Friday, 13 April 2018

The Story of London in 50 Novels: 7 - "The Marlowe Papers," by Ros Barber

It has sometimes been said that England, in contrast to Italy, France, Germany, and the Netherlands, never really had a "Renaissance." To the extent that this is true at all (questionable in itself), it applies only to the visual arts, and most particularly not to literature, drama, or philosophy. In fact, it can be argued that the institution of the commercial theatre, which, in the Sixteenth and early Seventeenth Centuries, was almost uniquely English, and, more specifically, London-based, brought some of the key themes of the Renaissance to a far wider audience than had been the case in most of the countries of continental Europe. If it is true that there was never an English Leonardo or Michelangelo, then it is equally true that Italy (at least, not in this time period) never produced an equivalent to Christopher Marlowe or William Shakespeare.

Portrait, believed to be of Christopher Marlowe, Corpus Christi College Cambridge (image is in the Public Domain).


Even in terms of the visual arts, the aesthetics of the European Renaissance were brought to London by continental artists, such as the Florentine sculptor, Pietro Torrigiano, and the German painter, Hans Holbein. Printed texts circulated widely, if not always freely, and these included original works in Italian, French, and German; as well as the Latin classics; and Latin translations of ancient Greek texts (in England, as elsewhere in Europe, many more people could read Latin than Greek). With no effective copyright laws in operation, anyone was free to translate these works into English, and Saint Paul's Churchyard was the place where most London booksellers kept their stalls. It was here that the dramatists of the day found much of the inspiration for their stories.

London's first commercial theatre was established by James Burbage in Shoreditch in 1576, and, in the decades that followed, many more were established around the outskirts of The City, including The Globe, The Rose, and The Swan, on Southwark's Bankside.

James Burbage's Theatre in Shoreditch (image is in the Public Domain).

London's early play-houses (image is in the Public Domain).

Excavation of The Rose Theatre, Southwark, where many of Marlowe's plays were performed. 


Despite his humble background (his father was a shoemaker in Canterbury), the poet and dramatist, Christopher Marlowe, had taken a degree at Cambridge, and, unlike his broad contemporaries, William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson, was probably literate in Greek, as well as Latin (Greek plays were performed in the original in Cambridge colleges, and Marlowe may well have acted in these). His apparently short life (1564-93) is shrouded in mysteries: including his possible involvement in espionage; and the circumstances of his violent death.



Ros Barber's The Marlowe Papers is a novel in verse, exploring the possibility that his life did not end with a "great reckoning in a little room," in Deptford in 1593, but that his death was, rather, staged, and that he subsequently escaped into exile on the continent (this suggestion has been made many times over the years, and there are documented examples of fugitives escaping under similar circumstances). As such, the novel not only takes the reader into the heart of London's first theatre-land; and into the dangerous world of late Tudor England, with all of its religious and political tensions; but also into the soul of a troubled man, facing permanent separation from the world that he loves, and even the loss of his identity itself. 

"Church-dead. And not a headstone in my name.
no brassy plaque, no monument, no tomb,
no whittled initials on a makeshift cross,
no pile of stones upon a mountain top.
The plague is the excuse; the age's curse
that swells to life as spring gives way to summer,
to sun, unconscious kisser of a warmth
that wakens canker as it wakens bloom.

Now fear infects the wind, and every breath
that neighbour breathes on neighbour in the street
brings death so close you smell it on the stairs.
Rats multiply, as God would have them do.
And fear infects like mould; like fungus, spreads -
Folks catch it from the chopped-off ears and thumbs,
the burning heretics and eyeless heads
that slow-revolve the poles on London Bridge ... "

" ... This banished man is writing you a poem,
the only code I know that tells the truth,
though truth was both my glory, and my ruin,
the laurel, and the handcuff, of my youth.

London seduced me. Beckoned me her way
and spread herself beneath me, for a play."


Edward Alleyn was one of the greatest actors on the London stage, and made many of Marlowe's theatrical roles his own (c 1626, image is in the Public Domain).


