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430 years ago today – also a Tuesday – Anthony Babington and six of his co-conspirators were executed. A guest post by Mathew Lyons.


On Tuesday 20th of September 1586, seven Catholic men were bound to hurdles in the Tower of London – one of them, a priest named John Ballard, on a single sled, the others two-a-piece – and were dragged westward on their final slow journey through the city’s autumnal streets to a hastily erected scaffold in the open fields ‘at the upper end of Holborn, hard by the highway-side to St Giles’, probably somewhere a little to the north west of what is now Lincoln’s Inn Fields, then known as Cup Field. The crowd gathered at the scaffold numbered in thousands. The authorities had fenced off the site to stop horsemen blocking the view, and had also raised the gallows ‘mighty high’, so that everyone could see justice being done.

The names of the men were – Ballard aside – Anthony Babington, John Savage, Robert Barnwell, Chidiock Tichbourne, Charles Tilney, and Edward Abingdon. (Seven more conspirators and their accomplices would die the following day: Edward Jones, Thomas Salisbury, John Charnock, Robert Gage, John Travers, Jerome Bellamy and Henry Donne, elder brother of the poet.) Most of them were minor courtiers, well-connected, wealthy; it was said they wore fine silks on this, their last day. Just a week before they had been tried at Westminster and found guilty of treason; six weeks before that, they had still been free men. But then had come intimations of arrest – one story is that Babington was alerted by catching sight of a message delivered to a dining companion named Scudamore and realising that Scudamore was, in fact, one of Walsingham’s men – followed by dispersal and desperate flight, Babington and four others taking to what was then still wild woodland beyond the city at St John’s Wood.

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Contemporary illustration of the Babington conspirators.

The authorities searched the houses of some thirty known recusants around London. Almost all were outside the city walls in places such as Hoxton, Clerkenwell, Highgate, Enfield, Islington, Newington and Westminster. One conspirator, John Charnock, was captured on the road from Willesden, where he too had slept in the woods. Babington and his companions, hungry and fearful, disguised their clothing and cut their hair, smeared their faces with green walnut shells, and then – with watches guarding every road out of London – made their way cross-country to what they hoped would be a safe house near Harrow-on-the-Hill. Servants there noticed the strangers’ arrival, their oddness; furtive conversations and the gold lacework of a fine cloak over coarse yellow fustian doublets. The five were finally taken, hiding in the barn. Bells rang out across the city as news of their arrest spread; fires were lit and psalms sung, song and smoke rising together in the late summer air.

And now the men were to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

Although the exact site of the gallows is unknown, we do know that it was chosen for symbolic purposes: the men had used these fields for secret meetings as they plotted to assassinate Elizabeth I and replace her on the throne with Mary, Queen of Scots. Indeed, much of their conspiracy seems local to this area, just beyond the city’s western edge where streets and houses seeped into pasture, and where, on warm spring days, women dried their washing out in the fields, weighting down the sheets with rocks and stones. If in some senses the locale emphasises the marginality of their deadly enterprise, it also perhaps hints at a fatal detachment from reality.

Two of the conspirators’ favoured inns were nearby: The Plough, which seems to have been close to Fickett’s Field, between Cup Field and The Strand, and The Rose Tavern, which was on the south side of the Strand itself, just without Temple Bar on the corner of Thanet Place, and well-known for its garden. (A character in Middleton’s Roaring Girls claims to ‘have caught a cold in my head… by sitting up late in the Rose Tavern’.) Savage, Charnock and Babington had rooms in Holborn, the latter at a place called Hern’s Rents, an address he shared – coincidentally or otherwise – with another would-be Catholic regicide, Edmund Neville, who also used to walk in the fields with his co-conspirator, William Parry. Just eighteen months earlier, Neville had betrayed Parry to Walsingham – and to the fate that now awaited Babington and his friends.

Francis Walsingham, circa 1585, attr. John de Critz the Elder. National Portrait Gallery.

Francis Walsingham, circa 1585, attr. John de Critz the Elder. National Portrait Gallery.

