Saturday, 27 August 2016

The Wards of Old London: Portsoken - St Katharine's Hospital & Docks

This is the second of two posts on Portsoken Ward. The earlier one having dealt with its Saxon history, we come now to the Medieval and Modern eras. The somewhat mysterious "Knighten Guilde," established under King Edgar the Peaceable, did not long survive the Norman Conquest. There were only thirteen "knights," some of whom probably died at Stamford Bridge, and others at Hastings. Those who remained, and their heirs and successors, almost certainly lost their right to bear arms. The Guild continued in name only and, in 1115, its members gifted their land to the Augustinian Priory of Holy Trinity Within Aldgate.

In 1147, Queen Matilda, the consort of King Stephen, established a hospital dedicated to Saint Katharine at the southern end of Portsoken Ward, to the east of the Tower of London. That she did this with the support and assistance of the Augustinian Prior, who had a close relationship with the Royal Family, is almost certain.

The east end of the hospital church (image is in the Public Domain).

The hospital, London's second (after Barts), had a master, three brothers, three sisters, and a bedeswoman (an almswoman whose role was to pray for the benefactors). Whilst its medical facilities are likely to have been limited (one can, perhaps, imagine novices running between the city's various monastic houses in search of herbs), it played an important role, over almost eight centuries, in providing what we might today call "palliative care," for people severely disabled, or otherwise unable to care for themselves. By 1442, it had twenty-three acres of land, with its own prison, officers and court, all operating outside the ecclesiastical and civil jurisdiction of the City of London.

Saint Katharine by the Tower (image is in the Public Domain).

Like London's other religious houses, it was dissolved at the time of the Reformation, but was almost immediately re-established as a Protestant institution under Henry VIII. By this time, it had a brewery, and more than a thousand homes: a magnet for craftsmen who were not members of the City Guilds; for seamen and rivermen; but also for prostitutes (who were not allowed to operate within the City); and for those evading justice. The street-names tell their own stories: Dark Entry; Cat's Hole; Shovel Alley; Rookery; Pillory Lane.

The Brothers' House of the hospital in 1781 (image is in the Public Domain).

The rivermen who lived within this expanding, and increasingly insanitary and lawless, village to the east of the city used their boats to unload cargoes from ships that sailed directly into, and berthed in, the Pool of London (the stretch of river between the Tower and London Bridge). As Britain's mercantile economy grew, this expanse of water became more and more crowded with ships.

The London docks in 1757 (image is in the Public Domain).
Detail from the Rhinebeek Panorama of 1806, Museum of London (image is in the Public Domain).

In 1825, an Act of Parliament provided for the creation of a new enclosed dock, to be built by the engineer, Thomas Telford. The Medieval hospital buildings were razed to the ground, and, with them, around 1250 homes, 11,300 people forced to move northwards, into the already overcrowded slums of Stepney and Whitechapel.

The plan for Saint Katharine's Docks (image is in the Public Domain).
Saint Katharine's Docks under construction, by William Ranwell (image is in the Public Domain).
The opening of Saint Katharine's Docks in 1828, by W.J. Huggins (image is in the Public Domain).

Saint Katharine's Docks were never a commercial success. Even as they were created, ships were being built, only a few miles downstream, that would be too large to enter them. Ivory, sugar, marble, rubber, carpets, spices, perfumes and indigo, were unloaded at Saint Katharine's for a period of decades only, before shifting to newer, and much larger, docks to the east.

Saint Katharine's Docks: Photo: Metropolitan Police, NPAS.
Saint Katharine's Docks. Photo: Matthias v.d. Elbe (licensed under CCA).

The docks themselves survive (now a marina for pleasure-boats, surrounded by hotels, restaurants and luxury apartments), and with them the dedication to Saint Katherine, which, for most visitors today, is only a name.

Post-Script: I recently learned that a series of misericords and other Fourteenth Century wooden sculptures from Saint Katherine have survived, and may be viewed by arrangement at the Royal Foundation of Saint Katharine in Limehouse. Further information may be found here.

