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London: 2000 years of history (channel 5)

Who let Dan Jones out? At least, as in his last outing, he is accompanied both by a historian (Suzannah Lipscomb) and an engineer (Rob Bell), narrating and illustrating almost two millennia of the city’s past.

In the first episode, we were taken through the walled city of “Londinium” being built and rebuilt after Boudicca’s revolt. Whilst Bell showed us the Kent stone from which the original Tower was built, we were told about the Ampitheatre and the remains, near Spitalfields, that include the “Lamb Street Teenager” and the slaves that helped to build the city, strategically located on the Thames. Some archaeology has resulted from the building of Crossrail.
As Roman Britain ended and the Anglo-Saxons arrived, their original city (“Londonwych”) was on a smaller scale. Viking raids followed and Alfred moved the city inside the Roman walls as “Londonburgh”, as broken glass and pottery found near Covent Garden testifies, with the previous entity further east now being known as Aldwych. Although the Vikings took the city, Ethelred II reconquered it and destroyed London Bridge as well.
The programme finished with William I’s coronation on Christmas Day 1066, followed by his rebuilding of the Tower with Norman stone, not to be confused with this historian, with the domes later added by Henry VIII.

The second episode showed us Westminster Abbey, later to be rebuilt at great expense by  Henry III, in a smaller city then separate from London, where every coronation since Harold II has taken place, followed by Westminster Hall, where Wallace, Fawkes and Charles I were all sentenced to death. Half of the evolving city’s population fell victim to the Black Death, after which Richard Whittington, younger son of a Gloucestershire knight, really did serve as Mayor three or four times under Richard II and Henry IV. The population then increased exponentially to the days of the wealthy Cardinal Wolsey, who built Whitehall Palace before falling from Henry VIII’s favour, so Henry and his successors occupied it from 1530 until the fire of 1698. This part ended with Elizabeth I knighting Drake aboard the Golden Hind.

Week three covered the Great Fire, which the trio had previously examined in much greater detail, although they did mention Pepys’ description, the probable origin in a Monument Lane bakery, the timber-framed buildings of the old city and the easterly wind that spread the fire. Although we can see the new St. Paul’s today, Wren’s original plan for the area was even more radical, featuring a Glasgow-style grid of streets. London then expanded to the west for merchants and their imports via the Thames, whilst the poor stayed in the east where gin was popular. In the nineteenth century, industrialisation caused the city’s population to rise rapidly, although smog became a factor.
London Bridge became the city’s first rail terminus, in 1836, before Euston was built and Paddington was soon added to serve Brunel’s Great Western lines. The steep hills of Hampstead were overcome through a man-made valley, as Bell showed by visiting the abandoned Highgate station, allowing London to expand to the north. Poor water hygiene caused a cholera outbreak, which Bazalgette’s civil engineering solved with pumping stations, sewers and the reclaiming of land. Heavy traffic then necessitated the strengthening of the ancient bridges. The reclaimed land (Embankment) and Great Fire site (Monument) are both remembered on the Underground map.

The series concluded by pointing out that road congestion was quite possibly worse in 1860 than it is now, as trains were banned from running within two miles of the epicentre at street level. The solution was to run them underground, with the Metropolitan line being started first by “cut and cover” and the Northern line, authentically bored, to follow. Residents moved out of the first engineered areas to the east, leaving Shoreditch and Whitechapel overcrowded with twice the mortality level of London as a whole. By 1890, the capital had five million residents and Charles Booth’s “poverty map” highlighted a quarter of these, with the worst cases in the East End, where “Jack the Ripper” preyed on some of them. From the maps, living conditions were addressed and the worst slums demolished. Following Edward VII’s accession in January 1901, recognisable modern buildings such as Admiralty Arch, the MI5 building and the War Office arose. Visitors could stay in hotels such as the Savoy and shop at Selfridges as we can do today. Suffragettes were active before the First World War, during which they suspended their activities and many worked in armaments manufacture, for instance at the Royal Ordnance factory known as the Woolwich Arsenal.
Air warfare came to London with Zeppelin bombs in 1915. In the remainder of the conflict, there were thirty raids killing forty thousand people, including thirty children at Poplar in 1917. Armistice Day was followed by the “Spanish ‘flu”, which was generally three times as deadly as the war itself, with some 20,000 deaths in London alone. In the following years, houses were built along the expanded Metropolitan Lane, taking in towns such as Pinner and Harrow, and advertised in a “Metroland” magazine to raise the population to 8.6 million. The Blitz brought the Second World War to London a year after the start but, importantly, after the corrugated tin structures known as Anderson shelters were made available. It happened on fifty-seven consecutive nights in the first instance and a total of two million homes were damaged or destroyed. Replacing these and housing Commonwealth immigration from 1948 was hampered by the Green Belt so that London could no longer expand outwards, only upwards. As freight expanded, containers could no longer fit into the Thames so the docks were less busy from the sixties, in favour of more coastal ports. However, Docklands regeneration was initiated in the eighties as the City was pushed eastwards to Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs. In a further effort to relieve congestion, the great Crossrail project opens later this year with twenty six miles of new tunnels, forty-two metres below ground, providing a unique archaeological opportunity to view London’s past.

