St Columba’s (St Colmcille’s) Day June 9th

St Columba st margarets chapel by Graham van der Wielen  Edinburgh  Lead glass
St Columba Stained Glass window in St Margaret’s Chapel Edinburgh Castle by Graham van der Wielen Wikipedia CC BY 2.0

St Columba, or Colmcille is one of the most important saints for the early transmission of Christianity. He was born in 521 and said to be a descendent of the possibly legendary Irish King Niall of the Nine Hostages. (The Hostages were a token of Niall’s power as they came from the five provinces of Ireland, which are Ulster, Connacht, Leinster, Munster, and Meath. The other four represented Scotland, the Saxons, the Britons, and the Franks). Columba was sent at an early age to be brought up as a Monk, and went on to set up Monasteries in Ireland at Derry and Durrow.

In 563, he left Ireland, possibly because he got involved in a dispute that had a deadly outcome. He went into exile to Scotland and set up the famous Monastery on the island of Iona, Inner Hebrides, off the coast of what would one day be called Scotland. At the time, it was under the control of the Kingdom of Dál Riata, which was nominally Christian and controlled parts of Ulster and Western Scotland.

From Iona, Columba led the conversion of the Picts to Christianity, which helped towards the unification of the Gaels, the Picts and the Britons, eventually into the Kingdom of Alba which became Scotland. Iona became the traditional burial place of early Scottish Kings such as Macbeth (Mac Bethad mac Findlaích). Kings who were crowned at Scone and buried in Iona.

Much of the events of this part of Columba’s life are recorded by St. Adamnan in The Life of Saint Columba written in the 7th Century, much of which is apocryphal. One notable story tells how he came across a group of Pagan Picts who were mourning a child killed by a monster in the River Ness. St Columba revived the child. He then sent one of the Brothers to swim across the Loch to fetch a boat. The “water beast” pursued the Monk and was about to attack him when St Columba told the monster to stop, and so it did, retreating to the depths of Loch Ness. Thus began the legend of the Loch Ness monster.

St Columba died in 597AD. Iona continued to prosper and in, 634AD sent St Aidan from Iona to found the Monastery at Lindisfarne, which is on the Eastern coast of Britain in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria, which was one of the most powerful at the time. Lindisfarne was instrumental in the conversion of the Kingdom of Northumbria. This tradition of evangelism took hold in the British Isles, and it was from here that much of the German-speaking world was converted to Christianity.

This is St Columba’s legacy.

There is a developing understanding among scholars that this Irish inspired form of Christianity took a leading role in ritual, art, scholarship in the Roman Catholic world at this time. Just stop and think about that sentence for a moment. The north-western extreme of the Islands off the coast of Europe took a leading role in the development of Western Christianity. This was highlighted in a recent exhibition of Anglo-Saxon art at the British Library.

British Library with Poster for Anglo-Saxons Kingdoms Exhibition, Photo K Flude
British Library with Poster for Anglo-Saxons Kingdoms Exhibition, Photo K Flude

A look at the Lindisfarne Gospel and the Book of Kells showcases the amazing art of this period. For a real treat, look through this scrollable virtual copy of the Lindisfarne Gospel. (Currently this is unavailable, I suspect since the BL was hacked) The Book itself has been missing from the displays of the British Museum for a couple of years, and was on display in Northumberland in 2022. I’m not sure whether it is yet back on display at the British Museum. I hope so, but the scrollable version almost compensates for its absence. You can see the Book of Kells at Trinity College, Dublin or look at their online offering here: Not quite as joyous an experience as the online Lindisfarne but beautiful enough.

Carpet Page from the Lindisfarne Gospel
Carpet Page from the Lindisfarne Gospel Photo Wikiepedia Eadfrith –
Lindisfarne evangeliarium, tapijtbladzijde op f26v, Matteüsevangelie

Here is a virtual tour of Iona

Here is a 360-degree panoramic photo tour of Lindisfarne Abbey

The most important weather forecast in History D Day June 6th

North Atlantic chart of weather for June 6th 1944.  Showing occupied Europe with observations obtained from the enigma machine

In 2014 or thereabouts I went to a play by David Haig which was based on the true story of weather forecaster James Stagg’s advice that the weather on June 6th 1944 would be the best day to go ahead.