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.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

The Wards of Old London: Portsoken - Wargames and Wayfarers

We have now completed our tour of the intramural wards of the City of London, and should now turn our attention to the extramural wards. We begin at Aldgate, the main eastward-facing gate of the city, and we will follow, once again, the course of the Roman and Medieval walls, but this time in a northerly and westerly direction, and on the outside, rather than the inside of the walls. Some of these wards will merit more than one post, being larger than many of the intramural wards, and having more complex histories. Portsoken Ward lies immediately beyond Aldgate.

1870 map of London Wards. Image: Doc77can (licensed under CCA).

The Elizabethan chronicler, John Stow, who had access to documents that no longer exist, including records destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, tells us that:

"This Portsoken, which soundeth the franchise at the gate, was sometime a guild, and had beginning in the days of King Edgar, more than six hundred years since. There were thirteen knights or soldiers, well-beloved to the king and realm, for service by them done, which requested to have a certain portion of land on the east part of the city, left desolate and forsaken by the inhabitants ... They besought the king to have this land, with the liberty of a guild for ever. The king granted to their request, with conditions following: that is that each of them should victoriously accomplish three combats, one above the ground, one under ground, and the third in the water; and after this, at a certain day in East Smithfield, they should run with spears against all comers; all of which was gloriously performed; and the same day the king named it Knighten Guild, and so bounded it, from Aldgate to the place where the bars now are, toward the east, on both sides of the street, and extended it towards Bishopsgate in the north ... "

The King Edgar referred to must surely be Edgar the Peaceable, who reigned from 959 to 975 AD. Smithfield was frequently used for jousting and tournaments in the High Middle Ages, but this was a tradition that emerged only after the Norman Conquest. For clues as to what may have been involved here, we must look, on the one hand, to archaeological evidence beyond London; and, on the other hand, to literary sources.

King Edgar the Peaceable, from the New Minster Charter (image is in the Public Domain).

The equipment of elite Anglo-Saxon warriors has been recovered from excavations on a number of sites, including Sutton Hoo, the City of York, Abingdon, and, most recently, the Staffordshire Hoard. The latter is, perhaps, the most surprising discovery: it had previously been assumed that a heavily embellished sword such as those found at Sutton Hoo and Abingdon, would be wielded only by a king, but the Eighth Century hoard includes the decorated pommels of more than seventy of these weapons. The "combats" above ground may simply have been display fights or non-lethal contests between these elite warriors, or they may have involved wrestling, and similar trials of strength.

The 9th Century Abingdon Sword. Photo: Geni (licensed under GNU).
A re-enactor wearing armour based on that found at Sutton Hoo. Photo: Ziko-C (licensed under GNU) 
A 12th Century font at Eardisley, Herefordshire, depicts knights in single combat. Although post-Conquest, the art-work is clearly suggestive of an earlier tradition. Photo: Poliphilo (licensed under CCA).

"Underground combats" are a little more difficult to explain (London is unlikely to have had many underground spaces in which such combats might take place), but I am reminded of the passage in Beowulf in which the eponymous hero enters an ancient burial mound to confront a dragon:

"Then the bold warrior stood up beside his shield, resolute beneath his helm. Wearing his grim mail he strode up to the stony cliffs, trusting in the strength of one man alone - such is no craven's feat! Then he who, with manly virtue, had passed through many a host of battles and a clash of war, when the ranks of men smote together, saw now at the mound's side a stone-arch standing from whence a stream came hurrying from the hill. The boiling water of that hill was hot with deadly fires; no man could long while endure unscorched that deep place nigh the hoard by reason of the dragon's flame .. " (translation by J.R.R. Tolkien).

The Anglo-Saxon helmet from Coppergate, York, 700-820 AD. Photo: York Museums Trust Online Collection (licensed under CCA).

No such mounds are to be found in the immediate vicinity of London, but might such fights have been staged around monuments such as Wayland's Smithy in Oxfordshire, or Coldrum long-barrow in Kent?

Wayland's Smithy, Oxfordshire. Photo: Msemmett (licensed under CCA).

Beowulf may, similarly, provide us with a clue as to the "combat" in water. As a young man, the hero had competed in swimming competitions, sometimes wearing armour. Members of the re-enactment society, Regia Anglorum, have tried this out, even swimming in mail-shirts: "The effect is to place your body in a more legs-down position in the water. This makes for tiresome swimming, and we found that the breast-stroke was the only really viable way to swim." Might such contests have been held in the Thames at slack water?

