Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Stuart period’ Category

A guest post by LH Member Lissa Chapman.

B2002.15It seems significant that so many modern studies of Aphra Behn and her work feature a mask on the cover.  Famous as the first-ever professional woman playwright, Behn was also a novelist, poet, translator – and spy.  And she was adept at suppressing information about herself.

By the time of her death in 1689, Behn had become something of a celebrity, and was allowed the honour of a grave in the cloisters at Westminster Abbey.  In a 20-year career in the theatre, she had written and had staged nearly 20 plays.  And for a time her work remained popular – for several decades her play The Emperor of the Moon was staged every time a Friday, 13th came round, as theatre managements knew the show would pull in a crowd whatever the date.  But the world changed, and Behn’s work began to be regarded as too coarse to read.  By the nineteenth century she was firmly forgotten:  the Victorians, disliking the Restoration as a period anyway, could not forgive Aphra Behn for having been a woman, and regarded her work as “too coarse to open”.  Even when, in the next century, Virginia Woolf wrote of placing flowers on Behn’s grave, it was as a trailblazer she was to be remembered:  there was no discussion of the quality of her work. In recent years at least some of Aphra Behn’s work has begun to emerge from the shadows.  A number of her plays, most notably The Rover have been staged, and it is generally agreed that her best writing is at least as good as that of her most famous contemporaries;  there have been new editions of her work, two biographies and innumerable articles.

As part of this, at least some of Aphra Behn’s life story has emerged from the shadows.  And it is now clear just what odds she overcame in order to survive at all, let alone to get her work staged and published and to maintain her independence.  Aphra Johnson, born near Canterbury in 1640, was the daughter of a barber and a wet nurse who worked for an aristocratically connected family.   It was probably as a result of this that Aphra was recruited, first as a courier for Royalist plotters during the Commonwealth years, and then as a fully fledged spy.  She was sent first to Surinam, then to the Low Countries, on each occasion to watch and connect with the dissident William Scot.  Aphra, only in her twenties, was a total failure as a spy:  she fell in love with her quarry, who double crossed her, and finally returned to London, badly in debt and with little to show for her mission.  Yet only a few years later, after a short lived marriage to a German merchant, Aphra Behn was established in London as a professional writer – this is the ferocious and misogynist world of the Restoration theatre.

But not all Aphra Behn’s work receives the attention it merits.  Her final play, The Widow Ranter, set in Virginia and featuring not only the reimagined story of a rebellion but satire, music, dance, spectacle, several different love stories and a cross-dressed, drunken, pipe smoking former servant for a heroine, was staged only once, just after its author’s death.  It was published with a defensive preface explaining it had been badly cast, and then laid aside and forgotten.  A couple of years ago Clio’s Company became interested in the play – a reading one afternoon told us it deserved another chance to live on stage.  After Aphra, written by Lissa Chapman and Jay Venn and incorporating scenes from The Widow Ranter as well as new work, is also part of a sequence of productions which will lead up to a full scale production of  in 2020, the 250th anniversary year of the staging of Behn’s first play, The Forc’d Marriage.


After Aphra: The Story of Aphra Behn and “The Widow Ranter” will be performed at the atmospheric. Watermen’s Hall on 23rd October for one night only. A time of writing there are a few places still available.


Editor’s Note
In Our Time on BBC Radio 4 devoted an episode to Aphra Behn in October 2017.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

This guest post by LH member Tracey Hill was first published in London Historians Members’ Newsletter of November 2014.

In the early 1620s Thomas Middleton’s profile in London, both on and off the stage, was at its height. His run of civic employments was consolidated when he was appointed the first paid Chronologer of the City of London on 6th September 1620. The commencement of Middleton’s post as City Chronologer was marked by the publication in 1621 of a series of commissioned civic entertainments that took place between Easter 1620 and Easter 1621, entitled Honorable Entertainments compos’de for the Seruice of this Noble Cittie, comprising ten separate entertainments.

ThomasMiddleton
Thomas Middleton (1580 – 1627)

Although his appointment as City Chronologer was a token of the esteem in which Middleton was held in civic circles, his new role came during a run of bad luck for the City and his initial commissions during the 1620-21 period were all problematic. Honorable Entertainments may, on the face of it, have been a wholly suitable way for the City Chronologer to appear in print, but some of the pieces in this book and in other works in this period have an edgy take on the civic transitions of 1620-21.

