Thursday, 31 August 2017

August competition

To win a copy of Amy Licence's Bohemian Lives, just answer this question in the comments section below, then email your answer to so that we can notify you if you win:

"Who would you describe as the most interesting Bohemian of the 20th Century? and why is that your choice?"

And then email your answer to to obtain your copy if you win.

Closing date 20th September to accommodate holidays.

We are sorry that our competitions are open to UK Followers only.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

The 'Poo Table': August's Cabinet of Curiosities by Charlotte Wightwick

I hope you all had a great Bank Holiday Weekend. Mine was brilliant: I stayed with friends in Weymouth. The sun (unusually, for Bank Holiday) shone and we had a great time at the beach and barbequing. While I was there, I started to think about what I should include in this month’s Cabinet of Curiosities, and I remembered another trip to the Jurassic Coast, last year.

The Jurassic Coast is a 95-mile long World Heritage Site, made up of sedimentary rocks which together form a near-complete record of 185 million years of history. Last summer we took a day trip to Lyme Regis. Obviously, I was excited to see the Cobb (famous to all Jane Austen fans as the site of Louisa Musgrove’s accident in Persuasion).

But the Jurassic Coast – and perhaps in particular Lyme Regis - not only has some of the best fossils in the world, but was also home some of the most dramatic scientific discoveries of the early and mid-nineteenth century. Regular readers of this blog will know I have a strong interest in the early fossil hunters and scientists, and their discoveries (see January’s Cabinet of Curiosities )

So I was looking forward to the fossils: seeing them and learning more about them, maybe even finding some for myself on the beach. (Which I did, by the way!)

What I didn’t expect to find, but what forms today’s entry for the Cabinet of Curiosities, was a table made of fossilised poo.

William Buckland's coprolite table, Lyme Regis museum
The technical term for fossilised faeces is a coprolite, and they are surprisingly common.

You can find the ‘Poo Table’ (as it is un-technically called) in the excellent museum at Lyme Regis. It belonged to William Buckland, first Professor of Geology at Oxford University and later Dean of Westminster. He spent a lot of time in Lyme, working with the fossil hunter Mary Anning. One type of fossil they studied resembled strange round stones. Anning observing that were often found within – or very close to - the skeletons of the sea creatures she had excavated. Buckland reported to the scientific world that these were fossilised faecal matter from the sea creatures, opening up a whole new area of study.

William Buckland, c. 1845
 Despite this, the table in the Lyme museum does not appear to be made from coprolites from the Lyme area – they are more likely to have come from Edinburgh, from a trip Buckland made in 1834.

I would love to say that the reason I’ve chosen this table is because of its symbolism, as an artefact of an amazing time in scientific history. I could talk about the importance of the discovery of coprolites in understanding the reality of the prehistoric world. Or I could talk about the relationship between Mary Anning – who was, until recently, largely excised from the historical record - and the ‘scientific gentlemen’ like Buckland who often took the credit for describing and interpreting her discoveries.

Mary Anning (and dog Tray), before 1842
 But I’m afraid my motivations are considerably less academic. In the museum is the following label:

"[William Buckland’s] son Francis remembered this table in his father’s drawing room where ‘it was often admired by persons who had not the least idea of what they were looking at. I have seen in actual use ear-rings made of polished portions of coprolites… and have made out distinctly the scales and bones of the fish which once formed the dinner of a hideous lizard.’ The ‘belles’ who wore the ear-rings had no idea what they were made of."

Who can resist the idea of prim Victorian ladies placing their tea cups demurely on the Dean of Westminster’s side table, with no idea of what it was made of? Or wearing jewellery, thinking only that they were the height of fashion and not that they were wearing something which, if they had known, they would not be able to discuss in fashionable society? Even better, perhaps some of them knew perfectly well what they were doing, and the joke was on the more ignorant members of that society who admired them?

We can’t know – but it is tremendously good fun to speculate. At least it is if you have my childish sense of humour. In my own defence, it’s clear I’m not the only one to find the even the idea of coprolites entertaining. John Shute Duncan, a contemporary of Buckland, wrote the following verse (quoted in Deborah Cadbury’s ‘The Dinosaur Hunters’.)

“Approach, approach ingenuous youth

And learn this fundamental truth

The noble science of geology

Is firmly bottomed on Coprology”

Lavatory humour, it seems, like so much else, is not a modern invention.


Deborah Cadbury - The Dinosaur Hunters: A true story of scientific rivalry and the discovery of the prehistoric world (Harper Collins, 2000)

Photos of Buckland and Anning from Wikimedia Commons.  Photo of coprolite table my own.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Three Extraordinary Women by Amy Licence

Our August guest is Amy Licence:

Amy Licence is an historian of women’s lives, from queens to commoners. Her particular interests lie in Modernism, specifically Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group, Picasso and Post-Impressionism. She has an MA in Medieval and Tudor Studies and has published several scholarly articles and books on the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century: focussing on gender relations, queenship and identity, rites of passage, pilgrimage, female orthodoxy and rebellion. Her magisterial study Catherine of Aragon: An Intimate Portrait of Henry VIII’s True Wife was published in 2016 by Amberley.

Amy has written for the Guardian, the TLS, the New Statesman, BBC History, the English Review, the Huffington Post and the London Magazine, She has been interviewed regularly for BBC radio, including Woman’s Hour, and made her TV debut in the BBC documentary The Real White Queen and Her Rivals. She also writes literary fiction and has been shortlisted twice for the Asham Award.

She lives in Canterbury with her husband and two children.

It is said that successful artists remember the days when they were poor with sad nostalgia. There can be no doubt about this. They have left in those places where they lived when they were young and poor all that was best in themselves … When they leave poverty behind them they are also bidding farewell to a purity and a dedication which they will try in vain to find again … Picasso’s restless spirit, continually needing to delve and look further, could only develop satisfactorily in an atmosphere undistracted by glamour and wealth. 

The bohemian life was not an easy one. The lives of Sophie Brzeska, Ida Nettleship and Fernande Olivier were acts of consistent bravery in the face of censure, hardship and illness. Their freedom was bought at considerable personal cost. Sophie, Fernande and Ida each fell in love with an artist, a man who found significant fame, sharing their life and witnessing, even participating in, the creation of works that would enter the artistic canon.* While canvases were being covered or stone carved, Sophie, Ida and Fernande were creating and maintaining a domestic and emotional foundation for the production of art; a home, a centre, an essential continuity and stability. But they rarely did so as passive witnesses. Not only were they facilitating their men’s work, they were also acting as models, supplying food, comfort, guidance and attempting to engage in their own artistic pursuits. Few people today know anything about their painting or writing: their obscurity is partly a product of these men’s colossal success as well as the limited machinery of culture, biography and history. Their aspirations have been forgotten, their efforts subsumed in domesticity. And yet they lived bravely, even radically.

