mass are floating down, the river, causing much damage to the smaller shipping craft. Water traffic is consequently at a complete standstill. Many cases of death from cold and exposure are reported, the privation and distress in the east end of the city being particularly severe. The cold is so intense that birds are found frozen to death on the branches of the trees, and thousands are perishing. The severe weather has also directly caused considerable mortality, a number of deaths from exposure having been reported among postmen, omnibus drivers, cabmen, and labourers.

Contemporary Newspaper quotation on February 12th 1895 quoted by Isle of Dogs Life blog

Winter of 1895 Limehouse to left, Tower of London to right. Images from Isle of Dogs blog.

For more details and contemporary newspaper accounts read the Isle of Dogs blog. 1895 was the culmination of a decade of particularly cold winters (and for some the end of the so-called Little Ice Age. On the 11th February the coldest day in British History was recorded at Braemar at −27.2 °C. February 1895 was the second coldest on record, with the lowest minimum temperatures on record. Shipping in the biggest port in the world was stopped. Many workers were laid off, and had to resort to what were then called ‘soup kitchens’ and now ‘food banks’. Winter death rates were said to be doubled, with people dying in the street and in unheated homes.

Record minima were set for these dates in February 1895:

  • 7th: −21.7 °C or −7.1 °F
  • 8th: −25.0 °C or −13.0 °F
  • 9th: −23.9 °C or −11.0 °F
  • 10th: −25.6 °C or −14.1 °F
  • 11th: −27.2 °C or −17.0 °F
  • 12th: −20.6 °C or −5.1 °F
  • 13th: −21.9 °C or −7.4 °F
  • 14th: −21.7 °C or −7.1 °F
  • 16th: −23.9 °C or −11.0 °F
  • 17th: −23.9 °C or −11.0 °F
  • 18th: −23.9 °C or −11.0 °F
  • 19th: −22.2 °C or −8.0 °F

Source Wikipedia.

On the flip side people resorted to ponds around London particularly the Serpentine which had 6 inches of ice and 50,000 skaters, with speed skating competitions.

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

Constellation of Gemini overhead February 10th

Photo  of consteltion of gemini with connecting lines to show it better
Till Credner – Own work, http://www.AlltheSky.com from wikipedia

Gemini should be almost overhead in the Northern Hemisphere, and can be picked out by its two brightest starts, Castor and Pollux. Gemini can be seen from September to May. But between September to November it is only visible in the morning before sunrise. It is best viewed from January to March. For evening viewing it is possible from December to May In February it should best visible at 9.00pm.

I will follow this post up with another one about the Twins on July 15th but here are the basic details from that post:

The Divine Twins, the Dioscuri, were horsemen, patrons of calvary, athletes, and sailors. Pollux is the son of Zeus and Leda (raped by Zeus in the guise of a swan). His twin brother has a different and mortal father, the King of Sparta and the same mother, Leda. So they are examples of heteropaternal superfecundation.

One is therefore immortal and the other isn’t. They had many adventures including sailing with Jason as Arganauts.

According to some version of the story, Castor was mortally wounded, and Zeus gave his twin brother the option of letting Castor die while Pollux spends eternity on Mount Olympus, or sharing his immortality with his brother. He agreed to the latter, and the twins spend half their year as the Constellation of Gemini and the rest, immortal, on Mount Olympus. Thus, they are the epitome of brotherly love.

Their sisters were, no less than Helen of Troy, and Clytemnestra. But more about them in July.

Diagram of H. A. Rey‘s alternative way to connect the stars of the constellation Gemini. Twins are shown holding hands. Wikipedia AugPi CC BY-SA 3.0

See Also Almanac of the Past on Gemini.

St Apollonia’s Day. A Day to Cure the Toothache February 9th

Saint Apollonia. Woodcut. Wellcome Collection. Public Domain Mark. She is shown with forceps and extracted tooth and the martyr’s palm.

The 9th of February is St Apollonia’s Day. She was martyred at Alexandria in 249 AD during the persecution of Emperor Decius. She was attacked during an anti-Christian riot and struck around the face knocking her teeth out. Then, she was taken to a bonfire and told they would throw her in if she did not renounce her faith. So, without waiting, she spoke a prayer and walked into the fire. This information is recorded in a near-contemporary letter from St Dionysius of Alexandria and so is a rare well documented martyrdom. Because her teeth were knocked out she is, therefore, Saint of Toothache.

I can remember my Grandmother prescribing cloves for me when I had toothache. And this was, and is, a common remedy. In my case, we would keep a clove or two in the mouth close to the site of the pain. According to Natural Ways to Sooth an Toothache cloves contain

‘Eugenol, a natural form of anaesthetic and antiseptic that helps get rid of germs. Eugenol is still used in dental materials today’

Dr John Hall, Shakespeare’s son-in-law, tended to use a pill to soothe sore gums, but also a oil from a wood called ‘Ol. Lig. Heraclei’ which may be oil from the Bay Tree. (‘John Hall and his Patients’ by Joan Lane). Most of his tooth cases seem to be sore gums, which suggests to me Dr John Hall did not generally do dental work.

