Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Making History by Susan Price

I'm reading a book on my kindle and enjoying it.

     No surprises there. A complaint I've heard all my life and still hear often (especially from my partner) is that I'm 'always reading,' always 'got my nose in a book.'

     It's hard to put your nose in a kindle, though, and  I've found that when you read in bed and doze, the falling Kindle strikes your nose a far more destructive blow than a paper book. This hasn't stopped me. The book I'm reading and thoroughly enjoying at the moment (despite the risk to my nose) is The Town House by Norah Lofts. I've just finished her similar Bless This House.

Bless This House was first published in 1954, before I was born. The Town House, first published in 1959, is the start of a trilogy, being followed by The House at Old Vine (1961) and The House at Sunset (1962).
Bless This House by Norah Lofts
     Bless This House is almost like a test-run for the trilogy, though it is a very good read in its own right (write?) It tells of the building of a house during Elizabeth I's reign and then, in a series of linked short stories, follows the people who owned it through the centuries for four hundred years.

     The reader has an understanding that the characters lack. For instance, a girl living in the house in the 19th Century finds that she experiences debilitating despair whenever she goes near a window-seat in the Great Hall during daylight and an overwhelming terror if she enters the room at night. She doesn't understand it, but the reader knows who it was in an earlier century who first experienced that despair and left its mark on the house.

      The Town House and its sequels take the same idea, of a house and the passing centuries, and extend it. The first book begins in 1391 and follows the building of 'the house at Old Vine' and then the people who lived in it and the times they lived in. The final book tells of the house, still standing, in the 1950s which was, when Norah Lofts wrote it, close to her present.

Born in 1904, in Norfolk, Norah Lofts came from a farming family - she said that all of her male relatives, for living memory, had been farmers and an understanding of farming and the seasons is a strong element in her writing. Her other great strength is a tolerant understanding of people. Not all her characters are likeable but their motivations are readily recognisable. She takes the opportunity to show us her people from different viewpoints. We will be with one character in their youth or middle-age, as they tell us their own story - and then, in the next story, we will see that character from the view-point of someone from another generation. We see how time has changed them and how they are judged by those around them. We, the readers, who know far more about them, may consider that judgement too harsh or too kind.

      Norah Lofts also understood that no matter how hard some people work, no matter how much they hope or love or pray, the indifferent world goes on turning, the seasons go on changing and are not influenced by hard work, hope, prayer or love. What happens, happens - and if things turn out well for us, we think that it's our optimism or prayer or effort that made things fall that way. But it was simply luck; and for many other people, no better or worse than us, things went badly.
The Town House by Norah Lofts

I first read these books when I was a teenager and loved them. As always, when you return to books you enjoyed when so much younger, I feared that I would be disappointed. Instead, I've been impressed all over again.

But here I was, reading them on a nose-bruising kindle. When I first read them, let alone when Norah Lofts wrote them, I don't think anything like an e-reader was being dreamed of even in Science Fiction. It was a time when people who actually worked in the computer industry predicted that there might be a world market for about twenty computers. This, of course, was when even the most excitingly modern computers were the size of a room. My partner, in the 60s, when he was just starting out as a local government accountant, was introduced to one such. Local big-wigs, he says, came to visit it and it used to sing songs for them. They were thrilled. His boss wanted him to become a servant of the computer since he was young and bright. (It probably terrified the boss, looming there in its room with its valves and wires.) But Davy couldn't see the point of the thing and ran away to sea instead. Now he mildly regrets this. But not a lot.

Today, I carry my little hand-held computer about with me from room to room, as I always used to carry a book - except that the kindle holds a library. Reading on it has become as ordinary to me as switching on the light or filling my kettle at the tap - ordinary things which are also quite astonishing and trail a long history behind them.

I also self-publish on the kindle and that has become an ordinary part of my life even though I only began five years ago. How quickly miraculous things become mundane. When I began self-publishing, I was working in a university as a Royal Literary Fund Fellow. I remember students becoming excited when they spotted my kindle. "Is that one of those electric reading thingies?"

I remember reading my kindle in a pub as I waited for my agent. It was a rather posh pub on the outskirts of Oxford and a retired general type stage-whispered to his wife: "That lady has one of those e-book gadgets." And when I read it in a cafe, the waitress quizzed me about it: Was it easy to get books for it? Was it easy to download them? She wanted to encourage her sons to read and she thought they would read an ebook more readily than a paper one.

These days, who would notice an ebook - except perhaps to sneer at it for not being the latest smart phone?

My point? Only this - time is always moving on through the centuries and we, my computer-savvy, self-publishing, blogging, vlogging friends, just by reading our favourite books on our favourite gadget, by self-publishing, by writing for this blog, we are making history.

