Home Again, Home Again …

The three days in London flew past. Time, too soon, to fly home to Australia.

In doing my research for the historical context of my account I came across an interesting map that I didn’t use but is both interesting and amusing, the Roman Roads of Britain by Sasha Trubetskoy …

Quoting myself here …

Around AD 410 rule from Rome came to an end. The Angles and Saxons were invading Britain, the Visigoths were besieging Rome. Paganism was the new thing. Except in Ireland where the Celts had proven quite resistant to Roman rule but had adopted Christianity.

Gives the impression that Christianity was flourishing in Ireland before Roman rule in Britain had faded. This is incorrect. As the pagan Angles and Saxons forced themselves into Britain Christianity retreated into Wales from where it made its way across the Irish Sea from AD 431 on.

Some sources give the impression that Celtic practice was vastly different from the Roman. This is ascribed to the influence of Coptic Christianity of the time which was more monastic and ascetic rather than congregational. The devout retreated from the general community rather than live within it and gather at church on Sunday. In Egypt they tended to take themselves off into the desert. There are quite a few place names in Ireland that include Dysart which might indicate proximity to one of these early monasteries. (See sacredconnections for example).

Other sources suggest that the differences weren’t great, although they did come to differ in the calculation of Easter.

After the reintroduction of Christianity to England around AD 600 until the Norman conquest 1066 we have four and a half centuries with no churches to show for it. Recycling me again …

Until the Norman’s popularised the practice of building with stone, churches in Britain had been mainly timber and thatch affairs. None has survived to the present day. So 1066 marks the beginning of church architecture in Britain …

The Romans in Britain had built in stone, not only roads and walls but substantial villas as well. Christians elsewhere were building in stone such as the magnificent Hagia Sophia in Istanbul dating from AD 537. Why not the Anglo-Saxons?

Mea culpa, I repeated the popularly held oversimplification that there are no pre-Norman churches remaining in Britain. There aren’t too many in their original state but there are a few.

This is perhaps the finest of them. It is Escomb church from the far north-east of England. The photo is taken from the web site greatenglishchurches with permission from Lionel Wall the author. It was built somewhere around AD 680.

A few other examples exist but most have been modified extensively.

Anyone planning a visit to England that has an interest in the great parish churches would do well to browse this site. It’s a beauty.

Escomb has gone on my bucket list, its not far from Durham so I can combine it with a visit to Durham Cathedral and the Oriental Museum at Durham University (which was called the Gulbenkian Museum last time I was there).

Take the Ermine line from Londinium, change at Petuaria …

Problems, Opportunities, Accidents …

Claudius, the unlikely Emperor of Rome, needed a military conquest to earn a little respect. In AD 43, he sent four legions to invade the Catuvellaunian kingdom in Britain. They were successful and Claudius was able to make a visit soon after. The Catuvellaunian capital was given a Romanised name and Colchester became the accidental capital of Roman Britain. It took another thirty years for the Romans to subdue the rest of the country.

Dover sits at the narrowest point of the English Channel. It was settled and used long before the Romans but they fortified it and set up lighthouses.

Between Dover and Colchester there’s a problem, the Thames. The Romans built a bridge. The site was obvious it had long been in use. At low tide it was shallow enough to ford, at high tide you could take a boat. Why exactly there?  Because a natural causeway to the south bank through an otherwise marshy area sits opposite a high point on the north bank.

The river was now an opportunity, ships could come up the Thames, goods could be transported north or south. A village grew up around the bridge.

London Bridge came before London. Once it got started it grew apace.

Between London and Colchester there was another problem. The River Lea. Just how do you spell it, Lea or Lee? You’ll find both so neither is wrong but in some contexts one is more right than the other. But the more important problem is negotiating the marshes and crossing the river. Traditionally at Old Ford, Hackney.

Bear in mind that the prevailing wind is from the west.

Problems, opportunities, accidents. A bridge, a growing town, a main road that runs northeast, the River Lea, it’s marshes, a west wind … these are some of the things that made the East End, and the East End made me.

Docks grew up on the Thames, associated industries grew nearby, ropemaking for example. Some industries are smelly, tanning for instance, put it down wind from the richer citizens. Or hazardous like making gun powder. The big city needs grain and fresh water, take it by barge down the River Lea. It’s tidal … harvest the tide for milling grain.

