Category Archive 'England'
20 Sep 2022

Grenadier Guards Funeral Performance Wins Public Admiration

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Britons are proud of the performance of Queen Elizabeth’s Grenadier Guards pallbearers, and cries are going up that they should be awarded the British Empire Medal for their impeccable service, as were the members of the same regiment who carried Winston Churchill’s coffin in 1965. Daily Mail:

The steady-shouldered pallbearers who safely carried the Queen’s coffin during her state funeral have won the hearts of the nation amid growing calls for the soldiers to be honoured with medals.

With the eyes of the world on them, the eight soldiers from the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards raised and put down the Queen’s 500lb lead-lined coffin no less than 10 times on her journey from Westminster Hall to St George’s Chapel in Windsor.

The team, each of whom is required to over 6ft tall, did not put a foot wrong all day as first they shouldered her coffin, with each soldier wearing rubber-soled boots to avoid slipping on the highly polished stone floors.

The unenviable task appeared more difficult as the Queen’s crown, orb and sceptre were balanced on top of her coffin.

But as the soldiers held the coffin’s brass handles, they walked in the knowledge that the lid had fittings to fix the jewels in place.

At one point, it appeared the flowers placed on the wreath atop the coffin began to wobble, but the pallbearers masterfully tilted it just enough to secure the foliage without drawing any attention.

Having faultlessly carried the coffin into Westminster Abbey as 2,000 esteemed guests from around the world watched, the eight soldiers were called upon again as Her Majesty was transported by State Hearse to Windsor Castle.

The task of lifting the coffin up the steep stairs of the 450-year-old St George’s Chapel was nerve-wracking enough alone, but their unblemished performance throughout the emotional day has earned the praise of the nation with admirers across Britain declaring: ‘They have done our nation and Her Majesty proud.’


19 Sep 2022

“Last Post for Christian England”

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Paul Kingsnorth wrote a very intelligent post reflecting on the symbolism and significance of Queen Elizabeth’s funeral.

What happened today was a rolling, dense mat of symbolism, replete with historical meaning, anchored in a very particular nation and time period. What did it symbolise? Above all, I think, it symbolised something that our culture has long stopped believing in, and as such can’t really process effectively, or even perhaps quite comprehend. This was brought home to me by one particular moment in the ceremony.

You can see that moment in the photograph above. It’s a view from the height of the tower of Westminster Abbey, looking down onto the Queen’s coffin below. The Abbey is, of course, laid out in the shape of the cross, and the coffin was set down at the meeting point of the nave and the transept, where the two arms of the cross meet. At one point in the proceedings, the camera showed us this view, and then focused in on the scene, and the impression was that of some energy flowing down from above and into the coffin, then out across the marble floor and into the gathered crowd.

It struck me then that this was an accurate visual image of the world which this Queen’s death marks the final end of, and it struck me too that this must be one of the reasons why her passing has had such a huge impact – one way beyond the person she actually was. What we were seeing as the camera panned down was a manifestation, through technological trickery, of the ancient notion of sacral kingship.

This notion was the rock which the political structure of all medieval societies was built, and in theory at least it is still the architecture which supports the matter of Britain, whose bishops still sit in parliament with the power to amend laws, and whose monarch’s crown is adorned with a cross. Authority, in this model of society, flows downward, from God, and into the monarch, who then faces outward with that given power and serves – and rules – his or her people.

Forget for a moment whether you’re a Christian, or a monarchist, or indeed whether you just think this is so much humbug designed to disguise the raw exercise of power. I’m not trying to make a case here: I am trying to understand something that I think at least partly explains how we have got here.

The point of the model of sacral kingship is that all true power resides in and emerges from the great, mysterious, unknowable, creative power at the heart of the universe – the power which we call, for want of a better word, ‘God.’ Any power that the monarch may exercise in this temporal realm is not ultimately his or hers. At the end of the funeral today, the orb and the sceptre, symbolising the Queen’s spiritual and temporal authority, were removed from the top of her coffin, along with the crown, and given over to the care of the church. At that point, Elizabeth became symbolically what she had always been in reality, and we all are – small, ordinary people, naked before God.