We thank Susan Price for this guest post. Leslie Wilson will return in September.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

A Sweet Kind of Adultery by Catherine Hokin

I'm currently having a bit of an Annie Grey fan moment having just read The Greedy Queen (a fabulous account of Queen Victoria and food) and watched her recent BBC series The Sweet Makers which plunged four chefs back into the world of British confectionery production from the Tudors to the 1930s.

 Tudor Room set for a sugar banquet
© Minneapolis Institute of the Arts
There were all kinds of wonderful nuggets in the series. I loved the concept of a Tudor sugar banquet - basically the dream 'pudding dinner' my kids always longed for - and the weird Georgian jellies but what intrigued me most was the Victorian muddling of sweets and poison. We bandy the word poison about a lot when it comes to food and, ironically, it's currently sugar that is only permitted a place at the Devil's table. This is neither the time nor the place to rant about clean-eating (although the news that coconut oil is basically lard had me in fits of joy for a week) and nuts and additives are a minefield for those with allergies, but at least they're not arsenic.

Yes arsenic, just one of the jolly compounds accidentally or intentionally used in food manufacturing in nineteenth century Britain. Fancy some more? What about copper sulphate used in bottled fruits and pickles or red lead for colouring Gloucester cheese or perhaps a tasty drop of strychnine in your rum or beer? If you're not in the mood for those, how about setting the breakfast table with a jug of chalk-filled milk, a nice loaf of bread with added plaster of Paris and a pat of butter brightened up with copper. Pop Tarts suddenly don't sound quite so bad after all.

Adulteration in food is nothing new. In the middle ages, costly spices were often bulked out with ground nutshells or pits or even stones and dust and bread flour was regularly mixed with sand and sawdust. Laws to try and regulate price, weight and quality of foodstuffs such as bread and beer began in 1266 and were heavily enforced by trade guilds. These laws, however, were to protect the market not the consumer and were patchy in their application outside towns and cities. Fast forward to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, with the mass move towards urbanisation, and adulteration becomes the rule rather than the exception across pretty much all food and drink sectors and one of the worst offending culprits was the confectionery trade.

 Pharmacy Jars with sweetie ingredients
Access to sugar democratised in the mid nineteenth century as prices fell sufficiently for sweets and associated items (such as cakes and biscuits) to come within working class budgets. A cottage industry grew up to feed the nation's new sweet tooth, particularly round the production of boiled sweets. However, this was also a period of intense competition as technological innovations in processes and packaging (and the growth of the advertising industry) opened the market to entrepreneurs such as Fry, Rowntree and Cadbury whose interest was not tiny kitchens but large scale manufacturing. Profit became king and corners were not so much cut by the smaller producers as rampaged round. Potentially lethal chemicals were used for colouring, especially to make the sweets attractive to children, eg: mercury sulphide (red), lead chromate (yellow), copper sulphate and good old arsenic (blue) and copper arsenite (green). Sugar was bulked out with plaster of Paris and limestone. Very often the hapless consumer could not tell the difference - as the sweet makers demonstrate in the programme when they compare adulterated and non-adulterated toffee.

 Caricature by John Leech, Punch 1858 
Oh the poor consumer: as is too often the case, it took a rather nasty accident to wake everyone up to what they were really brightening their diets with. Analytical chemistry was on the rise in the nineteenth century, particularly with the development of the microscope, and a few brave souls had tried to turn whistle-blower on some of the more dubious practices. In 1820, a chemist by the name of Frederick Accum published The Treatise on Adulterations of Food and Culinary Poisons which contained detailed methods for detecting adulterants within foods and drink. He then followed this up by publishing a list of all those convicted of selling adulterated products and, not surprisingly, found himself up in court on charges of stealing and then damaging some of his source books. Reputation in tatters, poor old Accum fled home to Germany and the malpractices continued, with unfortunate results for the people of Bradford. 

The Greenmarket in Bradford was home to a sweet stall owned by William Hardaker, who was known to locals as "Humbug Billy". He bought his humbugs from sweet maker Joseph Neal, who should have been making his lozenges from peppermint oil, sugar and gum. Neal, however, preferred the profit margin obtained by replacing part of the sugar with gypsum, a kind of plaster known in the trade as "daff". So far so every day but, in what must have been the one of the worst examples of  "you really can't get the staff," Neal sent his assistant to the pharmacy for his dodgy supplies where that assistant was served by another assistant and the resulting purchase was not 12 pounds of daff but 12 pounds of arsenic. The sweets were made - apparently they looked a bit odd and the sweet maker (James Appleton) came down with vomiting and pains in his hands during the process but that didn't stop Neal selling 40 pounds of the luscious lozenges to Hardaker. Within 24 hours of the first batch being sold, 200 people had arsenic poisoning and 21 died. 