"'They've never seen the like before.' Applause
a clapping swell like starlings after grain
and Edward Alleyn's striding off the stage
dressed as the thunderous Tamburlaine. 'Some beer!'
He claps me on the back. 'Look what you've made.
It seems they love a monster. As do I.'"

Mark Patton is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books can be purchased from Amazon.


Monday, 2 April 2018

The Streets of Old Lambeth: Vauxhall - Pleasure Gardens and Glass Works

A visitor to London, exploring the Borough of Lambeth, and, having viewed the Garden Museum, can continue southwards along the Albert Embankment towards Vauxhall Bridge. The current bridge was opened in 1906, replacing an earlier one (originally called Regent Bridge), built between 1809 and 1816. At low tide (the Thames is tidal as far as Richmond), rows of wooden posts can be seen on either side of the modern bridge: those downstream of the bridge have been dated by archaeologists to the late Mesolithic or early Neolithic period (c 4500 BC); those upstream to the Bronze Age (c 1500 BC). It is unclear whether these represent early bridges, or ritual features/symbolic boundaries such as those discovered at Flag Fen, near Peterborough. Further information can be found here.

Old Vauxhall Bridge in 1816 (Image is in the Public Domain). Part of the Millbank Penitentiary can be seen, under construction, on the right.

New Vauxhall Bridge. Photo: Marxville (licensed under CCA).


The Vauxhall riverside is today dominated by the headquarters of the UK's Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), designed by the architect, Terry Farrell, but throughout much of the Seventeenth, Eighteenth, and Nineteenth Centuries, it was a place of leisure and industry. 


The less-than-secret headquarters of MI6 at Vauxhall Cross. Photo: Laurie Nevey (licensed under CCA).

Vauxhall and Westminster in 1746, by John Rocque (image is in the Public Domain): ferries, rather than bridges, provide crossing points.


There are gardens to the east of the building today, but they are a pale reflection of those to be found on the riverside from the Seventeenth until the mid-Nineteenth Century. Samuel Pepys visited in June, 1665:

" ... I took boat, and to Fox Hall, where we spent two or three hours talking of several matters very soberly and contentfully to me, which, with the ayre and pleasure of the garden, was a great refreshment to me, and, methinks, that which we ought to enjoy ourselves in." 

Another diarist, John Aubrey, tells us that:

"Sir Samuel Morland built a fine room, anno 1667, the inside all of looking glass, and fountains very pleasant to behold, which is much visited by strangers: it stands in the middle of the garden, covered with Cornish slate, on the point of which he placed a Punchinello, very well carved, which held a dial, but the winds have demolished it."


Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens in 1751, by Samuel Wale (image is in the Public Domain).

The entrance to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, c 1790, by Thomas Rowlandson (image is in the Public Domain.


Later attractions included a "Turkish Tent," "Chinese Pavilion," bandstand, ruins, and arches. In 1749, a rehearsal of Handel's "Music for the Royal Fireworks" attracted an audience of twelve thousand. In the Nineteenth Century, the gardens were lit by fifteen thousand glass lamps, and visitors could ascend in a hot-air balloon to take in the view. Yet, as the Victorian age rolled on, the gardens became less fashionable: catering was notoriously expensive, and poor value (sandwiches reputedly made with ham cut so thin as to be transparent); and the shrubbery provided hiding places both for prostitutes and their clients, and for pick-pockets. Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens closed in 1859.


Plan of Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens in 1826 (image is in the Public Domain).


Industry co-existed with the pleasure gardens, and continued in the area after they had closed. Sir Edward Zouche established a glass-works in 1612. This later passed into the hands of the second Duke of Buckingham, described by Dryden as a "chymist, fiddler, statesman, and buffoon," who employed Venetian glass-workers in an attempt to manufacture plate glass for windows. This factory continued to operate until the 1780s.


Vauxhall Glass Works in 1746 (image is in the Public Domain).