This notion – that any power exercised by a human ruler ultimately derives from the spiritual plane – is neither British nor European. It is universal. Pharaonic Egypt recognised it, and so did Native America. The Anglo-Saxons believed it and so did the Japanese Emperors. Cultures large and small, imperial and tribal, on all continents over many millennia, have shared some version of this understanding of what the world is. Power, it tells us – politics, it insists – is no mere human confection, because the world is no mere human confection. There is something – someone – else beyond it, and if we are silent, in these cathedrals or in these forests, we can hear it still. Those who take power in this world will answer to it at the end. It is best that they know this now.

What is meaningful about this royal death is that the late Queen really believed this. So, I think, does her son, the new King. But the society around him very much does not. The understanding now is that authority flows upward from below, from ‘the people’ and into the government, which supposedly governs on our behalf. In this model there is no sacred centre, and there is no higher authority to whom we answer. There is no heavenly grant of temporary office which will one day be returned, and a tally made. There is only raw power, rooted in materiality, which in itself has no meaning beyond what we ascribe to it. There is only efficiency. There is only management. There are only humans.


15 Dec 2021

Christmas at the Court of Edward the Confessor (1042-1066)

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Edward the Confessor depicted in the Bayeaux Tapestry.

Historical novelist Paula Lofting describes Christmas time in England just before the Norman Conquest.

Winter began in November, according to Anglo-Saxon tradition. The 7th of November to be exact, and from the 15th of November, 40 days before the Christmas season began, it was a time of fasting and alms giving, which was the origin for gift-giving at Christmas. ‘Christmas’, comes from the Anglo-Saxon, Cristesmæsse, a word first recorded in 1038. It replaced the old pagan ‘yule-tide’, known back then as Geola and still referred to when talking about yule logs etc. As we know, the early Christian church instructed their emissaries to allow the Christianisation of some pagan traditions, a clever strategy on their part, to encourage people to give up their pagan ways by allowing them to retain some of the features and customs of the old religion. During this time of fasting and strict observance, it was not just the clergy who were expected to fast, attend prayers and vigils, and give alms to the more unfortunates of their world, but the secular communities also. It was a sign of your wealth and status if you could afford to give alms, something that many people were eager to do, for the Anglo-Saxons were as keen as any for their soul to get a free pass to the afterlife.

So, that was a lot of days of hardship for less than half the days in return of feasting! Anyway, that aside, only those who were employed to do necessary tasks, were excused from taking 12 days off work. Quite honestly, I could not imagine anyone complaining about that unless they were one of those who were engaged in those aforesaid important occupations.

Oh, there’s one other little thing I have forgotten, there were no carnal relations allowed during this fasting period, after all, with all the vigils and extra prayers and psalm singing, how was one going to fit in having sex as well? But, should one fail in this expectation, and need absolution to restore their spiritual equilibrium with God, there was always confession and more fasting as penance.

During King Edward’s time, the Christmas period was usually spent at Gloucester. Edward was a keen sporting huntsman, something the church frowned on but were able to forgive because he was pious in other aspects of his life. Since the Forest of Dean was his favourite hunting ground, it seemed natural that after a good Autumn’s hunting, that he would spend Christmas at King’s Holme in Gloucester. He did, however, spend his last Christmas on this earth in the newly built palace of Westminster, whilst the new church of St Peter was consecrated that year, in time for the celebrations and his funeral. …

It couldn’t have been much fun that year of 1065, when he succumbed at last to the illness that seemed to have been brought on by the exile of his favourite courtier, Earl Tostig. The stress of losing Tostig and having to give in to the recalcitrant northerners a few months earlier, obviously affected him badly, because hitherto, he had been quite robust and sprightly for an old man of sixty; a great age in those times. So, Christmas of 1065 would have been quite a miserable one that year, so perhaps we should hearken back to happier times, and the Christmas of ’64, when having had a good hunting session during the month of October and some of November, Edward was ready to put on his virtuous head, start the fasting and alms giving and settle down to pottage for supper each night until the 25th December when the holiday would begin.