The play was called Pressure and was great because it really conveyed the enormity of the decision that Ike, Churchill and others had to make.  To go ahead in bad weather risked enormous casualties and the failure of the Landings.  To postpone, might mean Hitler discovered the location of the invasions and disaster.

Major characters portrayed in the play included Ike and his driver, Kay Summersby with whom he was very close, and an American forecaster who disagreed with the British meteorologist James Stagg.  How much of the play was for dramatic effect and how much is true, I’m not entirely sure but it is a fascinating D Day story.

The maps were hand drawn and partially based on intercepted data decoded by the enigma machine.  Stagg recommended postponing the landings one day from the 5th to the 6th of June, when it was hoped the ideal combination of calm seas, low water at first light and a full moon would occur.

Maps used to present the data have recently been  up for sale and are discussed here https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-somerset-68845546

I was reminded of the play by this article on the weather on D DAY on the BBC website https://www.bbc.co.uk/weather/articles/c2995n9wgz8o.

Please have a read.

May: Dandelions, Hinder Fallings and Bed Wetting

Dandelion Photo by Nick Nice on Unsplash

May has gone and, and just like last year not so many May posts. I have been leading a study tour for Road Scholar called ‘Quintessential Britain’ which visits: London, Oxford, Stonehenge, Bath, the Cotswolds, Ironbridge, Chester, Wales, York, Edinburgh. Great to see all those places in the company of a lovely group. In between, I have been moving my boat, Mrs Towser and looking after my grandson. Last year we went down the Lee Navigation to East London, but this year I am moored outside the golden gates of Hampton Court, in West London, at the beginning of an epic journey to Bath.

My boat is just where Henry VIII would have landed with Anne Boleyn on a visit from Westminster. The picture of the Gate wasn’t worth taking, sadly as they have erected some awful modern metal fending in front of it. But here is one I took a few years ago.

Mrs towser at Hampton court
Mrs towser at Hampton Court, you can just see the Gates behind the moored Narrowboat. Gates are, I think, by the great Jean Tijou

Indeed they are by Tijou and below is a video about the the restoration of the Tijou gates. Well worth five minutes of your time to watch.

And, I have a photo of the Gates taken on Friday just after Mrs Towser was moored.

The Tijou Gates (May 24). I’m not sure what the function is of the horrible modern fence in front of it. I guess to protect it, but it also obscures it.

Last year I wrote about looking after my grandson who was just making that huge transition from nappies to no nappies but is now so much grown up and joined by a brother. But, the post sprang from something that he said to me in the middle of the park. He was curious as to why I was concerned that the park toilets were out of action. He told me I could, like him, just pull down my trousers and wee, right here, right then, up against the tree in the park. My attempt at explanation drew a perplexed, ‘What?’ ‘What?’ is his new word. After an explanation, his next word is invariable another ‘What?’.

Is this relevant, you are asking yourself? May and June are the most prolific months for dandelions, which used to be known as ‘piss-a-beds’. They are diuretic and were often eaten, and so might well have consequences for the young trainee child.

John Hollybush in his 1561 ‘The Homish Apothecary’ says:

‘When a young body does piss in his bed either oft or seldom: if ye will help him take the bladder of a goat and dry it to powder, and get him to drink with wine, or else take the beans or hinder fallings of a goat, and give him of the powder in his meat morning and evening, a quarter ounce at every time.’

(quoted in ‘The Perpetual Almanac by Charles Kightley)

Hinder fallings are what falls out of the hind-quarters of a goat. I’m not sure even an indulgent Grandparent is allowed to give droppings and wine to the little ones. Nor can I find any mention of goat products in modern medical recommendations. So I won’t be recommending this as a practical aid.

Medically, dandelions were very well regarded. Mrs Grieve’s ‘Modern Herbal’ reports that it are diuretic and a general stimulant to the system but particularly the urinary system. They were good for liver and kidney complaints; gall-stones; and piles. They were considered excellent to eat and drink. Particularly, dandelion sandwiches using young leaves, with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. They were also taken in salads, teas, and beers.

We used to blow the seeds from the dandelion seed head saying ‘She loves me. She loves me not’ at each blow, until the truth was revealed.

Here is a poem based on the rhyme:

First written in June 2023, revised june 2024.

St Pancras May 12th

St Pancras, Old Church (Photo: Kevin Flude)

Pancras means ‘all-powerful’ in Greek. St Pancras was a 14 year old who refused to give up his Christian Faith during the persecution of Christians by the Emperor Diocletian. He was beheaded on the Via Aurelia, traditionally, on 12 May 303 AD. His youth makes him the Patron Saint of children, but he is also the patron saint of jobs and health, and ‘invoked’ against cramps, false witnesses, headaches, and perjury. His body was buried in the Catacombs, but his head is kept in a reliquary in the Church of Saint Pancras in Rome, where he was buried.

Pope Gregory is said to have given St Augustine relics from St Pancras when his mission came to Kent in 597AD. They built a church dedicated to St Pancras, ruins of which can be found in the grounds of what is now St Augustine’s. Canterbury.

This story is partly responsible for the claims that St Pancras Old Church (pictured above) is a very old foundation. The idea being that there was a late Roman place of worship here. But there is very little solid evidence for this. It is also argued that, if it isn’t late Roman, then it dates to just after 604AD when St Mellitus, sent by St Augustine, established St Pauls Cathedral, and St Pancras Church. St Pancras’ Church was a Prebend of St Pauls Cathedral, but this is not evidence it was established as early as the Cathedral was. (a Prebend provides the stipend (pay) to support a Canon of a Cathedral).

When the Church was restored, the architects said it was mostly Tudor work with traces of Norman architecture. However, the suggested finding of a Roman tile or two, reused in the fabric, is used as evidence to keep the legend going.

If you read the Wikipedia page you will see evidence of two strands to the contributions, one trying to play down the legends of its early foundation, and, another trying to keep hold of its place as among the ‘earliest sites of Christian worship’.

Read the wikipedia page here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Pancras_Old_Church

It is a lovely Church, on an impressive site, with links to Thomas Hardy, and Sir John Soane whose tomb is the design inspiration for the iconic Red Telephone Box.

May Posts & Medieval Royal Horses

Medieval illumination of a medieval tournament

I’ve been taking groups around Britain from London to Edinburgh and have fallen behind on my postings.

So, I am going to post a few posts today to put them on my Almanac of the Past. They will be brief, and will be worked up for a re-publication in greater length next year.

Archaeological Discoveries at Elverton St. Westminster

Near the site of the medieval jousting arena in Westminster, London at Elverton St, archaeologists, nearly 30 years ago, excavated a Cemetery which contained the remains of horses. The University of Exeter has recently revealed the results of their analysis of the horses’ bones. The 15 animals studied were found to be above average in height, and marked by a life where they had been worked hard. Analysis of their teeth suggested they came from as far afield as Scandinavia, the Alps, Spain, and Italy.

Three of the animals are the largest found in England at the time. The findings suggest they might be from a Royal Stud farm, providing war, jousting or hunting animals for the elite.

For more details read: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-68632099

Boating adventure & the Second Best Modernist Building in London

The Hoover Building in Perivale NW London, photo Kevin Flude

I published this piece in April, but for some reason to do with the fact that I published the posts from my phone rather than my computer, no email was sent to subscribers.

So, here is a chance to see it.