Archaeological research, in advance of the construction of the MI6 building, revealed the remains of a second glass-works, established by John Baker in the Seventeenth Century, and which produced wine bottles among other products. Charles Kempton and Sons continued making glass in Vauxhall until 1928, when they transferred their operations outside of London.




Catalogue of glassware from Charles Kempton and Sons (image is in the Public Domain).


Nor was glass-making the only industrial activity taking place in Vauxhall. The Vauxhall Iron Works were established in 1897, and, in 1903, they branched out to encompass the new technology of the automobile age. The Vauxhall Motor Company produced cars here from 1903 to 1906, when operations moved to Luton.


An early Vauxhall car, in a German motor rally of 1931. Photo: German Federal Archives, Bild 102-12207 (licensed under CCA - CC-BY-SA 3.0).


Industrial Vauxhall way badly damaged by bombing during the Second World War, and, in the second half of the Twentieth Century, the district took on the largely residential character that it retain to this day.

Mark Patton is a published author of historical fiction, whose books can be purchased from Amazon.



Thursday, 15 March 2018

The Story of London in 50 Novels: 6 - "The Woman in the Shadows," by Carol McGrath

In the early decades of the Sixteenth Century, London was one of the great trading cities of Europe, a major port city, and a rival to Antwerp as a hub of the international cloth trade: yet it remained, by any modern standard, a relatively small urban settlement. The estimated population in 1530 was around 50,000: comparable to modern Salisbury or Surbiton; a little smaller than today's Tamworth or Maidstone; a city that offered little in the way of anonymity, in which people were likely to have made a point of knowing each other's business. Yet it also had one of the greatest concentrations of wealth of any city in northern Europe. Rivalries, whether between individuals, families, trading houses, or livery companies, carried very high stakes.

A drapers' market, c1530 (image is in the Public Domain).

The drapers' market in Bologna (image is in the Public Domain).

A late Medieval market (image is in the Public Domain).


It was a city poised for change: by 1605, the population would swell to 225,000. New technologies were transforming the lives of people across the continent, few more so than that of printing, which revolutionised people's access to books and information. With the mass-movement of goods between England and the continent came the mass-movement of people, and, despite the best attempts of the authorities to prevent it, the spread of new ideas, many of them religious. In 1517, Martin Luther's scathing assault on the Catholic Church was published in Germany: it was soon translated into most European languages, and in widespread circulation. In 1526, the Englishman, William Tyndale, published an English translation of the New Testament. England, in the early stages of Henry VIII's reign, was still very much a Catholic country, and anyone caught in possession of such documents in London risked imprisonment, torture, and death: printers on the continent, however, churned out thousands of copies, and it was impossible to keep out the new ideas.


Bust, believed to be of William Tyndale, St Dunstan-in-the-West, London. Photo: Lonpicman (licensed under GNU).

The Gospel of St John, from Tyndale's New Testament, British Library (image is in the Public Domain).


Carol McGrath's novel, The Woman in the Shadows, tells the story of Elizabeth Cromwell, the wife of the merchant, lawyer, and statesman, Thomas Cromwell. In some ways, it reads like a prequel to Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall (since the Cromwell we encounter is a relatively young man, who has not yet established a role for himself at court), but it is told from Elizabeth's, rather than Thomas's point of view, and in a different narrative style (first person, mainly past tense; rather than Mantel's third person, present tense).




We know relatively little about the historical Elizabeth: she was the daughter of a cloth merchant, and was already the widow of another cloth merchant by the time she met Thomas; they had three children together, but Elizabeth died in 1529, before her husband's political career really took off. The novel opens with the death and burial of Elizabeth's first husband; depicts her taking over his business, contrary to her father's advice, and traveling to wool and cloth fairs; and shows us her romance with, and marriage to the ambitious Thomas; all set against the background of commercial life in a London that still moved to the rhythms of the liturgical year of the Catholic Church.