Kings Holme (now known as Kingsholm) was the site of an old Roman fortress, significant in size to have made the Roman city an important strategic place. We know that there was definitely a palace located there in 1051, and possibly, it may have dated back much further. At least by 1064, the palace was a well-used one, having been one of three important palaces in Edward’s England, besides Westminster, in London, and Winchester. A hoard of early 11thc coins was found at the site and said to be a large collection from probably a wide area, indicating that this was not and just any old burh. To add to the evidence of its possible magnificence, excavations at the site have uncovered indications of large timber buildings dating to around this time.

We cannot say what King Edward’s palace consisted of for sure, but there must have been quite a few domestic and guest quarters amongst the buildings found. At Christmas time, the whole of Edward’s court would have been present in Gloucester, and among them, his secular officials as well as many foremost ecclesiasticals, bishops and abbots and possibly some Abbesses, some of whom were very powerful indeed. Many of the king’s thegns would have been there, and possibly they brought their wives with them, perhaps some brought their sons also, and maybe their daughters, to be presented at court. If those who owed service to the king couldn’t make it for whatever reason, then they would no doubt have to send a representative. The most important of the king’s guests, would have been the archbishops, Ealdred of York and Stigand of Canterbury, and leading earl of the realm, Harold Godwinson. Aside from them, the other lords of the earldoms: Tostig of Northumbria, Morcar of Mercia, Oswulf of Bamburgh, Leofwin and Gyrth Godwinson, earls of the South Eastern Counties and East Anglia respectively, and Waltheof, son of the great Siward, Tostig’s predecessor. No doubt they would also have brought their wives and perhaps their families too, not to mention their retinues, servants, and household guards. No wonder there were several large buildings found on the complex, they would have needed them to house everyone.

Its most likely that Edward’s great feasting hall was a timber construction, as no evidence for stone foundations have been found during the excavation. Edward had been building his wonderful complex at Westminster in stone, but that was a special undertaking that had been under construction for years. The king’s feasting-hall was basically a large-scale version of the smaller halls that one might find on manorial estates. It was rectangular, with doors in the longest sides, front and back, and possibly with ante chambers at both ends, perhaps one of those rooms could have been where the king and queen slept. The space inside would have been large enough to contain a good few hundred people and was the heart of the community during the Christmas period. During the last few days of fasting before the feast of Christ, the final touches to the décor would have been carried out. Around the walls, were murals decorating the lime washed walls and possibly hung with fine embroidered hangings depicting biblical scenes. Holly and Ivy would have decked the hall, a throw-back to earlier times. Things might have changed somewhat from the early days of the mead-halls as described by Steven Pollington in his book The Mead-Hall, where a lot of the symbel (the feasting) had its rituals rooted in Pagan beliefs and old Teutonic ideals based on the ways of warriors. However, the principle that the hall was the place where the joys of life could be found, drink, merriment, and good times, remained even in the 11thc. The feasting-hall, or the mead-hall, was where it all happened, much like how some of us nowadays see pubs, clubs, restaurants, and bars.


30 Jan 2021

Metal Detectorist Finds Piece of Henry VIII’s Crown

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Daily Mail:

A metal detectorist has found the centrepiece jewel of Henry VIII’s lost crown buried under a tree 400 years after it went missing.

Kevin Duckett, 49, made the startling discovery while walking through a field near Market Harborough in Northamptonshire.

Mr Duckett said he first thought the jewel was some crumpled tin foil from the wrapping of a Mr Kipling cake.

He told The Sun: ‘It was lodged in the side of a hole just a few inches down. I carefully removed it and knew by its colour and weight that it was solid gold.’

Historians have feared the jewel was lost forever when Oliver Cromwell ordered the crown to be melted down and sold as coins after he abolished the monarchy in 1649 and beheaded Charles I.

The 344 precious stones encrusted on the crown, valued by the then Parliament at £1,100, were sold individually.

Mr Duckett, who lives in Fleckney, Leicestershire, took the lump of gold, which also appeared to have an enamel figure on it, home and cleaned it.

He became convinced that the figure was Henry VI after he saw SH inscribed on the base.

The figurine featured five fleur-de-lys – a stylised lily linked to royalty – originally had three figures of Christ, one of St George and one of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus.

But Henry VIII removed the figures of Christ and replaced them with three saint kings of England – St Edmund, Edward the Confessor and Henry VI.

And the crown was used at the coronation of Henry’s son Charles I.

When he fled from Oliver Cromwell after the Battle of Naseby in 1645 they travelled past the spot where Mr Duckett found the jewel.

Experts believe it may have fallen from the crown in Charles’s haste or that he decided to bury it.

If the British Museum verify the jewel’s authenticity Mr Duckett will be forced to sell it to them at a price set by an independent board.


27 Jan 2021

Oxford’s Lamb and Flag Pub to Close

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A sign for The Lamb and Flag is seen as the Grade-II listed pub is forced to close, after more than 400 years of business, following outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in central Oxford, Britain, January 25, 2021. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh – RC21FL975VBS

Not the famous pub where the Inklings, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, Hugo Dyson, and others, regularly met back during the 1930s and 1940s. That was the Eagle and Child. But still a 450-Year-Old Oxford institution, owned by St. John College abd much frequented by Tolkien, Lewis, Thomas Hardy, and many other famous Oxonians, it has been announced is another casualty of COVID-19 lockdowns.


24 Oct 2020

The Punch Tavern, Fleet Street by John Bulmer

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No social distancing, no masks, no screens, no kids, no women, just well dressed men having a drink and a smoke after work.

A perfect Friday night.

21 Oct 2020

Sundial or Witches Mark?

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The Bucks Herald:

Archaeologists working in Stoke Mandeville to prepare for HS2 [a High-Speed Railway] have begun the excavation of the remains of the medieval church of St Mary.

They have also discovered some unusual stone carvings, medieval graffiti and other markings.

Two stones with a central drilled hole from which a series of lines radiate in a circle have been uncovered at the site of St Mary’s.

Historians consider these markings to be ‘witches’ marks, created to ward off evil spirits by entrapping them in an endless line or maze.

There are several well-known examples of these across Britain both in churches as well as houses and sometimes even on furniture. However, they can also be interpreted as early sun dials, used by the church to divide up the day into morning prayer, midday prayer and evening prayer.

These ‘scratch dials’ as they are known, are usually found close to the southern door of the church as it is a position better suited for a sun dial.

At St Mary’s, one example of the markings was found low down in the west buttress close to ground level which has led archaeologists to question its purpose.

The position of the stone would have meant that it wouldn’t have served a purpose as a sun dial. This has left the possibility that it was there to ward off evil spirits or could have been a stone from a sun dial re-used as part of the church building. …

Archaeologists from Fusion JV working on behalf of HS2 Ltd at the site were also given the rare opportunity to excavate and carefully deconstruct the remains of the medieval church – something that has not been done in Britain since the 1970s.

The old church was built to serve the manor house and was located some way from the village centre. It was replaced in 1866 by a new church built closer to the village.

Though it was known that the church had been demolished, the method and extent of demolition had not been recorded and it was therefore a surprise to the archaeologists to discover, that beneath the rubble the church survived to a height of almost 5ft with floors intact.

Detailed research into the structure of the church has allowed archaeologists to piece together a history of the development of St Mary’s.

The church started off as a chapel built in about 1070, shortly after the Norman Conquest and may have been at first the private chapel belonging to the lord of the manor at that time. The church was soon extended, and an aisle added in the 1340s.

Archaeologists These new additions seem to mark a transition from a chapel used for private prayer to a church that was used by the local villagers.

Work to dismantle and excavate the church will continue into next year and archaeologists are looking forward to answering many more questions concerning the church and its architecture including discovering whether there may be a Saxon church lying beneath its floor.



What is being excavated is a heap of rubble, all that remains of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in the deserted village of the former Stoke Mandeville. The abandoned 11th or 12th Century Church was condemned and demolished in 1966.

28 Jul 2019

Boris is PM; England is Herself Again

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17 Feb 2019

Birmingham Then and Now

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14 Dec 2018

Reconstructing the Recipe for the Soul Cake

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Atlas Obscura:

Last month, a challenge from Durham University spurred bakers to whip up a soul cake, a bygone bun once integral to a medieval tradition of feeding the poor and honoring the dead. But, in the spirit of competitive baking reality shows, there was a catch: Nobody really knows how, traditionally, it was supposed to be baked.

We know generally what soul cakes looked like, and what was inside of them. We know that bakers crafted them into small, round, square, or oval buns—garnishing the top with currants in the shape of a cross. And we know its purpose: Giving a soul cake to someone in poverty allegedly freed a departed soul from Purgatory. But we’re still in the dark about its intended taste and texture, and exactly how to go about concocting a soul cake in true medieval fashion.

“We have a recipe from a household book from 1604 compiled by a certain Lady Elinor Fettiplace that includes a recipe for a soul cake,” says Dr. Barbara Ravelhofer, a professor of English literature at Durham University and facilitator of the soul cake challenge. “However, it doesn’t give us the quantities—nor does it tell us how long to bake it. So you have to work out for yourself what to do with the ingredients.” Spearheaded by Dr. Ravelhofer and the Records of Early English Drama North East team, the Great Northern Soul Cake Bake doubles as a competition and crowdsourcing project. By challenging the public to decode the bare-bones recipe, the research team hopes to understand and resurrect the original soul cake—as well as the tradition that surrounds it.

Soul cakes are connected to Britain’s early Christian celebrations known as All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, Halloween-like festivities commemorating the recently departed. On November 2nd, beggars would weave their way through the chilly darkness, rapping on wealthy homeowners’ doors in exchange for a soul cake. But obtaining it was no cake walk. To successfully soul, one had to sing for sweets.

Whether it be musical or theatrical, souling required performance in exchange for a cake—a tradition that looks a lot like modern-day trick-or-treating. And, though it’s impossible to definitively claim souling as the progenitor of tricking and treating, Dr. Ravelhofer says they’re certainly connected. However, she points out, there are key differences. “A soul-caker was somebody who did something to obtain something,” she says. “Whereas trick-or-treating strikes me as, ‘Give me something or else I’ll do something.’”

Demanding candy door-to-door, she posits, is a “slightly degenerated, commercialized form” of the All Souls’ Day transactions of medieval Europe. Souling, Dr. Ravelhofer adds, also had a strong connection to charity and memoriam. The act of doling out freshly baked goods, while thinking of a “poor, departed soul,” filled two needs with one deed, giving to the hungry and freeing a soul in question from Purgatory in one fell swoop.

While vestigial remnants of this practice can still be found in some parts of England, the tradition of souling, and the cakes that came with it, have since disappeared—until now.

To more fully understand the history and tradition of All Souls Day, Dr. Ravelhofer and her team devised the bake off. The technical challenge (the first of a series of three) called for readers to recreate a successful iteration of the festive bun using only Elinor Fettiplace’s 17th-century recipe, which reads:

    “Take flower & sugar & nutmeg & cloves & mace & sweet butter & sack & a little ale barm, beat your spice & put in your butter & your sack, cold, then work it well all together & make it in little cakes & so bake them, if you will you may put in some saffron into them or fruit.”

Folks from across the globe responded, submitting recipes, photographs, and anecdotes via email, Facebook, and Twitter, with results ranging from wild successes to valiant flops.
“We had proper food archaeologists who really got into the spirit of things, and then we had candidates who tried to microwave it,” says Dr. Ravelhofer.

David Petts, Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at Durham University, posted about his soul cakes on his personal blog, likening them to “slightly dense hot-cross buns.” Another participant found that using a ruby or dark ale gave the cakes a soft, chewy texture. Yet another made a successful stoneground cake by adding rye, theorizing that medieval bakers may have used additional grains.

But cataloguing the failed cakes, Dr. Ravelhofer says, has been just as informative as admiring the more edible ones.

Understanding what doesn’t work, and why, allows historians to do detective work when it comes to understanding what the recipe may or may not have looked like.


16 Sep 2018

Would You Surrender to the Germans?

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16 Jan 2018

Mourning Ring

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“The cruel seas, remember, took him in November.”

England, 1592

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