Wednesday, 29 June 2016

The Wards of Old London: Bassishaw - Weaving and Policing

Following the course of the northern wall of the Roman and Medieval city in an easterly direction, a visitor to London passes from Cripplegate Ward Within, briefly, into Bassishaw Ward (formerly Basinghall Ward). "Briefly," because it is the smallest ward of the city. Writing in 1598, the chronicler, John Stow, describes it as "a small thing," which:

" ... consisteth of one street called Basinghall Street, of Basing Hall, the most principal house whereof the ward taketh name."

Bassishaw Ward in 1754, by Benjamin Cole (image is in the Public Domain).

This was a private residence, standing on land that had been granted by King Henry III to a certain Adam de Basing in the Thirteenth Century. Nearby was the hall of the Worshipful Company of Weavers, of which Stow writes:

" ... Henry II, in the 31st of his reign, made a confirmation to the weavers that had a gild or fraternity in London, wherein it appeareth that the said weavers made woollen cloth, and that they had the correction thereof; but amongst other articles in that patent, it was decreed, that if any man made cloth of Spanish wool, mixed with English wool, the portgrave, or principal magistrate of London, ought to burn it."

It is likely that many of the weavers operated in the area, just as members of the other guilds had their workshops located around their halls. The Worshipful Company of Weavers, however, like most of the guilds, was open only to men. In contrast to carpentry or ironmongery, weaving had long been recognised as an occupation in which respectable women could engage. Even the paragon of feminine virtue, the Blessed Virgin Mary herself, was depicted weaving.

(Image is in the Public Domain).
The Holy Family at work, from the Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves (c1440), Morgan Library and Museum, New York (image is in the Public Domain).

In time, the company lost ground to other guilds, such as the Drapers, Haberdashers and Mercers, as weavers apprenticed their sons into these trades, leaving their wives and daughters to do the weaving behind the scenes. By the end of the Fourteenth Century, the male and female weavers of London were no longer able to keep up with the demand for cloth, and Richard ("Dick") Whittington, as Lord Mayor, purchased another property in the ward, Bakewell (or Blackwell) Hall, as a cloth market in which "aliens" (foreigners, some of them Flemish, but also Englishmen who were not freemen of a City Guild) could sell woollen cloth. This market-hall was rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1666, and remained in use until its demolition in 1820, by which time most woollen cloth was produced in the mechanised mills of the industrialising north of England.

Blackwell Hall in 1812, view from Basinghall Street, Walter Thornbury. British Library, HMNTS 010349.I.1 (image is in the Public Domain).

Bassishaw Ward has long been associated with the policing of London. Throughout the Middle Ages and the Early Modern era, the city was policed by the Day and Night Watches operating out of the Guildhall, which had a gate onto Basinghall Street. In 1839, the City of London Police was established (it was then, and remains to this day, separate from the Metropolitan Police Service, which operates across Greater London. The City Police was based, initially in the Guildhall, subsequently in Old Jewry, and now in Wood Street, still within the ward.

City of London Police at Bank Junction in the early 1920s. Photo: Leonard Bentley (licensed under CCA).
The City of London Police tug-of-war team in 1908. At the London Olympics that year, held at the White City Stadium, the UK Team having beaten all its international rivals, the gold medal was won by the City Police, beating Liverpool Police into second, and the Metropolitan Police, K-Division into third place (image is in the Public Domain). 
City of London Policewomen. Women were first recruited in 1949, having served as auxiliaries in both World Wars. This uniform (no longer in use) was designed in 1969 by Royal dress-maker, Sir Norman Hartnell. Photo: Leonard Bentley (licensed under CCA). 

Mark Patton's novels, Undreamed Shores, An Accidental King, and Omphalos, are published by Crooked Cat Publications, and can be purchased from Amazon. He is currently working on The Cheapside Tales, a London-based trilogy of historical novels.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

A History of the World in 50 Novels. 41 - "In the Wolf's Mouth," by Adam Foulds

If the First World War redrew the map of the world, sweeping away empires that had stood for centuries (Tsarist Russia, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire), and elevating new nations (Japan, the United States, the Soviet Union) to the status of great powers, the settlement that followed also contained within it the seeds of future conflicts.