The second entertainment in the collection marked the termination of William Cockayne’s mayoralty on the day before the Haberdasher Francis Jones’s inauguration in 1620. However, in contrast to the usual joy at the arrival of a new Lord Mayor, this unprecedented ‘sad Pageant’ represents the end of Cockayne’s term of office as a funeral where ‘all seem to mourne’. It seems the very year has died: there is a ‘Last Will and Testament of 1620’, where Cockayne’s unnamed ‘Successor’ is bequeathed ‘all my good wishes, paines, labours and reformations’. The piece concludes with an ‘epitaph’ bemoaning the end of ‘a Yeare of goodness, and a Yeare of right’. As well as reminding Jones (in a move that will come back badly on the City, as we’ll see) of the ‘bounty fayre’ he will expected to provide as Lord Mayor, the first entertainment of Jones’s term is addressed primarily to the Haberdashers’ Company. Of Jones himself, Middleton simply states, with a distinct absence of enthusiasm, ‘I presume his goodness will requite’ the generosity of his Company. Any ‘honour’ that pertains to Jones in this work is merely ‘borrowed’ from the Haberdashers.

Eight of the ten entertainments in this collection were presented at Jones’s house. The lack of confidence in Jones signalled in Honorable Entertainments was more than borne out by events. The christmas entertainment evokes Jones’s house as ‘Bounties pallace/ Where euery Cup ha’s his full Ballace’, where ‘sparkling Liquors’ abound and where ‘Cellar, Hall [and] Larder’ are ‘Iouiall’ and ‘blithe’. Despite Middleton’s citation of ‘th’Abundant welcome yon’d Kind Lord affords’, as it turned out, Jones could not afford it and absconded just before his term of office expired. The keen seventeenth-century letter writer John Chamberlain recorded that ‘the night before he should have accompanied his successor to Westminster [Jones] did sgombrare [clear out], conveying all of worth out of his house, and he and his wife into some secret corner of the country’. Contrary to usual practice Jones was ‘excused’ due to an alleged ‘sudden infirmity’ when his successor took his mayoral oath at Westminster in 1621.

The Recorder of London Sir Heneage Finch was responsible for this public negotiation of Jones’s flit. There may be a deliberate irony in his ambiguous remarks in the same speech that Jones had ‘willingly’ laid down the burden of office and that Jones ‘cannot give a greater testimony of him[self] than his meane estimation of him selfe’. In pointed contrast, his successor Edward Barkham’s ‘greate bounty and hospitallity … feastes and entertainments’ were highlighted at the equivalent ceremony in 1621. On passing on the mayoralty to Peter Proby in October 1622 Barkham was given a testimonial by Finch which stated that, unlike his predecessor, he had performed the role with ‘dilligence from the first [day] of the [mayoral] yeare to the last’.

These words of praise notwithstanding, Barkham’s rise to the City’s highest office had not been straightforward either. To take the office he had to ‘translate’ from the Leathersellers’ Company to one of the Great Twelve. Thus the backdrop to the 1621 mayoral inauguration was no more auspicious than the termination of his predecessor. Barkham’s process of translation to the Drapers began with an approach to the Company in July 1621. The request was rebuffed for some months: there were prolonged negotiations and the matter was only resolved on the intervention of the Privy Council.

Barkham’s putative membership was discussed by the Drapers’ Court four times in July 1621. For a while the Company were adamant that they were would not accept him and agreed to convey to the Court of Aldermen their ‘absolute denyall’ of Barkham’s admission, demonstrating the strength of feeling against this enforced admission. Later in July the Company remained intransigent, reiterating ‘the denyall of the generality of this Companie in acceptinge of Mr Alderman Barkeham’. In their fourth meeting there was only one item on the agenda. They were ‘altogether unwilling and unable’ to accept the financial charge consequent on having another mayoral inauguration to support. However, their position had shifted: they were no longer refusing entry to Barkham per se (the phrase ‘absolute denyall’ no longer features), but rather asking the Court of Aldermen to excuse them the costs. The final discussion took place in August, within weeks of the election of the new Lord Mayor on Michaelmas Day. Once more the Drapers wished to be excused the costs of the ‘triumphes’, adding the argument that they were trying to avoid any complaints and any ‘disgrace’ to the City. Indeed, they protested against the cost to the end, but in the face of the forces against them the Company had finally to capitulate, and Barkham–by then ‘Maior elect’–was duly admitted to the membership by translation from the Leathersellers in the nick of time in early October 1621.

drapers_arms
Coat of arms of the Drapers’ Company.