To get a tooth drawn you could go to a Barber Surgeon, a Blacksmiths or specialist Tooth Drawer. This would be terrifyingly painful and probably only done when the pain was unbearable, but just think what a premium could be demanded by a really competent drawer. The drawers would probably not have any formal training, but the skills would be passed on by the drawer to his apprentice or assistant. So, they were a very important part of the health care system.

A bill of mortality for London 1665, showing 11 deaths caused by 'teeth' (as opposed to 353 for 'feaver'
List of causes of death, London during the plague of 1665. Teeth killed 11 people

‘Teeth’ was a common cause of death – most likely being from infection or an abscess. It is interesting that someone as erudite and educated as the 17th Century writer, John Aubrey tells us in a chapter on Magick of less formal ways of tooth care. He tells us, in places, that the person who told him the story is worthy of belief. So he seems to give some credence to the efficacy of these magickal ‘cures’. But, judge for yourself; this is what he wrote:

To Cure the Tooth-ach.

Take a new Nail, and make the Gum bleed with it, and then drive it into an Oak. This did Cure William Neal, Sir William Neal’s Son, a very stout Gentleman, when he was almost Mad with the Pain, and had a mind to have Pistoll’d himself.

To Cure the Tooth-ach, out of Mr. Ashmole’s Manuscript Writ with his own Hand.

Mars, hur, abursa, aburse.
Iesu Christ for Marys sake,
Take away this Tooth-ach.

Write the words, Three times; and as you say the Words, let the Party burn one Paper, then another, and then the last.

He says, he saw it experimented, and the Party immediately Cured

John Aubrey’s Miscellanies 1695

May, Williams and Bishop at the Old Bailey accused of murder in pursuit of bodysnatching

In 1832, in London Bishop, Williams and May were accused of bodysnatching. After killing the Italian Boy ( wonderful book by Sarah Wise ‘The Italian Boy‘) they jemmied out the teeth and took them to a South London Dentist. They ‘cheapened’ (I cheap, you cheap, we are cheapening: meaning to barter) with the Dentist to get a decent price for the teeth. The dentist wanted to use them for false teeth for his patients. If I remember correctly, he paid £1 for them.

The teeth were evidence in the trial of the murderers, and once two of them had been hanged (the third turned King’s Evidence), the dentist asked for the teeth back! They were released back to the Dentist who promptly put them in the window of his surgery as an advert for his professional skills!

Earlier, one of the Borough Boys Resurrectionist gang (based in Southwark, London) toured the battlefields of the Peninsular Wars and came back with hundreds of teeth extracted from dead soldiers to sell to dentists as false teeth – they became known as Waterloo Teeth.

When I first wrote this in I added ‘How things have changed!’, but recent news that people in parts of Britain, without effective access to Dental care, have begun resorted to doing their own dental work. This often means extracting their own rotten teeth. Effectively, it seems this Conservative Government is allowing dentistry to slip out of the NHS just like it did with eye health. For a study in what has happened to Dentistry in the UK in recent years, please look at this report here.

First writen February 2023, revised February 2024.

Gilbert White & The Cold of January 1776 January 28th

Photo of London Fields in the snow of 2022
Photo of London Fields in the snow of 2022 by Kevin Flude

In January 1776 Gilbert White observed:

‘On the 27th much snow fell all day, and in the evening the frost became very intense. At South Lambeth, for the four following nights, the thermometer fell to 7, 6, 6, and at Selborne to 7, 6, 10, and on the 3ist of January , just before sunrise, with rime on the trees and on the tube of the glass, the quicksilver sunk exactly to zero, being 32 degrees below the freezing point’

If there was a Giant upon whose shoulders Charles Darwin climbed, then it was Gilbert White’s. He was one of many churchmen of the 18th and 19th Century who spent their extensive leisure time, on observing God’s wonderful creation in their gardens and parishes. What made White so important was that his practice was ‘observing narrowly’ and regularly. For example, his observations of the importance of earth worms were fundamental to Charles Darwin’s own studies, Once Darwin came back from his travels on the Beagle, he settled in a country property in Orpington and, like White, used his garden and the local area as his laboratory with which he worked to prove his theory of evolution.

Earth worms were one of Darwin’s passions. This is what Gilbert White wrote about their contribution to nature:

“Earth-worms, though in appearance a small and despicable link in the chain of Nature, yet, if lost, would make a lamentable chasm. For, to say nothing of half the birds, and some quadrupeds which are almost entirely supported by them, worms seem to be the great promoters of vegetation, by boring, perforating, and loosening the soil, and rendering it pervious to rains and the fibres of plants, and, most of all, by throwing up such infinite numbers of lumps of earth called worm-casts, which, being their excrement, is a fine manure for grain and grass.”

(Quoted from https://gilbertwhiteshouse.org.uk)

By such minute and repeated observations, Gilbert White investigated the food chain, the migration of birds (which was at the time disputed) and laid the foundations of what we now call ecology.

White, although rising to Dean of Oriel College in Oxford, chose to spend his career in the relatively humble occupation of Curate. A Curate is the bottom-feeder in the Anglican Church food chain, and Jane Austen would tell you that a Curate hardly earned enough to maintain a position in the Gentry (£50 p.a.). Although White gained the title of Perpetual Curate (a title shared with Patrick Brontë), he still would only be pulling in, I guess, something like £200 p.a. But then White didn’t need much, he inherited his father’s property at Shelborne, Hampshire. White’s grandfather was the Vicar at Shelborne. But Gilbert could not inherit the title because he went to Oriel College, while the ‘living’ at Shelborne was ‘in the gift of’ Magdalen College, And they were not going to give the role to an alumnus of a rival college; however, he might deserve it.

The house, now open to the public, is just around the corner from Chawton where Jane Austen spent her last years. He was born in 1720; was 55 when Austen was born, and he died in 1793. He lived 4 miles away, so the families knew of each other. We know Jane Austen’s brother wrote a poem about Gilbert White and his natural history observations, particularly on birds

From ‘Selbourne Hanger’ by James Austen

Who talks of rational delight }
When Selbourne’s Hill appears in sight }
And does not think of Gilbert White? }
Such sure he was – by Nature grac’d
With her best gift of genuine taste;
And Providence – which cast his lot
Within this calm, secluded spot,
Plac’d him where best th’enquiring mind
Might study Nature’s works, and find
Within her ever open book
Beauties which others overlook.
Enthusiast sweet! Your vivid style
The attentive reader can beguile
Through many a page, and still excite
An Interest in what you write!
For whilst observant you describe
The habits of the feathery tribe
Their Loves and Wars – their nest and Song,
We never think the tale too long.

For more information on White and Austen go to Gilbert Whites House’s web page here:

Here is more of that epic cold January 1776

‘On the 27th much snow fell all day, and in the evening the frost became very intense. At South Lambeth, for the four following nights, the thermometer fell to n, 7, 6, 6, and at Selborne to 7, 6, 10, and on the 3ist of January ‘, just before sunrise, with rime on the trees and on the tube of the glass, the quicksilver sunk exactly to zero, being 32 degrees below the freezing point ; but by eleven in the morning, though in the shade, it sprang up to I6J,1 — a most unusual degree of cold this for the south of England \ During these four nights the cold was so penetrating that it occasioned ice in warm chambers and under beds ; and in the day the wind was so keen that persons of robust constitutions could scarcely endure to face it. The Thames was at once so frozen over both above and below bridge that crowds ran about on the ice. The streets were now strangely encumbered with snow, which crumbled and trod dusty ; and, turning grey, resembled bay-salt : what had fallen on the roofs was so perfectly dry that, from first to last, it lay twenty-six days on the houses in the city ; a longer time than had been remembered by the oldest housekeepers living…..’

‘The consequences of this severity were, that in Hampshire, at the melting of the snow, the wheat looked well, and the turnips came forth little injured. The laurels and laurustines were somewhat damaged, but only in hot aspects. No evergreens were quite destroyed ; and not half the damage sustained that befell in January, 1768. Those laurels that were a little scorched on the south-sides were perfectly untouched on their north-sides. The care taken to shake the snow day by day from the branches seemed greatly to avail the author’s evergreens. A neighbour’s laurel-hedge, in a high situation, and facing to the north, was perfectly green and vigorous ; and the Portugal laurels remained unhurt.’

‘We had steady frost on to the 25th, when the thermometer in the morning was down to 10 with us, and at Newton only to 21. Strong frost continued till the 3ist, when some tendency to thaw was observed ; and, by January the 3d, 1785, the thaw was confirmed, and some rain fell.’

Rosemary flowering in december
Rosemary flowering in my garden

Here, as a bonus, are food stuffs that are in season now.

Wild Greens: Chickweed, hairy bittercress, dandelion leaves, sow thistle, wintercress

Vegetables: Forced Rhubarb, purple sprouting broccoli, carrots, brussels sprouts, turnips, beetroot, spinach, kale, chard, leeks, Jerusalem artichokes, lettuces, chicory, cauliflowers, cabbages, celeriac, swedes

Herbs: Winter savory, parsley, chervil, coriander, rosemary, bay, sage

Cheeses: Stilton, Lanark Blue

(from the Almanac by Lia Leendertz)

The last section posted originally in 2023, the part on Gilbert White written on 28th January 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.