Bradford was lucky: the resulting trial (at which all were acquitted) estimated each humbug contained 9 grams of arsenic, twice the lethal dose, and enough had been distributed to kill 2000 people. And this was not an isolated case. The following year, 6 pupils at a school in Bristol plus a publican and his brother became violently ill after eating Bath buns purchased from a local bakers. When the buns were analysed, each was found to contain 7 grains of the paint pigment lead chromate which the baker had used rather than eggs to colour the buns bright yellow. Apparently he did it all the time but had somehow used too heavy a dose on this occasion. As with Bradford, no one was prosecuted because no laws had actually been broken. There was an outcry and laws were finally introduced (The Pharmacy Act, 1868 and the Adulteration of Food and Drugs Act 1872) which led to an ongoing recognition of food-borne illnesses and a programme of regulations to combat malpractices. 

The chilling bit, of course, is the detection. In the middle ages, awareness of adulteration came through noticing changes to weight and smell and taste. As technology progressed, it became easier to detect the undetectable but that doesn't mean the threat went away - the adulterers just got cleverer and technology and malpractice always seem to have a lag, especially when profits are involved. A study produced in 2013 listed 10 common products still regularly picked up in tests as being adulterated, including maple syrup, wine and coffee and milk in China where it has been contaminated with melamine to make it appear more rich in protein. Kale anyone?

Monday, 21 August 2017

Buckingham Palace Summer Opening - Royal Gifts by Imogen Robertson

Royal Gifts
22 July - 1 October 2017
The State Rooms, Buckingham Palace

Cover of Royal Gifts
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

So picture this: I’m broke, standing in the Buckingham Palace gift pavilion and looking for a present for my husband. I’m broke because I’m a novelist, at the Palace because I’ve just had a curator tour of the Royal Gifts Exhibition in the State Rooms, and looking for a present for Ned out of guilt, because while he’s slaving away at his desk, the Queen just gave me a cake. Ok, what I mean by that is one of the nice PR people from the palace gave me a café voucher for a pastry, but it was a very fine millefeuille which is Ned’s favourite and had a crown on it, so it counts. The Queen gave me a cake.

Not a Royal Gift

I don’t think I’m going to top it today, but the best present I’ve ever given my husband is a black glazed terracotta dipping cup, made in Apulia around 300 BCE. We fill it with terrifying spirits and pass it round the table at the end of dinner parties. It’s beautiful, but very simple, valuable, but no so valuable we have to lock it away. What makes it special is its age. It was there being a cup doing cuppy things when Christ was born, when the Vikings sacked Lindisfarne, when Caxton set up the first printing press in London and when the internet blinked into life. To Ned and me it symbolises hospitality, simplicity, change and continuity. It’s a sign of shared values. It says I know you, and you and I think the same things are important. Sometimes a cup is not just a cup.
We all assign value to objects through an uneasy and shifting dialogue between prevalent cultural values and our individual and shared histories. As a result gifts are never just themselves, they are a bundle of associations, allusions and suggestions. They say this is what I think about you, and often, this is what I want you to think about me. A gift is a message. Which is probably why I normally exchange strong drink with most of my writer friends and my mother often gives me cleaning products. 

With this is mind, looking at the gifts given to the Queen over the course of her long reign and from all over the world provides a fascinating series of snapshots of the relationships between nations and peoples and I found a huge amount to enjoy in the eclectic mix of items on display. They are grouped geographically by the giver, and there’s also a section devoted to gifts from the UK. A lot of the gifts are exemplars of local arts and crafts, such as the magnificent beaded throne given by Nigeria and made by the Yoruba people. The throne was one of my favourite pieces in the exhibition. It's strangely lovely, such skilled work and full of its own particular symbolism. 

From Bermuda comes a oil painting by Graham Foster of the wreck of the Sea Venture in 1609. Everyone survived the wreck, so it's not commemorating a tragedy, but evoking a shared maritime history. The Mexican tree of life is the product of different cultural cross-currents and also an affectionate portrait of the Queen herself, who features in a natty yellow ensemble in the centre of it. Some gifts are startling in their simplicity, such as the prayer shawl blessed by the Dali Lama from Tibet, others seem rather driven by affection such as the map of New Zealand presented by their girl guides, with an accompanying book signed by every girl guide in the country. There are also some unconventional treasures on show whose values are rather like that of the relics exchanged between medieval monarchs. A bone is just a bone, but when its the thigh bone of a saint it’s a worthy gift. A scrap of cloth is not valuable in itself, but when it is the Union Flag badge worn in space by Major Tim Peake it becomes something fitting to give to a monarch whose reign began before we’d climbed Everest. 
Of course, I am, as all the visitors are, also bringing my own ideas of meaning to these gifts, but that is the pleasure of these objects, they are extra chips of glass in the historical kaleidoscope and seeing them together is a fascinating way to shake up and reexamine what we are trying to say to each other.

