Monday, 27 April 2015

Hawksmoor's Church of Saint Alfege

In the heart of Greenwich sits the church of St. Alfege. It is dedicated to an Archbishop of Canterbury who was martyred in 1012. (His name is sometimes spelt Alphege). He was killed at Greenwich by the Danes after a ransom demanded for him was not paid. A church was built on the site soon after, rebuilt in 1290. This was the church in which the future Henry VIII was baptised. The Tudor musician Thomas Tallis (d. 1585) was buried here.
The medieval structure collapsed in a storm in 1710, and a new church took its place as part of the Fifty New Churches scheme. Most of these were to be the work of Sir Christopher Wren, but St. Alfege fell to his assistant and favoured pupil Nicholas Hawksmoor. Peter Ackroyd fans may be pleased to know that I will be discussing Hawksmoor in more detail at a later date.
Work began in 1711, and was completed in 1714, though the new church was not consecrated until 1718.
General Wolfe, of the Battle of Quebec fame, is amongst those also buried here.
The church was damaged by incendiary bombs which fell on the roof in March 1941. The roof was destroyed and the interior gutted. It was restored in 1953.

The narrow St. Alfege Passage runs along the north side of the church, This is lined with some fine 18th Century houses.
At the end of the Passage lies the entrance to St. Alfege Park. It is very evident when you enter this that the graveyard of the church extended well beyond its current limits, as there are tombs and headstones everywhere you look. It was quite odd, when I visited recently, to see youths playing football in a fenced off section that had gravestones lined along its wall. Sadly, the elements have destroyed many of the inscriptions on the stones. On the Passage, however, was one facing away from the church building, which was still quite legible. No-one famous, but it does say much about about mortality rates - especially child mortality - in the late 18th Century.

Sarah Fountain died in 1790, at the age of 44. She had 10 children, half of whom predeceased her.
Some views of the church and the main churchyard...

And some images from the nearby Park...

Greenwich attracts many visitors each year - for the park, Royal Observatory, the Cutty Sark, the market, and the Maritime Museum. On a warm Spring afternoon, I was virtually alone in the churchyard of St. Alfege, and its little park. One of the hidden gems of the district. And The Mitre pub next door is certainly worth stopping at - purely in the interests of historical research, you understand...

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

A Dead Man In Deptford

"Love me little, love me long".

Christopher Marlowe was born in Canterbury, Kent, on the 26th of February, 1564. He met his end in Deptford, South London, on the 30th of May, 1593. So only 29, but in that brief spell he created a body of work that is still loved and performed to this day. I saw a production of Doctor Faustus at Shakespeare's Globe on Bankside, Southwark, only a couple of years ago. This was an area he would have known well.
Marlowe was born just a couple of months before his more famous playwright peer. In my humble opinion, had he lived longer, the scribbler from Stratford would be the lesser known and appreciated of the two. It should have been the RMC rather than the RSC.
To be honest we do not really know what he looked like. The portrait above is often taken to be of him. It was found bricked up in an abandoned section of the university he attended in the earlier part of the 20th Century. The Latin motto states "What feeds me, destroys me" - which could only have been written by, or for, Marlowe. The date fits his time at Cambridge. He is supposed to have come to London in 1587.
As was custom at the time, his name appears in the written records in several variants - Marlin, Marley and Morley among them.

His was a brief but full life. There is something of the Kurt Cobain or the James Dean about him - or his contemporary, my favourite painter Caravaggio. I like my heroes flawed...
As well as penning Doctor Faustus, he also wrote The Jew of Malta, Tamburlaine The Great Parts 1 & 2, The Massacre At Paris, Dido Queen of Carthage, and Edward II.
He was also an accomplished poet - look up his "The Passionate Shepherd To His Love" which opens with the line: "Come with me and be my love...".
And he was a spy, what would have been seen at the time as a religious heretic, and a homosexual. Plus, he was locked up for a few weeks for being involved in a fatal duel near his home in Norton Folgate (Spitalfields).
If you think you do not know his work, then think again. Have you never heard the phrase "The face that launched a thousand ships"?

"Oh, thou art fairer than the evening air, clad in a thousand stars."

Officially he died in a tavern brawl - an argument over the bill (or the Reckonynge). You will find no-one today who accepts that. He was assassinated by his spymasters because he was seen as such a loose cannon. Or he was actually spirited out of the country, his death faked, and he lived out his days on the Continent. There is a report on record of a young man's body being removed from a prison at just this time by the authorities, his relatives never being told the reason why or finding out what happened to it.
And he was the true author of the plays attributed to Shakespeare. Yes, Marlowe is closely associated with the Shakespeare conspiracy theories.
In a nutshell, a lot of people think Shakespeare could not have written what he did as he was pulled out of school at age 11 to help in his father's glove-making business, and never went to university nor travelled abroad.
Marlowe did go to university and certainly travelled abroad, as he was arrested in the Netherlands for coining (forging money). This was at Flushing - or Vlissingen as it is now known.
"Money can't buy love, but it improves your bargaining position".

It was at Cambridge that he was recruited as a spy. A popular place for recruiting spies...

"Hell has no limits, nor is circumscribed in one self place, for where we are is Hell, and where Hell is there must we ever be".

I'll talk about Marlowe's earlier life at another time.
Yesterday I took a walk to the church of St. Nicholas in Deptford, where Marlowe is buried. It is about the only thing in this neighbourhood which Marlowe might have recognised, as the whole district is now covered in council estates - modern or 1950's. Deptford Green is a nondescript urban park. At a house here in 1593, Marlowe and some men who were also in the pay of Thomas Wallsingham, son of Queen Elizabeth's recently deceased spymaster Sir Francis, were holed up in a house belonging to Eleanor Bull, who had connections to Wallsingham and the spy world. They were supposed to be waiting to board ship. Bull's house wasn't a public tavern, but she did lay on food and drink. The official story has it that Marlowe got into a fight with one Ingram Frizer over the payment for what they had consumed. A drunken Marlowe attacked Frizer and, in self defence, he stabbed Marlowe through the right eye - the blade penetrating the brain. Frizer spent a month in jail and an inquest jury found he had indeed acted in self-defence, so he was released.
As I've said above, there are few who believe this tale. It is generally thought that the gay, atheist playwright was becoming a liability with his outspoken views and the company he was keeping - such as Sir Walter Raleighs' "School of Night" group and Lord Strange. Only a short time before his death, libels speaking out against foreigners were appearing in the City of London signed by someone calling himself "Tamburlaine". Marlowe's friend Thomas Kydd was arrested in connection with these.

Marlowe was buried in an unmarked grave in the churchyard of nearby St. Nicholas Church on June 1st, 1593. Despite the urban neighbourhood it now sits in, the churchyard itself is really quite beautiful. Marlowe's only monument is a tablet affixed to the yard wall (just to the right of the left hand tree in the image immediately above - and see below for the memorial itself). On the church's west wall facing this part of the churchyard is a monument to one John Addey, who left money in his will for the relief of the poor of the parish - £200 plus rents from properties he owned. His gravestone, dated 1606, lies just below this - by the side door to the church.

There has been a church here since the 12th Century. The main brick-built part of the church you see today was built in the 17th Century. St. Nicholas was the patron saint of sailors - so quite apt for this dockside district. You may notice that the top of the bell tower does not quite match the lower section. A stone tablet states that the top of the tower was blown down in a gale in 1901, and the renovated upper part was built in 1903.

"All places are alike, and every earth is fit for burial".

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Tower of London: Beauchamp Tower and Lady Jane Grey

To cover the Tower of London would take a whole book, so I will be concentrating on specific parts of it in a series of posts. We start with the Beauchamp Tower (pronounced Beecham) which sits just to the west of Execution Green. This tower was built in the reign of Edward I. It replaced a gateway which was seen as a potential weak point in the Tower's defences. It is named after one of its most distinguished "residents" - Sir Thomas Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick. He was imprisoned here by Richard II in 1397. Later, in the reign of Henry V, Sir John Oldcastle, Lord Cobham, was imprisoned here. He was the inspiration for Shakespeare's character of Falstaff. He fell foul of the King when he became a follower of the Lollards - who were seen as heretics. Oldcastle was eventually hanged then burned at St Giles Fields, in 1417. It is not recorded if was still alive when he was burnt. For a time, the Beauchamp Tower was known as Cobham Tower.

You will see graffiti carved by prisoners into the walls all over the Tower, but the Beauchamp Tower has by far the biggest concentration.

The Beauchamp Tower is closely associated with the Dudley family, and hence to Lady Jane Grey - the Nine Day Queen. It is a constant source of annoyance to myself that the Tudor period is favoured above all others when it comes to historical dramas (and documentaries) on film and TV - especially when they tend to overlook Edward VI, Mary and Jane. Jane's story, in particular, is hardly talked about. There was one movie, rarely shown on TV, in the 1980's (starring Helena Bonham-Carter) and she was featured in a Sarah Jane Adventures story.
Jane wasn't incarcerated in Beauchamp Tower - but her young husband Guildford was, along with his four brothers. One of these was Robert - who as the Earl of Leicester became a favourite of Queen Elizabeth.
In 1553, when Edward VI was dying and it appeared that he would never father an heir John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, and his confederates urged the young king to amend his will so that the crown would pass to his cousin Jane - rather than go to his eldest half-sister Mary. This was primarily because Mary had remained a devout Catholic, and Dudley and his friends wanted the country to remain Protestant. Dudley had his son Guildford married to Jane, to strengthen his own position. When Edward died, Jane entered the Tower to prepare for her coronation. Dudley and his friends had overestimated the amount of support their claim on the throne had - as well as underestimating the popularity of Mary. Many had felt that her mother, Catherine of Aragon, had been sorely wronged by Henry VIII, and they did not like the further religious reforms that had taken place under Edward. Mary's army arrived in England, and within a short space of time Jane had become a prisoner in the Tower instead of a guest. Dudley and his supporters joined her - including his sons. Jane was never allowed to meet with her husband throughout their long imprisonment. She would only have spotted brief glimpses of him when he was allowed to take exercise on the roof of Beauchamp Tower. And on the day he was lead out to his execution, just before her own.
Mary knew that the young couple (she had just turned 16, he was 18) were mere pawns of his father and his confederates, and so she had no inclination to execute them. However, some 8 months into their imprisonment a rebellion by Sir Thomas Wyatt attempted to overthrow Mary and put Jane on the throne. The rebellion was quickly broken, but Mary realised that whilst Jane lived, she posed a threat - a figurehead for her enemies. On February 12th, 1554, Guildford was taken from Beauchamp Tower to Tower Green and beheaded. His corpse was brought back into the Tower and Jane would have seen it as she was lead to the block herself - this time on Execution Green within the Tower itself - just in front of where her husband had been incarcerated. When blindfolded, she panicked as she could not find the block on which to rest her neck. The moment is captured in Paul Delaroche's famous painting (above).
Both Guildford and Jane lie, side by side, by the altar of the nearby Royal Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula - only a few yards north from where she was executed.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Bow Bells and Cockneys

There lies to the east of the City of London an area called Bow, out near Stratford, but this isn't the place referred to by Cockneys when they say that, to qualify to be one of them, you have to be born within the sound of Bow Bells. Those Bow Bells belong to the church of St. Mary-le-Bow, Cheapside.
The earliest written mention of the name "Cockney" is from 1521. It comes from cockeney - a word for an egg. Country folk used to think that their city-dwelling cousins were all weak and deformed from living in the metropolis, away from all that fresh air and proper hard work. They therefore called city folk cock's eggs - an egg which is small or misshapen, so useless that it must have been laid by the cockerel rather than the hen. It was, in other words, a derogatory term.

The first church on this site was built around 1080. The land was very marshy, and so it had to be constructed on bowed, or arched, foundations - hence the name. In 1196 a preacher named William Longbeard sought sanctuary in the church after speaking out against new taxation intended to pay the ransom for Richard I (locked up in Germany on his way home from the Third Crusade). The authorities threatened to burn down the church to force him out. When he did emerge he was killed, and his body hung up at Smithfield to deter further protestations.
The church as we see it today has the shell and tower as built by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire. The interior was destroyed in the Blitz. The famous bells were damaged, but were melted down and recast from the same metal.
The statue of the Elizabethan fellow in the little square opposite the main doors is of Captain John Smith - he of Pocahontas fame. Looks nothing like Colin Farrell, does he.

Statue of Dick Whittington (and cat) outside the Guildhall Art Gallery.
Bow Bells are associated with another of London's legends - namely thrice-time Mayor Richard Whittington (1350 - 1423). Young Dick had come to London to make his fortune - believing the streets were paved with gold. After a number of menial jobs, he decided to pack it in and head back home to Gloucester. Resting on Highgate Hill, he heard Bow Bells apparently summoning him back and promising he would be mayor three times. Which indeed he was - twice in his own right and once when he had to step in to replace someone else mid-term. The whole story of his impoverished background is made up, however. And he probably didn't have a cat - at least not on his journey.
An experiment was conducted in the 1990's which proved that you could have heard Bow Bells as far away as Highgate - so most Londoners were true Cockneys, not just Eastenders. That was at least up until noise pollution levels increased with the advent of the combustion engine.

You might be interested to see this rare piece of archive material - an anthropological study of the Cockneys...

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Postman's Park

Still in the Smithfield area, just off the street called Little Britain, is Postman's Park. The name derives from the employees of the main City Post Office on nearby St Martin-le-Grand who used to frequent it. Today it has merged with the churchyard of St Botolph-without-Aldersgate. (There are three London churches named after St Botolph - the Saxon patron saint of travellers - all appropriately located by the old gates which led out of the City).
In 1900 the artist George Frederic Watts (1817 - 1904) set up a memorial wall to honour ordinary men, women - and children - who had died sacrificing their lives to save others. The stories are told on hand-painted tiles. There are about 50 or so of them, and they make for poignant reading.

No further tiles were put up after the First World War, but people have been known to this day to put up temporary signs in honour of friends and relatives who have committed similar acts of self-sacrifice. The park featured in Patrick Marber's play Closer - also a film with Clive Owen, Jude Law and Natalie Portman (2004). Portman's character adopts the name Alice Ayres - one of those commemorated on the wall. The real Alice has a street named after her in Southwark.

A sign outside St Botolph's states that the Methodist founder John Wesley preached there. The church as it stands today was built around 1790.

Pye Corner and Cock Lane

Walk northwards up Giltspur Street towards Smithfield and you will come to Pye Corner. It sits at the junction with Cock Lane. High up on the wall is the small statue a plump, golden cherub. This marks the furthest westward extent of the Great Fire of 1666. Popular feeling at the time attributed the fire to Catholics and foreigners - usually Catholic foreigners - but the fact that the conflagration began in Pudding Lane, and ended at Pye Corner, led some to believe that it was all a judgement from God for the city's sin of gluttony - hence the fat little cherub.
An inscription on the wall beneath sets out this information, but goes further to state that here at this corner once stood a tavern called the Fortune of War. This was demolished in 1910. The landlord would show interested customers a room containing benches where dead bodies used to be laid out - each neatly labelled for the individual doctor from St. Bartholomew's Hospital (just across the road) for whom it was intended, to come and inspect it - all courtesy of the body-snatchers. Look to your right as you stand looking up at the statue and you will see a small guard post where a watchman used to keep an eye on the graveyard of the nearby church of St Sepulchre's - to deter the 'Resurrectionists' from raiding that for more cadavers.

You will see the street sign for Cock Lane in the photo at the top of the post - taken by yours truly at Easter, 2015. (No, I'm not quite old enough to have done the cartoon that is immediately above...).
In 1762 this became the scene for one of London's most notorious hauntings - the colourfully titled Scratching Fanny of Cock Lane. The no-longer-there house at No.33 was the setting for this macabre event, which attracted the interest of Dr Samuel Johnson and the Prince of Wales as well as hundreds of intrigued on-lookers.
In a nutshell, a couple moved into the house of a Mr William Parsons - William Kent and his lover Fanny Lynes. They outwardly appeared to be a respectable couple but she was actually the sister of Kent's deceased wife. Kent and Parsons had a falling out over money. Scratching sounds soon started to be heard in the room which Fanny was sharing with Parson's 12 year-old daughter, Elizabeth, whilst Kent was away on business. These were alleged to be from the dead sister - warning Fanny that she would soon also die at Kent's hands. Kent and Fanny moved out, and she did die soon after - from smallpox. The scratching continued - but this time it was the ghost of Fanny herself accusing Kent. Parsons claimed this, and charged visitors to see the room and witness the scratching sounds for themselves. The ghost would answer questions put to it - one knock for Yes, two for No.
Everything changed when the ghost claimed that it would manifest itself at Fanny's burial place - the crypt of St John's in Clerkenwell - on a specified date. Nothing happened. Elizabeth Parsons was found to have been making the noises at Cock Lane with a wooden clapper hidden under her dress. Parsons ended up in jail for the fraud. Many years later, an artist sketching in the crypt of St John's was shown Fanny's coffin. When opened, the body was found to be in a remarkable state of preservation - something that arsenic poisoning can do. Was Kent possibly guilty of murdering his wife and his lover after all?
Two other items of note about Cock Lane:

  • John Bunyan - author of The Pilgrim's Progress - died here in 1688, after catching a chill in a heavy downpour.
  • The street name is nothing to do with chickens. It is as insalubrious as it sounds. This street was one of the only places in the City where prostitutes were licensed to trade.

My new blog...

Back in early 2011 I decided to start a Doctor Who blog. The main reason was that I had so much information rattling around in my brain that I thought it was high time I set it down somewhere. Friends had asked why I had never written a book. Well, books have only so many pages - unless you want to run to numerous volumes. (The trouble with Who is that it also continues to be produced, so any guide books soon find themselves out of date). A blog seemed like a far more sensible idea, and I am glad to say that is doing quite nicely for itself.

Recently I have found myself in a similar situation when it comes to my principal non-Doctor Who interest - history. I have a passion for the subject (in general) but with particular favoured eras and subjects. I have always been especially fascinated by the history that is quite literally under my feet - that of the place where I live. This blog will feature London and its environs prominently. But I don't want it to be just dates, battles, Kings & Queens. That would bore me as much you - though they will inevitably feature. Expect, therefore, legend and folklore as well - and not a few ghosts. Whoever was it that said 'never let the truth get in the way of a good story'...?