It was customary for a traitor’s death to come by hanging, and for the blood rituals to be enacted on his corpse. This day, however, was different. One after another, the men were left to swing briefly by the neck – until they were half-dead, an onlooker wrote – and then cut down from the gallows, still alive and conscious, and made to watch as the executioner hacked off their genitals and dug out their guts – and then eventually their hearts – with his knife. As their insides were cast into a burning brazier, each man’s body was then dismembered, and the severed head set above the gallows.

As the historian William Camden – a likely an eye-witness – noted, the day’s events were ‘not without some note of cruelty’

The first man to die, was Ballard, arguably the plot’s ringleader. The second, its lynchpin, was Babington. He alone of the men standing beside the scaffold awaiting their fate watched Ballard’s agony’s unflinchingly, coolly, not even deigning to remove his hat; the others turned away, fell to their knees and bared their heads in prayer. But when it was his turn to suffer, and he was pulled down breathing from the gallows to face the executioner’s knife, he cried again and again Parce mihi Domine Iesu, Spare me Lord Jesus.


A longer version of this article was first published in London Historians Members’ newsletter of December 2011. A pdf version can be found on our Articles page. Scroll down to December 2011. LH Member Mathew Lyons is a writer, historian and author of The Favourite, which relates the story of Elizabeth I and Sir Walter Ralegh.

Pauline Sowry

paulinesowry03We were very sad to hear of the unexpected death of LH Member Pauline Sowry on 19 August, though aware that she had endured some adverse health issues of late.

Pauline was a Founder Member of London Historians back in 2010 and a great and valued supporter of ours ever since; it was always lovely to see her at our events, which she frequently attended.

Daughter Tessa writes:
“Pauline was born in Wembley in 1949. During quite an ill childhood, at the age of 10 she decided to be a librarian, and then spent her life fulfilling this mission. She worked all over London and in her later years in Rochester at the University of Creative Arts. Once retired, she even became the chairman of the local community library as a volunteer. She spent her life learning, with a particular interest in art and history.”

On behalf of all Pauline’s fellow Members at London Historians we extend our condolences to husband Phil, son Tom, daughter Tessa and grandson Stanley.

Mr Barry’s War

Review: Mr Barry’s War by Caroline Shenton.

mrbarryswar“What a chance for an architect,” exclaimed 39 year-old Charles Barry as he observed personally the 1834 fire which destroyed the old Palace of Westminster. This was the subject of Caroline Shenton’s previous award-winning book, The Day Parliament Burned Down (2012).

And now the sequel. It’s all about how Barry won the bid to design and supervise the building of a new Parliament. Little did he know what troubles lay ahead, hence the title of this book, published today.

Sir Charles Barry was thoroughly a Westminster person, man and boy. Son of a local stationer, he was born a stone’s throw from the ancient parliament and the Abbey: he knew the area intimately. Orphaned at 10, he was raised by his stepmother and apprenticed to an architect’s practice. Substantial travel through Europe and the Near East combined with his natural talent turned him – by the mid 1830s – into one of the leading architects on the scene, a rising star. Sir John Soane by this time was on death’s door and Barry was clearly the superior of Robert Smirke, the man best positioned politically to win the job of rebuilding Parliament.

But it was decided to have a competition for the project. This involved the customary procedure of competitors submitting anonymous sealed designs. Barry won. His entry was Number 64 and his accompanying rebus – the diagram on all his drawings – was a distinctive portcullis with chains. This logo device featured heavily in the decor of the designs and eventually became the official logo of the Houses of Parliament to this day. That’s one of many interesting things I learned from this book and I shall try and keep further spoilers to a minimum.

From here, the narriative of Mr Barry’s War, takes us through the challenges, problems and obstacles that were the architect’s constant companions for the next 20 years and more. The first, and as it turned out probably the easiest, was about engineering. How to build an integrated four-storey estate with two massive towers on the swamp that was Thorney Island? Barry sorted this with brilliant common-sense solutions which worked but nonetheless drew criticism that he didn’t know what he was doing, it wouldn’t work etc. This was a taste of what was to come.

Barry’s problem and the main narrative of the book was to do with having over 1,000 masters: the MPs and Peers who waited impatiently for their new accommodation. He found himself answering to a great many of them in addition to corporate the strangely-named Office of Woods (which became the Office of Works late into the project), the Fine Arts Commission and over a hundred select committee enquiries. They meddled, they carped, they criticised. While royal visitors, heads of state, journalists, newspapers and the public were full of enthusiasm for the building; while RIBA presented Gold Medals and the queen bestowed a knighthood, many insiders were openly hostile to Barry (and indirectly, Pugin). For running over budget, for making alterations without informing anyone, and hundreds of other perceived shortcomings, large and small.

Much of the budget overspend and delay was entirely due to the demands of the critics themselves, but they didn’t see it that way. Barry did have supporters in Parliament, of course, otherwise he couldn’t possibly have won through. But his chief antagonists were Ralph Osborne MP and Joseph Hume MP, who never missed a chance to slight Barry in the House (but rarely outside). Then there was the ventilation expert, Dr Reid, appointed without Barry’s approval or reference. The Scotsman was responsible not only for ventilation, but also heating in winter. Unless the two men worked completely in harmony, delay and cost would escalate. They were barely on speaking terms throughout. Reid was eventually replaced, but too late.

In addition to all of this, the project encountered an all-out strike by the masons, the Great Stink of 1858. And managing Augustus Pugin.

Central to the story is, of course, the partnership of Barry and Pugin who largely uncredited and underpaid undertook most of the decor of the palace. Utterly reliant one on the other, the two in the main got on remarkably well considering their wholly contrasting personalities. Pugin was constantly fractious, lovelorn, angry and often emotional as the author demonstrates liberally with extracts from his letters to Barry, but more tellingly to his confidante and supplier John Hardman.

“I am almost wild… I will not go on as I have been – I will either give up altogether or I will not be the servant of a set of architects who get the jobs & leave me to do their keyholes.”

But Barry was always able to soothe the bruised Pugin with charm, flattery, kind words and fulsome praise – genuinely meant, one feels. But ultimately they both shared the same vision so completely that they were chained together, prisoners to the project, literally unto death. After a spell in Bedlam and other institutions, in poor Pugin’s case.

The historical backdrop to this story is also very influential of events. Chartism is at its height and organised labour is emerging (mason’s strike, above); railways have just arrived and London’s great termini are rising from the streets; the old regime under Wellington, Peel is leaving the stage as Gladstone and Distraeli begin to loom.

There are walk-on parts from many leading or interesting players of the time: the queen, Prince Albert, John Ruskin (hostile), Edmund Beckett Denison M.P. (a truly mediocre amateur architect with massively inflated self-worth: great character), Joseph Bazalgette, Thomas Wakley (founder of The Lancet), and more. But one of my favourite bits of the book was Barry’s tour of the country with geologist William ‘Strata’ Smith in search of the perfect stone for the palace. They visited dozens of quarries: thorough doesn’t nearly cover it. The stone they eventually selected was subsequently thought not to be the exact stuff they actually meant to order, but unbeknownst to them!

This is a wonderful tale, brilliantly told. I shan’t ever look at the Houses of Parliament quite the same again and can’t wait to visit soon with new knowledge from this exceptional book.


Mr Barry’s War: Rebuilding the Houses of Parliament after the Great Fire of 1834 (288pp) by Caroline Shenton is published by Oxford University Press. Cover price is £25. Kindle edition available. It is London Historians book prize for September and there’s a special price offer for London Historians members coming up in next newsletter!

Edward Alleyn

We cannot allow Shakespeare 400 completely to overshadow the anniversary of another giant of Elizabethan theatre.

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Edward Alleyn (1566 – 1626) was born 450 years go this day in Bishopsgate to a quite well-off family with some royal connections. He was pretty much Shakespeare’s exact contemporary.

Alleyn eschewed the family innkeeping business to take to the stage, supported by his elder brother John. From a teenager in the early 1580s to about 1600 he was spectacularly successful as a leading actor with great stage presence. Working successively for the Earl of Worcester’s Men, the Admiral’s Men and Lord Strange’s Men, the young actor performed both in the capital and on tour. His best-known roles were written by Christopher Marlowe and Ben Johnson.

Alleyn’s only significant performing rival was Richard Burbage (1567 – 1619), who worked primarily with Shakespeare. Alleyn had teamed up with his stepfather-in-law Philip Henslowe (1650 – 1616). These, then, were the two dominant rivals in the London theatre business at the turn of the 17th Century.

Despite the rise of puritanism at this time, entertainment in London was nonetheless massive business. Alleyn and Henslowe coveted the mastership of the bears, the patent to run all animal baiting shows (bears, bulls and even lions for King James himself, a noted connoisseur of animal cruelty). They succeeded in securing this from 1604, until 1612, a period during which they also won the direct patronage of young prince Henry. Meanwhile, the two business partners invested in and built a new playhouse, the Fortune, in St Giles Cripplegate. Despite local and puritan opposition against the venture, the impresarios had more than enough influence in very high places to win through.

Still only in his thirties, Alleyn retired from acting completely around 1600 to concentrate on co-managing the business which had made him exceptionally wealthy. Conspicuous philanthropy was a particular leitmotif of the age. Edward Alleyn – twice-married yet childless – wished to cement his name, reputation and memory through worthy foundations. Having purchased the manor of Dulwich in its entirety in 1605 and moved there, he endowed Dulwich College which was formerly opened on 13 September 1619. The ceremony was attended by Francis Bacon, Inigo Jones and other worthies. Old Alleynians of note include Sir Ernest Shackleton, P.G. Wodehouse and Raymond Chandler.

Please remember to raise a glass to this Londoner of great note.

** It just so happens that a week today is our Annual Lecture for 2016 at Gresham College. Professor Sheila Cavanagh will be talking about the whole theatrical environment and business during Shakespeare’s time. Preceded by a wine reception. There are about a dozen places still available at time of writing. **


Edward Alleyn in Wikipedia
Edward Alleyn in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (subscription required).

General the Lord Dannatt recently retired from the ancient position of Constable of the Tower. Here, LH Member Chris West writes a guest post about some of the highlights of this 900 year old office.

This is the most senior appointment at the Tower; the first Constable was Geoffrey de Mandeville, appointed by William the Conqueror in 1078. In the medieval period, four Archbishops of Canterbury held the office, Thomas à Becket being the most famous. The Constable of the Tower was nominally responsible for management of the site when the monarch was not in residence; the duties for managing the site devolved to a deputy known as the Lieutenant of the Tower, who had an office with clerks to oversee administration, accounting and running the Constable’s own court of law.

white tower

Over time Constables acquired a variety of legal and financial privileges which included collecting tolls on selected goods from trading ships and entitlement to all flotsam and jetsam on the Thames. They also gained from fees paid by state prisoners for their upkeep, the ownership of livestock falling from London Bridge and passing swans. Sir Henry Bedingfield was appointed Constable by Queen Mary and was responsible for Princess Elizabeth while incarcerated at the Tower prior to her removal to Woodstock. The Princess was reported by some sources to have lived in fear for her life while at the Tower. Following her succession, Queen Elizabeth may have advised Bedingfield to stay away from Her Court. Sir John Holland, Duke of Exeter, was a leading army commander who had served at Agincourt. He was appointed Constable and died in 1447. Originally, his tomb was in the nearby Royal Foundation of St Katharine but is now in St Peter ad Vincula at the Tower itself. Since 1784 the Constable has been a senior Army officer, either Field Marshal or General. Henry VIII built The Queen’s House for Anne Boleyn which has since been used by Constables and Governors.

duke of wellingtonArthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington was Constable from 1769 to 1852. He made important changes, which included draining the moat, removing the menagerie of wild animals, reorganising the establishment of the Yeoman Warders, overseeing the building of the Waterloo Barracks and other extensive restoration of the site. He also made the last, unsuccessful attempt to refill the moat. Wellington did not favour its development into a museum and preferred the Royal Repository at Woolwich for the prizes from Paris in 1815. He did ensure that the guns captured in the Peninsular War and at Waterloo would be preserved at the Tower, some of which are still outside the Waterloo Block. His memory is honoured with a plaque in the Chapel Royal- though interestingly, this was only initiated recently.

Since 1933 the Constable’s appointment has been for five years. His installation is celebrated on Tower Green before an invited audience. The Lord Chamberlain hands the keys of the Queen’s House to the new Constable, who then entrusts them to the Resident Governor, responsible for the management of the Tower.

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The Constable still retains the right to direct access to the monarch. Ceremonial events are attended, including gun salutes, state parades and the Ceremony of the Dues, representing the historic toll of wine or goods paid by ships entering the Pool of London. A Royal Navy vessel berths at Tower Wharf, bringing into the Tower a ceremonial keg slung from an oar, accompanied by a parade headed by the Chief Yeoman Warder, then a military band followed by the ship’s company. At Tower Green, they are met by Tower officials in full dress uniform and the keg is presented. Both parties and guests then retire for refreshments.

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Former Chief of General Staff, General the Lord Dannatt has just finished his tenure as the 159th Constable, having served for seven years instead of the usual five. He has further distinguished himself with his extensive input while resident. Being a Trustee of Historic Royal Palaces (the independent charity responsible for running the Tower), he was involved in the excellent 2014 poppies installation in the moat, ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’. He also helped coordinate the services charities involved and was a central figure in the daily Roll Call ceremony.

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Lord Dannatt was extensively involved in life at the Tower, its residents and the various ceremonies, while still regularly attending at the House of Lords. Lord and Lady Dannatt were key figures in raising money to renovate the Chapel Royal and to improve funding for the unique choir, successfully hosting many special day and evening events.

General Sir Nicholas Houghton replaces Lord Dannatt as the 160th Constable.


 

eykalisSorry for the lack of posting of late: I’ve been overseas for three weeks. This, at least, enabled me to catch up on some reading, including this assertively-titled work by Matt Brown, which was published very recently.

Most of us who love London are aware that there are many canards out there, some of the most obvious relating to Dick Whittington, for example, or the American hotelier who purchased London Bridge. What Brown has done is to undertake as deep and wide a trawl as possible and deliver from the most obvious to the most obscure, and if you know him personally or from his writings at Londonist, you’ll realise that he’s just the man for the job. The obvious trap in a project of this kind is, of course, to come across as a didactic bore. This is something the author acknowledges in his introduction and then skillfully manages to avoid through lightness of touch and twinkleness of eye: it’s joyous to read and a book that will make you smile frequently.

From a review point of view, the danger here is spoilers. So I will just mention that there are bits which debunk beliefs relating to Guy Fawkes, Dick Turpin, Hitler, the Great Fire (topical), Bob Holness, Boris, Napoleon and Boudicca. That’s a tiny percentage of it. There is tons more, nicely arranged thematically into 10 chapters, including an important section which throws a huge bucket of freezing water over the most idiotic trivia fed to tourists.

I think my knowledge of the capital is pretty good on the whole, so it was occasionally disappointing – but in a nice way – to discover that some things I believed turn out to be complete bollocks (nylon, Jeremy Bentham); and other new things (to me) of which I was completely unaware (Green Park and flowers; Jimi’s parakeets). I’m sure you too can look forward to similar triumphs and disasters, and treat those two impostors just the same.

So lots of juicy and factual content, then, but also room for editorialising. There is one item in particular which takes a sideswipe at Victor Meldrews like me who dislike change, in this instance relating to names of areas. It’s a point well made, as is the book itself which is very nicely designed, illustrated, printed and bound.

Well-written, knowledgeable, amusing, authoritative. This is a fine book to own and one which friends will thank you for as a gift. And mean it.

