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 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.

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.

John Stow, London’s Historian 22nd April

St Andrew in London

On the corner of Leadenhall Street and St Mary Axe in the City of London is one of the very few medieval Churches that survived the Great Fire of London is 1666. It was sheltered by the firebreak that was the Leadenhall, a big market building made of stone.

The Church is the Maypole Church as it was here the Maypole or the shaft was stored under the eves of the Church when not in use. Hence, St Andrew’s sobriquet of ‘Undershaft’. The MayDay riot in 1517 put an end to the dancing around the Maypole but the pole itself survived until 1547 when, in a Puritan riot, the ‘stynking idol’ was destroyed. (see my May Day blog post here for more more details of Mayday.)

This is where the great London historian John Stow is buried. His Survey of London is one of the best sources for Medieval and Tudor London. Every three years, there is a commemorative service and his quill is changed. This year it was yesterday, 22nd April. The Lord Mayor attends and it is organised by Stow’s Guild – the Merchant Taylors.

John Stow, author of the ‘Survey of London‘ first published in 1598. Available at the wonderful Project Gutenberg: ‘https://www.gutenberg.org/files/42959/42959-h/42959-h.htm’

There is also a plaque to Hans Holbein, but no one knows for sure, where he is buried. He died in London in 1543, possibly of plague.

Agas Map 1561 showing St Andrews (right centre)

First Published on 30th November 2022, Revised 2023, and in April 2024

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.

Aries, the Nose and the King’s Evil March 22nd

aries star sign

We have just entered Aries. Now according to astrology, Aries is associated with health issues of the face. This, according to ‘Skin and Astrology Signs‘ is because of the “level of heat in their bodies” they tend to have problems such as “flushing, heat rashes, skin eruptions, and rosacea,” And suggest using chilled cucumber for the eyes and forehead, and using beauty products with soothing aloe vera in them.

Charles Kightly in his Perpetual Almanac enjoins us to ‘Observe the features of the face which are ruled by Aries and seek cures for ills of the nose’.

He gives two examples. The first is from John Aubrey and relates to the fact that people believed that Scrofula, or the King’s Evil (tuberculous cervical lymphadenitis) could be cured by touching the Monarch. So, the King or Queen would make herself, very reluctantly, available for his sick public to touch her. I will say more about the subject below. Aubrey tells us this slightly revolting tale:

Arise Evans had a fungous Nose and said, it was revealed to him, that the king’s hand would cure him At the first coming of Charles II into St James Park he kissed the king’s hand and rubbed his nose with it: which disturbed the king, but cured him.

John Aubrey Miscellanies 1695.

An 18th Century publication gives us an idea how to understand people by studying their noses.

Nose round with a sharpness at the end signifies one to be wavering of mind; the nose wholly crooked, to be sure unshamefaced and unstable; crooked like an eagle’s beak, to be bold. The nose flat, to be lecherous and hasty in wrath; the nostrils large, to be ireful.’

The Shepherd’s Prognostication 1729

It was only the French and the English who believed the King’s touch could cure people. The French claimed it began with Philip 1 in the 11th Century, while the English claimed Edward the Confessor as the first. The French denied this saying that the French King of England, Henry 1 was the first to use the King’s Touch to cure people. The practice lasted until George 1 resolutely refused to have anything to do with it.

It took place in the winter, between Michaelmas and Easter, when cold weather provoked the disease. The lucky few who were allowed the Touch, would be touched or stroked by the King or Queen, on the face or neck, then a special gold coin, touched by the Monarch was put around their neck. Readings from the bible and prayer finished the ceremony. Before Queen Elizabeth, the Touch was said to cure many diseases such as Rheutmatism, culvsions, fever and blindness, but after it was reserved for Scrofula.

Sketch of Dr Johnson from a portrait.
Sketch of Dr Johnson from a portrait.

Dr Samuel Johnson suffered from Scofula and received the “royal touch” from Queen Anne on 30 March 1712 at St James’s Palace. He was given a ribbon, which he wore around his neck for the rest of his life. But it did not cure the disease, and he had to have an operation.

St. Patrick’s Day, St Albans, Nicholas Fuentes, & Cats March 17th

Stained Glass window depicting St Patrick with a  crock and a castle
Stained Glass window depicting St Patrick (source of image, lost in the mists of time!)