Close scrutiny of that year’s mayoral Show, The sunne in Aries, reveals clues about the considerable strain and prolonged debate of Barkham’s translation. A number of times in the text the word ‘costly’ is employed, which, although conventional, in this context could be seen to gesture towards the Drapers’ concerns about the expense of the inauguration. The relationship between the new Lord Mayor and his Company–in particular, their role in funding the Show–is central to the valedictory speech given at the very end of the Show in a way that could be a veiled commentary on the circumstances.

This speech is intended as a ‘noble Demonstation of [Barkham’s] worthy Fraternities Affection’. The Drapers’ ‘Loue’ for Barkham is likened to the sun breaking through after ‘a great Ecclipse’. It is certainly possible to interpret the now past ‘eclipse’ to the furore over Barkham’s enforced translation. The Drapers’ affection, Fame declares, ‘is showne/ With a Content past Expectation … A Care that ha’s [sic] beene comely, and a Cost/ That ha’s beene Decent’ (my emphasis). The Show itself is said to ‘clearly’ demonstrate how ‘great’ the Drapers’ love is, and the ‘Cost’ is (finally) ‘requited’ by Barkham’s accession to the mayoralty. Middleton’s text strives to incorporate Barkham into the Company, to remind him of the expense they have been put to and attempts to smooth over the recent controversy about their reluctance to pay for the very event that is taking place.

However, references to Barkham are relatively scant and recent holders of civic office are compared unfavourably to their predecessors. Whereas past Drapers were ‘Colledge Founders’, ‘Temple-Beautifiers’ and ‘Erecters … of Granaries for the Poore’, now these granaries are ‘conuerted to some Rich mens Store’. Naturally, there is no suggestion that Barkham is one of those avaricious men but a poor light is cast upon the current civic oligarchy. There is also an oblique reference to Barkham’s unusual route to the mayoralty. Sir Richard Pipe, Lord Mayor in 1578, is mentioned solely because ‘being Free of the Leathersellers, [he] was also from them translated to the Ancient and Honorable Society of Drapers’. Pipe’s translation was a precedent that legitimated Barkham’s troubled move to the Drapers, but given the strong opposition the latter had generated, one wonders why Middleton thought it necessary to mention translation from the Leathersellers at all.

Ultimately, the Drapers had had to accept Barkham and the City had to put the controversy behind it and move on. All the same, Recorder Finch’s speech when Barkham took his oath at Westminster strikes a sterner note than usual. ‘Magistrates are not sett in Authority for their owne sakes’, Finch proclaimed, ‘but for the people’. The office of Lord Mayor, he emphasised, involved ‘a number of cares’ which ‘cannot [be] putt off with [the Lord Mayor’s] clothes now layed under his pillow’, and those who take on high office ought to ‘consider well the weight of government’.

Translation to one of the Great Twelve livery companies, as we have seen, was indeed a more serious business than donning a new suit of clothes. By 1622, however, the crisis was but a memory and Recorder Finch’s speech at the Exchequer when Peter Proby took his oath celebrates Barkham retrospectively for his acts of civic altruism such as endowing a new water conduit. This presentation of Barkham as a man of good deeds features elsewhere too. During his year of office Barkham played an important role in the building of a new church on the site of of what had been the priory church of the Holy Trinity, Aldgate. The building of the church, the 1633 edition of John Stow’s The Survey of London relates,

‘proceeded on with good and prosperous successe, to the no meane honour and commendation of the Lord Maior then being, Sir Edward Barkham by name, the Court of Aldermen, and state of this famous City, by whose good meanes it is made a very beautifull and comely Parish Church’.

Barkham ‘himselfe undertooke, and effected at his owne charge’ the ‘maine and great East light in the Chancell’, and his contribution was commemorated, appropriately enough, in a verse placed in the chancel of the church:

Barkham the Worthie,
whose immortall name,
Marble’s too weake to hold,
for this workes fame.
He never ceast
in industrie and care,
From ruines to
redeeme this House of Praier.