In conclusion, it is possible to enjoy a history programme with Dan Jones, so long as he has at least two colleagues and cannot simply indulge his prejudices against particular figures. The second half of the series was more a social and economic history, which is a further restraint.

How did the Black Prince’s funeral procession cross the River Darent….?

Dartford - medieval map

Does anyone out there know the answer to a puzzle that has cropped up in my research? Watling Street, the Roman road, was the main route between London and Canterbury, Dover, etc. This made it very important. Watling Street passed through Dartford, crossing over the tidal River Darent. But wait, there wasn’t a bridge there until the reign of Henry VI. There was a ferry. Does this mean that before then, every traveller on the road, royalty and all, had to use the ferry? The river was tidal, so did they have to wait for suitable water for the ferry to cross? I can’t see that wading across at low water would be advisable in all that mud…and certainly not for the royal hearse drawn by twelve horses that passed through Dartford in 1376! It all seems very unsatisfactory for one of the main roads in the land. And very undignified for the great Edward of Woodstock, known to us as the Black Prince, who was being mourned throughout the realm.

Yes, I know there were  other rivers to cross elsewhere in England, and other ferries instead of bridges, but I am concerned with this road, river and ferry.

In September 1376, the prince’s great funeral procession went through Dartford on its way to Canterbury. Depending on the size of the ferry, such a vast cavalcade would have taken ages to cross. Granted, Dartford was probably the first overnight halt out of London for this ponderous cavalcade, but even so, the bridgeless Darent must have caused a bottleneck second to none.

Researching (meaning my way of researching, which is pretty amateur) Edward of Woodstock’s funeral has produced only what he instructed in his will. Plus I know how long it took, i.e. arriving in Canterbury on the fourth day after setting out. But then, full stop. Oh, there is more available about the actual arrival at journey’s end, but that is not the part of the proceedings with which I am concerned. The actual mechanics of the first three days of the journey, if covered by anyone, have eluded me.

And when the funeral cortege halted, would the prince’s coffin be placed overnight in Holy Trinity church, which is right next to the Darent crossing? Or would it stop on the northern outskirts of the town, where there was a royal palace/house, with appropriate land/space for all the people and horses? Or was it a mix of both – the prince in the church, everyone and everything else in the royal house? To say nothing of filling up the rest of the town as well. Dartford must have bulged at the seams. All the royal family, all the higher nobility, lots of lower nobility, the denizens of Parliament, priests, and all sorts of other Toms, Dicks and Harrys.

Oh, questions, questions! I want to be accurate in a description of all this, and would love someone to “conjure” an earlier bridge into existence. A vain hope, I fear.

So, if anyone knows anything at all, please let me know.

Another myth about men “not breaking oaths to Richard”. . . .

Henry's route through Wales in 1485

Well, I’ve heard the tale of Sir Rhys ap Thomas hiding under a bridge for Henry to march over him on the way to Bosworth, thus not breaking Sir Rhys’s oath of loyalty to Richard, but this is a new one on me!

Rhys ap Thomas under the bridge

Now we have this new variation, from  http://tudortimes.co.uk/military-warfare/1485-battle-of-bosworth/henrys-march :-

“. . .when Henry, now strengthened by Sir Rhys ap Thomas, and a contingent of men from North Wales, reached the town of Shrewsbury, to cross the Severn into England, the town gates were closed against him and the town bailiff, Thomas Mitton, announced that, as he had sworn allegiance to Richard, he could not allow Richmond to pass.

“The closure of the town of Gloucester to the Lancastrians in 1471, preventing the crossing of the Severn, had proved disastrous for them – would the same be the case for Henry at Shrewsbury? Henry assured the bailiff that he and his men would do no damage and that they would not interfere with his oath, but Mitton was adamant.

“The next morning however, there was a change of heart. . .due to the intervention of Sir William Stanley.

“Henry and his men passed through – apparently with Henry stepping his horse carefully over Mitton’s body, to preserve the word of the man’s oath – although the same story is told in other circumstances of other men, so may be apocryphal. Impressed by Henry, or perhaps cowed by Sir William, the town then paid £4 4s 10d for soldiers for him. . .”

shrewsbury_traitors_gate_640

               Traitors’ Gate, Shrewsbury town wall. Let’s hope it was the one Henry passed beneath!

But the above site is not the original source for this story. There is an earlier one.

“An interesting anecdote of Thomas Mytton is related in the following extract from Owen and Blakeway’s History of Shrewsbury, vol. i, p. 245, describing the incidents of the Earl of Richmond’s (Henry VII) march through Shropshire to Bosworth Field:- “He delayed his march to Shrewsbury till he was master of Forton and Montford Bridge, two points of main importance to his designs, as he was thus provided with a passage into the midland counties, even though this town should shut her gates upon him. Having secured that bridge, which, if the Salopians had been hearty in the cause of Richard, they would have broken down, his army encamped upon Forton Heath, and he despatched messengers to Shrewsbury to summon the town. When they arrived at the foot of the Welsh bridge, they found the place in a posture of defence; the gates shut, the portcullis let down, and the bailiffs within ready to give their answer. “The senior of these magistrates for that year was Thomas Mytton, Esq., whom we have lately seen as Sheriff of the county, engaged in the arrest of the Duke of Buckingham. He is described in an old chronicle as ‘ a stout wise gentleman’, and made answer that he knew the Earl for no King, but ‘ only Kynge Rychard, whose lyffetenants he and hys fellowe weare, and before he shoulde enter there, he should goe over hys belly’, meaninge thereby, continues our authority, ‘ that he would be slayne to the grounde and so to (be) roon over (by) him before he entryd; and that he protested vehemently upon the othe he dad taken.’

“Much conversaton, we may suppose, ensued, but Mr. Mytton continuing resolute, the Earl ‘ retornyd’, says our chronicle, ‘ wyth hys companye backe agayn to Forton . . . .’ On the following morning the negotiation with the Bailiffs of Shrewsbury was renewed, and the Earl assured the magistrates that he did not mean to hurt the town or any of its inhabitants, but only desired to pass on to try his right to the Crown. We are told that Mr. Mytton began to yeald to these suggestions, but that on account of the oath he had so lately taken to oppose the entrance of Richmond into Shrewbury, he adopted the ingenious expedient of lying down on the ground and permitting the Earl to step over him. Thereupon the portcullis was drawn up, and the Earl and his retinue admitted within the gates, to the general joy of the inhabitants, and received, we are assured, ‘ with an Ave chaire (Xaipe), and God speede the wel! the streets being strowed with hearbes and flowers, and their doores adorned with greene boughs, in testimony of a true hartie reception.'”

Well, Henry was still some way from Bosworth, so I imagine there are a few more such myths waiting in the wings. They’ll be throwing their cloaks over puddles next! Or dropping their garters!

 

The treacherous Welshman who supposedly killed Richard III….!

 

Rhys ap Thomas

A few days ago I watched a TV documentary about Rhys ap Thomas, The Man Who Killed Richard III. It made my Welsh blood boil! The man was a bullying, thieving snake, not a hero! Anyway, here is the TV company’s blurb:-

“Who killed Richard III?

http://www.historychannel.com.au/shows/man-killed-richard-iii/

“This is a story of conspiracy and betrayal, of a lust for power and a lost allegiance; the story of the man who killed King Richard III.

“In this documentary we set out to prove that the Welshman Sir Rhys ap Thomas, master of Carew Castle in Pembrokeshire, killed King Richard III, changing the course of British history.

“Sir Rhys ap Thomas had sworn allegiance to King Richard III. He had accumulated lands and status in Wales that were dependent, in part, on his loyalty to Richard. But at the Battle of Bosworth he betrayed him, fighting on the side of Henry Tudor. He dealt the fatal blow to Richard III.

“We uncover what drove Rhys ap Thomas to betray not only his master but a King – and we reveal his remarkable story; from a childhood embroiled in the War of the Roses and exile to the continent, to a determined and ambitious man who brought an abrupt end to the Plantagenet line, carving the way for his own rise to power at the heart of the Tudor dynasty.”

Whether the fellow really did kill Richard at Bosworth I don’t know. Nobody really does, but he gets the kudos…or notoriety, according to which side you support. Welsh blood or not, I support Richard. Go on, you hadn’t guessed, had you? My unbiased views masked it completely.

The documentary made much of the fact that Rhys would have supported Richard against Henry Tudor, had not Richard demanded custody of Rhys’ four-year-old son as a hostage, to make certain of Rhys’ loyalty. This, apparently, was too much for the Welshman’s honour, so he refused, and Richard (who was clearly and rightly suspicious anyway) was alerted to his duplicity. Well, honour didn’t figure much in Rhys’ later career, which was decidedly dishonest and acquisitive of property that was not his to take. Hmm, in that regard he is worthy of Henry VII. He was certainly ambitious in many ways, having numerous mistresses with whom he attempted to populate the whole of Wales! Or so it seemed.

