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Archive for the tag “wool”

Edward I and nursery rhymes go together….um, no, they don’t….!

 

Edward I, Westminster Abbey

Well, I associate Edward I with many things, but not children’s nursery rhymes. I can imagine him being used to frighten them witless, but not to sing and chant with humour. Anyway, according to this site two of our oldest rhymes are due to old Longshanks. I find it hard to believe the Dr Foster explanation! Would anyone with a least a single grey cell dare to refer to Edward as Dr Foster?Not if they wanted to keep their heads on their necks.

Anyway, here are the two rhymes said to be associated with Edward:-

“….Baa Baa Black Sheep,
Have you any wool?
Yes, sir, yes, sir,
Three bags full;
One for the master,
One for the dame,
And one for the little boy
Who lives down the lane.

“….Not surprisingly this rhyme is all about sheep, and the importance of sheep to the English economy. Until the late 16th century the final lines of the rhyme read “And none for the little boy who cries down the lane.” It was changed to the current version in order to cheer it up and make it into a song more suitable for children.

“….In medieval England, the wool trade was big business. There was enormous demand for it, mainly to produce cloth and everyone who had land, from peasants to major landowners, raised sheep. The great English landowners including lords, abbots and bishops began to count their wealth in terms of sheep, with some flocks totalling over 8,000 animals, all tended by dozens of full-time shepherds.

“….After returning from the crusades in 1272, Edward I imposed new taxes on the wool trade in order to pay for his military ventures. It is believed that this wool tax forms the background to the rhyme. One-third of the price of each bag, or sack sold, was for the king (the master); one-third to the monasteries, or church (the dame); and none to the poor shepherd (the little boy who lives down the lane) who had tirelessly tended and protected the flock.

“….Doctor Foster
Went to Gloucester
In a shower of rain
He stepped in a puddle
Right up to his middle
And never went there again

“….Although first published in 1844, the origins to this rhyme may date back more than 700 years, to the time of King Edward I. Edward was known by several nicknames, a powerful man, over six feet tall he was often referred to as Longshanks, but he was also recognised as a clever and learned man and hence earned the title Dr Foster; the origins of the Foster part are lost in time. Not a great fan of the Welsh, no doubt Edward was visiting Gloucester due to the town’s strategic position at a major crossing of the River Seven into Wales….”

“….The story goes that the king arrived during a storm and mistaking a shallow puddle for a deep ditch steered his horse in that direction. Both horse and rider became trapped in the mire and had to be hauled out; infuriated and no doubt embarrassed by the humiliation, he vowed never to return to the town….”

Yes, it’s Edward I from “Braveheart”. Say no more – he’d terrify me!

 

The Staple

In early medieval times, ‘the staple’ meant England’s staple export: wool. But it was inconvenient and inefficient for the king’s men to collect the customs duties that were payable on the exported wool from every one of the hundreds of little English ports all around the country. London, Bristol, Ipswich and Sandwich were major ports but little ships could sail from any small harbour or river estuary. Therefore, since wherever the ships had sailed from, they were all taking their cargo of wool to Flanders (modern day Belgium and north-east France), it was easier to collect the customs when they arrived at their destination. In 1313, Edward II ordained that all merchants had to land their ‘staple’ at a port he would designate. During the Hundred Years War, England acquired Calais from the French and from the mid-fifteenth century until 1558 this port became the convenient Calais Staple, where customs duties were collected on all English wool exports.

From “A Year in the Life of Medieval England” by Toni Mount.

The image is Old bird’s-eye view plan of Calais by Braun & Hogenberg 1597

A corkscrew made from bits of Old London Bridge….

London Bridge corkscrew

In 2014, a broken Victorian corkscrew made from pieces of old London Bridge was bought for £40,000 at an auction in Essex, over 100 times its asking price. See this article/, from which the following is taken:-

“The corkscrew, the components of which are thought to be up to 800 years old, was bought by an “anonymous European collector” at the sale in Colchester.

“Sold by Reeman Dansie Auctioneers (which last year old a collection of photographs showing German pilots from WWI drinking champagne) the corkscrew had an asking price of just £400 – £600.

“John Benson, the auctioneer at the sale, said the bid “caught us all unawares” and apparently there was a round of applause when the gavel came down.

“Engraved with the words: “”Made from the Iron Shoe that was taken from a pillar. That was 656 Years in the Foundation of Old London Bridge,” the corkscrew was made by Ovenston of 72 Great Titchfield Street in London.

London Bridge - The new bridge was built 180 feet west of the old Bridge and for a time Londoners could see both the old bridge and the new side-by-side.

The new bridge was built 180 feet west of the old bridge and for a time Londoners could see both the old bridge and the new side-by-side.

“However, despite being in relatively good condition the corkscrew does not work properly, the catalogue explaining that the “ratchet does not engage with the spring”.

“Old London Bridge was built between 1176 and the early 13th century, paid for with a tax on wool imposed by King Henry II (when England was the centre of the European wool trade), famously covered in houses and shops (see below) it was torn down in 1831 when new London Bridge was opened (and which now resides in Havasu City, Arizona).

“The current London Bridge is at least the fourth incarnation of the famous span and was built between 1967 and 1972, opening in March 1973.”

London Bridge - toward the end

London Bridge toward the end

 

 

A pastoral tale

This article investigates why, as the Mediaeval Warm Period drew to a close, Britain (and particularly England) developed differently to many nations of Southern Europe.

Sandbrook mentions two major cultural factors: the tradition of salting bacon because ham could not be dry-cured and the evolution of the wool trade through the systematic elimination of the flock’s only natural predator – the wolf – through a hunting campaign led by Peter Corbet, from a Shropshire family, under Edward I. Corbet, who fought at Falkirk, may even have given his name to this.

Sheep could now safely be domesticated and their numbers greatly expanded. In Florence, the Medici saw the banking system develop as a result. In England, the best evidence is all around us. Whilst the Woolsack (left) has been a dominant feature of the House of Lords for centuries, the wealth generated

by the wool and cloth trade is reflected in properties throughout the country, but particularly in East Anglia, the region generally closest to the European mainland and the other territories of the Hanseatic League. In particular, Lavenham (below), Hadleigh and Woodbridge still have many such distinctive timber-framed houses, the former having been regarded as a town in the late mediaeval and Early Modern eras.

As Sandbrook goes on to explain, in his review of Robert Winder’s “The last Wolf”, writers from Chaucer (who married into the de la Pole family of wool barons) to Eliot and Orwell wrote of the traditions of the wool trade. It continued long after Corbet’s 1281-90 campaign and was to benefit from the technological developments of later centuries.

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