Somewhat ironically given the strong resistance to his translation, Barkham’s membership of the Drapers is highlighted in this monument; indeed, he is even linked to one of the City’s most esteemed figures, the first Lord Mayor of London, Henry Fitz-Alwin. The verse concludes:

This Cities first Lord Maior
lies buried here,
Fitz-Alwine,
of the Drapers Company,
And the Lord Maior,
whose fame now shines so cleere,
Barkham,
is of the same Society.

fitz-alwyn
Henry Fitz-Alwin, commemorated on Holborn Viaduct.



Long-standing London Historians Member, Prof Tracey Hill is Head of English and Cultural Studies at Bath Spa University. Her research expertise is in the cultural history of early modern London, with a particular focus on civic pageantry. She is the author of Pageantry and Power: a cultural history of the early modern Lord Mayor’s Show (Manchester University Press 2010) and Anthony Munday and Civic Culture (Manchester University Press 2004) as well as of a number of articles and chapters in books.


A longer version of this article – “Ever obedient in his Studies”: Thomas Middleton and the Cityc1621′,  – appeared in The London Journal,42:2 (2017).

Read Full Post »

16156Book review by LH Member George Goodwin.
The Civil War in London by Robin Rowles
Pen & Sword, £12.99 152pp

As a reviewer it is well to declare an interest. Robin Rowles is both an active member of London Historians and a highly-qualified guide with a love of London’s history that easily communicates itself in conversation, as it did to me when we talked some months ago about the Civil War in London both as a topic in itself and as the subject of this book. So I can be forgiven for approaching the book with rose-tinted glasses.

Robin takes a somewhat old-fashioned approach and the book is none the worse for that. He is impeccable in the way that he credits his sources and the views of his fellow historians, and he ensures that those with only a limited understanding of the causes of the English Civil War have these background factors explained. He then tackles his subject thematically. I have one quibble with the structure of the book, addressed to its editor rather than its author, which is that it might have been better to have had some part of the penultimate chapter ‘London’s brave boys: the trained bands and the defence of London’ as the opening salvo.

There may not have been any fighting in London itself, but that was partly due to the impressive defensive measures taken by the City of London’s Common Council and to the role of the Trained Bands in repulsing the King’s army at the Battle of Turnham Green, then some miles to the west of the twin cities of Westminster and London. As Robin points out, the London units and their extremely effective commander Philip Skippon also played an exceptionally important role in the wider Civil War.

As to the meat of the book, Robin has a real insight into how the City was able to take on much of the machinery of national administration, with its networks of committees in some ways akin to those that would operate in Paris during the French Revolution. Their taking on this role being natural, due to the City’s long-established institutions and the ability of its governing Common Council to give overall direction.

The centuries-old financial importance of the City of London to the Monarchy was symbolised by the longstanding pre-coronation tradition of the monarch being escorted to the Tower through the City gates by the scarlet-clad Mayor and Aldermen of London. With a detailed knowledge of its Livery Companies, Robin shows how the Parliamentarians were able to utilise the City’s long-established means of financing the monarchy in order to back its citizen enemies. He also demonstrates how this change of loyalty had been made a great deal easier through King Charles’s assault on the City’s privileges during the ‘Eleven Years’ Tyranny’ not least through the Crown’s confiscation of the City’s Ulster plantation.

There are some intriguing details in the book to demonstrate that the City was far from universally solid in its support of Parliament, showing that some moderate Royalists were elected as Mayors during the mid-1640s before Charles’ resumption of hostilities in 1648 cut the ground from their feet, that is before Parliament was itself superseded by the army, with Skippon later becoming Cromwell’s Major General for the London area. The exceptional importance of religion in directing men towards either King or Parliament is affirmed and the means by which the Committee for Demolition of Monuments of Superstition and Idolatry set about their task are well described. Women also have their moments: not least the 1643 march on Parliament by City women, with their demonstration against wartime taxation and higher food prices being met not by the MPs, who were taking cover inside, but by Dragoons, with the fatal consequences persuading seven peers to desert to the King.

Above all, the book takes you through the streets of the City and is good preparation for accompanying Robin on one of his London Civil War walks, which he lists with those on Sherlock Holmes and others on http://www.strollintime.co.uk/walks.htm


George Goodwin FRHistS is the author of Benjamin Franklin in London: The British Life of America’s Founding Father.

Read Full Post »

A guest post by London Historians member Robin Rowles.

cromwellbust

Modern bust of Thos Cromwell, Guildhall.

