Archive for the ‘History’ Category

A couple of days ago I was going to visit a friend for the first time this year. As I waited for the bus in Eltham I noticed a seat which hadn’t been there before. It was dedicated to John of Eltham. It wasn’t a new seat so I imagine it had been moved there from another location during the changes that were made to the High Street layout during the pandemic. Anyway I wondered who John of Eltham was as I hadn’t come across him before.

John of Eltham

John of Eltham, Earl of Cornwall was born at Eltham Palace in August 1316, the second son of King Edward II. His childhood was not a happy one as his father and mother (Isabella of France) were at war with each other, Isabella having allied herself with rebels trying to overthrow the King. In 1326 she invaded England from France and King Edward was captured and forced to abdicate in favour of their eldest son, also Edward, who became King Edward III. Despite his young age, John became a highly trusted advisor to his elder brother and occupied a number of important posts including ‘Guardian of the realm’ deputising for the King when he was away at war. Few details are known about John’s life, although records show a number of attempted, but ultimately abortive diplomatic marriages. He was a commander of the army at the battle of Halidon Hill, defeating the Scots and later in south west Scotland, supporting Edward Balliol’s claim to the Scottish throne. In some Scottish histories he is remembered as the man who commanded that Lesmahagow Abbey be burnt down, even though it was full of people. It is unclear whether this was actually true or not. In some versions of this story, John’s brother, King Edward was so enraged at this barbarous act that he killed John himself in fury. In fact John died at Perth in September 1336, aged 20, probably of a fever. He was buried with full honours in Westminster Abbey.

John of Eltham’s tomb in Westminster Abbey

On Sunday Sue and I travelled down to Kent to meet our friends Keith and Elaine as we were all going on a boat trip around the Isle of Sheppey, which lies of the north coast of Kent.

The Island is separated from the mainland by a stretch of water known as The Swale. It is not a river since it has no source and no estuary, joining the River Thames near Whitstable and the River Medway near Queenborough. And it was at Queenborough that our journey commenced as we joined the Jacob Marley for our trip.

We set off down the Swale. Originally the island was only reached via ferries but when the railway arrived, a bridge was built to carry traffic and the trains across the Swale onto the island. The current bridge dates from 1960. The problem was that this had to be raised and lowered to let some boats into the Swale, particularly at high tide so in 2006 a high level road bridge was built next to the railway-road bridge so traffic could flow to and from the island to the mainland without any hinderance from ships on the Swale.

After passing under the bridge we proceeded past Ridham dock, the last working dock on the Swale.

Although there is still plenty of evidence of past commercial activities

Once past Ridham, there is open country on both sides of the Swale. On Sheppey, we pass the famous Elmley Nature Reserve, once managed by the RSPB, but now an independent company. A Hobby flies over the boat on its migration south and there are lots of wading birds returning from their Breeding grounds feeding or roosting on the mudflats. Some maybe going further south and some may remain here for the winter. Large numbers of Little Egrets, once a rare bird in the UK, are seen feeding along the mudbanks.

The previous day had seen the Medway barge race and so we encountered a number of different sailing barges making their way back to their moorings.

At the eastern end of the island we come to Horse Sands where there is a small seal colony with both Common and Grey seals present.

Reaching the eastern end of the Island we turn west along the north coast. Soon we see 2 Artic Skuas chasing gulls. These birds are like large gulls and they chase smaller seabirds hoping to make them drop the food they have caught rather than catch their own. A little way further we see another Skua closing on the boat from behind. It looks different as it flies low to the water, but it overtakes the boat and is lost from sight by us before we can confirm its identity. Our conclusion was that it was probably a juvenile Long-tailed Skua, which is quite rare for the Thames, but we couldn’t be absolutely sure. Unlike the adults, the juveniles do not have the Long tail streamers which give it it’s name. The following day up to 20 were seen in the Swale so it is likely that our unconfirmed identification was correct.

Out in the estuary we can see the old wartime defense forts and the more modern Thames wind-farm.