The running with spears at "all comers" may have provided an opportunity, using non-lethal weapons, for young men to test and prove their prowess, perhaps, in time, gaining admission to the Guild itself, on the death or retirement of older members.

Stow tells us that, in 1115, the descendants of these "knights" gifted the land to the Priory of Holy Trinity Within Aldgate. Among those named are some whose origins must surely have been Anglo-Saxon (Edward Hupcornehill, Blackstanus, Alwin, Wiso, the sons of Leafstanus the goldsmith); and others whose names are unambiguously Norman (Radulphus Fitalgod, Wilmarde le Deuereshe, Orgare le Prude, Hugh Fitzvulgar, Algare Secusme), presumably the descendants of the daughters of Anglo-Saxon "knights" who married Norman ones.

Within the ward is also a church dedicated to Saint Botolph, a Seventh Century East Anglian abbott. Whilst the present church dates to the Eighteenth Century, its origins are likely to be pre-conquest. It is one of four London churches dedicated to him, all of which stand (or stood) outside city gates on major route-ways (the others being St Botolph Billingsgate, St Botolph Aldersgate and St Botolph Bishopsgate). Saint Botolph was the patron saint of wayfarers and travelers, so these were churches at which outgoing travelers could pray for a safe journey, and incomers give thanks for one. One has to wonder whether these churches replaced earlier Pagan shrines to Janus, who played a similar role.

The Church of Saint Botolph, Aldgate. Photo: Superbfc (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.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

The Wards of Old London: Langbourn & Candlewick - Falstaff's Eastcheap

We have now completed three journeys through the Roman and Medieval walled city of London: the first following the main east-west road, from Farringdon Ward Within to Aldgate Ward; the second following the course of the Thames, from Tower Street Ward to Castle Baynard Ward; and the third following the line of the city walls, from Aldersgate Ward Within to Broad Street Ward. Whilst these journeys have taken us through most of the intramural wards, there are two in the south-eastern quadrant of the city that we have missed out: Langbourn and Candlewick.

Langbourn and Candlewick Wards, 18th Century map, British Library (image is in the Public Domain).

Much of what the visitor sees in these two wards today has been shaped by the planners and builders of the Victorian era, although a notable exception is the tower of All Hallows Staining Church, which has survived from the early Fourteenth Century.

The Medieval tower of All Hallows Staining. Photo: John Armagh (image is in the Public Domain).

Some flavour of the Medieval character of this part of the city may be had from John Lydgate's poem, "London Lickpenny," which tells of a countryman who comes to London to settle a property dispute in the courts, but finds that he can get nowhere without the funds to pay lawyers and bribe judges. Walking the streets of the city, he is assailed by many temptations, none of which he can afford. Eventually, he is robbed of his hood, but lacks the money even to buy it back, when he finds it for sale, not far from where he lost it.

"Then unto London I did me hie,
Of all the land it beareth the prize,
'Hot peascods!' one began to cry,
'Strawberry ripe!' and 'Cherries in the rise!'
One bade me come near and buy some spice,
Pepper and saffron they gan me bede,
But for lack of money I might not speed ...

Then went I forth by London Stone,
Throughout all Can'wick Street.
Drapers much cloth me offered anon;
Then comes me one cried 'Hot sheep's feet!'
One cried 'Mackerel!' 'Rushes green!' another gan greet;
One bade me buy a hood to cover my head,
But for want of money I might not be sped.

Then I hied me into East Cheap;
One cries 'Ribs of beef!' and many a pie;
Pewter pots they clattered on a heap,
There was harp, pipe and minstrelsie.
'Yea, by cock!' 'Nay, by cock!' some began to cry;
Some sang of Jenkin and Julian for their meed,
But for lack of money, I might not speed."

Lydgate (c1370-1451) was a Benedictine monk, but his religious duties seem not to have constrained his literary output, which was greater than those of Chaucer and Shakespeare combined. Few critics today would place him in the same league as Chaucer or Shakespeare in terms of quality, but his patrons at the time included Henry V; Henry VI; and Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. As a young man, he met Chaucer, and subsequently befriended his son, Thomas. Remarkably, a graffito by Lydgate survives at Saint Mary's Church at Lydgate, in Suffolk.