In September 2016, I was preparing for the annual Sherlock Holmes Society of London annual weekend, when I received an unexpected tweet from publishing firm Pen and Sword. Would I be interested in writing a book about Sherlock Holmes and London? I was very flattered, wow, somebody out there had heard of my Sherlock Holmes walks, but immediately realised this would be a difficult undertaking. Not writing about Sherlock Holmes, that would be relatively easy, but marketing might be trickier, because I knew the market was saturated with books about Sherlock Holmes and London. Not only do I own many of these, I’m also friends with the authors and I know how good their books are. However, thinking quickly, I explained this and said I could write a book about the civil war in London. After some negotiation, the contract was agreed and I got writing.

The book, which was given the working title of A civil war walk around London, was to be an expansion of my walk ‘Civil war connections ‘round St Paul’s and Cheapside’. Like the walk that inspired it, the book is bookended by historical events from the death of Queen Elizabeth to the Restoration. However, as with the walk, it necessarily takes the reader back into the medieval past and forward into the early eighteenth century. As a fellow guide noted, context is important. Similarly, although the book is about London, parts of it step out of London entirely. Namely the chapter describing the evolution of the Trained Bands, the part-time militia, into the London Regiments. After the battles of Edgehill and Turnham Green in the autumn of 1642, London was secured for parliament, politically and militarily. The London Regiments were free to go on campaign. Which they did, to good effect, marching to relieve the Siege of Gloucester in 1643 and buy the embattled parliamentarians a vital breathing space. The royalists were pressing hard and it’s no exaggeration to say the London Regiments saved the day and the parliamentarian war effort.

Returning to London, there was so many stories to tell. The amazing construction of the Lines of Communication, London’s defences, now long dismantled and confined to the history books. The stories of the various City Livery Companies who housed the parliamentarian committees: The Goldsmiths Committee for Compounding Delinquents for instance. This term was originally applied to those who didn’t contribute to the parliamentarian coffers. Later in the war, the Committee expanded its remit and fined captured royalists with property, who ‘compounded’ for release of their estates. The money thus raised helped finance the war-effort. The Guildhall, where the annual elections to Common Council overturned a relatively pro-royalist caucus in December 1641 and voted in parliamentarians. In the wake of this Puritan revolution, it was the City of London that pressed parliament on important matters during the civil war, such as the removal of idolatrous monuments from churches and elsewhere. Possibly the most dramatic example of iconoclasm came in May 1643, when parliament ordered the dismantling of the Cheapside Cross.

Vertue's_1738_plan_of_the_London_Lines_of_Communication500

Map showing the Lines of Communication, by George Vertue, 1738.

16156Writing this book was almost like learning to guide again. Every fact was checked several times over, and then rechecked. I am indebted to the curators of British History Online, who kindly gave me permission to quote from various sources, including the Calendar of State Papers, House of Commons Journal, and the House of Lords’ Journal. The City of London generously allowed me to use photos taken in and around Guildhall Yard and the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries very kindly gave permission to use an amusing photo of a bust of Charles I, by a ‘No Smoking’ sign. Charles’ father James was seriously anti-smoking and hiked the tobacco duty by 1,000 percent – although he didn’t mind spending the revenue! Quirky anecdotes like this are bread-and-butter for guides building a walk, but when writing a book, I had to dig a little deeper, look a little further, and work a lot harder. Two or three nights and Saturday in the library, quickly morphed into three to four nights, plus Saturday and Sunday. Fifty thousand words, over eight chapters in nine months. However, with a more than a little help from many friends I got there. The Civil War in London: Voices from the City is published by Pen and Sword.


Robin Rowles is a qualified City of London guide lecturer and a long-standing member of London Historians. 

Read Full Post »

A guest post by LH Member Prof Sheila Cavanagh.

Prior to 2011, I did not know that the City of London Livery Companies existed. I am now a liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Educators and have exercised my statutory right to herd sheep across London Bridge.  Since then London Historians have made a number of memorable visits to Livery Halls and having been fortunate enough to have talks on the subject by fellow member Paul Jagger, I would like to offer a few thoughts regarding this venerable tradition from the perspective of someone who has been introduced to these customs and building fairly late.