The ensuing tragedy, played out over the course of four decades, followed different courses in different countries, yet held many features in common: ethnic and national resentment; recession, inflation, mass unemployment & economic division; powerful demagogues (Mussolini, Franco, Hitler, Stalin) offering deceptively simple solutions to complex social & economic problems; all of which combined to send the nations of the world hurtling towards a new and terrible conflagration.

In Italy, a late engagement in the First World War (with British encouragement, the country declared war on the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1915, and on Germany the following year) came at the cost of 650,000 Italian lives, but also widened the economic divisions between the industrialised north, which prospered from armaments manufacture, and the rural south, where wages remained depressed as prices soared. Emigration, especially to the United States, seemed to offer the only way out for many Sicilian, Apulian and Calabrian families.

Sicilian emigrants (image is in the Public Domain).

The end of the war brought civil unrest, strikes, factory occupations, and open conflict between right-wing and left-wing militias. Finally, in 1922, forced to choose between the Fascist Scylla and the Socialist Charybdis, King Victor Emmanuel III threw in his lot with Mussolini's black-shirts. In Sicily, Il Duce's "Iron Prefect," Cesare Mori, declared war on the Mafia, forcing many of its bosses to join the stream of trans-Atlantic emigrants.

When, in 1943, British, American and Canadian forces captured Sicily, and began fighting their way up through the Italian peninsula, they brought with them many naturalised Italian-Americans, keen to play their part in the "reconstruction" of their homeland. Inevitably, these included Mafiosi, some of whom had built substantial criminal empires for themselves on the streets of New York and Chicago, and now had scores to settle, not only with those who had been active Fascists, but with anyone who had ever crossed them. Denunciations came in thick and fast, but who was to be trusted and believed?

The sinking of the US liberty ship, Robert Rowan, by German aircraft, of Gela, Sicily, in 1943. Photo: Lieut. Longini, US Signal Corps, US National Archives, 531165 (image is in the Public Domain).
A US Sherman tank in Sicily, 1943. US Army Centre for Military History (image is in the Public Domain).

Adam Foulds's novel, In the Wolf's Mouth, tells the story of the 1943 Sicilian campaign through the eyes of four very different men: Angilu, a simple Sicilian shepherd, who remains loyal to his feudal overlord, Prince Adriano; Ray Marfioni, a young American-Italian infantryman; Will Walker, a British intelligence officer, who finds himself responsible for liaison with the local community; and Ciro Albanese, a Mafioso recently returned from New York. It ought to be (but probably isn't) required reading for anyone involved in post-war "reconstruction" in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan or Libya.

" ... at sunset Angilu saw his mule twitch its ears forwards and lift its head. He looked across the valley to see a man approaching on horseback, the horse's big, jointed shadow moving over the stones in front of them as it snorted and laboured under a large man. One of the field guards ... The horse shifted sideways a little, finding sockets for its hooves in the ground. 'This evening,' the guard said, 'it would be better to let fate take its course' ... Angilu picked up a small pink pebble and rolled it in his palm. 'Are they bringing or taking?' ... 'You've got a lot of questions ... You think too much up here. You worry. It's all arranged anyway. You'll be found in the morning ... It's best for your reputation if they tie you.'"

A peasant family at Limina, Sicily. Photo: Wilhelm von Gloeden (image is in the Public Domain).

 "The waiting to land, like all the interminable waiting, felt like it would never end and then suddenly did. Ray found himself on deck loaded with his equipment waiting to climb down into a landing craft. In a grid all around him in the darkness the others were waiting to do the same. So many of them, Ray felt for the first time the pent-up strength of the force. They couldn't lose. Men went over the side and everyone stepped forward. Then Ray went over the side, clambering down from square to warping square of netting. Beside him, a soldier Ray didn't know mistimed the jump and fell between the troopship and the landing craft. His helmet struck the hull with a ringing sound and before he had time to cry out, he was gone, disappeared into the black water, and din't resurface. A quiet, rapid, weird death - the first Ray witnessed - that no one had time to remark on. It made Ray pant with terror for a minute. This was it. This was battle. This was where men died."

Allied landing craft on the shores of Sicily, 1943 (this is the British 51st Highland Division). Photo: Imperial War Museum, Non-Commercial License A17916. 