St. Patrick has a very interesting autobiography (Confession).  He was captured by Irish pirates while living in a Romano-British Town.  He says his father was a Decurion and a Deacon which suggests elements of Roman political organisation continued.  No one knows the dates of St Patrick’s life but these titles suggested an early date perhaps just after the end of Roman rule.

The town he lived in was called Bannavem Taburniae.  Many places have been proposed for it.  The closest linguistically is Bannaventa in Northamptonshire but this seems a very unlikely place for Irish raiders to land, being about as far away from the sea as it is possible to get in Britain!

Scholars have suggested South Wales and the Scottish borders most commonly.  But my favourite suggestion is Battersea in London.  This was made in the pages of the London Archaeologist by editor Nicolas Fuentes. 

Fuentes was one of a pioneering group of archaeologists when Rescue Archaeology first began a campaign to record the archaeology, being destroyed by massive redevelopment of town centres in the 70s.

He changed his name from the anglicised Nicholas Farrant back to its original Fuentes and wrote a magnificent series of papers which located St. Patrick in Battersea; St Alban’s execution in London and all 12 battles of King Arthur around Greater London.

All were well argued, but as a set they do raise an eyebrow, being unsupported by any clear evidence, and, as far as I know, without scholarly support.  The one I really like is St Alban being martyred in London because it reminds everyone that the first reference to St Alban, which is by Gildas in the 6th Century, places the execution of the Saint firmly in London. It makes sense of the story that Alban, keen for martyrdom, gets God to part the River so he can get quickly to the execution spot. In Gildas’s case, the Amphitheatre is in Roman London, and the river needing parting – the mighty Thames. Anglo-Saxon historian, the Venerable Bede places St Alban’s death firmly in St Albans, but the river that God needs to part – the River Ver, is a piddle, and Alban could have crossed it easily, hardly requiring anything more than wellington boots.

To my, unscholarly mind, when we worship people we venerate them, chiefly, at their birthplace and death place. So to me, it makes sense that St Alban’s main shrine was at Verulamium where he was born (now known as St Albans) and London where he died. The hagiography of St Germanus of Auxerre tells us that Germanus came to an amphitheatre for a religious debate about 15 years after the end of the Roman occupation of Britain, and then went to a nearby shrine dedicated to St Alban. Unfortunately, the writer of the memoir is not really interested in post-Roman Britain, so does not tell us whether it was in London or St Albans. But there is an early church dedicated to St Alban just by the Roman Amphitheatre in London, although archaeology does not reveal any evidence early enough to suggest the Church is that early. Fuentes, argued that London as the Capital was likely to have been the place where capital punishments were carried out, particularly in the case of a Roman Citizen like Alban. I must note that in placing any credibility to Fuentes theory, I am standing largely alone.

stained glass window from Gloucester Cathedral of St Patrick being taught by St Germanus

I’m not so convinced by the 12 Battles of King Arthur, for which there is just never going to be enough evidence to locate, and they are more likely to have been spread throughout Britannia.

So, to the point – St Patrick in Battersea?  The evidence, as I remember it, was really only the suggestion that Battersea was derived from Batrick’s Island or originally Patrick’s Island.  The word ‘sea’ being used in that sense along the River Thames as in Chelsea, Thorney, Putney derived from ey which is short for eyot (island).

St Patrick lived as a teenage slave for 6 years, then escaped from captivity in Ireland and returned home. Trained as a priest, in perhaps Auxerre (home to St. Germanus who is another crucial witness to post Roman Britain) and returned to Ireland to begin the conversion to Christianity. He is the Patron Saint of Ireland, with St. Brigitte and St. Colomba.