My first encounter with the Livery Companies came when I was invited to participate in the celebrations and the luncheons surrounding the Worshipful Company of Poulters Shrove Tuesday Pancake Race outside the Guildhall.  Nothing in my previous experience prepared me for this energetic occasion, where crowds of people in elaborate costumes ran (sometimes in high heels) up and down the course, carrying a skillet containing a pancake that appeared to have been made of concrete. The ceremonial trappings of the occasion were unescapable, as the various Livery Companies offered their distinctive contributions to the event. The Poulters provided eggs, the Gunmakers supplied the starting pistol, the Ironmongers brought the skillets, and various other Companies shared varied skills and items associated with their trades.  The event was memorable, particularly for the graciousness of the crowd, and also at the luncheon that followed the main event. While one hopes that no one ate the remarkably resilient pancakes repeatedly carried across the Guildhall yard, the feast that followed the Race was convivial and delicious.

pancake

Lord Mayor Andrew Parmley (2016-17) rather tentatively showing how it’s done. Image: Worshipful Company of Poulters.

After attending a couple of more Livery events and visiting some historic Livery Halls, I decided to pursue membership myself, although I felt more comfortable following my own profession into the fairly recently chartered Worshipful Company of Educators rather than investigating one of the more established Companies associated with trades far out of my realm of expertise. I also wanted to demonstrate that I had taken seriously the charge associated with my tenure as the Fulbright/Global Shakespeare Centre Distinguished Chair, which urged me to become involved in a range of local activities and organisations during my time in England (the London Historians obviously take pride of place in this endeavour).  Consistently, the groups gathered for Livery functions have been welcoming and interesting.

Recently, for example, I attended a Shrieval Luncheon hosted by the Honorable Company of Master Mariners on HMS Wellington to mark the 2018 election of Sheriffs.  As usual, I was surrounded by a fascinating and congenial group of people, this time representing a range of maritime related professions. I had expected to be relegated to a side table for this event (the equivalent of what Americans call “the Children’s Table” at holiday gatherings). Instead, I ended up seated in the company of The Lord Mountevans, 2015’s Lord Mayor of London and the current Master of the Honorable Company of Master Mariners, Captain R.B.Booth MNI. While this seating arrangement was not or anticipated, it fits well within my experience of the Livery Companies.  When LH Member Tina Baxter and myself herded sheep across London Bridge, for example, I found myself assigned to the same group of sheepherders as prominent actor and director Mark Rylance. As the London Historians who have visited Livery Company Halls in conjunction with our delightful LH comrades know, these occasions are always memorable. From the Barber Surgeons Hall, to the Tallow Chandlers, the Goldsmiths, and the other Halls visited, and to the current exhibition at the Guildhall Library highlighting the Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers, the City of London Livery Companies have a great deal of history to share as they help create the history of the City that is to come. I don’t always understand all the traditions associated with the them, but I look forward to learning more from this group of charitable professionals so central to the City of London.

tylers500

Tylers and Bricklayers Company display at Guildhall Library, 2018.

DSC00985b_500

Our visit to Apothecaries’ Hall, 2018.

DSC01487b_500

Outside Barber Surgeons’ Hall after our visit, 2018.

Read Full Post »

A guest post by LH Member Prof. Sheila Cavanagh.

Miranda Kaufmann. Black Tudors: The Untold Story (OneWorld Publications 2017)
Stephen Alford. London’s Triumph: Merchant Adventurers and the Tudor City (Penguin 2018)
Tara Hamling and Catherine Richardson. A Day at Home in Early Modern England: Material Culture and Domestic Life, 1500-1700 (Yale, 2017).

Although most but not all London Historians are interested in the early modern period, the three books described here contain information that will be valuable for all historians.  They are all rich resources that cater to historians of many persuasions, academic and not.  At least one author, Miranda Kaufmann, is a London Historians member herself. In fact her book is offered as this month’s London Historians book prize. Stephen Alford speaks at length about Sir Thomas Gresham, whose London College is the site of the LH annual lecture.  Tara Hamling and Catherine Richardson are regular (and highly recommended) speakers in the area. I was privileged recently to spend a day with them at the Weald and Downland Living Museum (http://www.wealddown.co.uk/) where they presented a wealth of information about early modern wills and inventories.  Each of these writers works on topics of significant interest to the London Historians and I encourage our members to keep an eye out for their works and for their public presentations.