The exhibition is perhaps overshadowed by the State Rooms themselves, but then I doubt many people would pay £23 entry fee just to see the gifts. I've never been to this part of the Palace before, so was distracted by the Vermeer and Van Dykes, the chandeliers and thrones, not to mention the 1980s gas fires in the ornate marble fireplaces. The gifts do make for a very interesting addition to the tour though, and the setting only emphasises the variety and varied aesthetic pleasures of the gifts displayed. 

So what did I get Ned? Well it had to be relatively cheap, and fun, but I didn’t think he’d really appreciate a stuffed Corgi. I wanted something Royal, but something about us too, so I got him this. He says he likes it.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Were there once ships on the River Meon?

Titchfield, in Hampshire, was once one of the most significant towns on the River Meon, enjoying considerable prosperity and status during the mediaeval period, at least partly because of its port. But, over time, as with many places whose fortunes rose and fell, Titchfield declined in importance, largely for social and economic reasons, but also partly perhaps because of its geography.
Titchfield lies at the seaward end of the River Meon, and up until the mid-17th century, the town supported a small port. The woollen industry was important in the area around Titchfield, and mills along the river banks powered the production of iron, tanned goods, salt and cloth. The port enabled the goods produced to be distributed to larger centres such as Southampton, and also allowed the local gentry to move around by boat instead of travelling by road.

Titchfield, South Street, looking towards the square. Public domain

But, in 1611, the life of Titchfield as a port began its decline when the estate owner, the 3rd Earl of Southampton, Henry Wriothesley, blocked off the estuary of the River Meon and built a canal directly from the sea to the town. These actions were intended, presumably, to maintain the port, in the face of the silting up of the river mouth, but it is generally considered that, in practice, what he did rather hastened the decline of the town’s prosperity.

accessed 07/08/2017). The River Meon estuary is still shown open,
despite it being the year that the river was blocked off and the canal built.

The River Meon had been important for millennia to the groups of people who lived in its vicinity, as a source of water, undoubtedly, and food, perhaps, and also as a route through the woodland of Neolithic Britain (c.4000-2000BCE), and a means of transporting goods upriver from the sea. In due course, the river’s tidal estuary also made it suitable for water-powered industries to grow up along its banks.
In the 10th century, Titchfield was referred to in documents and maps as Ticcefelda, in the 11th century, Ticefelle, in the 13th and 14th centuries, Tichefelde, and by the 16th century, the town was documented as Tytchfelde.
The Domesday book entry for Titchfield states:
The King holds TICEFELLE. It is a berewick, and belongs to MENESTOCHES. King Edward held it. There are 2 hides; but they have not paid geld. (There) is land for 15 ploughs. In (the) demesne (there are) but 2 oxen (animalia), and (there are) 16 villeins and 13 borders with 9 ploughs. There are 4 serfs, and a mill worth 20 shillings. The market and toll (are worth) 40 shillings.[]
“Menestoches”, by the way, is Meonstoke, 12 miles or so further up the Meon valley (and more or less where my fictional “Meonbridge” lies).
A port of some kind seems to have existed at Titchfield, with the River Meon possibly serving as an industrial and commercial waterway, since the turn of the first millennium CE, when the river was still easily accessible from the sea. Such a port may not have been all that sophisticated. It is likely that large ships would have just anchored up outside the mouth of the river to unload their goods into little boats, which would then have ferried them to the bank and, perhaps, a little further upriver.
It is thought that, prior to the 10th century, the River Meon was negotiable by small boats along most of its length, making it a viable alternative to road travel through the area. But the late 10th/early 11th century was the start of the construction of many water mills all along the river, mills that were used mainly for grinding corn but also in other industries, such as wool and cloth, iron, tanning, and salt. The mill at Titchfield, mentioned in the Domesday Book, was worth 20 shillings, but there were as many as thirty mills along the river’s length, and they underpinned the area’s economy for the next thousand years. However, it seems that, over time, the very development of the mills, and the associated bridges, weirs and other engineering works, especially those further towards its source, meant that river travel beyond Titchfield became difficult and eventually impossible.
Sometime also in the 10th/11th centuries, Jean de Gisor, a rich Norman merchant, and a vassal of the kings of England, first Henry II and then Richard I, seems to have established a base at his property in Titchfield, in order to facilitate his cross-channel trade, implying the existence of a port that de Gisor hoped to exploit. Titchfield’s location would also have provided a good stopping off point for officials travelling between England and France, and a family like the de Gisors would certainly have attracted a wide array of important visitors, wishing to make use of cross-channel travel facilities. However, by 1180, the de Gisors had already moved on, to found the city of Portsmouth, and, presumably, develop its much bigger and more viable port. One can only speculate, but perhaps de Gisor found that the silty mouth of the River Meon was not as suitable as it might be for the establishment of a really successful port.
However, a century and half later, in 1232, the Bishop of Winchester, Peter des Roches, established a Premonstratensian abbey at Titchfield, which, perhaps because of its high social and political standing, in itself resulted in significant economic development both in the town and the surrounding rural landscape.