Sophie Brzeska

Polish aristocrat Sophie Brzeska was to have her literary efforts frustrated through decades of privation and poor health, yet she continued writing stories, until insecurity and illness broke down her mental health completely. Illegitimate French beauty Fernande Olivier had the potential to become a writer or teacher before a chance encounter altered the direction of her life forever. Later, her artistic talent was eclipsed by the immense presence of her lover, on whose name she would continue trading as a way out of poverty. English middle-class Ida Nettleship sacrificed a promising career to be the muse of the man she loved, only to feel that she had failed, and to die young, worn down by a string of pregnancies. Yet their lives sing with determination and vitality. As frustrated artists, beset by the insurmountable obstacles resulting from their moment in time, they matter. As women, their stories tell a familiar and universal truth. They deserve to be brought out from the shadow cast over them by their more famous menfolk and allowed to shine. But they also beg the question of whether such sacrifice was worth it.

To the twenty-first century eye, the lives of Sophie, Ida and Fernande can read like relentless tests of endurance. Existing in pitiful and harsh conditions, often isolated and lonely, they can surely inspire sympathy in an era when women’s lives have been altered forever by advancing technology, emancipation, contraception and drastic social change. All three found their choices affected by the struggle to balance domesticity with creativity and as a result, saw their early promise curtailed by the difficult daily business of survival. Children, poverty, ill-health, lack of opportunity and their devotion to a man got in the way. Yet this was the world as they knew it. The demands placed upon women were complex and constant. Although the laws surrounding marriage and divorce were changing, health provision was improving and the suffrage cause was advancing, such liberties did not fully penetrate even the most enlightened families. Nor could they change the basic dynamics of male-female relationships.

Fernande Olivier
 Picasso was so jealous about about Fernande that he sometimes refused to let her go out alone; Augustus John continually impregnated his wife and was irritated by the noise of their children; Sophie refused to submit to Gaudier’s sexual requests yet feared he would be stolen away by another woman. The ability of these three women to fulfil their artistic potential was inseparable from their gender. For Ida, Sophie and Fernande, specific circumstances combined to create obstacles between them and their full artistic expression.

Inescapably, the late nineteenth century shaped their health. Born into financial dependence, Sophie and Fernande were perhaps better equipped to deal with later privations in adulthood, their survival partly due to a learned resilience the middle class Ida lacked. Poor diet, health and sanitation provided constant challenges in the adult lives of all three and, in some cases, the impacts were permanent, even fatal. An additional side effect for Fernande and many other women in similar deprived situations, was the irreparable damage to their reproductive abilities, through disease, violation or aborted pregnancy. However, in spite of the obvious suffering this caused, infertility meant they were never exposed to the huge risks of childbirth repeatedly faced by Ida and other contemporaries. Additionally, Sophie, Ida and Fernande found their developing sexual identity challenging; the transition from adolescence brought danger, discomfort and often disappointment. At varying points in their lives, all three suffered from a lack of control over their sexual activity and the physical and emotional aspects of their relationships with men. Ida was overwhelmed by John’s fecundity, Fernande’s beauty made her a target for predators and Sophie insisted on a platonic relationship with Gaudier.

Outside the confines of a protective family unit, the world they inhabited was fraught with dangers for young women; Ida and Sophie travelled independently but, as Sophie and Fernande’s experiences testify, the more immediate threats to physical safety and virtue could be closer to home, even within it. Sometimes their choices, or lack of, caused them to be isolated from friends and family and their brave attempts to adapt to this loneliness were not always successful. In turn, each sought the consolation of more reliable and sympathetic female companions, who had shared similar experiences. This is not to suggest the development of a powerful solidarity or ‘sisterhood’; their biographies make clear that these attempts at female connection could be disappointingly short-lived, sometimes rebuffed, marred by rivalry or frustrated by conditions beyond their control.

None of them can be claimed for the suffrage movement. They did not fight for women’s rights or make any stand that was politically motivated; they were essentially private individuals rather than spokeswomen yet, in their own way, they played a part in the redefinition of the boundaries that defined female lives. Each experienced specific moments when changing social and moral expectations informed their decision making and resulted in deliberate acts of defiance which, although frequently motivated by personal desire, expose a complex interrelation of individual and context. Millions of Sophies, Fernandes and Idas fought out their own personal battles before the minority stood up for them. What seems most strikingly and inescapably time-specific, was the power of men to define and limit their artistic achievement: their success being as durable as contemporary masculine understanding and generosity.

Separated by the passage of a century and vocal women’s movements, it is easy to talk about wasted opportunities and romanticise these women as heroines sacrificed to male success. As artist Edna Clarke Hall put it in response to her critics, women’s responsibilities lie equally with their children and ‘…in the development of the powers in herself which are her true expression.’2 The early twentieth century does provide examples of comparable women who became successful artists as well as raising children: Bloomsbury’s Vanessa Bell, poetess Frances Cornford, Ida’s friends Edna Clarke Hall and Gwen Salmond, as well as Montmartre’s Suzanne Valadon and the Impressionist Berthe Morisot – all persisted despite complicated personal arrangements. Yet there was also a significant number of successful women who remained single, delayed marriage, or did not have children, featuring on the fringes of these three lives: artists Ursula Tyrwhitt, Dorothy Brett, Dora Carrington, Gwen John, Nina Hamnett and Marie Laurencin; writers Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein and Katherine Mansfield.

For some it was a deliberate choice, predicated upon circumstances or sexuality, whilst some exercised little control over their own fertility. Of course there are many others but, although equal success in the realms of domesticity and creativity was achievable, it was significantly more difficult than for the women of the later twentieth century. Possibly of the three, Ida came the closest to having what would now be considered the most successful, if short-lived, ‘career’, studying at the Slade throughout her teenage years. A handful of Fernande’s pictures have been reproduced in biographies of Picasso and, until recently, Sophie’s unpublished diaries and short stories languished in a Colchester library, unread. Their posthumous existence has been allied to the fame of those who directly affected their output but it is significant that they have been remembered primarily as women and not artists or writers.

*Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Augustus John and Pablo Picasso

Bohemian Lives is published by the Amberley Publishing ISBN: 978-1445670645

(Drawings by Geoffrey Licence)

Monday, 28 August 2017

Children and War by Julie Summers

A Jewish child in Bergen Belsen April 1945
Children: War. Two words that perhaps do not sit together comfortably in one’s mind.  What have children to do with war?  What has war to do with children?  Surely, one would argue, children have to be protected from war, violence, horror, atrocities. 