book black tudorsMiranda Kaufmann undertakes a detailed study of the presence of Africans in early modern England, a population that many people have believed were absent.  Drawing from a range of documentary sources (many found in London), she provides a series of biographies that range far more broadly across London society than one might anticipate. There were a number of African musicians, for instance, who received considerable acclaim (and wages) for their work.  Somewhat surprisingly, Africans were often prized for their skills at swimming, since Englishmen were less likely to be able to swim.  This section is rather poignant, since Kaufmann notes that one reason English sailors could not swim was the desire for them to drown quickly if they fell overboard, since no one was going to attempt to save them.  She also talks about entrepreneurial Africans and dispels the assumption that all African women in England would have been prostitutes, although she does discuss the sexual abuse and enslavement of Africans.  The author has been speaking regularly since this book appeared, for good reason. She offers an articulate and illuminating account of a group many people did not know inhabited England during this time.  London Historians should be pleased to have such an informative book offered by one of its members.

alfordStephen Alford’s book is also very interesting and well-written.  It offers much to appeal to London Historians since, in addition to the focus on Thomas Gresham, he spends considerable time discussing the development and importance of the Livery system within the City of London.  Members who have been visiting the Livery Halls with our group will find much to recognize here as Alford describes the ways that the Livery contributed to individual and communal lives during this period.  Like the other authors in this review, he provides considerable evidence from wills and inventories, which helps make this volume useful even for those working outside this historical period.  Similarly, his account of London’s rapid growth during this era, despite the devastation caused by illness introduces pertinent information about immigration and international trade that could be valuable for those interested in a variety of topics.  This is a fascinating book that offers a great deal of historical research in a readable format.

dayathomeinearlymodernengland.Tara Hamling and Catherine Richardson also keep their readers firmly in mind as they present a wonderfully well-illustrated account of daily life in the early modern period.  Like their workshop, the book discusses topics both large and small and encourages you to think about early modern England with a new attention to detail.  Ear cups (for cleaning said orifices) and toothpicks, for example, were often intricately carved, but rarely listed in inventories or wills.  Kaufmann, notably, makes a related point when she indicates that animals were often named on farms, but those names only occasionally were listed in wills.  This book about daily life brings a number of such ordinary items and tasks into focus and helps modern audiences better understand what the daily lives of these people looked and felt like.  The documents they use for this study would be helpful in a number of inquiries and they do an excellent job of setting out the strengths and weaknesses of using different kinds of evidence for a range of investigations.

These three books all offer excellent bibliographies and lists of sources, so would be valuable for those sections alone. They each provide new perspectives on London during this time frame and complement each other well.  None of them treads on the others’ territory, but they each tell fascinating stories that intersect with things that many LH members appreciate.

Read Full Post »

A guest post by Caroline Derry. This article originally appeared in London Historians Members’ Newsletter from May 2014.

5b3cc99c-e7d9-457a-97c6-7e780f93fb87When Tsar Peter the Great visited London in 1696 to learn about shipbuilding and naval architecture, it was natural that he should stay in Deptford. After all, the town had England’s foremost Royal Dockyard, and was close to the Naval Hospital and Observatory in neighbouring Greenwich. The river offered easy travel into London. And conveniently, Sayes Court, the Deptford home of John Evelyn, had just become available to rent.

John Evelyn is best remembered today as a diarist, albeit overshadowed by his contemporary Samuel Pepys. Perhaps his greatest influence, though, was in gardening and forestry. As well as designing his own and friends’ gardens, he wrote horticultural works ranging from the Elysium Britannicum, a major (if unfinished) work of gardening history, to Acetaria: a Discourse of Sallets, devoted to salad plants but including discussion of vegetarianism and a selection of recipes. The work with which he was most closely identified was Sylva, a treatise on tree cultivation; he was later even nicknamed ‘Sylva’ Evelyn.

Sylva was the first book published by the Royal Society, in 1664. A learned and wide-ranging work on forestry, it aimed to encourage the planting of trees to replace those lost in the Civil War or cut down for industrial use. The practical purpose of this was made clear in the sub-title: A Discourse of Forest Trees, and the Propagation of Timber in his Majesty’s Dominions. The book proved a double success, not only selling well but also achieving its greater aim. Landowners answered Evelyn’s call to plant trees – and in doing so, they provided raw material for the ships which helped win the Napoleonic Wars nearly a century and a half later. In a foreshadowing of a popular phrase from that war, Evelyn had described the Navy as the nation’s ‘wooden walls’.