Everything You Know About London is Wrong (192pp) by Matt Brown is published by Batsford with a cover price of £9.99. It can be purchased directly from the publishers www.pavilionbooks.com, in good and some bad bookshops, and on Amazon.

Exhibition at the Museum of London 23 July 2016 – 17 Apr 2017.

DSC04194cIt’s known of course as the Great Fire of London. So great in fact that more generally it is simply called the Great Fire. It raged for four days from 2 to 5 September 1666, destroying most of the Square Mile and a substantial area immediately west of the city wall. This being the disaster’s 350th anniversary, it is being commemorated with sundry events in many ways and places. Nobody is better equipped to deal with this than Museum of London with its vast collection of contemporary objects.

The overall design of the show is immersive and atmospheric, that is to say dark and quite noisy, but not intrusively so. This makes complete sense. The fire started at night and virtually all known paintings of it are nightscapes (at least three of which are on display). The first section is narrow and claustrophobic to give you the feel of the medieval London streedscape: it works.

Thereafter the the spaces open out to accommodate more object displays which take us chronologically through the before, during and after phases of the Fire.

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The technical stuff shows us just how pathetic was 17C fire-fighting equipment. Most risible of all were the squirts, a couple of which are on display. A beautifully-restored fire engine – also hopelessly inefficient – is one of the centrepieces of the exhibition.

The firesquirt. Just a large syringe.

The firesquirt. Just a large syringe.

17C fire engine. For effectiveness, it flatters to deceive!

17C fire engine. For effectiveness, it flatters to deceive!

A very large proportion of the objects feature the everyday – tiles, bricks, household objects. These quite obviously resonate the most and where the museum has a huge supply, not least via years of archaeology through MOLA and its predecessors.

Hoard of 17th-century glass found underneath burnt debris during excavations of a cellar on Gracechurch Street.

Hoard of 17th-century glass found underneath burnt debris during excavations of a cellar on Gracechurch Street.

There’s lots of interactivity that will prove popular with children (of all ages!). Microscopes to view in detail carbonised articles; pushbutton x-ray reveals of encrusted household objects such as locks, keys, knives; interactive computer game of saving buildings with a choice of methods – firehooks, gunpowder etc.

X-Ray of melted iron key found at Boltolph Lane. Museum id BPL95[119] This image may be used free of charge to promote and review the Museum of London Exhibition 'Fire Fire' 2016-17. All other uses must be cleared with the Museum of London picture library

X-Ray of melted iron key found at Boltolph Lane.

In addition, of course, there is no shortage of the paperwork: documents, diagrams, plans, panoramas, books. These could be an exhibition in their own right. And almost especially for me: old pub signs! Five of them!

The Monkey and Apple.

The Monkey and Apple.

The final phase of the exhibition shines a light on the aftermath and ramifications of the tragedy. For me and for many historians I suspect, this is the most absorbing part of the show because it reveals a clear break from many things medieval. It tells us of how Robert Hooke and his team along with voluntary Fire Judges decided who owned what;  how the leading thinkers of the day – Wren, Evelyn and others – came up with new plans for London (none was implemented: London had to get back into business asap); the birth of insurance; modern building regulations.

The Fire Judges' table.

The Fire Judges’ table.

Fire insurance. If you had cover, you'd attach the badge to the front of your building.

Fire insurance. If you had cover, you’d attach the badge to the front of your building.

One of Wren's drawings for the new St Paul's.

One of Wren’s drawings for the new St Paul’s.

Given the subject matter and the inventory at the museum’s disposal for a show such as this, the task would seem an embarrassment of riches for any curator. But in a way, this actually makes the task more challenging. Meriel Jeater and her team have surpassed that challenge to plan, design, assemble and deliver a wonderfully balanced and evocative exhibition of one of London’s greatest calamities. Do go.


Fire! Fire! runs at the Museum of London from tomorrow until 17 April 2017.
Tickets from £8 adults (when booked online).
More information and booking.