"Mother returned to her manor without me, and Father purchased broadcloth at the Bartholomew Cloth Fair, as well as the fabric for the monasteries. I was grateful ... Gerard Smith made all my deliveries that week, except for the cloth to Austin Friars . I told him not to visit the friars because I wanted to bring them the painted cloth myself. The Friary's beauty was well known and, since Tom had dealt with the Prior before, I hoped to see something of this famous place where scholars gathered, often traveling there from far-flung countries, the lands of oranges and figs."

"When the monasteries paid us, I paid my debt, pleased to see that there was now enough left over to keep my household fed that winter. The rent on Wood Street was due by All Hallows' Eve, and I knew that I must use the rest of Master Cromwell's silver for this ... there would not be enough over to rebuild my much-needed woolshed unless I sold the remaining mixed cloth I kept in the attic storerooms and replaced it with even better cloth."

A bishop blessing a fair. Image: Bibliotheque Nationale de France (MS Calais f 96e - image is in the Public Domain).

The Old Wool Hall, Lavenham, Suffolk. Photo: Mick Lobb (licensed under CCA).


"'Smith,' I said after I had recorded our gains in the ledgers. 'Where can I buy new draperies? You know, linen or wool and silk mixes.' He thought for a moment, then beaming broadly said, 'There is always the Northampton Cloth Fair. Those fancy new cloths are woven up in Norfolk. They will be there aplenty, Mistress. They are in high demand.'" 

Mark Patton is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books can be purchased from Amazon.


Thursday, 1 March 2018

The Streets of Old Lambeth: The Garden Museum

A visitor to London, exploring the Borough of Lambeth, and having passed Lambeth Palace, on the south bank of the Thames, arrives at the Church of Saint Mary-at-Lambeth. The first church on his site was built in 1062, by Goda (or Godgyfu), the sister of King Edward the Confessor, but nothing is preserved of her construction, which was probably made of wood. The current church (now deconsecrated) dates, substantially, to the Fourteenth Century, but was substantially repaired and altered in the Nineteenth Century, and again after bomb damage during the Second World War. The Medieval Church was closely associated with Lambeth Palace, and, in the course of recent works a number of coffins were discovered in the crypt, including those of five Archbishops of Canterbury, dating to the Seventeenth, Eighteenth, and Nineteenth Centuries.


The Church of Saint Mary-at-Lambeth. Photo: Reading Tom (licensed under CCA).

The tomb of the Tradescants. Image: National Portrait Gallery (image is in the Public Domain).


Among those buried in the churchyard are John Tradescant the Elder (1570s-1638), and his son, John Tradescant the Younger (1608-1662), Head Gardeners, in succession, to King Charles I. Both traveled extensively during the course of their lives: John the Elder in Arctic Russia, the Levant, and North Africa; John the Younger in North America; collecting both botanical specimens and ethnographic artefacts. John the Younger was responsible for the introduction to Britain of a number of plant species, including the magnolia; tulip tree; bald cypress; and asters.


John Tradescant the Elder, portrait attributed to Cornelius de Neve. Image: Ashmolean Museum (Public Domain).

John Tradescant the Younger, portrait by Tomas de Cruz. Image: National Portrait Gallery (Public Domain).


The ethnographic artefacts collected by the Tradescants formed the basis of a collection known as Tradescant's Ark, or Musaeum Tradescantianum, in their home nearby (since demolished): this was one of the first "cabinets of curiosity" in England, and was open to the public. John the Younger bequeathed his collection to his neighbour, Elias Ashmole, who, in turn, bequeathed it to the University of Oxford, establishing the Ashmolean Museum.


The "mantle" of the Native American chieftain, Powhatan, probably acquired by John Tradescant the Elder from his friend, the Virginia colonist, John Smith. Photo: Gtstg (licensed under CCA).


The Church of Saint Mary-at-Lambeth today houses both a museum of garden history and, courtesy of loans from the Ashmolean Museum, a reconstruction of part of Tradescant's Ark.


The Garden Museum. Photo: Nicolaprice (licensed under CCA).

The Garden Museum. Photo: Nicolaprice (licensed under CCA).