They referred to Richard III as Richard of York. Sorry, that was his father. Richard III was Richard of Gloucester. Oh, and there was a Duke of Oxford. Sorry, he was only an Earl. Who are these people who are paid to do the research? And there was no mention of WHY Richard came to the throne, just that he did and was believed to have killed his nephews in the process. Convenient, because it made him sound as horrible as Rhys. The word ruthless cropped up as well. with regard to Richard, of course.

It was selective reporting of which Tydder would have been proud, and it gave me indigestion. And me born in Pontypridd and brought up in Cilfynydd and St Athan!

The programme did dispose of one myth, the one where Rhys vowed loyalty and swore to Richard that Henry Tudor would only passed through Wales over his body! The story goes that this was achieved by Rhys lying under a bridge while Tudor and his invading army passed over. It seems that the truth is that the two armies (Tudor’s and Rhys’) simply took different routes and thus avoided each other until, presumably, the English border was reached.

There was an almost redeeming moment. Right at the very end. The presenters had to admit that Rhys was a turncoat. That’s putting it mildly. I wonder if he would have been so keen to support the Tudors if he’d known that his family was to lose everything and Henry VIII was to execute his grandson as a traitor?

Anyway, it’s believed that right at the end of his life, Rhys had cause to reflect upon his guilt where Richard was concerned. Nice one, Rhys. Wait until the pearly gates appear out of the mist in front of you, and then hastily repent and seek forgiveness. I only hope the Almighty had been making copious notes over the years!

A humorous account of what really happened with Rhys and that bridge can be found here.

Note: Rhys’ grandson, Rhys ap Gryffudd (aka fitzUryan), who was executed for treason in 1531/2, was married to Katherine Howard, granddaughter of the first Duke of Norfolk. They were ancestors of Lucy Walter.
Sir William Parker, who was a standard bearer at Bosworth, was the grandfather of Jane, Viscountess Rochford, who was also beheaded under Henry VIII, with Katherine’s cousin and namesake.

Richard’s brother George built a bridge at Tewkesbury….?

Quay or Key Bridge, Tewkesbury

It seems that George, Duke of Clarence, may have built a bridge in Tewkesbury. Known as Quay or Key Bridge, it crossed the river to Healings Mill on the island meadow known as The Ham, which is caught in the confluence of the Severn and the Avon.

Is this connection with George well known, making me a latecomer to the scene? Or is it something that has slipped general attention? The reference was found in a leaflet about The Ham at Tewkesbury. http://www.visittewkesbury.info/…/17…/hamhistoryleaflet2.pdf – which in turn points to a book called ‘The Book of Tewkesbury’, 1986, by Kathleen Ross, as the source. This title is available at Amazon http://tinyurl.com/z6rz45f

The above illustration is of the old Quay/Key Bridge. Not the original bridge of George’s, I’m sure, but its second incarnation. And here is a view of the bridge in modern times. (not my photograph)

Quay or Key Bridge Tewkesbury today

The eagle-eyed Susan Kokomo Lamb (thank you, Sue!) also drew my attention to another interesting reference in the Tewkesbury leaflet about The Ham. It is again referenced to the same book by Kathleen Lamb, and concerns the Duke of Buckingham’s ill-fated rebellion of 1483. The flood that brought his plans to an ignominious halt was, according to the book, known in Tewkesbury as Buckingham’s Water. To me, the inference is that he was halted trying to cross the river at Tewkesbury. Well, I have never heard Tewkesbury given as a precise point.

I found the following alternative reference to the flood, which gives Gloucester as the duke’s intended crossing point: ‘In the second year of Richard III in the month of October 1483, as the Duke of Buckingham was advancing by long marches through the Forest of Dean to Gloucester, where he designed to pass with his army over the Severn, there was so great an inundation of water that men were drowned in their beds, houses were overturned, children were carried about the fields swimming in cradles, beasts were drowned on the hills. Which rage of water lasted for ten days and nights, and it is to this day in the counties thereabout called ‘The Great Water’ or ‘The Duke of Buckingham’s Water’ (Gloucester Journal November 1770) See http://www2.glos.ac.uk/severnfloods/Textsite/gloucs2.htm

But one thing is certain . . . there may be other interesting snippets in Kathleen Lamb’s ‘Book of Tewkesbury’. Maybe a detailed read would be in order?

 

Update: Having now acquired the book by Kathleen Ross, I can say that George, Duke of Clarence, appears to have been responsible for more than just Quay/Key Bridge, but also saw to the cutting of the Mill Avon, i.e. the branch of the Avon that now passes Quay Street and is probably the most well-known, most photographed waterway in Tewkesbury. See page 105. 

There is another tradition that monks were responsible for both ventures. I prefer to think it was George.

 

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