Titchfield Market Hall, built by the 3rd Earl of Southampton in the 1620s, dismantled and
re-erected in 1970 at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum, West Sussex.
MilborneOne [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (],
via Wikimedia Commons

Titchfield already had a valuable market in 1086, as shown in the Domesday Book. When a town was granted a market or fair, it was a signifier of its importance. In fact Titchfield’s markets was one of the first in Hampshire and, by the 12th century, it was the only place in the Meon valley to have one. In the late 13th century, presumably after the establishment of such an important abbey, which was almost certainly visited often by officials and even royalty, King Edward I granted the town permission to hold an annual five day fair, which was of enormous economic significance.
By the 1330’s, Titchfield was one of Hampshire’s richest towns, despite still being relatively small and, in 1333, it was also one of Hampshire’s most heavily taxed towns, implying that it was both thriving and important. 
However, the town suffered excessively in the Black Death of 1349‐50. The population was substantially reduced, perhaps by as much as 80%, and during the plague’s recurrences in subsequent decades, the tenant population of Titchfield was depleted still further. This dramatic demographic shift must have had a significant economic impact on the town. Before the Black Death, prices were high and labour abundant, and landowners grew rich. But the huge loss of life severely affected the production of key exports such as wool, and the reduction in labour, demands for higher wages and the excess untenanted land unbalanced the economy, at least for a while, with estate owners finding their incomes falling and trade presumably not so buoyant. The Hundred Years War (1337-1453) presumably also had an adverse impact, with the inevitable restriction of trade between England and Europe, and the burden of taxation imposed by the government to fund the king’s armies.
So were economic difficulties caused by the plague and the war the start of Titchfield’s gradual decline in significance? Possibly they played a part, but not quite yet…
The abbey was abandoned by the Premonstratensian order following Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in 1537, but the estate and the monastic buildings were quickly taken over by Thomas Wriothesley, who was granted the abbey and estate for his services to the Crown during the dissolution. Thomas was a member of the royal secretariat, and helped secure the king’s divorce from Katherine of Aragon. He was knighted in 1540, and became 1st Baron Wriothesley in 1544, when he also become Lord Chancellor. He was created 1st Earl of Southampton in 1547.
In 1542, Thomas had the abbey buildings converted into a home, known as Place House, some parts of which can still be seen (managed by English Heritage,

Although this site is widely known as Titchfield Abbey, the remains are largely of the
old gate house from Place House, which was owned by the Wriothesley family.
Photo © Rosalind Hughes

Titchfield continued to be prosperous for some further decades but, as already mentioned, the mouth of the River Meon had always been “silty” and, in 1611, the situation became so bad that the 3rd Earl, Henry Wriothesley, Thomas’s grandson, took action.

As a momentary diversion, Henry was an intriguing character, if only because of his connection with William Shakespeare, who, in 1593, dedicated his narrative poem Venus and Adonis to him. The following year, he did the same with The Rape of Lucrece, and the words of the latter dedication were really rather over the top:
"The love I dedicate to your lordship is without end ... What I have done is yours; what I have to do is yours; being part in all I have, devoted yours"
The dedication page in The Rape of Lucrece by William Shakespeare,
to Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton and Baron of Titchfield. 
Image in the Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, in the Tower of London
 in 1603, attributed to John de Critz.
Image in the
 Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Henry was Shakespeare’s patron and it seems that Henry may indeed have been the “Fair Youth” of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, though he is not the only candidate! However, he appears also to have been a rather disreputable fellow, despite his high status, getting into scrapes of various sorts, one of which so upset Queen Elizabeth that she refused to receive him at court for a while, though his banishment did not last, so perhaps he was silver-tongued as well as handsome?
Anyway, in 1611, Henry took the decision to block off the estuary of the River Meon from the sea, and build a canal adjacent to the river, one of the very first canals to be built in England. A sea lock was built across the estuary, thus removing the port. The sealock would control the passage of ships to and from Titchfield, but would also control the freshwater levels in the area, for a further objective of the scheme was apparently to reclaim the large stretch of sea-marsh lying between the town and the blocked-off estuary (now, the haven) for, one supposes, arable farming and sheep rearing to supply the woollen industry, which was perhaps seen as of greater value to the local economy than the river itself.
The canal was built, presumably, as an alternative to the river, providing a direct link from the town to the sea, and to replace the functions that the River Meon had supported. It was evidently, however, not very successful in the long term and a hundred years later it was no longer in use.
Interestingly, before he blocked off the estuary, the Earl established an iron mill, powered by the River Meon, which surely suggests that he expected his actions over the port to support, and even boost, Titchfield’s prosperity? And, over time, that mill did produce a huge quantity of iron. Wool, cloth, salt, and leather also still kept the town a viable trading community, but perhaps, ultimately, Titchfield could not keep up with the productivity and connections of the larger urban centres to the east and west – Southampton, Fareham and Portsmouth. So, although industry in Titchfield didn’t just fall away immediately following the closure of the river port, at length the importance it had once held did decline.

Taylor’s 1759 map showing the river Meon estuary blocked off from the sea
and the adjacent canal running up to Titchfield Abbey/"Place House".
A road runs along the sea wall and over the sea lock bridge,
suggesting that the canal no longer flows into the sea.
( accessed 07/08/2017)

It is probably unjust to lay responsibility for the downfall of Titchfield’s economic health at the door of the 3rd Earl – though some do – when it seems that he hoped his engineering works would be the town’s salvation. But perhaps factors simply conspired, over time, to bring about the decline in the town’s importance. The silty nature of the lower River Meon, the industrial development along its banks, and then the Earl’s attempts to overcome its natural limitations, together with the lingering social, political and economic effects of plague and war, eventually reduce the town’s ability to sustain a port and, finally, its trading prosperity. 

Some of the discussion as to the background to Titchfield’s decline I shared during the writing of a Masters dissertation, The Economic Significance of the old port at Titchfield Hampshire, by Rosalind Hughes, which was submitted for a Masters degree in Maritime Archaeology at the University of Southampton in 2011 (unpublished).

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Who was Livia, first lady of Rome? By Alison Morton

At seventeen, running through a burning forest in 41 BC, nearly betrayed by the cries of her baby son, Livia Drusilla fled through Sparta with her husband, Tiberius Claudius Nero, a supporter of Mark Anthony. Pursued by Octavian’s forces during the two warlords’ bitter struggle, they barely made it to safety.

Livia carried the blood and prestige of both the Livii and the patrician Claudii, families long accustomed to power. Politics was in the very air she breathed. She’d married within her aristocratic circle to Tiberius, whom Cicero described as ‘a nobly born, talented and self-controlling young man’ and who had risen to the rank of praetor, a senior magistrate. Unfortunately, he had backed the wrong side in the wars following Julius Caesar’s death. 

Livia Drusilla, Museo della Civita Romana, author’s photo
During an amnesty between Octavian and Anthony, Livia and her husband were able to return to Rome in 39 BC, doubtless relieved after a life on the run. Stripped of three-quarters of their assets for their disloyalty, the patrician couple accepted this was the end of Tiberius’ political career. But 39 BC was the year Livia began as a political exile and ended as the consort of one of one of the most powerful men in the world at whose side she stayed for over fifty years.

Livia was introduced to Octavian in autumn 39 BC when she was six months pregnant with her second child, Nero Claudius Drusus. Legend says that Octavian fell immediately in love with her, despite the fact that he was still married. He divorced his wife, Scribonia, on the very day that the latter gave birth to his daughter, Julia. Livia’s husband, Tiberius, was ‘persuaded’ to divorce Livia who then moved into Octavian’s house. On 14 January 38 BC Livia's child was born; Octavian and Livia married on 17 January, waiving the traditional waiting period. Fantastically enough, Tiberius, her divorced husband was present at the wedding giving her in marriage ‘just as a father would’!

The importance of the patrician Claudii to Octavian's cause, and the Claudians’ own political survival provide more rational explanations. Octavian, a rising star but from a middle rank equestrian background, needed connections with aristocrats like Livia to provide an aura of Republican respectability to his growing power. As for Livia's feelings, at 20 years old she was probably content to be joined with a younger man of 25 with such overwhelming promise. The 47-year-old Tiberius, newly pardoned by Octavian, did not have a real choice, but he was aware that it did not hurt to bestow his wife on Rome's ascendant power. Everyone gained. 

By all accounts, Livia played the role of a loving, dutiful and even old-fashioned wife. When Octavian rebranded himself as Augustus, Livia cooperated with his idea that upper-class women should behave in the austere fashion of earlier times, so she and other female members of his household spun and wove (at least some of) his clothing.

Dupondius depicting Livia as Pietas
By Classical Numismatic Group, Inc., CC BY-SA 3.0
Livia's image appears in ancient visual media such as coins and evolved with different styles of portraiture that promoted imperial propaganda and the cult of Augustus. Becoming more than the "beautiful woman" described as in ancient texts, Livia served as a public image for idealised Roman feminine qualities and symbolised the renewal of the Republic with the female virtues of pietas and concordia that were supposed to set the public pattern for future imperial women.

She ignored Augustus’s notorious womanising; Tacitus called her an "easy wife". But this was not unusual. The goal of a Roman marriage was the formation of a household and the production of children not sexual gratification which could be found elsewhere. Unfortunately, Livia never bore Augustus any living children. It demonstrated the strength of their relationship that Augustus did not divorce her because she failed in that respect. The two were a partnership; with her intelligence, connections and influence, she served him as a trusted confidante and advisor, even accompanying him abroad.

The perception that Livia schemed and was ambitious for Tiberius, her son with her first husband, fed the idea of her complicity in Augustus's death in AD 14. She supposedly smeared poison on figs, then guided him to pick one of these for himself while she selected untainted ones. Although implausible, the accusation shows how strongly she came to be perceived as championing her offspring at any cost. 

Suetonius describes a loving and trusting relationship between Livia and Augustus at the end. The emperor's last words were 'Live mindful of our wedlock, Livia, and farewell’. He died as he kissed her. This detail is probably no more accurate than the poisoned figs story, but it represents Livia’s double role: dutiful wife and ambitious schemer. 

Livia remained an influential figure even after Augustus’s death. Gaius, her great-grandson who followed Tiberius in the principate as Caligula, lived with her when he was young. He called her Ulixes stolatus, (Ulysses in a matron's dress), a strong and manipulative woman. 

Livia died in AD 29 at the advanced age of 86. She received a public funeral, although a relatively modest one, and was buried in the Mausoleum of Augustus. Gaius (the future Caligula) delivered the eulogy. When he became emperor, he paid the bequests that she had provided for in her will that her own son Tiberius had ignored. Her grandson Claudius would oversee her long-deferred deification in AD 42. Women were to name Diva Augusta in their oaths; she received an elephant-drawn chariot to convey her image to the games; a statue of her was set up in the temple of Augustus; races were held in her honour. The woman who played an important role in two principates joined the imperial pantheon at last. Tacitus's obituary calls her "An imperious mother and an amiable wife, she was a match for the diplomacy of her husband and the dissimulation of her son", a concise statement of the reputation that she left behind.

Further reading: 
The First Ladies of Rome: The women behind the Caesars, Annelise Freisenbruch

Friday, 18 August 2017

Kenilworth Castle - Celia Rees

Kenilworth Castle from the remains of Mortimer's Tower (the main medieval entrance)
Last week, an old friend from New Zealand came to visit. We were thinking of places to go and I mentioned nearby Kenilworth Castle. By coincidence, Kenilworth was the first castle she'd visited when she came to the UK as a student to study at Oxford. It was the first castle she'd ever seen and she remembered marvelling at the size, the age, the beauty of the ruins. Although I only live a few miles away, I'd rather taken it's proximity for granted and hadn't actually visited for many years.  

Kenilworth Castle is one of the great historical sites. A royal castle for most of its life, it is one of the finest surviving monuments of its kind. It's big and impressive. Built of the local red sandstone, it sits on rising ground, on the outskirts of Kenilworth town, at the meeting of two ancient trackways and the confluence of two small rivers. 

The Great Tower
The oldest part of it, the Great Tower, was built by Geoffrey de Clinton in the 1120s. It was added to significantly by King John who dammed the two streams, flooding the low lying land around, so the castle was surrounded by a wide body of water called 'the mere'. The top of the dam was widened to become a tiltyard, used for jousting and tournaments. 

John of Gaunt's Great Hall. 
Leicester's Building
The castle changed hands, as castles do. It  was granted to Simon De Montfort who then lost it after his defeat at the Battle of Evesham by Henry III. Kenilworth was an exceptionally strong fortress, surrounded by water, with an Inner and Outer Court and high curtain walls. Some of De Montfort's followers withdrew to the castle and withstood the longest siege in English medieval history only to be defeated by starvation and disease.  Henry  III granted Kenilworth to his younger son, Edmund, who became the Earl of Lancaster. The Lancastrians set about making it even more impressive, John of Gaunt adding a Great Hall. 

The castle remained in Lancastrian, then Tudor hands until it was granted to John Dudley by Henry VIII in gratitude for services rendered. 

Kenilworth then came to John's son, Robert, Earl of Leicester and favourite of Elizabeth I. In a bid to impress the Queen and to improve his rather shaky social status, Robert Dudley embarked on extensive improvements to the castle, adding the tower block known as Leicester's Building specifically to provide private lodging for the Queen on her visits in 1572 and 1575. 

He had the mere re-flooded, so that she could go boating and created a Privy Garden for her private enjoyment. The garden has recently been restored by English Heritage. It was surrounded by high hawthorn hedges to protect the queen from prying eyes and furnished with a marble fountain, obelisks and an aviary. The parterre is set out with beds planted with herbs and flowers. Each bed has a central standard holly. In the language of flowers, the holly bush symbolises deep desire. A subtle, or not so subtle, message from Leicester to his queen. 

Leicester also added a new Gatehouse, the only part of the castle to survive intact the 'slighting' it got by the Parliamentarians after their victory in the English Civil War. The Gatehouse became a private dwelling, remained so until the 1960s and has only recently been opened to the public. 

