Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Walls of Old London (Part Two)

Medieval London was circled on three sides by a c.9.5m stone wall (primarily of ragstone, but also featuring Roman-era tiles and medieval flint-work). London’s defenses were further strengthened by numerous towers along the length of this wall.

Towers flanked the seven major gates, but there were many more ‘interval towers’ or ‘bastions’ scattered along the length of the wall. The diagram below indicates the probable locations of a number of them. 
Almost nothing remains of these towers now. Most of them crumbled or were pulled down centuries ago. The images below show the most complete tower still in existence, a medieval-built round tower now situated near the Barbican Estate. 
Archaeological investigation indicates that the towers came in a variety of shapes. Those on the eastern side (from the Tower to the northern Moorgate marshes) were D-shaped. Further west, towers were more likely to be round. One tower was renovated into a polygonal shape, and at least one tower on the 1278 extension around Blackfriars was built on a rectangular base.
"A rectangular interval tower on the City wall south-west of Ludgate, drawn ... after a fire of 1792."
(J. Schofield, London, 1100-1600: The Archaeology of a Capital City, Equinox, 2011.)
Historical and archaeological detail on the towers of London is very sparse. In my readings, I stumbled across a tantalising suggestion that these towers were much sought after as private residences.  A strange notion, but it makes sense. After all, the towers were built of durable stone in a city in which most residences were constructed of flammable wood and thatch. The poet Geoffrey Chaucer (of Canterbury Tales fame) lived for a time in rooms above Aldgate (a modern version of which is pictured below). Other towers might house the occasional anchorite or be requisitioned by the noble whose property lay adjacent.
It was enough to set my historical novelist’s mind ticking over. What would it be like to live in a tower in the walls of London, I pondered. What sort of person would live there, and how would they attain such a sought-after but tiny residence? In my novel My Lady of the Whip (released today!), the heroine takes up residence in a tower on the north-western stretch of the Wall. Precisely why this highly defensible residence is perfect for her purposes I leave to your imagination …

Be careful when you pick up a whip. Your fingers curl about that seductive handle, your wrist flexes its subtle weight and then… Yes, you wonder what would happen if you plied those innocent leather strips against another’s flesh.
1348. The Black Death is sweeping medieval London, social order is collapsing, and the virtuous Lady Elizabeth seizes a whip to defend her honour. But when death seems inevitable, Bess throws caution to the plague-ridden vapours …
… to save the man she can never have.

Available through all good e-book retailers and Ellora’s Cave

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Walls of Old London (Part One)

I love old city walls. From York, Avignon, and tiny villages along the Rhine, to Rhodes, Istanbul and Iznik (the city in Turkey known in Roman times as Nicaea), one can find city walls built in classical and medieval times still standing tall and proud today. But not in London.

the medieval walls of Rhodes
London was once protected by a wall - an aspect of the old city it is easy to overlook now.

I hunted around London and discovered that only odd fragments of the walls the Romans built with their typical alternating courses of tile and stone around the 3rd century C.E. remain today. My photo above shows one of the most complete and accessible sections - near Tower Hill Station. (For more on the remaining remnants, there’s a wonderful blog post with images of all the remaining visible sections here.)

Source: Schofield, London, 1100-1600
From repairs in King Alfred’s reign to Mayor Ralph Jocelyn’s remodelling in 1477, medieval Londoners maintained, built upon, and even slightly extended the original Roman wall. In the above picture, you can see the medieval construction on top of the Roman, and then Tudor brickwork on top of that. At its height, the Wall was about 9.5m high from the outside.

But the part of the wall facing onto the river was a lost cause. As William Fitz Stephen tells us in c.1173, between the Tower of London to the east and Baynard’s Castle in the west:

there runs a high and massive wall with seven double gates and with towers along the north at regular intervals. London was once also walled and turreted on the south, but the mighty Thames, so full of fish, has with the sea's ebb and flow washed against, loosened, and thrown down those walls in the course of time.

As you can see in the map, London Wall was punctured by seven major gates. Anticlockwise from the Tower of London, they were: Aldgate, Bishopsgate, Moorgate, Cripplegate, Aldersgate, Newgate and Ludgate. Each of these gates was fortified by towers, great oaken doors and guards, and were vital for retaining the integrity of London. They were conduits for controlling entry to the city, exacting tolls, and enforcing the nightly curfew. They were decorated with sculpture (a headless statue of St Peter was found at Bishopsgate) and occasionally with traitors’ heads or other assorted limbs. Newgate and Ludgate were utilised as prisons.

London’s wall defined the medieval city. It constrained its shape and growth. It bestowed privileges on those entitled to live and trade within. So important was the wall to London’s identity that it featured prominently on the City’s official seal.

 Jon E. Lewis (ed.), London: The Autobiography, Constable & Robinson, 2012.
John Schofield, London, 1100-1600: The Archaeology of a Capital City, Equinox Publishing, 2011.
Anthony Sutcliffe, An Architectural History of London, Yale University Press, 2006.

While London Wall exerts only a fragmented presence on London today, it plays a key role in my tale of plague and flagellation in 14th century London – hence my investigation. My Lady of the Whip is released in e-book on the 17th September.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Banqueting House at Whitehall

Many years ago I went on my first solo visit to London and top of my list of “must sees” was the Banqueting House in Whitehall. It was from a window of this building that Charles I stepped on to the scaffold but its role in the life and times of the monarchy goes back long before that fateful day in January 1649. (see my article on the Execution of Charles I on Hoydens and Firebrands... click HERE)

Whitehall Palace had its origins in the Middle Ages as the London seat of the Archbishop of York. In 1470 George Neville, then the Archbishop of York, but also Chancellor of England, substantially rebuilt the palace in red brick. His work was surpassed by the further renovations of Cardinal Wolsey who added a magnificent Long Gallery overlooking the gardens on one side and the river on the other. In his palace he entertained his king, Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon. Wolsey’s fall from grace was swift and brutal and in 1529, Henry VIII assumed ownership of Wolsey’s properties and York Palace became a royal residence, Whitehall Palace.

The old palace of Whitehall in Tudor times
Henry VIII and his new wife set to work redesigning the Palace to incorporate residential apartments for a Queen. The palace spread across a main road, King Street (now Whitehall). On the river side was the “working’ palace and on the other side of the road, the recreational palace with its parks and tennis courts. Ann never lived to see it completed but shortly after her execution, the King declared it the official seat of the monarchy. Both Henry and his daughter Elizabeth continued adding to and improving the palace and in 1581 Elizabeth constructed a magnificent, temporary, banqueting house (on the site of the present building). Despite its flimsy construction (wood and canvas) it outlasted Elizabeth and was put to great use by James I and his wife Anne as the only suitable venue in which to host their masques.

In 1606 a new banqueting hall was built but an accident with the oil painted scenery saw it razed in 1619. Working on these masques was a young man called Inigo Jones, whose talent for producing moving scenery (and who is credited with inventing the proscenium arch) brought him to the attention of the King and Jones was commissioned by the King to build the new Banqueting House.
Jones’ design was elegant in its simplicity: 7 regular bays above a rusticated ground floor, enhanced with ionic and composite columns above which ran a frieze surrounded by a balustraded pediment built. The magnificent ceiling was painted by Peter Paul Rubens When completed in 1621 it shone out from its red stone Tudor neighbours in the worlds of John Chamberlain “This day the King kept St. George’s feast in the new built banketting roome, which is too faire and nothing suitable to the rest of the house.”

The ceiling painted by Rubens

Inigo Jones is something of an enigma. Little is known of his early life or his qualifications in engineering or architecture. However it is known he travelled to Italy and studied the work of Andrea Palladio (from whom the architectural movement known as Palladian derives). He had a talent with geometric principles that guided his designs in a way not seen in English architecture before and went on to design the beautiful Queen’s House in Greenwich, the gateway at Oatlands Palace (see blog by Anita Davison), Covent Garden Square, the Queen’s Chapel in St. James’ Palace and was even commissioned by the Dutch to design Fort Amsterdam on the Hudson River. His career ended with the English Civil War in 1642 and he died in 1653.

View of Whitehall Palace from the Thames... Of Jones' design only the Banqueting House was built
The Banqueting House became a central part of the lives of the Stuart monarchy. It witnessed:
The execution of Charles I
·                     The ratification of the marriage between Charles I and Henrietta Maria on 21 June 1645
·                     The execution of Charles I in January 1649
·                     The occupation of Oliver Cromwell who sat in state in the Banqueting Housoe
·                     The reception of the foreign dignatories on the restoration of Charles II
·                     Many parties thrown by the sociable Charles II including the annual dinner of the Knights of the Garter.
·                     The ceremony of “Touching for the King’s Evil” was conducted in the Hall by every monarch from James I to Queen Anne (George I refused to do it on the grounds it was “too catholic”).
·                     The distribution of Maundy Monday
·                     The Declaration of Rights (13 February 1689), the conditions required for Mary II and William of Orange to assume the throne,

The great palace of Whitehall was largely destroyed in the fires of 1691 and 1698. The 1698 fire raged for 15 hours. William III gave orders that the Banqueting House was to be saved at all costs and as the smoke from the fire died, the only remaining building of what had been the Palace of Whitehall was the Banqueting House. Plans were made to rebuild the palace but there was never the funds to do so.

After 1698, the building underwent various different incarnations. For a while it was used as a Royal Chapel. In 1808 it became a military chapel to be used as a place for displaying the captured French standards. In the 1830s it was returned to use as a royal chapel and in the 1890s became a museum.It survived the blitz and only in 1964 was it restored to its original configuration and opened to the public.