In 1720 John Strype described London as consisting of four parts …

the City of London, Westminster, Southwark, and “That Part beyond the Tower”.

That part beyond the Tower was spreading northeast up the main road into the countryside. It was constrained by the marshes and the River Lea.

East End. No end. Grey streets, grimy streets, streets without number, streets without meaning, streets that spread on and on under the dull, dreary eastern sky until, somewhere out past the miles and miles of docks they dissolve like an estuary, into a sea of nothingness. East End. Dead end. The East End was not a place, it was a state of mind.                                London, Edward Rutherford.

And not necessarily a sober state of mind. In 1736, the Middlesex Magistrates complained …

It is with the deepest concern your committee observe the strong Inclination of the inferior Sort of People to these destructive Liquors, and how surprisingly this Infection has spread within these few Years … it is scarce possible for Persons in low Life to go anywhere or to be anywhere, without being drawn in to taste, and, by Degrees, to like and approve of this pernicious Liquor.

The pernicious liquor was gin.



Waltham Abbey …

Above all else I miss the churches.

There is no God but my word He commissioned some wonderful architecture and some of the finest music ever written. You could listen to this as you read …

Canterbury Cathedral is a triumph of stone in the service of light. It is an extraordinary building but my personal favorites are from the older Norman era. When all the mason could build was a simple arch the choice had to be made – do you want the church well-lit or would you like it to stay up. My all time favorite is Durham Cathedral with Ely in second place. When you enter these buildings you feel his presence, the hairs on your arms stand up. If you’re lucky enough to hear the choir rehearsing you’re already in heaven.

As a kid there was an impressive Norman era church close enough for me to ride to on my bike, Waltham Abbey.

Anno Domini, the year of the Lord. One Dionysius Exiguus  thought it a good idea to start the calendar at the moment of Christ’s incarnation. This was back in AD525 and of doubtful accuracy more than 500 years after the event. The year Mr Exiguus did this would have otherwise been Diocletian 248. He was motivated by the desire to remove Diocletian’s name from the calendar because of Diocletian’s persecution of Christians. His main interest in the calendar was in calculating the timing of Easter, no simple matter.

Diocletian became Emperor of a declining empire in Diocletian 1 totally unaware that it was really AD284 . Besides his tireless work for the nutrition of lions he raised the personality cult to a state of perfection, introduced the most bureaucratic government the Empire had ever seen and divided it into four parts which he ruled with three junior co-emperors. He made Rome great again. He retired after 21 years and managed, eventually, to die of natural causes. All in all a remarkable achievement.

After his retirement chaos resumed.

In AD306 Constantine the Great, son of Constantius one of those junior co-emperors, emerged victorious from the civil wars and became Emperor. During Diocletian’s time Christianity was the dangerous obsession of a small minority. Constantine was tolerant of Christianity and at some point  converted (after a fashion) and Christianity became the state religion. There were some Christians living dangerously in that corner of the empire known as Britannia. Now they could come into the open.

And so Christianity flourished throughout the land for the next century.

Around AD410 rule from Rome came to an end. The Angles and Saxons were invading Britain, the Visigoths were besieging Rome. Paganism was the new thing. Except in Ireland where the Celts had proven quite resistant to Roman rule but had adopted Christianity.

The reintroduction was two-pronged. Pope Gregory sent Augustine to spread the word to King Æthelberht of Kent, whose wife was a Christian from the continent. Augustine became the first Archbishop of Canterbury in 597. The good news spread northwards.

Edwin King of Northumbria heard it, converted to Christianity and established Roman practice in his realm. After his death and a year of political instability, Oswald gained the throne. He had learned Christian practice and to speak Irish from the monks of Iona during a period of political exile. He encouraged Ionan missionaries to preach in Northumbria, making St. Aidan bishop of Northumbria in 635 with the seat of his diocese on Lindisfarne.

The two schools of Christianity had different ways to determine the date of Easter. Problems arose at the Northumbrian court with King Oswiu, Oswald’s successor, observing Easter on a different day than the good Queen Eanfled. While one royal faction was celebrating Easter, the other would be fasting for Lent. After Aidan’s death matters became so serious that the issue had to be debated at the highest level. It was decided at the Synod of Whitby AD664 to follow the method devised by our friend Dionysius Exiguus, the Roman way.

So far I’ve mentioned a whole bunch of places that deserve another visit but with so little time the best I could do was to visit The Church of the Holy Cross and St Lawrence aka Waltham Abbey.

Until the Norman’s popularised the practice of building with stone, churches in Britain had been mainly timber and thatch affairs. None has survived to the present day. So 1066 marks the beginning of church architecture in Britain and the end of King Harold. Guess where he’s buried.

The first church on the site dates back to about AD610. It was wooden. It was followed by a partially stone church built in the eighth century.

Cnut King of Denmark defeated Edmund Ironside at Assandun, Essex, in 1016, and became king of all England on Edmund’s death. During his reign the manor of Waltham was held by his friend Tofig who also held another in Somerset. According to a twelfth century source, De Inventione Sanctœ Crucis Nostrœ  (The Discovery of our Holy Cross) a blacksmith on the Somerset estate had a dream that led him to discover a crucifix buried on a hill top. Said crucifix might have been made of flint. Tofig had the cross loaded onto an ox-cart suggesting it was of some considerable size. The oxen would only go in one direction and continued every day until by a striking coincidence they reached Tofig’s Waltham estate, 150 miles away. The Holy Cross was installed in the church and soon became an object worthy of pilgrimage.

Such were its powers that when Harold Godwinson became ill, Wulstan, Bishop of Worcestor sent him to pray before it. Harold, then Earl of East Anglia made a miraculous recovery. In gratitude he had the church rebuilt on a grander scale and donated considerable wealth to it.

Subsequently Harold became the last Anglo-Saxon King of England. It was a brief reign. Crowned in January 1066 dead in October. Harold took his army north to defeat an invasion by Harald Hardrade King of Norway aided and abetted by Harold’s own brother and rival for the throne, Tostig. He won a crushing victory at Stamford Bridge on September 25th.  Then it was a race south to meet William of Normandy stopping en route to pray again to the Holy Cross at Waltham. The Battle of Hastings on October 14th ended in his death.

The subsequent disposition of his remains are shrouded in mystery. One version, by far the most appealing in my biased opinion, has his body identified by his mistress Edith Swanneck and taken to Waltham for burial under the high altar of his own church.

In 1090 Harold’s church was torn down and a new one in the Norman style erected. What you see today is mostly from that  fourth incarnation.

History hadn’t finished with it though. In 1184, Henry ll, as part of his penance for the murder of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, raised the status of the church to an abbey. Part of the Norman church was demolished and a grand extension built in its place. Cloisters were added.

The Holy Cross continued to attract pilgrims that included the noble and famous. Henry Vlll and Anne Boleyn stayed for five days during their summer progress of 1532.

Then came the reformation. In 1540 it was the last abbey in England to close. The extensions made after 1184  were demolished although the tower on the west end was built in 1556. The interior continued to evolve.

Although only a shadow of its former glory, it is still a very impressive church.

The ceiling was part of restoration work completed in 1876 under the direction of William Burgess.

One of the workers put out of a job when the Abbey closed was Thomas Tallys, one of my favorite composers. He’d been on the staff for about two years at that time. His redundancy payment was quite generous and he soon found work at Canterbury Cathedral. The Holy Cross disappeared at the same time but we’ve already established that it was too big to fit in his pocket.

Best heard at full volume before getting out of bed on a Sunday morning … which is exactly the way my neighbours were introduced to it when I lived in a flat in Melbourne.



Kennesaw …

In March 1861 the Republican Party candidate, Abraham Lincoln was elected 16th President of the United States. He did not carry a single southern state. The Republicans had taken a position against slavery. The south took a position against the federal government.

The first military action of the American Civil War took place at Fort Sumter, Charleston, South Carolina in April 1861. The war was a brutal affair that took the lives of about 8% of America’s white males aged 13 to 43; 6% in the North and 18% in the South. In the aftermath the North prospered and the South was impoverished for a century.

By 1864 the South were losing but progress was very slow and costs were high. It was an unpopular war. Lincoln seemed unlikely to win a second term, his opponents were promising to sue for peace rather than continue to fight for victory. Atlanta, Georgia was a crucial resource to the Confederates. It stood at the intersection of four important railroad lines that supplied the Confederacy and was a centre of military manufacturing.

Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman was commanding the Union forces ranged against Confederate troops commanded by Gen. Joseph E. Johnston. Rather than make a frontal attack, Sherman had chosen several times to pass Johnston’s position and threaten his supply line. Johnston had fallen back each time.

After two months and 70 miles (110 km) of gaining ground with few casualties on either side , Sherman’s progress was blocked by imposing fortifications on Kennesaw Mountain, near Marietta, Georgia. This time Sherman ordered a large-scale frontal assault.

The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain was fought on June 27, 1864. The Union forces suffered about 3,000 casualties in comparison to Johnston’s 1,000. Sherman wrote to his wife …

I begin to regard the death and mangling of couple thousand men as a small affair, a kind of morning dash.

Essentially it was a Confederate win but on the far right of the Union lines troops under the command of Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield were able, once again to outflank Johnston’s position, all that lay between them and Atlanta was the Chattahoochee River. Johnston withdrew to the river where he was outflanked yet again and was relieved of his command in favour of John Bell Hood.

Sherman took Atlanta after a month-long siege. It was the beginning of the end for the Confederacy and enough to swing public sentiment behind Lincoln. He was reelected and concluded his second inaugural speech with a plea for reconciliation …

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.       Abraham Lincoln March 4 1865.

The visitor to Kennesaw Mountain can walk to the summit passing the positions where the Confederate army was dug in. The city of Atlanta can be seen from the top. A few cannons remain on duty where so many lost their lives.

At the foot of the hill there is a museum and an informative video is shown regularly.

Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865. His successor, Andrew Johnson was able to announce the end of the war the following month.

St Simon’s Island …

Is one of a string of sand barrier islands along the coast of Georgia. It is quite densely settled but the homes and businesses are tucked away amongst a forest of Live Oaks (Quercus virginiana) draped in Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides). Add extensive marshes, numerous golf courses and land set aside as green space by the island’s Land Trust and you have a community that merges comfortably into nature … Except, perhaps, when a hurricane bears down on it. The highest ground on the island is about five metres above sea level.

White-tailed Deer
Eastern Grey Squirrel

It was home to Creek Indians for millenia. After the Americas were put on the European map by Mr Columbus the Spanish were quick to explore Florida and Georgia but the French were the first to found a colony.  In 1564 René Goulaine de Laudonnière built Fort Caroline in what is now Jacksonville, Florida. It was short-lived. The Spanish founded their own colony at St. Augustine a little further south. Before long they attacked Fort Caroline and slaughtered most of the garrison.

The Spanish spread their influence northwards founding missions to convert the native inhabitants. The missionaries were accompanied by soldiers to establish Spanish authority and ensure the safety of the priests.

After 1600 the pace of colonisation picked up considerably. The French, the English, the Scots and the Dutch all founded colonies in North America.

A century later St Simon’s Island lay at a strategic position between Spanish Florida centred in St Augustine and the British in Virginia. A Spanish mission on the island had fallen into disuse. Spain and Britain were not getting along all that comfortably. James Oglethorpe was sent to erect a fort on the island. In 1736 he founded Fort Frederica with a small town adjacent. Not far away on the mainland Fort King George was built and the town of Darien grew up adjacent to it, settled mainly by Scots.


In 1713 the British had wrung  from the Spanish the right to sell slaves and some goods into South America. In 1731 the brig Rebecca was boarded by the Spanish off Florida. The captain, Robert Jenkins was accused of smuggling and suffered the indignity of having his left ear cut off. It was but one of a number of irritants that led to war, again, with Spain, a war that came to be called the War of Jenkins Ear.

It began in 1739 and ran on into the broader War of the Austrian Succession which finished in 1748. It was largely a naval affair fought in the Spanish colonies in the Caribbean and South America.

In 1742 the Spanish landed 2000 troops on St Simon’s Island in an attempt to push Britain out of its colony in Georgia. Oglethorpe’s men from Fort Frederica fought off the Spanish in two engagements, the Battle of Gully Hole Creek and the Battle of Bloody Marsh. The Spanish withdrew from the island, probably unaware that they had a numerically superior force.

The New World …

‘He didn’t discover America he invaded it’: Protesters now rally to REMOVE statue of Christopher Columbus from Manhattan after NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio said it was under review as a ‘symbol of hate’                        The Daily Mail.

As an Australian heading for the New World one of the first things to strike me is that it’s not all that new. By the time Captain James Cook found the east coast of Australia in 1770 Columbus had found an island near the east coast of America (1492), the Mayflower had deposited the Pilgrim Fathers in Massachusetts (1620) (an event that captured the American imagination far more successfully than the first English Colony at Jamestown, Virginia founded 13 years earlier) and about 2 million colonists had followed them. The struggle for independence was underway.

On the 4th of July six years after Cook named Point Hicks America declared its independence. The loss of America may well have been the catalyst for British settlement of Australia in 1788.

Indeed, so ancient is the New World that the Scots were founding colonies in North America prior to Union with England in 1707.

Australia, as a country rather than a bunch of colonies, dates from just 1901. It’s brand new.

Although I must point out that both continents were inhabited long before our European explorers put them on Europe’s map. Wouldn’t want the blog to be considered a symbol of hate. And just for completeness let’s add that neither of these great explorers were the first Europeans to reach the respective land masses. History can be so fickle.

Just imagine those heady days of pride and optimism. Days when we could celebrate the 4th of July or the 26th of January or erect statues to our heroes.

Obliterating history doesn’t change it – just makes it harder to learn from. Civic pride seems so much more constructive than communal self loathing.

Surfing moral panics …

A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation.        Edmund Burke (1729–1797).

Mal Brown was kind enough to comment on my recent post regarding our little Australian constitutional crisis, in part saying “ … I didn’t know Britain doesn’t have a constitution. What caused that anomaly ?”

It’s not an anomaly – it’s the proper way to do it! Admittedly it is unusual, there are few other countries that have not adopted a written constitution, New Zealand, Israel and Canada are among them.

So in the absence of an overarching document what does Britain have? Tradition, and some documents and ordinary acts of parliament. The system by which Britain is governed has grown as it has gone along. The general trend since Magna Carta was agreed between King John and a few rebellious barons in 1215 has been to diminish the power of the monarchy, increase the power of the Parliament and to make the parliament accountable to an increasing proportion of the population.

Lord Denning (1899 – 1999), the greatest English judge of modern times, described Magna Carta

as the greatest constitutional document of all times – the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot.

But despite the great Charter’s great fame the Bill of Rights of 1689 is actually more important. This followed a real constitutional crisis, the Glorious Revolution of 1688, in which a group of parliamentarians invited William of Orange to overthrow King James ll. William became King but was obliged to

solemnly promise and swear to govern the people of this kingdom of England, and the dominions thereunto belonging, according to the statutes in parliament agreed on, and the laws and customs of the same.

In other words The Bill established the supremacy of Parliament over the Crown. It also provided “for the regular meeting of Parliament, free elections to the Commons, free speech in parliamentary debates, and some basic human rights, most famously freedom from ‘cruel or unusual punishment’” to quote Professor Robert Blackburn who goes on to outline what is in my opinion one of the greatest strengths of the British system …

There are a number of associated characteristics of Britain’s unwritten constitution, a cardinal one being that in law Parliament is sovereign in the sense of being the supreme legislative body. Since there is no documentary constitution containing laws that are fundamental in status and superior to ordinary Acts of Parliament, the courts may only interpret parliamentary statutes. They may not overrule or declare them invalid for being contrary to the constitution and ‘unconstitutional’. So, too, there are no entrenched procedures (such as a special power of the House of Lords, or the requirement of a referendum) by which the unwritten constitution may be amended. The legislative process by which a constitutional law is repealed, amended or enacted, even one dealing with a matter of fundamental political importance, is similar in kind to any other Act of Parliament, however trivial its subject matter.

Edmund Burke would be pleased.

So the Poms today are governed by the House of Commons, they can vote for a candidate of their choice if they so desire, the House of Lords acts as a house of review but its powers are much less than formerly, the Queen is an expensive ornament that presides over a continuing soap opera for the chattering classes and signs whatever parliament puts in front of her. The first past the post voting system ensures that there is usually a majority government or as Richard D North quaintly put it the constitution …

enshrines a prejudice against the mob. It is designed to eliminate any serious danger of direct democracy, and is instead a system for selecting and controlling a governing elite (the parliamentarians). A plebiscitic democracy, perhaps ushered in by the silicon chip, would, in one sense, be merely the last step towards democracy, but, in another, the first towards popular rule. But direct democracy risks the perpetual excitement of surfing moral panics, or the tedium of living in a Swiss canton.