Leicester's Gatehouse
After its 'slighting', the castle became a Romantic Ruin and an early tourist destination, popularised by Sir Walter Scott's Kenilworth, painted by J. M. W. Turner, visited by Charles Dickens and Queen Victoria. It was rescued from completely falling down by bouts of restoration in the 19th and 20th centuries but Romantic Ruin is how I remembered it before this recent visit. English Heritage took over the care of the castle in 1984 and the extensive work that they have undertaken has transformed it, not only preserving and restoring the fabric of  the castle but making its history come alive. 

Sword play in the remains of the Collegiate Chapel 

Celia Rees

Thursday, 17 August 2017


The bit marked “History” in my head is a bit of a muddle. It feels full of significant images that get added to, or overridden, or shuffled about somewhat, or coloured in more clearly and accurately. Moreover, the process isn’t a tidy one: the various new phrases, images and facts don’t present themselves in correct time-order. The “new” essential fact or story arrives as a surprise, and suddenly a question I hadn’t known to ask is answered.

Please excuse the simplifications but, in my mind, WWII buzzes with images of aerial warfare, partly because of RAF links within my family.  I think of fighters and planes and bombing raids and the Blitz raining down on London, where my grandparents had lived, and across the face of Britain. 

I know WWII is much more: the British soldiers, Dunkirk and the Allies, the Nazi atrocities, the bombing raids, conflict across Europe and the East and so on and so on, but WWII often seems a time when, through the use of aircraft, war arrived here on British soil.

WWI, by contrast, seems as of it is our soldiers over there,  shelled and blasted while they waited in the trenches and went over the top in France and Flanders. Yes, there’s more: the industrial-level war, the generation of men that did or did not return, the changing roles of women, the economic seeds laid for further trouble, and so on. But my first image of WWI are often iconic photos, like that which inspired the final scene in Blackadder.
Then, last weekend, I heard a new story. I was visiting Scarborough Castle, a ruined keep whose dominating headland sticks out into the North Sea.  Scarborough Head has been an invaluable look-out point since the Bronze age: the observer can see out across a wide horizon, and watch over the curving beaches that stretch North and South from the foot of the cliffs. Some of the retaining walls remain but the keep itself rises like a shattered hand. 

It was there, standing by the ruined stones, that I heard the story that changed my perception about the start of WWI.

Scarborough has always been a harbour, but during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it grew into a popular spa and resort. In 1815, the railway arrived, bringing visitors to the flourishing boarding houses and small hotels. In 1867 the Grand Hotel opened; with over four-hundred bedrooms, it was the biggest hotel in Europe, attracting many distinguished guests. (The Grand Hotel can be seen in several Victorian paintings, such as this dramatic work by Ernest Roe, showing the shipwrecks after the Great Storm of 1880. The hotel is on the right.)

Scarborough with its aquarium, pier and many entertainments was widely considered a place of idle pleasure and recreation. Even the ruined Castle, mostly used as pastureland, was leased by the Town Council, becoming another of visitor attraction and even, in 1912, the venue for an impressive historical pageant.  

Suddenly, in 1914, Scarborough became famous for a less welcome event. In July, war had been declared. The months that followed seemed peaceful to the population at large, and attention was focused on news from across the Channel.  

However, at 8am on the morning of 14th December, two German warships, the Vann Tann and the Derfflinger, suddenly appeared out of the mist just off Scarborough Head, with guns aimed at the town. For over thirty minutes, shells hit several buildings, including the Grand Hotel and the barracks within the Castle walls. There were reports of damage, deaths and injury and, fearful of another onslaught, guests and inhabitants crowded Scarborough station, trying to escape.

The two warships were part of the great German fleet moving steadily up the North Sea towards Scapa Flow. Sailing northwards, the pair shelled Whitby and Hartlepool, butthe bombardment of Scarborough, a defenceless non-military seaside resort, was what caused the greatest national outcry. Suddenly, the reality of war with Germany had come much closer to home.  I can’t help feeling that the attack on Scarborough must have had a similar effect on the national consciousness as the London July bombings.

Among the newspaper reports displayed in the Art Gallery is the funeral procession of the one territorial soldier killed in the attack, shown as further evidence of a despicable attack on a civilian population. There was no garrison at the Castle, though the name may have suggested otherwise.  The mechanical might of WWI had arrived here, not “over there” and the possibility of further bombardments from the sea must have haunted all those living by the coast throughout the war, and for the following decades.

As the news spread, questions were asked in Parliament about the whereabouts of the Royal Naval fleet, which lead to a different, more complicated story and the troubles of Admiral Jellicoe.

Meanwhile, as the way is with these incidents, the army was quick to seize the German bombs to encourage more conscripts. The shock and anger felt at the time blazes out from the famous recruiting poster, with its ringing exhortation:


Once, years before, I’d come across this phrase quoted in a book, and passed over it. However, standing on the empty grass below the ruins of Scarborough Castle, hearing this story, I suddenly understood the impact and meaning of those words: 
War on British soil, over here, as well as over there.

 Penny Dolan