Graffito from St Mary's, Lydgate, reading "John Lydgate - made on this Day of Saint Simon and Saint Jude (image is in the Public Domain).

Eastcheap itself functioned as a meat market throughout the Middle Ages. Shakespeare has his characters, Sir John Falstaff, Prince Hal, and Mistress Quickly, carousing in The Boar's Head Tavern in Eastcheap. This was a real tavern, which certainly existed in Shakespeare's time, but may or may not have existed during the reigns of Henry IV and Henry V.

Eastcheap Market in 1598, Hugh Alley (image is in the Public Domain).
The Boar's Head Tavern in 1829, shortly before its demolition (image is in the Public Domain).
The Neo-Gothic building that stands on the site of the tavern today was built as a warehouse in 1868. Photo: BH2008 (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.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

New Windows into Prehistoric Life: Thoughts on "Britain's Pompeii"

A programme recently broadcast by the BBC (and still available, to UK viewers, at least, on I-Player until the end of August), provides a timely update on one of the most exciting archaeological excavations to have taken place on these islands during my lifetime. "Britain's Pompeii - A Village Lost in Time" charts the progress of excavations at Must Farm, Cambridgeshire, where a farmstead of the Late Bronze Age (c1000-800 BC) is being unearthed. The four circular buildings, built on a platform jutting out over a river, burned down (or may have been torched by an enemy), and collapsed directly into the water, allowing for unprecedented preservation of wood, fabric, and other organic materials. Progress can be followed on the project website.

Excavations at Must Farm. Photo: Dr Colleen Morgan (licensed under CCA).
Excavations at Must Farm. Photo: Dr Colleen Morgan (licensed under CCA).
Excavations at Must Farm. Photo: Dr Colleen Morgan (licensed under CCA).

In my novel, Undreamed Shores, the character of Arthmael (based on a real archaeological skeleton known as "the Amesbury Archer"), living at Durrington Walls, near Stonehenge, explains to my protagonist, Amzai, how he met his wife, Alaudina (the mother of Amzai's prospective bride, Nanti), in the fenlands of East Anglia:

" ... there are marshes that stretch for miles, and the people live on eels and duck, and strange plants that grow in the water, like reeds. It's easier to get around by boat than on foot in that place. That's where Nanti was born."

Later Arthmael speaks of his own, far more distant, homeland (analysis of the Amesbury Archer's teeth has shown that he grew up in central Europe):

"Arthmael told of his homeland, of the village where he had been born. It was built on wooden poles, set on the edge of a great lake, with two high mountains rising behind it, their summits covered by snow, even in the summer."

The place I had in mind was Lake Constance in Germany, where such settlements have indeed been found.

Reconstruction of a Bronze Age "pile-dwelling" on the shores of Lake Constance, Germany. Photo: Traveler100 (licensed under GNU).

The settlement at Must Farm is the first true "pile-dwelling" found in Britain, built in much the same way as the settlements around Lake Constance, and elsewhere in Germany, Switzerland and eastern France, but with circular, rather than rectangular, houses. The people who built it lived at least 1400 years after the Amesbury Archer (they might, perhaps, have been the 56-times-great-grandchildren of Alaudina's sister), yet, remarkably, they seem to have been enmeshed in a network of international contacts and exchange that had endured since his time. Artefacts found at Must Farm suggest that this network extended not only into central, but also into southern Europe: they include glass beads which may have been made in northern Italy.

It will be some considerable time before Must Farm reveals all of its secrets: excavation, which is still ongoing, is just the first stage in the research process. It will take much longer to analyse the food residues found in pottery bowls; the human and animal faeces discovered behind the houses; the carpentry techniques used to build the platform, and the houses themselves; the fragments of woven textiles that are emerging from the mud even as I write this post.

Already, however, there are some hints, which are changing the way in which we understand this period in Britain's history. The characters in Undreamed Shores neither ride horses nor use wheeled transport: the people who lived at Must Farm almost certainly did both (a wooden wheel is one of the most significant discoveries announced to date). Arthmael and Nanti wear clothes of fur, leather, and woven wool: the people of Must Farm seem to have been using another important resource - linen, made from flax - the earliest evidence for this on the British Isles. This is a subject on which I will have more to say in a later post, not least because this is an industry with which I have a tangible, and much more recent, familial connection.

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.