Mark Patton is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books can be purchased from Amazon.


Sunday, 11 February 2018

The Story of London in 50 Novels: 5 - "A Burnable Book," by Bruce Holsinger

The City of London, having lost at least half of its population to the Black Death in 1348, recovered surprisingly rapidly. The decades that followed offered unprecedented opportunities for those who had been fortunate enough to survive: the sons of peasants from Kent and Surrey, Suffolk and Norfolk, flocked to the capital to take the place of the thousands of apprentices who now lay buried in the mass graves beyond the City walls. There were fewer opportunities for girls than for boys, although some doubtless made good marriages, and the most talented could find well-paid work as embroiderers: for those less fortunate, prostitution offered a very uncertain lifeline.

The wool-trade was at the centre of London's prosperity in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries. In the countryside, labour-intensive subsistence farming gave way to pasture for sheep, whilst, in the cities, the export of raw wool was gradually replaced by the more profitable trade in dyed and woven cloth. Ships from Spain, France, Flanders, and Venice, arrived at London's docks, bringing silks, wine and spices, in return for woolen cloth and linen. Ideas, as well as goods, were exchanged, and numerous languages were spoken in the streets leading up from the wharves.


Medieval wool merchants, from Filippo Calandri's Trattato di Arithmetica 1491, Biblioteca Riccardina, Florence, Ricc. 2669 (image is in the Public Domain). 

The fluctuations of the English wool trade. Image: Dr Jennifer Paxton

Map of London in 1300. Image: Grandiose (licensed under CCA).


The City was largely self-governing, its administration centred in the guilds, and in the Guildhall, and the language of governance was English. Since 1066, Norman French had been the language of the royal court and aristocracy; Latin the language of the church and scholarship; and English the language of trade. Now, with trade increasingly the basis of England's prosperity, English came into its own as a literary language. Poets such as Geoffrey Chaucer and John Gower turned away from French and Latin, to write in English. Fluent in all three languages, they created a new language, recognisably "English," rather than Anglo-Saxon, with much borrowing from French and Latin. 




Bruce Holsinger's novel, A Burnable Book, is set in the City, and in Southwark, in 1385. Richard II is on the throne, and Chaucer and Gower are both characters, as are a group of prostitutes, who move between the stews around Winchester Palace, and Gropecunt Lane, in the heart of the City. Like many of the elite of their age, Gower and Chaucer are well-connected, both internationally and within the City. Chaucer has traveled in Italy on enigmatic diplomatic missions; whilst Gower's son, Simon, has worked there for the English mercenary, Sir John Hawkwood, here depicted, convincingly, as a brutal thug (although he is believed by some to have been the model for Chaucer's knight in The Canterbury Tales). When a mysterious book is brought to London from Italy, prophesying the death of the King, all of the characters are thrown into a turmoil of intrigue and suspicion, from which they will struggle to escape.

Geoffrey Chaucer, from Thomas Hoccleve's "The Regiment of Princes," 1412 (image is in the Public Domain).

The tomb of Sir John Hawkwood, by Paolo Uccello, 1436, Florence Cathedral (image s in the Public Domain).


"Under a clouded moon, Agnes huddles in a sliver of utter darkness and watches him, this dark-cloaked man, as he questions the girl by the dying fire. At first he is kind seeming, almost gentle with her. They speak something like French: not the flavour of Stratford-at-Bowe nor of Paris, but a deep and throated tongue, tinged with the south. Olives and figs in his voice, the embrace of a warmer sea. He repeats his last question. The girl is silent. He hits her. She falls to the ground. He squats, fingers coiled through her lush hair. 'Doovery lleebro?' he gently chants. 'Ileebro, mee ragazza. Ileebro.' It could be a love song. The girl shakes her head."

"We live in a hypocritical age. An age that sees bishops preaching abstinence while running whores. Pardoners peddling indulgences whilst seducing wives. Earls pledging fealty while plotting treason. Hypocrites, all of them, and my trade is the bane of hypocrisy, its worth far outweighing its perversion. I practice the purest form of truthtelling ... I have become a trader in information, a seller of suspicion, a purveyor of foibles and the hidden things of private life. I work alone and always have, without the trappings of craft or creed. John Gower. A guild of one.


John Gower, University of Glasgow, MS Hunter 59 (Tl 17, 6v - image is in the Public Domain).


"'You can't be direct with her about it,' Chaucer was saying. 'This is a woman who takes the biggest cock in the realm between her legs. She's given Lancaster three bastards at last count - or is it four?' He waited, gauging my reaction. 'What is this book, Geoffrey? What does it look like? What's in it?' His gaze was unfocused and vague. 'To be honest with you, John, I don't know. What I do know is that this book could hurt me.' He blinked and looked at some spot on the wattle behind me. Then, in a last whisper of French, 'it could cost me my life.'"

Mark Patton is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books can be purchased from Amazon.




Sunday, 21 January 2018

The Streets of Old Lambeth: Lambeth Palace

A visitor to London, exploring the Borough of Lambeth, and having followed the Thames Path from the South Bank Centre to Saint Thomas's Hospital, can continue along this path, arriving, after a short walk, at Lambeth Palace, the London residence of the Archbishops of Canterbury since around 1200 AD. I do not usually take readers inside such attractions: they have their own websites, and I wouldn't wish, as it were, to spoil the plot, preferring to weave a connecting path between them. I will make a couple of exceptions in Lambeth, however; in this case because the palace, being very much a working environment, is only occasionally open to the public, an places on tours often fill up within a matter of hours of being advertised (the library, however, is accessible to researchers by appointment).


Lambeth Palace from the south, in c 1685, Museum of London (image is in the Public Domain).


The early Tudor gatehouse, which is, from the outside, the most prominent feature of the palace, was completed in 1495.


The Great Hall (left) and Gatehouse from inside the palace. Photo: Richard Croft (licensed under CCA).


Within, the so-called "Lollards' Tower" is earlier than this (c 1435). An upper room has clearly been used as a prison, and it used to be supposed that the prisoners were Fifteenth Century Lollards (proto-Protestants, who sought to make the Bible available in English), but the graffiti in the room date to the Seventeenth Century, and it seems that the true "Lollards' Tower," at Saint Paul's, was destroyed during the Great Fire of 1666.

The "Lollards' Tower in c 1883. Photo: Henry Dixon (image is in the Public Domain).


Of the Thirteenth Century Palace, all that remains visible is an undercroft, originally used for storing wine, beer, and other produce.

The Undercroft in c 1804 (image is in the Public Domain).


The Great Hall, which now houses much of the library, was rebuilt in 1663, following extensive damage by Parliamentary troops during the Civil War (Samuel Pepys described it as "a new old-fashioned hall"), and was further restored following bomb damage in the Second World War.


The Great Hall in c 1804 (image is in the Public Domain).


Among the great treasures of the library are the Mac Durnan Gospels, dating to the Ninth or Tenth Century; the Lambeth Bible, dating to the Twelfth Century; and the Lambeth Apocalypse, dating to the Thirteenth Century.

The Gospel of Saint Mark, from the Mac Durnan Gospels, probably a diplomatic gift from the Abbot of Armagh to the Anglo-Saxon King, Aethelstan (reigned 924-939 AD), who presented the manuscript to Christchurch, Canterbury (image is in the Public Domain). 

The Gospel of Saint Luke, from the Mac Durnan Gospels (image is in the Public Domain).

The Tree of Jesse, from the Lambeth Bible, dating to the 1140s (image is in the Public Domain). 

Page from the Lambeth Apocalypse, dating from c 1260 (image is in the Public Domain).

Page from the Lambeth Apocalypse (image is in the Public Domain).

Page from the Lambeth Apocalypse (image is in the Public Domain).


From the gatehouse of the palace, it is just a short walk further along the river to our next stopping-point, the Garden Museum.

Mark Patton is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books can be purchased from Amazon.