In the simplest sense that is right but it ignores a whole aspect of children’s lives and development which,  during the twentieth century, was profoundly affected by the First and Second World wars as well as other, more recent, conflicts.
A tank made out of a packet of woodbines reminding one
that war produces toys and games as well as terror.
War changes lives.  It changes lives for the better and the worse, for the unexpected and the unpredictable.  For some children the Second World War had a devastating effect on their homes and families so that they never recovered from the shock of it.  For others it literally made them.  Evacuation during the war offered some city children the opportunity for a better life, a chance at education and even, for some, a place at university that would have been unthinkable from the standpoint of their pre-war lives.  For boys caught in the poverty trap at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth century a career in the army could offer them a life away from the streets, from trouble.  Again, it could literally make them.  

For Boy Scouts and Girl Guides the opportunities presented by the lack of young men and women, who had been enlisted for the services and war work, were exciting.  They worked as fire fighters and nursing assistants, couriers and stretcher bearers.  Some were even sent to relieve the concentration camps in Europe in 1945.
 It is a topic worthy of examination since most of us, in one way or another, have some sort of experience of war, even if for children of today it is only what we see on the television.
The subject of boy soldiers is one that conjures up the ranks of young men who lied about their age to enlist in 1914 and 1915 to fight for King and Country.  Yet it was not unusual for boys to be engaged by the Army and Navy.  The Army had a long tradition of boy drummers while the cavalry employed boy trumpeters.  For some boys, who had got into trouble with the Law, there was a choice for them between going to prison or ‘taking the option’ which meant agreeing to serve in the Forces. For those who took the option a life in the Army could offer them opportunities and adventure beyond their wildest dreams. 
A boy soldier in 1907 (C) Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum
The propaganda run by the government in the early years of the First World War appealed to young men’s sense of patriotism, which bordered on Jingoism.  It was hugely successful and drew in boys as well as to young men.  According to the historian, Richard van Emden, 250,000 underage boys succeeded in slipping through the net, despite protests from many parties.  Of those, thousands died and much of the pity of the First World War is directed at the lost generation of young men, those who had died young.  In the Second World War the government had no need for a general advertising campaign to recruit for the Forces as conscription had been introduced several months before the War broke out.  What the poster campaigns during the Second World War fixed on was specific appeals.  The RAF appealed to young men’s sense of adventure and patriotism; the WAAF and ATS encouraged young women to think of contributing actively towards the war by enlisting. 

Children being evacuated to Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire, 31 August 1939
But during the Second World War the government had an equally great concern which was the safety of civilians.  With the introduction of aerial warfare the civilian population was as likely to be targeted as military positions and the drive to put women and children beyond the reach of the Luftwaffe led to the greatest evacuation of civilians in British history.  As 3.5 million children moved from city to village, town to country, from Britain to America and the Dominions an upheaval of a kind was introduced that still has repercussions in the world today.  It was described by one historian as the greatest social experiment of all times and by another as delivering social mobility in a way that no one in government could possibly have anticipated. 

The shake-up caused by the mass movement of civilians was felt to an even greater extent on the continent where children were fleeing not just from the threat of aerial bombardment but from a far greater menace, which was the threat of genocide and systematic annihilation.  England offered children shelter long before the Second World War.  In 1915 a quarter of a million Belgians, including tens of thousands of children, came to Britain.  
Basque children in Britain 1938
In 1937 4,000 Basque children arrived in Southampton to seek shelter from the Civil War that was tearing their country apart.  And then there was the threat from the Nazis for Jews, Gypsies, Siitis and other so-called ‘Undesirables’.  For these children the flight from terror often meant that almost everything they had had prior to the war was lost.  One Jewish refugee child, fleeing from Germany, was told she could bring one item with her on her journey to safety.  What should she choose from her array of clothes, toys, books and treasures?  In the end she brought her half-size violin.  The only vestige of her old life.  Today, children still come to Britain, fleeing persecution in some of the world’s worst trouble spots.  Like the children before them, they often have nothing to connect them to their past and similarly they have to start over to build a new life. Their experiences are terrifying and the sights they have seen so horrific that it almost defies our imagination. We have to hope that society will open its arms to them and give them some peace. Meantime, their plight should not be forgotten in the maelstrom of news coverage. Their stories need to be told, their violins heard.

Given to an evacuee child and found in a second hand book in 2009

This is my farewell blog for the History Girls. Thank you for inviting me and I shall follow the blog in the future. Good luck to all History Girls in their writing and everyday lives and to all the readers who follow the blogs daily, weekly or even just occasionally. Julie 

Sunday, 27 August 2017


Research for a new novel has taken me on the trail of a Welsh saint.

St Winefride's Well is at Holywell, near Flint in north Wales, and was a famous place of pilgrimage both before and after the Reformation.

Legend tells how Winefride fled from the advances of a suitor named Caradoc. She ran towards the church built by her uncle, St Beuno, but the furious Caradoc caught her and cut off her head. As St Beuno lifted the severed head a spring of water rose from the ground beneath. He restored the head to Winefride's body and his prayers brought her back to life. Caradoc sank into the ground and was never seen again.

The story of a head being restored to the body is one that recurs in folktale and legend. However Winefride herself was a real person who lived in the 7th century. Her Welsh name was Gwenfrewi and she was the daughter of a local prince, Tewyth, and his wife Gwenlo. Caradoc was a chieftain from Hawarden. Winefride became a nun and later joined a community at Gwytherin where she eventually became Abbess. Holywell has been a place of pilgrimage and healing ever since and is the only such shrine to have had an unbroken history of pilgrimage for more than thirteen centuries. Even during the most difficult times for Catholics, during the 16th and 17th centuries, pilgrims still flocked to St Winefride's Well, and many inscriptions cut into pillars in the shrine date from these years.

It is customary for pilgrims to pass through the water three times and then to kneel on St Beuno's stone to complete their prayers. This stone - near the steps in the outer pool - is believed to be the one on which St Beuno sat when instructing St Winefride.

The shrine that now houses the well was built in the early 16th century and is a fine example of Perpendicular Gothic. The statue of the saint dates from 1888. She carries a crook and the palm of martyrdom and there is a thin line around her neck to show where her head was severed. In the picture below you can see the central boss over the well, which shows scenes from St Winefride's martyrdom. Smaller - and very weathered - bosses apparently display the emblems of many noble benefactors, among them Queen Katherine of Aragon and Margaret, Countess of Richmond and mother of Henry VII. Theirs was a time when the fame and popularity of this shrine was at its height.