"So the fighting was done in Sicily. Ruins and corpses. An apparently grateful population in a state of chaos it was now Will's duty to calm and clarify. The Allied Military Government was hastening into position and Will was with several others in the wrong place. Deploying the extra powers of their identity cards, they got themselves transport to Palermo. Having identified the headquarters, Will decided to delay a little longer and go for a stroll. He walked out among the American soldiers and the sunshine, the locals who were silent and stared and the beggars who approached. He looked around for the oriental beauty and the repellent pushing middle classes, but he didn't see them. Palermo looked like a grand old opera set of a place. There were avenues interrupted with massive piles of rubble where buildings had fallen. Pigeons spluttered from one balcony to another. There was a huge bomb crater near the encrusted cathedral. Hundreds had died there apparently."

Allied soldiers on Sicily (men of the Durham Light Infantry with a paratrooper of the US 505th Parachute Infantry). Photo: Imperial War Museum, Non-Commercial License, NA4614. 
British soldiers in Catania, 1943. Photo: Imperial War Museum, Non-Commercial License, NA5335.

Mark Patton's novels, Undreamed Shores, An Accidental King, and Omphalos, are published by Crooked Cat Publications, and can be purchased from Amazon. He is currently working on The Cheapside Tales, a London-based trilogy of historical novels.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

The Wards of Old London: Cripplegate Within - Roman Fortifications and A Second Great Fire

Following the northern wall of the Roman and Medieval city in an easterly direction, a visitor to London passes from Aldersgate Ward Within into Cripplegate Ward Within, so named for one of the original gates of the city, where, it is thought, disabled people gathered to beg throughout the Middle Ages. Unlike the roads extending north from Aldersgate and Bishopsgate, that proceeding from Cripplegate was never a major road connecting London to other cities.

What would become Cripplegate was originally one of four gateways to the Roman fort that occupied the north-west corner of the post-Boudiccan city of Londinium, a fort that seems to have been established around 90 AD. It is larger than an auxiliary fort, but smaller than a legionary fort, so its garrison is likely to have comprised between a thousand and two thousand men.

The western gate of the Roman fort, as seen from the Museum Of London. Photo: Mike Peel (, licensed under CCA.
The wall of the Roman fort preserved in the garden of Saint Alphege. Photo: Bartholomeus Thoth (licensed under CCA).

Since Londinium was, by the end of the First Century AD, the capital of the Province of Britannia, around two hundred of these are likely to have been Beneficiarii Consularis, military administrators concerned with logistics and supply-chains throughout the province. There would also have been around thirty Speculatores, military policemen responsible for the custody and execution of prisoners, and the delivery of dispatches. There would, in addition, have been the Governor's bodyguard of around a thousand men.

Tombstone of a Roman soldier of the First Century AD. Since he carries writing equipment, as well as a sword, he was probably an adminstrator. Image: J.E. Price, 1881 (Public Domain).

These men would not necessarily have been "Romans" from Italy: a letter found at the Roman fort of Vindolanda, near Hadrian's Wall, refers to the secondment of troops to London from a Tungrian unit - these men would have been recruited in what is now the Netherlands or Belgium, and would have been rewarded with Roman citizenship on completion of their military service. Some, at least, are likely to have married local women and settled in London.

Tombstone of a centurion of the 3rd Century AD, Museum of London. Photo: Elliott Brown (licensed under CCA).

When Alfred the Great re-established the City of London in 886 AD, he used the crumbling Roman walls as the basis for his own, although he did not reinstate the earlier fort, instead encouraging civilians to occupy the land to the south of Cripplegate. Some of the Medieval churches of the ward may have Saxon origins, but nothing of these can be seen today. The Hospital of Saint Mary Within Cripplegate was established in 1331 by a mercer, William Elsing, for blind beggars of both sexes. The hospital was initially supervised by five secular clergy (priests who did not belong to a monastic order), but they were found to be too occupied with "concerns of this world" (possibly code for embezzling funds intended to support the inmates - something that later workhouse supervisors frequently did), and replaced by Augustinian canons, whose role continued until Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Cripplegate and Moorgate, as shown on the 16th Century "Woodcut Map" - sometimes wrongly attributed to Ralph Agas (image is in the Public Domain).

Cripplegate in c 1650, by Wenceslaus Hollar, University of Toronto (image is in the Public Domain).
The Church of Saint Alban, Wood Street, in 1839, by George Godwin (image is in the Public Domain).