Another candidate for Bannavem Taburniae’ comes from Andrew Breeze FSA. I read about this in Salon IFA, the newsletter of the Society of Antiquaries, and it is also discussed in this History First article. Breeze has revived a theory that the Saint comes from the West Country, and that the ‘Bannavem Taburniae’ is Banwell, near Weston-super-Mare in North Somerset. He suggests that ‘Bannaventa was a Latinisation of a Brittonic name that included banna, for a bend’, crook or peak. Venta is a well known word for an area of local administration or marketplace (for example, Venta Bulgarum, was the name for Winchester in the Roman period.) . He suggests that these ‘elements, as well as the Berniae element of ‘Taburniae’, can be found in the name Banwell, itself a compound name of the Brittonic ‘Banna’ and the Old English wylle, both meaning pool, or in the names of surrounding villages.’

mage credit: Looking south from Winthill, near Banwell, Somerset, Colin S Pearson; Banwell in Somerset, Google Street View
Image credit: Looking south from Winthill, near Banwell, Somerset, Colin S Pearson; Banwell in Somerset, Google Street View

What it has over the London theory is that it is more likely to have been subject to Irish Raiders than London. But, for me, it is just another theory based on placename evidence that might or might not be true.

And least we forget, today is also St Gertrude’s Day, patron saint of Cats.

comical post from facebook of St Gertrude Patron saint of cats
Facebook Post by a friend

St Gregory.  Punster Extraordinary March 12th

Gregorius I is known as Saint Gregory the Great. Pope from 3 September 590 to his death on 12th March 604. So 12th March is traditionally his feast day but this was changed to September 3rd, the date of his elevation to Pope, because 12th March was often in Lent.

He is the patron saint of musicians, singers, students, and teachers, because it is traditionally believed he instituted the form of plainsong known as Gregorian Chant. He was also a formidable organiser and reformer and made changes that helped the Catholic tradition survive Arian and Donatist challenges.

In the UK he is venerated with St Augustine for bringing Christianity to the largely pagan Anglo-Saxons. The caption to the illustration above tells the story of how he came to send a mission to the pagan Angles in Briton and tells the story of his two most famous puns, riffing on the similarity of the words Angles/Angels and Aella/Alleluia. But in between these two he also punned on the name of Aella’s kingdom – Deira in Northumberland, saying he would save them from the wroth of God which is ‘de ira’ in Latin.

After this incident he sent St Augustine to Canterbury to convert the Germanic peoples of the former Roman Province of Britannia. Canterbury was chosen because its King was the ‘Bretwalda’ of Britain – the most powerful King and he, Ethelbert, was married to Bertha, a French Princess already a Christian. This established a safe haven for St Augustine’s mission. And the King was baptised, shortly, after in Canterbury.

Stained glass window showing Baptism of King Ethelbert of Kent by St Augustine watched by Queen Bertha. In St Martins Church, Canterbury
Stained glass window showing the Baptism of King Ethelbert of Kent by St Augustine watched by Queen Bertha. In St Martins Church, Canterbury

The mission came with a plan to recreate the ecclesiastical arrangements set up in the Roman period, with archbishops in the two main capitals at London and York. After Kent was converted, St Ethelbert’s nephew, Sæberht, King of Essex, received a mission from St Mellitus who established St Pauls Cathedral in London. St Paulinus was sent to convert Northumbria and established a Cathedral in York. Unfortunately, for the plan, when Sæberht died his sons returned to paganism and Mellitus was kicked out, returned to Canterbury, and ever since we have had an Archbishop of Canterbury and York and never had an Archbishop of London.

Photo of St Martin's Church - where the Church of England began. showing Roman tiles in the wall.
St Martin’s Church, Canterbury – where the Church of England began. Note the Roman tiles in the wall.

It is possible to argue that Gregory’s encounter is why we are called English, because St Augustine was sent to set up the Church of the Angles, not the Church of the Saxons. Saxon was the normal name used by the Romans for Germanic barbarians. As the name of the Church, the term Anglish/English became a relatively neutral term that the various shades of Germanic peoples in Britain could unite under in the face of the later Viking threat.

The mission was sent in AD 597 and Pope Gregory died in AD 604.

I am just returning to the UK after a visit to Amsterdam.  I’ve spent the last two days largely in the Rijksmuseum where I came across this painting which features Pope Gregory the Great on the left hand part of the Triptych. It shows Utrecht in the background.

Triptych of the Crucifixion.  Showing the vision of the Crucifixion that St Gregory had while celebrating Mass (left). Crucifixion centre.  St Christopher (right)

St Gregory is in green kneeling down. What is fascinating is all the paraphernalia of the Crucification above Gregory’s head.  You’ll see 30 pieces of silver, dice to decide who gets Jesus’  robes, flails and torture devices, sponge and spear etc.

Detail