In 1138 St Winefride's relics were removed to Shrewsbury Abbey. The shrine that was built for her there was destroyed during the dissolution of the abbey in 1540, but part of the reredos remains.

Above it is the beautiful St Winefride Window by Jane Gray, part of which can be seen in this link:

King Henry V sought the protection of St Winefride at the battle of Agincourt in 1415, and the following year he visited her relics at Shrewsbury Abbey, before walking in pilgrimage the sixty miles or so to Holywell to give thanks. In June 2016 the Diocese of Wrexham re-enacted this pilgrimage along the route most likely to have been taken by the king. Quoted in the Shropshire Star, the Rt Rev Mark Davies, the Bishop of Shrewsbury, said, "Whether we are able to physically or spiritually take part in this journey, the ancient pathways of Shropshire will remind us of the rich Christian heritage of this country."

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Pesticides, the history of ... by Carol Drinkwater

Last night, while I was watering the land, I watched a small flock of ring-necked turtle doves gorging themselves on fruits in the fig tree, which have ripened very early this year. There were other birds feeding off the grapevines. A large toad crossed the driveway and paused to study me with bulging eyes. I greeted him but he simply plodded onwards into the shade and safety of the wisteria bushes.
These are ordinary every day sights; the to-ing and fro-ing of wildlife. We have eagles who nest up in our pine forest towards the summit of the hill. Sightings are rarer. An occasional red fox suns itself on  one of the terraces.
These ordinary activities, which delight me, sometimes bring to mind the opening chapter of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. Its description of the death of flora and fauna.
And I ask myself, suppose all this were destroyed?

Here, in the south of France, we are living through what the French describe as ‘la canicule', a wave of scorching hot weather. The temperatures have risen to mid-thirties. In some areas inland of us, the figures have hit the forties. Are these summer temperatures escalating year by year? It certainly seems to be the case. Will we adapt and survive? Over the past month, there have been horrendous forest fires in the area. They have spread fast, taking hold, causing devastation, because the earth and vegetation are too dry to resist them.
Here, overlooking the Bay of Cannes, we have had no rain, not a drop, since April. The land is baked like a biscuit. Still, this time we have been fortunate to have not been - not as yet - caught up in any of the hinterland fires. One downside of the relentless heat for us is that insects are taking up residence on the plants, weaving nests, webs, damaging flowers, eating into the fruits. Our farm is organic. I usually count on the midsummer storms to wash the critters away, because I won't poison them, but there is no such redemption this year.

Why, you might ask, do I not just buy an insecticide and spray all the shrubs and trees? Well, because we are organic and have been so for almost a decade now. If we target one insect, we set off a chain reaction that damages other forms of life.

When we first purchased this Olive Farm it was a crumbling property perched halfway up a hillside nestling amongst a jungle of overgrowth. You could barely spot even the highest tips of the olive trees, while the vineyard spoken of by the estate agent had long since been overwhelmed by a million rogue plants. The estate, or what remained of the original estate since the land had been mostly sold off, needed everything doing to it. Due to lack of funds it took us two years to call in a gardening company with the required heavy machinery to cut back the land. Once achieved, our denuded hill was a revelation to us. There, growing in rows on drystone wall terraces, were sixty-eight, 400-year-old olive trees. Gnarled, majestic beings. Their silvery tops were high; they were desperately in need of pruning and reshaping but they were healthy and they were fruiting generously. Everywhere about them were butterflies, small song birds, insects I could not put a name to. Bees and myriad other pollinators were buzzing from one tall flowering shrub to another. The farm was alive, it was buzzing, working.
Bucolic bliss.

Jump cut to a handful of years later and we were beginning to farm our olive trees to produce olive oil. Serendipity had found us a local man, Réné, who, in return for a large percentage of the produce, was husbanding the trees for us. I was taken aback when, as the fruits, the olive drupes, began to plumpen, he arrived with a van laden with machinery and liquids. I watched on as he began to spray the trees. He advised me to go back indoors and close the windows as he donned face mask, a long-sleeved overall and gloves. The process seemed to take the best part of a day and it was repeated every six weeks or so throughout the summer and autumn months until harvesting had been completed. For hours after his visits, the land seemed to be cloaked in a rather foul-smelling cloud. When I questioned Réné about the product and its functions, he explained that there is no other method for controlling the fly that lays its egg in the drupes. It has to be destroyed. It is considered a serious pest in all areas where olives are cultivated. The fly's larvae live off the flesh of the fruits and cause them to fall, shrivelled and empty. He was adamant when I protested against the use of chemicals. Every farm, he argued, employed the same products and there was no alternative to Dacus oleae. Or yes, one alternative: no crop. I shut up and let him get on with it. This continued for several years. Each summer, I grumbled and growled and no one took any notice of me. It had to be done.

                                                            olives riddled with fly larvae

I remarked to my husband that the songbirds were gone. There were fewer butterflies, less life flitting about the land. The buzzing, the insect activities were being silenced.

Then several things happened more or less at once or over a short period of time. I got chatting to a local gardener, André, who came to lend us a hand. He mentioned in passing that a series of new pesticides were causing concern to beekeepers. It seemed that these products, known as neonicotinoids, a relatively new class of synthetic insecticides, might very well be harmful to honey bees. This was somewhere around 2001/2002. We had hives on our land at that stage and I was keen to know more about this little-known concern. I began to research the subject. There was not too much information out there, which in itself caused me to persist. What I found out after considerable delving and investigation because back then this information was not easily accessible is the following:
Neonicotinoids are a relatively new class of insecticide. They were first put on the market in the mid 1990s. They all share a common mode of action, which is that they affect the central nervous system of insects, resulting in the creature's paralysis and death.
Here are some of the insecticides that come under the heading of neonicotinoids: imidacloprid, clothianidin, nithiazine and quite a few others.

I had not heard of any of them. These names were like another language to me but I set about trying to educate myself.
The conversations I was having with André were taking place in the early 2000s. So, not a great deal of research had been undertaken to discover the longterm effects of the chemicals' use. It was a little too soon for scientists or environmentalists to grasp the far-reaching damage being caused by neonicotinoids. 