What makes owning a narrow boat so wonderful, apart from enjoying living amidst nature, is the accidental discovery of undreamt of wonders.  Last week, I moved my narrow boat from Westbourne Park, on the Grand Union Canal, to Perivale.  A 3-hour boat trip of less than 10 miles to a frankly uninspiring suburb.  But, as so often, mooring in an uninspiring place uncovered surprises that transform the mundane to the delightful.

Paddington branch of the Grand Union Canal heading west from Westbourne Park.  Photo Harriet Salisbury

We set off on a beautifully sunny April morning to move the boat the requisite distance to satisfy licence terms. Rain at 12 prompted a premature end to the trip.  We trudged to Perivale Underground Station, bemoaning our failure to get to Southall, to enjoy a Dosa In London’s Little India.

The road to Perivale is dull suburbia.  But we stopped at a library boasting a cafe, which turned out to be a really nice bit of early 20th Century library architecture, with a cheerful volunteer explaining they were keeping the library from closure due to council cost-cutting.

Perivale Library photo Kevin Flude

They had made the library really cosy with sofas and comfortably sitting areas. Sadly, the promised Café was not open.

Perivale Library. Interior. Photo Kevin Flude

The volunteer pointed us in the direction of a sandwich at the Tesco in the Hoover Building. I had no idea this icon of Modernism was a short walk away, so we jumped at the chance to see, at close range, one of my favourite London buildings. 

The Hoover Building (photo K Flude)

I regularly point it out to the groups I take to Oxford.  But I have never seen it up close nor standing still. Not only is the building a fabulous cream and green, but it has a backstory of interest to London’s history.  As road transport began to remake the geography of London in the early 20th Century, factories in Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Southwark, Lambeth, and other Inner London Boroughs closed, and new factories were constructed on the roads out of London, mostly manufacturing consumer goods.  Park Royal, Greenford, Slough and Staines were among the areas to develop as consumerism powered the 20th Century with the production of irons, kettles, hairdryers, radios, washing machines, vacuum cleaners and suchlike delights for the workers and families. The fields around were turned into rows of semi-detached houses to mortgage to the workers.

The Hoover Building is a Grade II* listed building of Art Deco architecture[1] designed by Wallis, Gilbert and Partners located in Perivale in the London Borough of Ealing. The site opened in 1933 as the UK headquarters, manufacturing plant and repairs centre for The Hoover Company.[2]‘ (Wikipedia). It has been converted to apartments and a Tesco occupies the Factory Floor.

What made this trip even more special was that one of the original buildings has become a Hotel, in which we discovered a massive Indian Restaurant.  There, we found it full of about 500 people eating a fast-breaking Eid dinner. £26 to eat as much as you can, all self-service, with scores of chefs serving their delicious tureens of Asian food. Such a great cultural experience, and rather better than the tasteless Tesco sandwich we were expecting.

If I’m passing the factory on a tour, I tend to read to my group Sir John Betjeman’s patronising poem ‘Slough’ which is about the horror of the new consumer society.   ‘Slough’ is wonderful to read and, yet, also, awful, not just the Oxbridge author looking down his long privileged nose at the lower classes but going to the extreme of suggesting Slough would be better off bombed to smithereens.

Guernica was bombed on 26th April 1937 and ‘Slough appeared’ in a Betjeman collection called ‘Continual Dew’ in the same year (I havent located a reference with the actual date of publication).  Bad taste in the extreme, hardly mitigated by the fact that it was originally written in 1928 and was about trading estates in general rather than Slough in particular.  Still, despite all it is still one of my favourite poems for the insight it gives to attitudes of the British class system.

So, here it is.

Slough

Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough!
It isn’t fit for humans now,
There isn’t grass to graze a cow.
Swarm over, Death!

Come, bombs and blow to smithereens
Those air-conditioned, bright canteens,
Tinned fruit, tinned meat, tinned milk, tinned beans,
Tinned minds, tinned breath.

Mess up the mess they call a town-
A house for ninety-seven down
And once a week a half a crown
For twenty years.

And get that man with double chin
Who’ll always cheat and always win,
Who washes his repulsive skin
In women’s tears:

And smash his desk of polished oak
And smash his hands so used to stroke
And stop his boring dirty joke
And make him yell.

But spare the bald young clerks who add
The profits of the stinking cad;
It’s not their fault that they are mad,
They’ve tasted Hell
.

It’s not their fault they do not know
The birdsong from the radio,
It’s not their fault they often go
To Maidenhead

And talk of sport and makes of cars
In various bogus-Tudor bars
And daren’t look up and see the stars
But belch instead.

In labour-saving homes, with care
Their wives frizz out peroxide hair
And dry it in synthetic air
And paint their nails.

Come, friendly bombs and fall on Slough
To get it ready for the plough.
The cabbages are coming now;
The earth exhales.

850 new factories were built in Slough before the outbreak of world war two, and the Trading Estate was first seen here. And yes, they are bleak, and Slough is even now, not the most exciting or architecturally sophisticated of towns.  But to imagine bombing a town in a time when there was a real fear of mass destruction from the air?

I particularly object to the line about tinned food because I was brought up on tinned beans, peas, steak and kidney pudding, pineapple chunks, peaches, and rhubarb.  And exactly what is wrong with a hair-dryer?

Before I read Slough, I recount an experience I had years ago with an American group who suddenly started laughing for no reason.  I enquired, and they pointed to a huge advertising hoarding with a poster about the Electrolux Vacuum Cleaner.  Its location near the Hoover building, I imagine might have been deliberate, but what made the Americans laugh was the slogan:

‘Nothing sucks like an Electrolux’

To a British person, the slogan works in a positive sense and we appreciate the wit.  For the Americans, it made them all laugh with shock as to why anyone would pay to say their vacuum cleaner was complete pants.

Oh, and second best? Well, the best Modernist Building in London is the Daily Express Building, Fleet Street.

May 8th Helston Furry Dance

At the end of the May Day/Beltane Festival Helston in Cornwall holds its Furry (or Floral) Dance. It is normally on the 8th May, but it changes date if the 8th is a Sunday or a Monday (Helston’s market day) but it isn’t so the Floral Dance was held this year on Wednesday 8th 5th May.

Padstow holds, perhaps, the most famous May Day festival on May 1st. Padstow feels more of a ‘pagan’ festival, while Helston is a more sedate, gentlemanly, dance. Padstow is more fuelled by a belly full of ale, while Helston by a Pims No 1, or a Gin and Tonic?

Do, have a look at both youtube videos and watch the Padstow one until at least you see the ‘obby ‘orse and the teaser dancing.

Children born between the two days, May 1st and May 8th are considered to have been ‘born with the skill of man and beast and power over both.’

May the Bees be with you! May 5th

Swarm of Bees, Hackney (Photo Kevin Flude 30th May 2018)

Tusser’s ‘Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry’ published 1573 suggests we should:

take heed to thy Bees, that are ready to swarm, the loss thereof now, is a crown’s worth of harm.’ The loss was particularly hard in May or June as the country verse tells us:

A swarm in May
Is worth a load of hay
A swarm in June
Is worth a silver spoon
A swarm in July
Is not worth a fly.

In 2018, on 30th May, I was perturbed to find a swarm of Bees hanging outside my front door. Frightened of leaving my house, I rang a local Bee Keeper who came around to take possession of the Bees and take them to a new home.

Swarm of Bees having moved 20 yards to a new home, being 'rescued' by a bee keeper.
Swarm of Bees, having moved 20 yards to a second perch, being ‘rescued’ by a bee keeper. You can see the swarm above his head

According to Hillman’s ‘Tusser Redivus’ of 1710, swarming in May produces particularly good honey, and he advises following the bees to retrieve them. He says:

You are entitled by custom to follow them over anyone’s land and claim them … but only so long as you ‘ting-tang’ as you go, by beating some metal utensil – the sound whereof is also said to make your bees stop.’

Much of the above is from The Perpetual Almanac of Folklore by Charles Kightly.

Bees swarm when a new Queen Bee takes a proportion of the worker bees to form a new colony. They will latch unto a branch or a shrub, even a car’s wing mirror, while sending bees out searching for a suitable new home, such as a hollow tree. There may be hundreds or even thousands in the new colony, and this may be very alarming, as I found, as I could not go out without walking through a cloud of bees. But, at this point, they will not be aggressive as they do not have a hive to protect. Look here for more information on swarming.

An average hive will produce 25 lbs of honey, and the bees will fly 1,375,000 miles to produce it, which is flying 55 times around the world (according to the British beekeepers Association (and my maths)) https://www.bbka.org.uk/honey

Bees are still having a hard time as their habitats are diminishing and threats increasing. In July, DEFRA hosts ‘Bees Needs Week’ which aims to increase public awareness of the importance of pollinators.

They suggest we can help by these 5 simple actions

  1. Grow more nectar rich flowers, shrubs and trees. Using window or balcony boxes are good options if you don’t have a garden.
  2. Let patches of garden and land grow wild.
  3. Cut grass less often.
  4. Do not disturb insect nests and hibernation spots.
  5. Think carefully about whether to use pesticides.

For more above Bees Needs Week look here:

Roodmas, the True Cross and the Coronation May 3rd

Rood screen in St. Helen’s church, Ranworth, Norfolk by Maria CC BY-SA 3.0

Roodmas is celebrated on May 3rd and September 14th, although the Church of England aligned itself with the Catholic Church’s main celebration on September 14th.

Rood is another word for the Cross. Parish Churches used to have a Rood Screen separating the holy Choir from the more secular Nave. This screen was topped with a statue of the Crucified Jesus nailed to a Rood.

The two dates of Roodmas reflects that it commemorates two events:

The Discovery of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem in 326 by Queen Helena, wife of Constantius Chlorus and mother of Constantine the Great. In Jerusalem, Queen Helena found the Cross with the nails, and the crown of thorns. She authenticated the Cross by placing it in contact with a deathly sick woman who was revived by the touch of Cross. She had most of the Cross sent back to the care of her son, Constantine the Great.

The part of the Holy Cross that was left behind in Jerusalem was taken by Persians but recovered by the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius in 628 in a peace treaty.

Over the years, the Cross was shivered into ever smaller pieces as Emperors, Kings, Queens, Dukes, Counts, Popes, Bishops, Abbots, and Abbesses swapped relics with each other. The fragments were cased in beautiful reliquaries and had enormous power for those of faith and those who could be helped by healing by faith.

The Duke of Buckingham had a piece in his collection, which he kept at York House in the early 17th Century. How he got it, I don’t know, but I think he must have acquired it from the aftermath of the destruction of the Reformation. John Tradescant, who looked after the Duke’s collection (before Buckingham was murdered), had a wonderful collection of curiosities which he kept in the UK’s first Museum in Lambeth. Tradescant’s Ark, as his museum was called, also had a piece of the True Cross. Again, I suspect (without any evidence) that he got it from Buckingham. Did he acquire it after the murder? Or shiver off a timber fragment hoping no one would notice?

The Chapel that Shakespeare’s Father controlled as Bailiff of Stratford on Avon, was dedicated to the Legend of the True Cross, to find out more click here:

cutting from the Shropshire News article on the True Cross and the Coronation
Shropshire News article on the True Cross and the Coronation

Last year, I was just finishing this piece when I came across this astonishing story in the Shropshire News!

It seems two pieces of the True Cross were given to Charles III by the Pope! They have been put into a cross called the Welsh Cross which took part in the Coronation Procession, and then the King is giving the Cross (I assume with the pieces of the Holy Cross) to the Church in Wales. Let the Shropshire News tell the story:

Shropshire News article on the True Cross and the Coronation
Part 2 Shropshire News article on the True Cross and the Coronation

This is quite extraordinarily medieval, and fits in with the news that we were encouraged to take an oath of allegiance to the new King.