Like most of the City, Cripplegate Ward Within was devastated by the Great Fire of 1666, but was rebuilt, with the Medieval street patterns largely respected. London faced a "Second Great Fire," however, on the night of the 29th/30th December, 1940. In the space of around eight hours, German bombers dropped more than 24,000 high explosive, and more than 100,000 incendiary bombs, destroying nineteen churches and thirty-one livery halls.

London in the aftermath of its "Second Great Fire," looking north from the dome of Saint Paul's, by H. Mason for The Daily Mail (image is in the Public Domain). The men of Saint Paul's Watch, who directed the fire-fighting activities were, for the most part, architects, with a clear sense of priority as to which buildings should be preserved.

Most of Cripplegate (Within and Without) remained a wasteland throughout the Nineteen-Fifties and Sixties, and, when regeneration did finally come, it was in the shape of the Modernist concrete of the Barbican Estate, with its high-walks and towers, the small fragments of the earlier buildings remaining, like ghosts, to be glimpsed between its pillars.

A Roman bastion, preserved within the Barbican Estate. Photo: Ceridwen (licensed under CCA).

The remains of Saint Alphege, London Wall, originally the chapel of William Elsing's hospital. Photo: Secretlondon (licensed under CCA).

The Church of Saint Alban, Wood Street, today, only the tower remaining, as one of the most remarkable private residences in the City. Photo: Neddyseagoon (licensed under GNU).

Mark Patton's novels, Undreamed Shores, An Accidental King, and Omphalos, are published by Crooked Cat Publications, and can be purchased from Amazon. He is currently working on The Cheapside Tales, a London-based trilogy of historical novels.

Friday, 3 June 2016

A History of the World in 50 Novels. 40 - "Doctor Zhivago," by Boris Pasternak

The dawn of the Twentieth Century sent shock-waves through many of the World's established powers, but perhaps none more so than Russia. The 1904-5 Russo-Japanese War saw the first major defeat in modern times of a European by an emergent Asian power, and seriously undermined the autocratic regime of Tsar Nicholas II. Defeat was followed by civil unrest, strikes and military mutinies. The strikers and mutineers were brutally suppressed, and order was restored, but on new terms: the "Autocrat of all the Russias" would henceforth have to rule, at least in theory, as a constitutional monarch.

Troops in Saint Petersburg. Photo: German Federal Archive, Bild 183-S01260 (image is in the Public Domain).

Terrorism and repression dogged the final years of imperial rule: between 1906 and 1909, almost eight thousand Russians, including members of the imperial family, politicians and military commanders, were murdered by revolutionaries; and, during the same period, more than two thousand Russians were executed by the state.

The First World War would prove to be a disaster for Russia. The war's eastern front, which has received little attention in the west, stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea, and, in conflict with German, Austro-Hungarian, Bulgarian and Ottoman forces, more than two million Russian servicemen, as well as unnumbered civilians, lost their lives.

The town of Perm, on the European side of the Ural Mountains, in 1910. This town, where Pasternak lived for a time, is the basis for the fictional Yuriatin, where Zhivago and his family take refuge from the upheavals of the time (image is in the Public Domain).

On International Women's Day, the 23rd of February 1917, more than ninety thousand female workers went on strike in Saint Petersburg, calling for bread, the removal of the Tsar, and an end to Russian involvement in the war. The troops sent out to suppress them instead mutinied and joined them. Russia was, perhaps, the last country on Earth in which Karl Marx or Friedrich Engels would have expected their Communist ideals to take hold, but, within months, Lenin and his Bolsheviks had taken charge of the country, sued for peace, and moved the capital from Saint Petersburg to Moscow.

A unit of the Red Army in Moscow. Photo: Grigori Petrowitsch Goldstein (image is in the Public Domain).

There followed five years of bloody civil war between the Red and White Armies; the latter a rag-bag of Tsarist and capitalist factions, backed, sometimes overtly, sometimes covertly, by the British, the Americans and the French. Civil War brought famine in its wake, and some Russians even resorted to cannibalism. When the smoke of conflict cleared, in 1922, a new country, the Soviet Union, and a new world order, had been born.

Refugees of the Russian Civil War (image is in the Public Domain).

Boris Pasternak's novel, Doctor Zhivago, a work of epic scope, beginning in 1903 and ending in 1943, looks at these events through the eyes of civilians caught up in their wake. His protagonist, Yury Zhivago, is a physician and poet, a man whose instinctive modernism is moderated by an even deeper rooted humanism. Initially sympathetic to the ideals of the Revolution, his personal experiences lead him, increasingly, to dislike and distrust ideologues of every political hue.

When he is abducted, and forced to work as camp doctor in a semi-autonomous faction of the Red Army, it is Yury's commitment to his calling as a doctor, rather than to the revolutionary cause, that motivates him to continue, clinging fast to a vision of humanity that will never allow the individual to be crushed beneath the weight of an abstract ideal.

Yury Zhivago is a Twentieth Century modernist in his private, as well as his professional life. For him, as for Pasternak, a human soul can survive, at least for a time, without physical sustenance, but it cannot survive without love. In a world whose circumstances tear individuals away from those closest to them, love must be sought where it can be found in the moment, and, over the course of his life, Yury is torn between his love for three different women, and finds himself unable to remain faithful to any of them (for those who know the novel, yes, I include Marina, but it is difficult to explain why without spoiling the plot for those who don't know it).

"On they went, singing 'Eternal Memory,' and whenever they stopped, the sound of their feet, the horses and the gusts of wind seemed to carry on their singing. Passers-by made way for the procession, counted the wreaths and crossed themselves. Some joined in out of curiosity and asked: 'Who is being buried?' - 'Zhivago,' they were told. - 'Oh, I see. That explains it.' - 'It isn't him. It's his wife.' - 'Well, it comes to the same thing. May she rest in peace. It's a fine funeral.' The last moments flashed past, counted, irrevocable ... The priest scattered the earth in the form of a cross over the body of Marya Nikolayevna. They sang 'The souls of the just.' Then a fearful bustle  began. The coffin was closed, nailed and lowered into the ground. Clods of earth drummed on the lid like rain as the grave was filled hurriedly by four spades. A mound grew up on it and a ten-year-old boy climbed on top."

Cossacks during the Russian Civil War (image is in the Public Domain).

 "In this area the villages seemed to have been miraculously preserved. They were unaccountable islands of safety in a sea of ruins. One evening at sunset Gordon and Zhivago were driving home. In one village they saw a young Cossack surrounded by a happy crowd; the Cossack tossed a copper coin into the air and an old Jew with a grey beard and a long coat was supposed to catch it. The old man missed every time. The coin flew past his pitifully outstretched hand. the old man bent down to pick it up, the Cossack slapped his bottom, , the onlookers held their sides and groaned with laughter; this was the point of the entertainment ... The driver, who thought this extremely funny, slowed down so that the passengers could have a look. But Zhivago called the Cossack, cursed him, and ordered him to stop baiting the old man. 'Yes, sir,' he said readily. 'We didn't know; we were only doing it for fun.'"

A Russian field hospital of the First World War (image is in the Public Domain).

"His thoughts swarmed and whirled in the dark. They seemed to move in two main circles, two skeins which constantly tangled and untangled themselves. In one circle were his thoughts of Tonya: their home and their, former settled life, where everything, down to the smallest detail, had its poetry and its sincerity and warmth. Yury felt anxious about this life, he wanted it to be safe and whole, and, after two years of separation ... he longed, already, to be there. Here too were his loyalty to the revolution, and his admiration for it ... New things were also in the other circle of his thoughts, but how different, how unlike the first! These things were not familiar, not led up to by the old; they were unchosen, prescribed by reality and as sudden as an earthquake. Among them was the war with its bloodshed and its horrors, its homelessness, savagery and isolation, its trials and the worldly wisdom which it taught ... And among his new thoughts was Nurse Antipova, caught by the war at the back of beyond, with her completely unknown life, Antipova who never blamed anyone, yet whose very silence was almost a reproach, mysteriously reserved and so strong in her reserve. And here too was Yury's honest endeavour not to love her as wholehearted as his striving throughout his life until now to love not only his family or his friends, but everyone else as well."

Mark Patton's novels, Undreamed Shores, An Accidental King, and Omphalos, are published by Crooked Cat Publications, and can be purchased from Amazon. He is currently working on The Cheapside Tales, a London-based trilogy of historical novels.