Looking to land we can see where the island is eroding.

We pass the wreck of the Richard Montgomery, a wartime munitions carrier, that ran aground and broke up off Sheerness. Much of its cargo is still aboard and it is estimated if it ever blew up then houses would be affected by the shockwave in Sheerness and in Southend on the opposite side of the Thames and a wave up to 5m high would hit both coasts. Soon there will be nothing to see as there are plans to remove the masts to relieve the weight on the superstructure which is breaking up.

Soon we are back at the western end of the Island passing the docks at Sheerness

And then onto Queenborough where we disembark. A great trip full of interest and some excellent birdwatching as well.

My first trip into Central London for nearly 18 months was to visit the British Museum to see a couple of exhibitions which were due to close in the next few weeks.

The first exhibition was about the Roman Emperor Nero. The traditionally held view is that he was a mad, cruel man who did anything to hang onto power, but this is largely taken from writings after his death. Contemporary evidence suggests that for much of his reign he was extremely popular with the people of Rome, if not it’s elite and nobility, from whom most history writers were drawn. One myth is that he ‘fiddled while Rome burnt’ or even that his excesses in burning Christians led to the fire. Evidence shows that Nero was not in Rome when the fire started, but on hearing of it rushed back to the city and organised the fighting of the fire and the relief effort. It is true however, that in order to deflect any blame from the Imperial authority, he did blame the Christians and instigate a harsh persecution as a punishment. In fact, in many ways, he was the Roman equivalent of some Populist leaders we have encountered in modern day history.

Eventually he lost the support of the people and the senate took this opportunity to move against him. Seeing the signs, Nero committed suicide rather than be taken by the authorities. This was the end of the Julio-Claudian dynasty and after a year during which 4 Emperors reigned, some for only a matter of days, Vespasian emerged as the strongest candidate and assumed the purple. Roman society tried to eliminate any reference to Nero, statues were destroyed or taken down and some, such as the one below, were re-carved into likenesses of the new Emperor.

Thomas a Becket was the clerk to the Archbishop of Canterbury during the reign of Henry II and eventually became Chancellor of the Kingdom. He and King Henry were good friends and worked well together. Henry had an ongoing argument with the church authorities about whether members of the church should be tried in secular or church courts and in attempting to win this he arranged for Thomas to be appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, thinking that his friend in this post would strengthen his position. He intended that Thomas should combine that role with continuing as chancellor, but to Henry’s surprise Thomas resigned his court post and argued firmly for the independence of the church courts. This led to a rapid worsening in relations between the two. On one occasion, when in France, Henry heard that Thomas had once again defied him and a small band of knights set out immediately for Canterbury. Did Henry send them or know where they had gone? Did they mean to kill the archbishop or merely to arrest him? These are questions to which the answers will probably never be known. What is known is that on the night of 29 December 1170 they arrived at Canterbury and insisted that Thomas accompany them to Winchester to answer for his actions. Thomas refused and the knights killed him in the cathedral.

Thomas was canonised by the Pope a mere two years after his death. King Henry did public penance at Thomas’ tomb but took no action against the Knights although the Pope excommunicated them. They later travelled to Rome in penance and were sent by the Pope to serve as Knights in the Holy land for a period of 14 years as their penance for the killing.

I have lived just down the A20 from Crittalls Corner for 21 years and wondered where the name came from? In the other direction we have Clifton’s roundabout, which was named after a garage that used to stand on the side of the roundabout. The garage is still there, but no longer called Clifton’s. A little further away is the Yorkshire Grey roundabout, named after a pub which occupied the south side. Again, the building is still there although these days it is a McDonalds restaurant. But I didn’t know anything about Crittall’s until quite by chance I came across this in a blog post.

Francis Berrington Crittall started his eponymous company in 1849, but it wasn’t until 1884 they started making their famous metal windows which even found their way onto the Titanic. The company has always been based around Braintree in Essex, so it is a bit of a mystery why a roundabout on the A20 near Sidcup where one of their factories stood on its north-west corner should have been given the accolade of Crittalls Corner.

I copied the text but sadly the browser closed before I could get the details of the blog, so a thank you anyway to the person who blogged it. great to finally know after all these years.

Nothing new in History

Posted: January 19, 2021 in History
Tags: ,

Who would have thought that social distancing and self-isolation were a medieval invention.

In the cellar of the White Tower are some examples of items brought back from various military campaigns and presented to the Royal Armouries. Many of these are weapons but there are a few curiosities.

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A golden winged lion statue captured by British forces beseiging the French in Corfu in 1809.

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A bronze bell  taken from the Russian fort at Bomersund during the Crimean war. Most metal objects captured were melted down for casting as artillery, but this fine example survived.

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A decorated strongbox captured from the Spanish at Havana Cuba in 1762, It has an interesting security system – the lock on the front is a dummy and the real lock is concealed on the top of the box.

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A Burmese bell presented to Sir William Gomm, whilst he was Commander British forces in India 1850-55. He was later Constable of the Tower which probably explains how it came to be in the Royal Armoury collection.

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There is evidence of the storage of royal treasures at the Tower since the 11th century. It is likely that these were the items that were not for everyday use, these being kept in the Palace of Westminster (a Jewel Tower was constructed within the Palace in 1369) or wherever the royal court was situated.

Wakefield Tower

Wakefield Tower

Initially, the Treasury was housed in the White Tower but in the 16th century, it was transferred to a purpose-built Jewel House. On the execution of Charles I, the keeper of the Jewels, Carew Mildmay, was imprisoned because he refused to turn over the keys of the Jewel House to the republican government. It only delayed the inevitable and they broke down the doors and either sold off or melted down all they found within. Following the restoration of Charles II, the new crown jewels were housed in the Martin Tower and then the Wakefield Tower (from 1869) before being housed in the new jewel house located within the Waterloo Block in 1967.

Waterloo Block

Waterloo Block

Door to Jewel House

Door to Jewel House in Waterloo block

As with Treasury, the White Tower was also used to store the records of the chancery. These related mainly to details of property ownership and taxation. The records office moved to the Wakefield Tower in the late 14th century where it remained until 1858 when with the formation of the Public Records Office they were moved to a purpose-built building in Chancery Lane near Holborn.

The Remains of the Wardrobe tower with the white Tower beyond

The Remains of the Wardrobe tower with the white Tower beyond

The Wardrobe Tower stands adjacent to the White Tower. It was begun around 1190 and its name comes from the fact that it was used to store the Kings Wardrobe – his clothes jewels and personal articles. It is built on the remians of a Roman bastion in the old city wall.

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Only a fragment of the building remains today.

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The White Tower was the original castle keep started by William I in 1070, just 4 years after he won the battle of Hastings. It was located to protect the river approaches to the city but soon became favoured as a royal residence.

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The first reference to it by the name of ‘White Tower’ is in 1240 when the brickwork was painted.

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After it fell out of fashion as a royal residence, the tower continued to functions a the headquarters for royal and governmental administration.

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Coins minted at Tower mint

Coins minted at Tower mint

In 1279, William de Turemine was appointed Master Moneyer and the mint was moved from the city to more secure premises within the Tower of London. The minting of coins continued at the Tower until 1804 when a decision was taken to build a new purpose-built mint on Tower Hill, just outside the walls of the Tower. This was completed and opened in 1810 and production was moved from the mint buildings inside the Tower to the new site.

A Coin press

A Coin press

The history of the mint in the Tower is fairly unremarkable. But there was one attempt at robbery which nearly succeeded. On 20th December 1798, James Turnball, an ex-soldier working in the mint, locked a supervisor in a cupboard and made off with 2,000 newly minted guinea coins (a guinea was 1/4 oz of gold). He was able to make his escape from the Tower and went into hiding. No news of his whereabouts was known until on 5th January 1799 he was recognised, from a wanted poster,  trying to purchase a berth on a boat from Dover to France. He was arrested, tried and was executed on 15th May 1799.