I, (Insert full name), do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to His Majesty King Charles, his heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.

https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/royals/swearing-allegiance-king-charles-its-29861318

It is a clear reminder that we are subjects not citizens and news, as a nation, we still set store by superstitions.

First Written on May 3rd 2023, revised May 3rd 2024

This Stinking Idol & the End of May Day May 2nd

An Imagined Scene at the Maypole at St Andrew Undershaft
An Imagined Scene at the Maypole at St Andrew Undershaft

Philip Stubbes, in his Anatomy of Abuses of 1583, fired a broadside at the tradition of dancing around the Maypole when he wrote a vitriolic attack on pagan practices. He said they had ‘as Superintendent and Lord ouer their pastimes and sportes: namely, Sathan Prince of Hell’ as they erected ‘this stinking Idoll’. Stubbes suggested that of the maids that went out to the woods on May Eve less than one-third returned ‘undefiled’.

The Maypole was stored at St Andrew Cornhill, which became known as St Andrew Undershaft. In 1517, it was attacked during the ‘Evil May Day riot’, which the Recorder of the time, Thomas More, helped quell. (300 were arrested and one hanged). The shaft was returned to its place under the eves of the houses in Shaft Alley, but apparently banned from being raised.

But in 1549, the curate of nearby St Katharine Cree Church made an inflammatory speech which led to a Puritan mob cutting the shaft into pieces and burning it. I always imagine the Curate’s sermons to be along the same lines as Phillip Stubbes attack on the Maypole:

But their chiefest iewel they bring from thence is the Maie-poale,
which they bring home with great veneration, as thus: They haue
twentie, or fourtie yoake of Oxen, euery Oxe hauing a sweete
Nosegaie of flowers tyed on the tip of his homes, and these Oxen
drawe home this Maie-poale (this stinking ldoll rather) which is
couered all ouer with Flowers and Hearbes, bound round about
with strings from the top to the bottome, and sometimes painted
with variable collours, with two or three hundred men, women and
children following it, with great deuotion. And thus being reared

vp, with handkerchiefes and flagges streaming on the top, they
strawe the ground round about, bind green boughes about it, set
vp Summer Haules, Bowers, and Arbours hard by it. And then fa!
they to banquet and feast, to leape and daunce about it, as the

a Heathen people did, at the dedication of their ldolles, whereof this
is a perfect patteme, or rather the thing it selfe. I haue heard it
crediblie reported (and that viua voce) by men of great grauity,
credite, and reputation, that of fourtie, threescore, or a hundred Maides,
going to the wood ouemight, there haue scarcely the third part of them returned home againe vndefiled.

Phillip Stubbes from ”A Critical Edition Of Philip Stubbes’s Anatomie Of Abuses‘ By Margaret Jane Kidnie.

The unraised pole seems to have survived until the beginning of the Civil War, (1644) when it was destroyed. But at the Restoration of Charles II a new and huge Maypole was joyously erected 134 ft high (41 metres) in the Strand. This was danced around till 1713 when it was replaced and the original sold to Isaac Newton who used it to support the biggest telescope in Europe which was erected in Wanstead by a friend.

And that, my friends, is how you get from Superstition to Science in one easy story.

Old Print of Isaac Newton
Old Print of Isaac Newton

Postscript. I have always said that the sermon that led to the destruction of the Shaft in 1549 was made at St Paul but cannot remember where I read this. The suggestion that the Maypole in Cornhill was not used after 1517 seems strange because why then would it rouse a crowd to riot in 1549? Of the sources I have at hand, the London Encyclopedia mentions the riot of 1517 in its entry on St Andrew Undershaft but doesn’t elaborate more. ‘Layers of London‘ says ‘It was last raised in 1517 when ensuing riots led to the celebration being banned.’ which is definitive sounding. But is it? I wonder if it was banned for a year or two, then allowed again, and finally stopped in 1549?

First written in 2023 and revised on May 2nd 2024.