Meanwhile, Sayes Court was proving an ideal testing ground for Evelyn’s work on gardening, despite suffering from easterly winds. The nearby docks meant that foreign plants were readily available; the large site offered scope for ideas he had gathered on a grand tour of France and Italy. His ideas on creating naturalistic gardens probably influenced developments in landscape design which would come to fruition in the eighteenth-century work of Repton and ‘Capability’ Brown.

As well as private gardens with flowers, herbs and bee-hives, there were extensive grounds and an ornamental lake. It is no surprise that the author of Sylva included orchards and a grove of various tree species. A contemporary described the garden as ‘most boscaresque’, while Pepys enthused over its ‘variety of evergreens and hedges of holly, the finest things I ever saw in my life.’

The garden was Evelyn’s pride and joy: he had started planting it even before the purchase of the house was complete in 1652. Many illustrious guests came to Sayes Court to admire its gardens, and were generally welcomed by him. His diary for June 1685, though, records a more surprising would-be visitor:

A large whale was taken betwixt my land butting on the Thames and Greenwich, which drew an infinite concourse to see it, by water, coach, and on foote, from London and all parts. It appeared first below Greenwich at low water, for at high water it would have destroyed all the boats; but lying now in shallow water, incompassed with boats, after a long conflict it was killed with a harping yron, struck in the head, out of which it spouted blood and water by two tunnells, and after a horrid grone it ran quite on shore and died.

The gardens themselves later suffered a rather undignified experience at the hands of Peter the Great and his friends. Apparently more interested in heavy drinking than the appreciation of horticulture, the Russian visitors did a great deal of damage to the property – but what seems to have upset Evelyn most was the harm to his holly hedge caused by the Tsar driving wheelbarrows through it. On 5 June 1698 he wrote:

I went to Deptford to see how miserably the czar had left my house after three months’ making it his court. I got Sir Christopher Wren, the king’s surveyor, and Mr. Loudon, his gardener, to go and estimate the repairs, for which they allowed £150 in their report to the Lords of the Treasury.

4827b383-411c-4ea9-ad01-12e3516f25bc

Peter the Great Memorial, Deptford.

Among the items to be repaired were 300 broken panes of glass, 170 feet of oak wainscoting, and 240 feet of fencing, as well as grease and ink damage to the floors. Damage to the furniture added another £133. Two months after Peter’s departure, the Treasury awarded Evelyn the then-enormous sum of over £350 in compensation.

While the physical injury to the prized holly hedge was seemingly not permanent, the injury to Evelyn’s feelings was more enduring. He would write in a subsequent edition of Sylva:

Is there under heaven a more glorious and refreshing object of the kind, than an impregnable hedge of about four hundred feet in length, nine foot high, and five in diameter; which I can shew in my now ruin’d gardens at Say’s-Court, (thanks to the Czar of Muscovy) at any time of the year, glitt’ring with its arm’d and varnish’d leaves? … It mocks at the rudest assaults of the weather, beasts, or hedge-breakers.

Sadly, drastic changes followed Evelyn’s death in 1706. The holly hedge could not mock the rude assaults of the expansion of the neighbouring dockyard or the replacement of Evelyn’s home with a workhouse. Sayes Court gardens have now all but disappeared. Most of the grounds are underneath Convoy’s Wharf (itself derelict pending a controversial redevelopment) although a small area survives as Sayes Court Park. Its ancient mulberry tree, now in poor health, may have been part of the original gardens.

bca85331-a410-4f68-9a89-43a1271cf0da

Evelyn’s name is found in many Deptford street and place names, but his contribution to victory in the Napoleonic Wars is largely forgotten. His unruly tenant Peter the Great has arguably fared better, since his statue stands on the river front. However, its strange and unflattering portrayal of the Tsar makes it a rather mixed blessing!


Further reading on Sayes Court:
There is very good Wikipedia article.
The London’s Lost Garden blog has a lot of discussion of the garden and the possibility of restoring it.

… finally, an excellent book was published last year by Margaret Willes (LH Member!): The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn.


Caroline Derry
Caroline – a long-standing London Historians Member – is the author of the Caroline’s Miscellany blog, which focuses on London history and ghost signs. She has lived in Deptford for over a decade, and is fascinated by its past and the physical traces which remain.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »