MAY DAY 1

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

Maypoles were often stored during the year. They were then 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 the 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.

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. Midnight was chosen by Julius Caesar when he created the Julian Calendar. Midnight has the virtue of being a fixed metric. Dawn and Dusk vary and are difficult to precisely fix. Midnight is half way between Dawn and Dusk, and a fixed point.

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. 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 of 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 flowers 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 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. Cribs would be bedecked with Hawthorn and protection might be helped 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 a lot of people married in April.

After celebrations in the evening of April 30th, women would go out in the woods to collect May, and to wash their faces in May Dew preferable from the leaves of Hawthorn, or beneath an oak tree. Thinking of one’s lover might bring marriage within the year.

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

PODCAST FOR A VIRTUAL TOUR THROUGH THE WHOLE ISLAND OF GREAT BRITAIN. NO.5 EDINBURGH

View From Edinburgh Castle
View From Edinburgh Castle

This is the Podcast for the Virtual Tour of Edinburgh

To find out or book for the Edinburgh walk and other walks this week end click here

A Virtual Tour Through The Whole Island Of Great Britain. No.5 Edinburgh

Monday 2 May 2022 7 pm

A Virtual Walk Through the Athens of the North

Borrowing my title from Daniel Defoe’s early chorography, my first Circuit is from Chester to Edinburgh. Now on the last stop on this first circuit we are taking a virtual tour of the most extraordinary City – Edinburgh.

Edinburgh is a very unusual City as it was built on the saddle of a hill so its main street runs down the ridge of a hill and the City falls away on either side. This lack of flat land and restricted space led to the City growing upwards. This gave the City an extraordinary density and an unique atmosphere that we will be exploring.

In the Georgian period the City was extended with the addition of a new town quarter which was rationally planned and made a marked contrast on the old Town. Together it gives the Capital of Scotland, a combination of atmospheric and claustrophobic town planning with the elegance of a City that was one of the great Cities of the Enlightenment.

We will begin the virtual walk in the shadow of Arthur’s Seat at the shiny new Scottish Parliament and walk up the Royal Mile from Holyrood to Tollboth, to the Netherbow and onto the Castle at the pinnacle of the City

To Book:

SHAKESPEARE’S BIRTHDAY AND TUDOR BIRTH.

shakWilliam Shakespeare by Martin Droeshout from the 1st Folio
William Shakespeare by Martin Droeshout from the 1st Folio

By tradition, Shakespeare was born on St George’s Day April 23rd 1564, 457 years ago. He died on April 23rd 1616 at age 52. Cervantes died on the same day. The death date is given by the burial register at the Holy Trinity Church, Stratford on Avon where he was buried. His baptismal record also survives at the same church and is on April 26th 1564. but we don’t actually know when he was born.

Anne Shakespeare would have ‘taken to her chamber’ about four weeks before the due date. The windows or shutters would have been fastened as fresh air was thought to be bad for the birthing process. Female friends and relatives would come round, and the room would be decorated with fine carpets, hangings, silver plates and fine ornaments. It was felt that external events could influence the birth, and any shocks or horrors were thought to be the cause of deformities and anomalies, so a calm lying-in room was clearly a good idea.

When labour began female friends, relatives and the midwife were called to help out. A caudle of spiced wine or beer would be given to the mother to strengthen her through the process. Today the maternal mortality rate is 7 per 100,000. An estimate for the 16th Century is 1500 per 100,000. So most women would have heard of or attended the birth of women who had died during or following children birth. There were also no forceps so if a baby were stuck and could not be manually manipulated out, then the only way forward was to get a surgeon to use hooks to dismember the baby to save the life of the mother. Doctors were not normally in attendance, but could be called in emergency,

Immediately after washing the baby was swaddled. The swaddling was often very tight and could affect the baby’s growth, and might have affected the learning process as movement of hands are now considered very important in the early learning process. Swaddling lasted eight to nine months, and only went out of fashion after Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote against the practice.

Detail of tomb of Alexander Denton and his first wife Anne Willison, and her baby dressed in swaddling clothes Photo Wikipedia Hugh Llewelyn

Puerperal fever killed many women after successful childbirth for example Queen Jane Seymour who died after 5 days. During these dangerous early days the mother was kept in a dark room, and then, perhaps three days after birth friends were invited to celebrate ‘upsitting’ when the mother was no longer confined to bed. This is when christening would take place.

Edward VI was christened to a huge audience in the chapel at Hampton Court three days after his birth. Licensed midwives could baptise newborn babies provided they used the correct wording and informed the Church so that the registration could be properly reported. Thomas Cromwell was responsible for the law in 1538 which insisted on a parish register to record weddings, christenings, and funerals. The law was reaffirmed by Queen Elizabeth in 1558 and registers had to be stored in a locked chest in the Church. (In 1597, the records had to be on parchment not paper, and in 1603 the chest had to have three locks!).

If the Christening were in the church the mother might not be there as she was expected to stay in her chamber for another week or so.

A week or a few weeks later the mother would be ‘churched.’ This was a thanks-giving ceremony, although Puritans did not like the idea that it could be considered a purification ceremony.

Breast feeding would last a year or so and many high status women choose to use a wet-nurse, but there was a real concern that the wet nurse was suitable as it was believed that the breast milk was important for the babies development both physically and temperamentally. Poor children who lost their mothers were very unlikely to survive as, without breast milk, the baby would be fed pap – bread soaked in cow’s milk.

Thanks very much to Alison Sim’s book ‘The Tudor Household’ for a lot of the above.

TODAY SPRING SPRUNG

HAGGERSTON. LONDON

The first sunny day of the year inviting enough to eat in the garden, partly because is is north facing, and its only now getting a decent time in the sun; and partly because it was a stonking warm sun. The Haggerston Rivera in the background is full of people deciding that this is the day to get it all out out in the sun. But also there is still a small proportion of people dressed ready just in case a chill north wind arrives unexpectedly.

Its also the death of the daffodils day – at least in my garden. Still a few tulips and even one or two yet to bloom. But the star of my garden at the moment is Honesty, which you can see to the left of the table (an old door repurposed). I first grew it on the balcony and it has now spread down and appeared in three places, and is rather lovely.

Its latin name is Lunaria annua because the silver seed pods look like a full moon, but they also look like silver coins. Therefore it symbolises wealth. It’s name Honesty is said to come from the translucent pod revealing the seeds beneath, honestly.

The book you see on the table s written by a friend from my Museum of London days who has recently published a book on Shakespeare’s time living in the Parish of St Helen’s near Bishopsgate.

Photos taken by the author last night.

Druids at All Hallows, by the Tower

My next walks – virtual and guided are here:

CHAUCER, ST MARY-AT-HILL & ST MARGARET PATTENS

St. Mary-at-Hill, by Christopher Wren, photo K Flude

So, having finished a walk around Chaucer’s London for a mother and her two very bright home educated children. I had to walk back over London Bridge and through the City to Aldgate where Chaucer used to live (and where I had parked my bike).

I took a couple of short cuts which I don’t usually take although often in and around this area. St Mary in Lovat Lane was open so I went in to find this amazing relief.

Judgement Day Relief Sculpture by workshop of Joshua Marshall c 1670

The panel beside it suggests its a sculpture of hope. Well yes, of sorts, if by hope you mean, facing your maker. It represents scenes from the end of days from the Book of Revelation. Jesus stands on a skull, trampling upon Satan, and below the heavenly clouds the Archangels, direct the newly risen from the coffins and graveyards to the Day of Judgement.

I then went past St Margaret Pattens, another Wren Church and was delighted to see a little display on pattens – overshoes worn to keep shoes clean. My ancestor was a beadle for the Patten makers.

A VIRTUAL TOUR THROUGH THE WHOLE ISLAND OF GREAT BRITAIN. NO. 2 CONWY

Conwy Estuary from the Castle, looking towards Deganwy to the North

Monday 7th March 2022 7.00 pm

See the gateway to Snowdonia and its magnificent Medieval Castle, Town and Bridges

Borrowing my title from Daniel Defoe’s early chorography, my first circuit is from Chester to Edinburgh. Now on our second stop we are taking a virtual tour of the gateway to North Wales – the delightful town of Conwy.

For a small town Conwy has everything – an absolutely magnificent Medieval Castle, a City Wall that is still intact around the entire Circuit. Some of the great feats of bridge and tunnel engineering, and a pocket sized town containing historic buildings, nice pubs, and the ‘smallest house in Great Britain.’

It is not only picturesque but was a settlement of enormous strategic importance in the invasions by the Romans and the English. And to finish the tour we will take a small excursion into Snowdonia to see what it guarded

To Book:

Podcast

FEBRUARY 19 -24TH SMOKE A COLTSFOOT

Coltsfoot by Andreas Trepte Wikipedia

The daisy-like plant is flowering about now and Gerard’s Herbal of 1633 suggests that the ‘fumes of the dried leaves taken through a funnel’ is good for those with coughs and shortness of breath. He suggests that it is smoked like tobacco and it’ mightly prevaileth.’

This idea, Mrs Grieves in her herbal, says is endorsed by’ Dioscorides, Galen, Pliny and Boyle’. and is ‘nature’s best herb for the lungs’.

Also Violets and crocii are coming out. The crocus represents many things but according to www.icysedgwick.com/ ‘White croci usually represented truth, innocence and purity. The purple variety imply success, pride and dignity. The yellow type is joy.’ Ovid tells the story of Crocus and Smilax in the Metaphoses: ‘how Crocus and his beloved Smilax were changed into tiny flowers. All these stories I will pass by and will charm your minds with a tale that is pleasing because new.’

Violets have been used as cosmetics by the Celts, to moderate anger by the Athenians, for insomnia and loved because of their beauty and fragrant. They have been symbols of death for the young, and used as garlands, nosegays posies which Gerard says are ‘delightful’.

Snowdrop, Crocus and Silver Birch circle in Haggerston Park. Photo Kevin Flude

Blossom is also coming out in London, a little early and following an earlier false spring when Cherry Blossom came out. Blackthorn (I think) is coming out in profusion in my local park.

White blossom in February in Haggerston Park. Blackthorn thinks photographer Kevin Flude

The 20th was the beginning of Pisces and also Sexagesima Sunday, which is the second Sunday before Ash Wednesday and it a time when we should be reflecting on our sins and lifestyle before we enter Lent.

Old Moore’sAlmanac for February suggests questions will be raised about the future of the Monarchy and that ‘Russia is entering a period of major restructuring’!

23rd February is ‘Terminalia, the Roman day for setting land boundaries.

FEBRUARY 4TH FEBRUARY KALENDAR OF SHEPHERDES

February Title page from Kalendar of Shepherdes.
February Title page from Kalendar of Shepherdes.

The 15th Century illustration shows February as a time to cut firewood, dress warmly and stay by the fire. Food on the title seems to be a pie, and the fish are there to remind us it is the month of Pisces.

Attributes of Pisceans selfless, mystical compassionate imaginative sensitive
pisces from the zodiac from kalendar of shepherds
From the zodiac from kalendar of shepherds

The poem above is a reference to Candlemas’s celebration of the presentation of the child Jesus at the Temple, and the paragraph below gives a summary of signs of February. It ends with the idea that runs through the Kalendar – there are twelve apostles, twelve days of Christmas, twelve months in the year, twelve blocks of six years in a person’s allotted 72 years of life. So the weather on the second day of Christmas forecasts what is going to happen in February. (Dec 26th 2021 was warm with rain, so far Feb has been warm with rain.) And February is linked to the second block of 6 years in a person’s life. In the January, the Kalendar suggests the essential uselessness of 0-6 year old children, while here, for February, it allows that from 6-12 years old children are beginning to ‘serve and learn’.

Here is the text for February which ends with the line: ‘It is the poor man’s pick-purse, the miser’s cut-throat, the enemy to pleasure and the time of patience.’

I introduce the Kalendar of Shepherds on this page.

Druids at All Hallows, by the Tower

My next walks – virtual and guided are here:

WALKS THIS WEEK!

THURSDAY. ARCHAEOLOGY OF LONDON – every Thursday 6.30 PM Click here for details and how to book.

SUNDAY

THE ARCHAEOLOGY OF LONDON BRIDGE, SOUTHWARK & BANKSIDE GUIDED WALK

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


Sunday 6 February 2022 2.30pm Monument Underground

The walk explores the area around the Bridge and London Bridge’s history

London Bridge is not only an iconic part of London’s history but it is also the key to much of the History of London. On this walk we explore the area around the Bridge.

On the north side we explore evidence for the origins of the Bridge, and the early Roman Port of London. We then cross the Bridge discovering the many rebuilds and the wonder of the famous London Bridge with all its houses along it. On the south side we explore the Historic Borough of Southwark which, archaeology has revealed, is very much more than just the first suburb of London.

We range from the prehistoric finds in the River, to the excavation of the Theatres of Shakespeare’s London on Bankside.

This is a London Walks Guided Walk. Look at their web site for a list of other of their amazing walks. The walk needs to be booked via this London Walk link. To Book:

Podcast for the Walk

London Bridge

THE ARCHAEOLOGY OF LONDON BRIDGE, SOUTHWARK & BANKSIDE VIRTUAL WALK

Sunday 6 February 2022 7.30pm

The virtual version of the London Bridge Walk.

To book

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