The product being sprayed onto our olive trees, did it come under the heading of neonicotinoids? In fact, it didn't. We were using a crystal soluble in water known as dimethoate. It was patented in the 1950s by an American chemical company, American Cyanamid. Its function is to disable an enzyme which is essential for the health of the central nervous system. Its health hazard was rated as HIGHLY TOXIC. It  has since, in France at least, been more or less withdrawn from the market.
I stood on the land and stared at the trees. These trees were being sprayed to protect their fruits against a fly. Fruits which were being harvested to be pressed into oil. An oil which is one of the cornerstones of the Mediterranean diet. A basic food product. An oil which man has used and revered and respected for millennia.
Something is this system seemed to me to be very wrong. 
André leant me a book that is only available to registered farmers, professionals. We did not/do not qualify. This book, known in France amongst agriculturalists as Le Bible, lists every chemical product available for use on the land. It also lists its properties, its toxic rating and the effects it has on flora, fauna and on humans. The book, a rather heavy tome, made horrifying reading. Various cancers were listed, hormone disruption, skin problems, burning, nervous system damage, genetic defects.
On the hazard warning scale, for example, if you see a product which has H351 on its label, it means the product is 'suspected of causing cancer'. H360 means 'may damage fertility or the unborn child'.

I was about to embark on what turned out to be an odyssey of a research trip. Seventeen months travelling, circumnavigating the Mediterranean in search of the history, the culture of the olive tree. The travels produced two books: THE OLIVE ROUTE and THE OLIVE TREE. The two books inspired a five-film TV series, also known as THE OLIVE ROUTE.

It was during these trips that I discovered the word 'desertification' and its meaning. I saw for myself the effects of desertification. One of the The Olive Route films concerns itself with the subject. 
What is desertification? 
In a nutshell desertification is the degradation of land caused by aridity and the loss of vegetation and wildlife. These losses can come about through overuse of chemicals, overexploitation of the soil, depletion of nutrients in the soil. It is soil death, you might say. Desertification is becoming a significant global problem. I visited olive farms in southern Spain of immense sizes. They were kingdoms of olive production boasting thousands and thousands of olive trees. To protect their potential product, planes were flying over the groves disgorging the chemicals necessary to combat the olive fly and any other nuisance. Here, I saw the effects of desertification: the earth was cracking open. Great fissures splitting open the arid, stony ground. There was not a weed to be seen in a hundred kilometres.  There was nothing to hold the top soil. When it rained, the chemical residue on the trees was washed to the ground. Any top soil still remaining, now polluted with chemicals, was also being washed away, into the rivers. Rivers used to stock reservoirs. Reservoirs that feed into cities and towns for drinking water. The water is contaminated with the chemicals being sprayed all over the farms, the olive trees, the land. In parts of southern Spain, desertification is a swiftly-developing environmental crisis.

For my Olive Route books and films, I had transported myself back as far as 4,000 years BC in Lebanon and Syria where I had found olive trees of that venerable age, 6,000 years, still growing, still fruiting. Now, in Spain, I was staring at the future. The possible future if we do not heed the signs.
By the time I returned from my travels, the plight of the honey bee, its disappearance, was escalating and growing as a topic in public awareness and I was returning full of new knowledge. Our farm has since been run as an organic enterprise. We produce less oil but there are no chemicals in it and the insects, songbirds have slowly returned to the land. We are not endangering nature. Nor are we, through the consumption of our produce, poisoning ourselves.

On 1st June of this year, the US President announced that the US will be withdrawing from the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation. I have read that he has now confirmed this decision in writing although the withdrawal cannot, due to the terms of the agreement, be made effective till 2020. 

The history of the use of some form of pesticide dates back before even the Romans who recycled the paste left over after their olives had been crushed into oil. Roman farmers laid this paste at the feet of the olive trees as a repellant against pests.

                                                     Map of Mesopotamia 2,000 - 1600 BC

Farming, the practice of agriculture, began some 10,000 years ago in Mesopotamia, The Fertile Crescent. The name Mesopotamia comes from the Greek, meaning in between two rivers, The Euphrates and Tigris.  Roughly-speaking it was situated in what today is Iraq, and also included parts of Syria, Iran, and the tip of modern Palestine. Until then, man had been a hunter-gatherer, a nomad, taking/hunting what he needed as he travelled, when he needed it. The decision to create a more sedentary lifestyle and plant food for consumption was a major turning point in our history as a species. In fact, this move towards a more sedentary, agricultural lifestyle was beginning to take place all over the planet. One of the challenges that arose was how to avoids crops being attacked by pests and causing famine within the community. The first recorded use of a pesticide is by the Sumerians about 4,500 years ago. Theirs was a sulphur compound or bricks of sulphur used as a fumigant. As there was no chemical industry, all pesticides had to be of plant or animal derivation or a few from mineral sources. There is quite a bit to be found in Greek and Roman records. Various mixtures of dried plants were smoked to keep insects out of vineyards. Tar was applied to the base of tree trunks to trap creepy, crawling creatures. Pyrethrum, derived from the dried flowers of a chysantheum, Chrysanthemum cinerariaefolium, has been used as an insecticide for over 2,000 years. I came across it on several occasions during my Olive Route travels. There are even some small communities of olive farmers in the eastern basin of the Mediterranean who were, when I met them, using it to repel the olive fly by planting up their groves with this daisy. Crusaders brought these dried daisy heads back from the wars to use against head lice.

During the 1850s in Bordeaux in France, a vineyard producer was having problems with people pilfering grapes from his vines. Thinking that he could make the grapes unattractive to the thieves, he applied a mixture of copper and lime to a section of his vineyards. The result not only deterred thieves, but it was also noticed that where the copper-lime mixture was applied, there was no disease incidence. This copper-lime mixture came to be known as Bordeaux mixture, a commonly used fungicide, even today. The discovery was the beginning of modern fungicide use.

1874, in Strasbourg, Austrian chemist, Othmar Zeidler and Berlin-born, Nobel laureate Adolph von Baeyer, an organic chemist, first synthesised a colourless, tasteless and almost odourless crystalline organochlorine called Dichloro Diphenyl Trichloroethane, better known as DDT. However, its use as an insecticide was only discovered by the Swiss chemist Paul Hermann Mueller in 1939.

Orchard spraying with lead arsenate circa 1900. It was used in orchards in US until 1947 when most farers switched to DDT.

The use of natural repellants continued more or less in the same manner until the second half of the nineteenth-century when lead arsenate was discovered to be useful in the protection of crops. The Chinese in fact had been using arsenic since 900 AD to control their garden insects. In the United States, in 1907, the pest control industry began production of lead arsenate. The birth of one of the world's biggest and most profitable industries was underway. By the beginning of the 1920s, small planes were being used to spray the crops with it.
It was officially banned as an insecticide in August 1988. Studies were showing a high mortality rate, frequently through respiratory cancers, amongst farm labourers who were in direct contact with lead arsenate.
Replacements, alternatives needed to be found.

In 1942, DDT was made available to the US military. It was only a matter of time (1945) before it was put on the market for civilian use. In that same year of 1942, the herbicidal properties of phexoxy acetic acids were being described. This product used predominantly in the United States as a herbicide and grass defoliant contained the component dioxin, which was soon to be used in Agent Orange during the Vietnam War era. Even in 1942, scientists, chemical specialists, were aware that dioxin could easily penetrate the soil and contaminate groundwater.
Big businesses were getting heavily involved. Warfarin was brought onto the market for rodent control. Over the next twenty years a devastating variety and tonnage of chemicals were sprayed, dripped, dropped onto the land, onto fruit farms and agricultural enterprises of every sort. Synthetic pesticides were the new order. Although no one had as yet sounded the alarm bell, food was already being contaminated and the consumers of those foods - beast, man and wild life - were also being contaminated. Our environment was under threat. And many scientists and experts were aware of it.

                                          DDT as a pest control in cities and on beaches. Early 50s, USA

As early as 1945 when DDT was being heavily used as an agricultural and household pesticide, there had already been concerns about its dangers. Findings support DDT being classified as an endocrine disruptor and a trigger for breast cancer. Its Hazard Rating is "high risk".
Yet, it is still used, today, in Africa as a deterrent - 'disease vector control' - against malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

Olga Owens Huckins's letter to the The Boston Herald

In January 1958, a woman, Olga Owens Huckins, wrote a letter to the The Boston Herald stating that the birds around her property had been found dead after an aerial spraying of DDT. She sent a copy of her letter to an eminent scientist friend of hers, Rachel Carson.
A couple of extracts from the letter:
All bees in a large section of the state were killed.
The "harmless" shower hath killed off seven of our lovely songbirds ...
... the grasshoppers, visiting bees, and other harmless insects are gone ... died horribly ...

Carson began to look more deeply into the issues cited. She found a body of scientists who had been documenting the physiological and environmental effects of synthetic pesticides. Unsurprisingly, the material was all classified. Through personal connects she managed to find allies and gain access to the materials.
The public alarm call was sounded on 27th September 1962, which was the publication date of Rachel Carson's now classic book Silent Spring.  Today, fifty-five years later, the book is cited as the seed that gave birth to the environmental movement.
Carson wrote:
"What we have to face is not an occasional dose of poison which has accidentally got into some article of food, but a persistent and continuous poisoning of the whole human environment."

Not surprisingly, the book was met with fierce opposition from the chemical companies. Still, it did achieve something amazing; it led to a ban on the use of DDT in the United States. Banned by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants in 2001, it remains in use in small quantities in Africa, for example, as a mosquito repellent. even though exposure even at low levels can have disastrous heath results.

Carson's book, her work, brought a new awareness to the general public. People began to ask themselves: what cost insect-free fruits. But it has not stopped the spectacular growth of the agrochemical companies. Monsanto, recently purchased by Bayer in Germany, has caused devastating damage worldwide with its Round-up Ready soya beans and Round-up weedkiller, first put on to the market in 1996. As I wrote above, dimethoate-based products were patented in the 1950s by the American chemical company, American Cyanamid. The company, founded in 1907, grew to be a leading conglomerate into the 1970s and 80s. It pioneered the development of feed additives which contain antibiotics and are given to cattle and pigs and can be added to drinking water. The subsequent widespread use of the feeds began to create concern that a resistance to antibiotics was taking place. This is an ongoing and very hotly debated subject. Resistance to antibiotics in animals reared for their milk or meat can/are causing a worldwide resistance in humans to antibiotics. Imagine life before penicillin.
In its later years, American Cyanamid was involved in a series of legal issues related to earlier environmental pollution. Yet, still, right into the twenty-first century, we were able to buy and use products with a base of dimethoate crystals.

It has now been proven that neocinotinoid insecticides, first produced in the 1990s, are threatening the existence of the honeybee; dramatic numbers of hive losses have been recorded in Europe and the United States.  By the 1990s, we should have known better. Science did know better. But we have not listening to the warning bells as far as synthetic agents are concerned. Why are they still being produced? The chemical giants, such as Bayer and Sygenta, have a great deal of power. Greenpeace claimed in 2016 that both Bayer and Sygenta had both chosen not to publish certain research papers which proved that their neonicotinoid products are killing bees. Sygenta went further. It posted on its website: "there is no direct correlation between neonicotinoids use and poor bee health".

It is seventy two years since DDT was give the green light for civilian, public use. Recent research into the longterm effects of DDT show several concerning results including that girls who were exposed to DDT before puberty are five times more likely to develop breast cancer in middle age.

In 2067, seventy years after neonicotinoids were first put on the market, what will be our post mortem?

We are poisoning ourselves, we are destroying our planet, we are preparing to leave a legacy for future generations that will give them untenable living conditions. Weather patterns are crazy. This summer in Europe the temperatures have been hitting the mid-forties. Way above the norm for these areas of the Mediterranean.

One hundred and ninety five countries came together in Paris in December 2015 to sign COP21, adopting the first ever universal, legally-binding global climate deal. The COP21 is a bridge to a better, cleaner planet. It is not specifically about the reduction of chemical use on the earth but agrochemical products have a major part to play in the dangers our planet is currently facing.

This is a massive issue. Thanks to Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, her evidence brought about the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency. But all bodies, agencies, are only as efficient and as honest as though who are managing them. A denial of Climate Change by one of the most  influential nations in the world is a vote for the agrochemical companies, it is a vote for those making fortunes out of fossil fuels. It is not a vote for a cleaner, safer planet.

One courageous woman in her time gave her voice. Rachel Carson made a monumental difference.  Yet, still, fifty-five years on, we remain at the mercy of synthetic chemicals - newer, more advanced chemicals - and our problems have escalated. I have seen on our own tiny patch a transformation, a return towards something healthier. The giant chemical companies who state that they are about 'feeding the planet' are lying to us, fudging facts. They are about greed and money. They do not have our planet's best interest at heart.

I do not believe we can sit back and remain silent. We have little time left. There is no time to remain silent.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Richard Dadd by Miranda Miller

   The artist Richard Dadd appears as a minor character in my sixth novel, Nina in Utopia.

When I finished writing it he was still very much alive for me, so I decided to give him a novel of his own, The Fairy Visions of Richard Dadd.

Richard Dadd was born exactly 200 years ago, in Chatham, in Kent. His father, Robert Dadd, was a chemist who lectured on Chemistry and Geology and was interested in both science and art. Richard was the fourth of seven children, four of whom were considered insane at the time of their death. When he was seven Richard’s mother died and his father remarried, but his second wife also died, leaving two sons. As a widower with nine children Robert Dadd must have worried about money and about their future. Richard, in his early teens, showed signs of talent as an artist and it may have been because of his vicarious ambition for his son that in 1834, when Richard was 17, the family moved from Chatham to London. Robert Dadd bought a framing, gilding and bronzing business in Suffolk Street. After teaching himself to draw in the British Museum, Richard became a student at the Royal Academy schools, which had just moved from Somerset House to the very new National Gallery, a five minute walk from his family house.

     As an art student at the prestigious Royal Academy Schools Richard was taught by Maclise, Etty, Landseer and Turner. He was considered exceptionally promising and won three silver medals, including one for the best life drawing. His closest friends were William Powell Frith and Augustus Egg, both of whom later had enormous success.

   Frith’s paintings, Ramsgate Sands, The Railway Station and Derby Day were immensely popular as pictures of everyday life that were just sentimental enough to flatter the idea of themselves that middle class Victorians had. When they were first shown at the Royal Academy they attracted so many admirers that a railing had to to put up to keep the crowds back. In Derby Day, (1858), Richard Dadd appears, wearing a fez. In my novel, which is set the previous year, Frith comes to visit Richard in the hospital. Augustus Egg’s most famous works, also painted in 1858, are three oil paintings called Past and Present, which show a woman who commits adultery and so falls from a state of married bliss, surrounded by her children, to become an outcast.This is the final painting. Didactic and moralistic, it appealed to Victorian taste.

   In Tate Britain you can see The Fairy Feller’s Masterstroke, Richard Dadd’s most famous painting, which appears on the cover of my novel (see above), Derby Day and Past and Present.  I think it’s very moving to imagine these three ambitious young art students in the 1840s, getting drunk together and criticising each other’s work arguing furiously - and then, 170 years later, having their paintings hung in the same world famous gallery.

   Richard’s family couldn’t support him and when he finished his art course he had to struggle to get commissions. He had already exhibited work at the Society of British Artists, almost next door to his family house in Suffolk Street, and at the British Institution in Pall Mall. He was interested in imaginative art and was painting fairies, and although he managed to get various commissions then, as now, it was very hard to earn a living as an artist.

   He never would have been able to afford any kind of grand tour by himself but a Welsh solicitor, Sir Thomas Phillips,who had just been knighted by Queen Victoria for shooting Chartists, invited Richard to accompany him as his pet artist. Twenty years later, of course, Phillips would have taken a camera. In July 1842 the two men set out on a ten month journey to Italy, Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Egypt. Here’s a drawing Richard did of his patron, all dressed up in traditional Arab robes.
    As Richard comments in my novel, Phillips looks more like a wet night in Pontypool than an Arabian one. This journey must have been fascinating, exhausting and confusing. Writing home to Frith, Richard said that when he lay down at the end of the day his imagination was “so full of wild vagaries that I have really and truly doubted of my own sanity.” He probably smoked hashish and it is now known that drugs can trigger schizophrenic episodes in vulnerable young people. Richard imagined that he was being persecuted by evil spirits who took on various forms: a sea captain, an old lady in the Vatican galleries in Rome and Phillips himself, and he became obsessed by the idea that he was a ‘catspaw’ of the Egyptian god Osiris. When they reached Paris, on the way home, Phillips wanted him to see a doctor but at the end of May 1843 Richard fled back to London.

   That summer Richard’s behaviour became increasingly strange and paranoid. His friends and family were naturally very worried about him and his landlady was terrified of him. Richard’s father, Robert, insisted that his son was suffering from sunstroke and needed rest and quiet. Soon after Richard’s twenty-sixth birthday, Robert Dadd took him to see Dr Alexander Sutherland, a famous ‘mad doctor’ at St Luke’s Hospital in Old Street, who told him that his son was very ill and should stay in the hospital.

   Despite this Robert Dadd was convinced that he knew his son better than anyone else and that a trip to the country would help. Father and son set off together for Cobham, in Kent, to revisit the area where Richard had grown up. That night they went for a walk in the grounds of Cobham Park, where Richard stabbed and killed his father.

   It was one of the most sensational Victorian murders. Richard had brought a spring knife, passport and money to Cobham with him, so the murder was clearly premeditated. After killing his father Richard fled abroad. He later told a doctor he was on his way to assassinate the Emperor of Austria and was soon arrested after he tried to cut the throat of a fellow passenger in a carriage in France. Eventually he was extradited and in August 1844 was confined for life to the criminal lunatic department of the Bethlem hospital, or bedlam, which was in the building that is now the Imperial War Museum.

   The most impressive thing about those long years of incarceration is that they were not lost; Richard continued to draw and paint and here is one of my favourites.

   It’s known as The Flight out of Egypt but we don’t know what Dadd himself called it; it  certainly isn't a straightforward biblical story. The colours are  vivid and beautiful and it seems to be a mixture of his own intense experience of travelling through the hot desert and encountering a phantasmagoria of palm trees, people of all ages and races, pilgrims on their Haj, soldiers in Roman uniforms and, perhaps, unexpected aspects of himself. Like The Fairy Feller’s Masterstroke, this painting remains mysterious however many times you look at it.

   I expected to find that patients in a mental hospital in the 1850s were treated abominably but, when I visited the Bethlem archives at Eden Park in Kent, I discovered  that in 1853 a new young Resident Physician, Dr Charles Hood, was appointed. He carried out a number of reforms after a public scandal about the way the inmates were mistreated. Dr Hood abolished chains and other mechanical restraints and tried to make the wards comfortable. In 1857, the year my novel is set, an article in Household Words, the magazine Dickens edited, described a visit to the hospital and concluded hat “thousands of middle class homes contain nothing so pretty as a ward in Bedlam,” and that, “as to all the small comforts of life, patients in Bethlehem are as much at liberty to make provision for themselves as they would be at home”. Dr Hood removed bars from the windows and introduced aviaries, pets, plants and pictures to the wards. Keepers were given training and became more like nurses and patients were encouraged to occupy and entertain themselves.

   All the time I was writing about Richard Dadd this photograph of him haunted me and I looked at it constantly.

   It was taken in about 1857, the year my novel is set, and shows Dadd, aged 40, in the hospital at his easel, where the unfinished oval of Contradiction: Oberon and Titania (another of his fairy paintings) sits, waiting for the brush he holds to continue to bring it to life. He stares at the camera, at us, with recognition and warmth, looking more like an artist in his studio than a prisoner in his cell.

   In fact 1857 was the year when Dadd was moved from the grim, Home Office block at the back of the hospital, where the criminal lunatics were housed, to the main part of the hospital, where he was given a spacious room to paint in. He went, quite literally, from darkness to light and this resulted in his best work, although he had heroically carried on painting and drawing even during the thirteen years when he was incarcerated in the overcrowded and dungeon- like conditions of the criminal lunatic block. The doctors in the hospital encouraged and even collected his work. In 1863 he was transferred to the new Broadmoor hospital in Berkshire, where he remained until his death in 1886.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

WHEN CLARET WAS PINK: Wine production in the Middle Ages by Elizabeth Chadwick

British Library
On Raisin wine:

"One who takes this is especially exhilarated and restored by a raisin wine which is clear to the bottom of the cup, in its clarity similar to the tears of a penitent, and the colour is that of an oxhorn.  It descends like lightning up on one who takes it - most tasty as an almond nut, quick as a squirrel, frisky as a kid, strong in the manner of a host of Cistercians or grey monks, emitting a kind of spark; it is supplied with the subtley of a syllogism of petit pont, delicate as fine cotton, it exceeds crystal in coolness."  

 This lyrical analysis stands up to anything that today's wine critics might write.  It was penned in the early 13th century by one Alexander Nequam, a monk of St Albans who had grown up sharing his mother Hodierna's breastmilk with none other than Richard the Lionheart, whose wetnurse she was.  Clearly he was a connoisseur from the start of his drinking life.

My characters imbibe a lot of wine in my novels.  The protagonists usually have a high status lifestyle and this tends to be their drink of habit.  Often the first thing they do when they walk into a room is reach for a flagon (or have the servant do it).

But what sort of wine were they drinking?  

I had always somehow assumed that the standard medieval wine was a robust red. That's how it always appears in films and books,  but researching recently I found that (as in all things when you actually begin digging) it ain't necessarily so.  Most of the wines produced in Northern Europe, including Britain were whites. During the 12th century  most of the wine imported across the Channel from the Continent was a light, acidic white and the wine of choice for the wine drinkers in the population.  Henry II granted the burgesses of Rouen a monopoly on the export of wines to England.
When Rouen fell to the French in the early 13th century, trade turned for a couple of decades to the port of La Rochelle.  Here too, the Poitevan wines sold to the English market were similar acidic whites.  When in 1224, La Rochelle fell to France, the English had to look elsewhere for their wine. Fortunately for them, Bordeaux was still within their jurisdiction and for the next two hundred years, it became the focus of the wine trade between England and France.  Tastes had to change, for the wine of this region was red.  However, don't imagine that it was the full-blooded colour we see today on our supermarket shelves.  The 'vin ordinaire' of late medieval England was more akin to a modern rosé.  There was a wine known as 'clairet', the ancestor of modern claret, but it was pink.  There was a wine drink known as 'clarry' but it had nothing to do with claret and was a spiced wine sweetened with honey and with additions of ginger, saffron and pepper.
Noah, first treading grapes and then getting drunk!
British Library

How was the wine made? 

For white wine the grapes were collected in baskets and tipped into large vats where they were trodden by workers or crushed by planks of wood and the first juice collected to make wine.  The remaining mulch was put through a wine press to extract more liquid from the mulch.  This was put into barrels where fermentation occurred in a matter of days. The barrels were put in a fermentation barn and then it was the luck of the draw with regard to temperature how well that process would go.  Too cold and there would be no fermentation and too much heat would stop the process.  Too lively a fermentation and the barrel might explode!  Some German growers of Rhenish wine were known to keep their barns heated in order to promote fermentation.

With red wines, fermentation was a longer process. Sometimes stalks were removed from the grapes before processing in order to lessen the tannin content and bring forward the time when they were ready to drink. Red grapes fermented rapidly and so it was necessary not to fill the vats to the brim lest they overflowed and also that the people treading the grapes always had their heads above the rim of the vat lest they were overcome by carbon dioxide poisoning.

Once fermentation had begun - usually within hours, the vats were covered with planks.   On top of the fermenting must, the skins, pips and debris would float.  Now it was the wine-maker's professional skill to decide how many times to push this debric back into the fermenting mixture and how long to leave the ferment. The longer the ferment, the more strongly coloured the wine.  The earlier mentioned pink rosé or vin clairet for the English market was generally ready in a day. Meanwhile, the flotation material was eventually skimmed off and pressed through a wine press.  It might be pressed as much as three times, becoming more bitter with each pressing.
Angel giving grapes to a devil sitting on a wine press.
British Library
Once all the juice had been extracted from the crushed grapes, the debris was then mixed with water and left to ferment for 3 days.  This produced an almost colourless drink at around 2% proof with various names in different regions, piquette being one such name, or buvande.  It was cheap and drunk by the poor and by thirsty workers.  Finally, the mulch was mixed with straw and put on the fields.
This new wine was quickly sent from the producers to the market.  It didn't keep and transportation could play havoc with the contents.  Last year's wine was viewed as decidedly dodgy by buyers and the preference was always for 'New Wine'. We are told by cleric Peter of Blois who served at the  Angevin court, all about the terrible wine served by Henry II.  Apparently it was 'stale, sour, thick, greasy, and tasting of pitch from the cask.  'I have sometimes seen even great lords served with wine so muddy that a man must needs close his eyes and clench his teeth, wry-mouthed and shuddering, and filtering the stuff rather than drinking.'  
Noah wasn't the only one getting drunk. An Italian illustration
of women, one in particular, the worse for wear...!  British Library
The most prestigious wines of all, known as 'sweet wines' came from Greece.  Known variously as malmsey, (malvoise in France) Romeney, Vernage, Tyre, muscadel, or Greek wine, it was produced in the Eastern Mediterranean, especially mainland Greece.  It was exported to Europe by the Venetians from the port of Monemvasia. Malmsey was also produced in Crete and exported via the port of Candia.  Sweet wine grapes were harvested late when the grapes had been semi-dried by the sun and were more like raisins.  This increased the sweetness and the alcohol content. The wine also stored better and could be kept for more than one season.
It's one of these type of wines that Alexander Nequam praises so fulsomely at the top of this blog.
Saintonge wine jug 1350-75.  British Museum
Something else I came across recently with reference to wine was reading a plaque beside a wine jug in a museum (I'm afraid I've forgotten which museum, I've been on something of a fest recently!) but the comment was made that along with wine imports also came sales of fancy jugs in which to serve that wine and that opportunity was a big hit with consumers - a clever way of diversifying and maximising profits!

There is far more to be said about the wine trade than I can fit into this short article.  I can highly recommend the below book for further reading though for anyone wanting to read up more thoroughly on the subject.

I raise my jug

Elizabeth Chadwick is one of the UK's best selling historical novelists with a passion for all things medieval.  She enjoys wine best in a casserole and prefers to drink tea!