29 June, 2007

Wet wet wet! Early Modern floods....

With various parts of England currently bailing out after the recent storms and river surges (and more to come this weekend apparently), it seems appropriate to have a look back at how Britain's flood defences (or lack of them) fared in earlier times.

The "main event" in Early Modern times was the Great Flood of January 1607, depicted in the woodcut shown here. There are good features on this on the BBC Bristol and BBC Somerset sites. The latter has an atmospheric audio story of the 1607 flood ,which is best listened to with a howling gale outside and a glass of ale in hand. A tsunami-like surge up the Bristol Channel killed 2,000, mainly in Somerset.

An interesting source for historical flood events is the Chronology of British Hydrological Events, hosted by Dundee Univ. "Recent years have seen an increased awareness of the varaibility (sic) of hydrological behaviour"...a nice scientific understatement.

Anyway, the searchable database threw up these quotes from primary sources, Early Modern and earlier...

Hertfordshire, 1695: Ralph Thoresby, in his Diary writes:- 'May 17th, morning, rode by Puckeridge to Ware, where we had some showers which raised the washes from the road to the height that passengers from London that were upon the road swam and a poor higgler was drowned, which prevented our travelling for many hours, yet towards evening adventured over the meadows where we missed the deepest wash at Cheshunt, though we rode to the saddleskirts for a considerable way, but got safe to Waltham Cross.' "

London, 1668: on 23rd May, 1668, Samuel Pepys writes in his Diary: "About six in the morning took coach, and so away to bishops Stortford. The ways mighty full of water, so as hardly to be passed. "

Stratford-upon-Avon, 1588: "The worst flood recorded occurred on the 18th July, 1588, just before the Spanish Armada, when a sudden rise in the river, 'higher than ever yt was knowne by a yeard and a halfe and something more', carried away all the hay in the Avon valley, breaking both ends of Straford's bridge and leaving a trail of devastation all along the river course, from Warwick where houses were broken down to Welford and Bidford, with consequent loss of life and goods. According to a contemporary account the water rose a yard every hour from eight till four o'clock in the day, and it depicts in graphic detail the plight of the three men who, going over Clopton Bridge, 'when they cam to the midle of the Bridge they could not goe forwardes and then returned presently but they could not go backe for the watter was soe risen'." [Warwickshire Avon]
Source: Levi Fox (1953) The Borough Town of Stratford-upon-Avon

London, 1216: "It is recorded that in 1216 people have rowed through the Great Hall of Westminster whose floor lay covered in fish as the floods receded"
Source: http://www.riverthames.co.uk/

28 June, 2007

Cornish rebels meet a sticky end , 27th June, 1497

Mychal an Gof ("the Smith") and Thomas Flamank were leaders of the Cornish uprising of June 1497. The uprising was a protest at taxes levied by Henry VII to pay for an invasion of Scotland, a war which the Cornish people did not feel connected with; they also suspected that much of the money raised would go to corrupt officials.

[Thomas Wolsey was 24 at the time, and was preparing for ordination as a priest having studied theology at Oxford. His father Robert Wolsey, an Ipswich butcher, had died the previous year. ]

On their march to London, An Gof and Flamank were joined by Lord Audley, who assumed overall command. Most of the band were armed with only bows and basic weapons (ie farm implements).

[The picture at right is an evocative painting by Donal Macleod entited "Crossing the Tamar - the Cornish Rebellion" ]

Unfortunately for the rebels, Henry VII had thousands of troops in London ready to march up to Scotland, and the sensible course would have been for the Cornishmen to realise the game was up and head home (many did).

Knowing of Jack Cade's rebellion of 1450, the Cornish men hoped for support from Kent, but this was not forthcoming.

Inevitably, the heads of An Gof and Flamank ended up on pikes on London Bridge. Audley, as a peer, was spared being hung, drawn and quartered, and suffered only a nice clean beheading.

Postscipt: in March 2007 a Cornish extremist group calling themselves An Gof threatened a new terror campaign against anyone flying an English flag. This group exploded a bomb in St Austell in 198o so may not be joking....

While looking for images of the rebellion I came across this amusing blog post. Check out the comments on the post.

sources: Wikipedia, Wikipedia links.

18 June, 2007

First life insurance taken out in London, 18th June, 1583

Although we know that Roman "burial clubs" were a form of life insurance, Alderman Richard Martin is generally credited with taking out the first Life Insurance policy proper. The policy was taken out on the life of William Gybbon, a salter (he preserved meat and fish).

Apparently the policy was a one-year term, and Gybbon died just before the year was up. True to present form, the underwriters initially refused to pay up on the grounds that the contract was for a lunar year. The courts however ruled in favour of Martin.

There is more information in the Annals of the American Academy of Political Science, 1905 : apparently Martin effectively wagered 30 pounds with 13 London merchants that Gybbon would die within the year, and on his death received 400 pounds - a large amount. Cause of death not recorded.........

11 June, 2007

London Olympics logo, 1512 style

With all the comment around the London Olympics 2012 logo, here's an idea for a simple Tudor-style logo for the 1512 Games - shown here on an attractive linen placemat.

Typeface acknowledgment:
Boert Tudor from www.sulucas.com

07 June, 2007

Eighty Years in London

Saw this in today's Evening Standard. Simon Rigglesworth and like-minded photographers are trying to update the 1200 pictures in a book entitled Wonderful London, published in 1926.
You can see them here on the flickr picture-sharing site, including various tudor buildings such as the brick gatehouse in St James.

06 June, 2007

46,000 record One Day in History

We are back in the present for today's post.
On 17th October, 2006, the History Matters campaign run by the National Trust received 46,000 on-line diaries recording the events of that day for the writer. Some of these are quite moving, some are funny, and spelling is clearly an optional subject these days!
Here is a link to the complete One Day in History archive set up by th British Library.

03 June, 2007

Henry VIII marries Katherine of Aragon, 3rd June, 1509

Henry VIII married his first wife Katherine of Aragon (pictured left) on 3rd June, 1509.

Katherine quick facts:

She had previously married Henry's brother Arthur Tudor (pictured right): the marriage was part of a deal between Henry and Spain, and was 16 years in negotiation.

Arthur died after 6 months of marriage, in Ludlow Castle.

When Henry and Katherine were engaged, Katherine was 17, Henry was 12.

They were married for over 20 years.

Of Katherine's children, only Mary survived.

This list of Katherine's births is a reminder of how things were during Tudor times......
1510 Unnamed Daughter - died of natural causes
1511 Henry Tudor - Son - died aged 53 days of natural causes
1513 Unnamed Son - died on day of birth of natural causes
1514 Unnamed Son - died on day of birth of natural causes
1516 Mary - survived
1518 Unnamed Daughter - died of natural causes

Englishhistory.net has a link to Katherine's last letter to Henry, written in 1536. He had married Anne Boleyn in 1533.