So if you find yourself at a loose end in Whitehall, do drop in and see this lovely little gem of a building and remember the monumental and tumultuous events it has witnessed.

Interior of the Banqueting House

 Alison Stuart is an award winning Australian writer of cross genre historical romances.  She is a digital first published author, whose 6th published book, LORD SOMERTON’S HEIR has just been released by Harlequin Australia (and is currently on sale on Google Play and Amazon). If your taste is for duelling cavaliers, wayward ghosts, time travel and murder mysteries – sometimes all in the same book – Alison’s stories are for you.

Monday, July 28, 2014

World War One began in Australia...

In London, an artist has created an extraordinary river of blood red, ceramic poppies that flow like a river of blood from one of the windows in the Tower of London. The 888,246 poppies each represent a life lost from the British and Colonial forces who fought in the First World War.  It is a graphic illustration of the huge loss of life in that terrible war.

It was called the “Great War” or “The war to end all wars”. It was neither.

On the 4th August 1914 Britain declared war on Germany.  In the horror of the next four and a half years, the actual cause of the war was probably forgotten and the humble Digger or Tommy on the front line if asked could probably not even tell you what they were fighting for.

There is plenty of learned information to be found on the complex train of events that led to the start of the War but I think in its most simplistic form is best summed up by Private Baldrick, a character in the 1980s television show Blackadder (Blackadder goes Forth).
·         Baldrick says: I heard that it started when a bloke called Archie Duke shot an ostrich 'cause he was hungry.
·         Captain Blackadder explains:    in order to prevent war in Europe, two superblocs developed: us, the French and the Russians on one side, and the Germans and Austro-Hungary on the other.   The idea was to have two vast opposing armies, each acting as the other's deterrent.   That way there could never be a war.
·         Baldrick says:  But this is a sort of a war, isn't it, sir?
·         Blackadder replies. Yes, that's right.   You see, there was a tiny flaw in the plan. It was <rubbish>.
·         Baldrick concludes with his usual pereceptivity:   So the poor old ostrich died for nothing.

In fact Blackadder’s explanation regarding the two power blocs is a succinct explanation of the cause of the war which has its origins in a bitter power struggle between Germany and Russia over the Balkans, thousands of miles from England, Belgium and France.  It all came to a head on 29 June 1914 with the assassination of the heir to the Austrian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand by a Serbian national. This act of aggression triggered a diplomatic crisis which in turn invoked the international alliances and within two months Europe was at war. 

Germany’s demands that France maintain neutrality in this war led to Germany declaring war on France on 3 August 1914 and in support of its ally Britain followed with a declaration of war against Germany on 4 August 1914.

As Germany marched troops into Belgium in order to attack France, in the former colony of Australia, news of the outbreak of war travelled more slowly. I live in the old port of Williamstown in Melbourne and I have written before about Williamstown's part in the Crimean War of the 1850s (The Crimean War Part 1). Once again this quiet little town would have a significant part to play in the events that followed...

SS Pfalz
On 5 August 1914, a German ship the SS Pfalz left Victoria Dock and made a run for the heads of Port Phillip Bay with a Williamstown based pilot aboard, Captain Robinson.  As it approached the Port Phillips Heads, word reached the artillery garrison stationed at Point Nepean that any German ship leaving Port Phillip Bay was to be “Sunk or stopped”.  On sighting the Pfalz, the gunners hoisted flags ordering the ship to stop. When these were ignored a shot was fired over the bows of the ship. This was the first shot fired in the war.

The guns at Point Nepean 1890

The pilot convinced the master of the ship that the next shot would sink the ship so the Pfalz surrendered and the crew were detained as prisoners of war. The Pfalz itself was returned to the Williamstown dockyards where it was refitted and saw service as the troop ship Boorara.

2000 young men from Williamstown enlisted during the course of the war. Of those 300 were killed and over 800 wounded. Over half the number of men who left this little town headed for adventure and excitement in a war that had nothing to do with them were killed or injured. The unspeakable horrors they faced and the inept leadership demonstrated during the course of the war is well documented and in April next year we will commemorate the centenary of the ANZAC force landing on the beaches of Gallipoli.

For now it is enough that we take a moment to pause and remember that 4 August marks the start of an event that will have a monumental, if not cataclysmic effect on the population of my home town and this new, young country. 

On the evening 4th August the bell of Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Williamstown and those around the country will toll for 15 minutes to mark the declaration of war.


Alison is a lapsed lawyer who has worked in the military and fire service, with an obvious obsession for men in uniform, which may explain a predisposition to soldier heroes.  She lives in Williamstown with her own personal hero (and yes, he was wearing a uniform when they met!), two pathetically needy cats and subsists on a diet of gin and tonic. Her own book based on World War One, GATHER THE BONES, has been nominated for multiple awards.