Ancestral Bones

The town of Esher, in the English county of Sussex, is known today as a commuter town on the outer reaches of London’s suburban sprawl but in 1902 it was described by Charles Harper as “a pretty village” and a “charmingly rural place, with a humble old church behind an old coaching inn, and a new church, not at all humble, across the way.”

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The old church of St. George in Esher, parts of which date to the 16th century.

“The old church of Esher”, he writes, “long since disused and kept locked and given over to spiders and dust, has a Royal Pew, built for the use of the Princess Charlotte and the Claremont household in 1816. It is a huge structure, in comparison with the size of the little church, and designed in the worst possible classic taste; wearing, indeed, more the appearance of an opera-box than anything else.

The authorities (whoever they may be) charge a shilling for viewing this derelict church. It is distinctly not worth the money, because the architecture is contemptible, and all the interesting monuments have been removed to the modern building, on a quite different site, across the road. …..

The reflections conjured up by an inspection of Esher old church are sad indeed, and the details of it not a little horrible to a sensitive person. There is an early nineteenth-century bone-house or above-ground vault attached to the little building, in which have been stored coffins innumerable. The coffins are gone, but many of the bony relics of poor humanity may be seen in the dusty semi-obscurity of an open archway, lying strewn among rakes and shovels. To these, when the present writer was inspecting the place, entered a fox-terrier, emerging presently with the thigh-bone of some rude forefather of the hamlet in his mouth. “Drop it!” said the churchwarden, fetching the dog a blow with his walking-stick. The dog “dropped it” accordingly, and went off, and the churchwarden kicked the bone away. I made some comment, I know not what, and the churchwarden volunteered the information that the village urchins had been used to play with these poor relics. “They’re nearly all gone now,” said he. “They used to break the windows with ’em.” And then we changed the subject for a better.
Charles G. Harper. ‘Cycle Rides Around London’, 1902.

photo from wikimedia

Note: Follow the Royal Pew link to see the present condition of the old church.

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The Legend of Holyrood

Edwardian Valentine's postcard of Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh.

Valentine’s Series postcard printed after 1903 from a photograph believed to be c. 1878.
Caption: The Abbey and Palace of Holyrood
Was founded by David I, in the 12th Century. It has seen many changes, having been partly destroyed by Edward II, in 1321; burnt by Richard II, in 1385; restored by Abbot Crawford at [the] end of [the] 15th Century; demolished by the English in 1547; and sacked by a mob in 1688. What little remains of the original structure was put into order in 1816. Suggestions have been recently made for the restoration of the Chapel Royal, but it is feared that this is now unpracticable.

From ‘The History of the Abbey, Palace, and Chapel-Royal of Holyrood House’, Mrs John Petrie, Second Edition, 1821.

This monastery of Sanctae Crucis, or Holyrood, was founded by David I of Scotland, A. D. 1128, and, like most other religious establishments of the dark ages, originated in superstition. The account generally given is, that it was established by that Monarch, to perpetuate the memory of a miraculous interposition of heaven, said to have been manifested in his favour. This event is narrated by the historians of those times, with all their usual enthusiasm when treating of such subjects.

“The King,” say they, “while hunting in the forest of Drumselch, one of the royal forests, which surrounded the rocks and hills to the east of the city of Edinburgh, on Rood-day, or exaltation of the cross, was attacked by a stag, and would in all probability have fallen a sacrifice to the enraged animal, which overbore both him and his horse, (as his attendants were left at a considerable distance behind,) when lo! an arm, wreathed in a dark cloud, and displaying a cross of the most dazzling brilliancy, was interposed between them, and the affrighted animal fled to the recesses of the forest in the greatest confusion. This having put an end to the chase, the Monarch repaired to the Castle of Edinburgh; where, during the night, in a dream, he was advised, as an act of gratitude for his deliverance, to erect an Abbey, or house for Canons regular, upon the spot where this miraculous interposition had taken place.”

In obedience to this visionary command, the King endowed this monastery for Canons regular of the Augustine order, a colony of whom he brought from an abbey of the same kind at St. Andrews, and dedicated his new establishment to the honour of the said Cross.

It’s worth mentioning again, in case you missed it, that this book was published in Edinburgh by Hay, Gall and Co., forMrs John Petrie, No. 1 Abbey, and sold by her at the Chapel Royal, for behoof of herself and family.” An early 19th century example of self-publishing and business enterprise by a woman.

Marble Arch and the Tyburn Tree

If you buy a picture postcard with a printed caption on the back, you expect it to be short, factual, upbeat and positive. No room for personal opinion. Maybe this caption writer didn’t get the memo.

Vintage postcard by J. Valentine of Marble Arch, London.

Marble Arch, London, – This fine if rather useless ornament of Hyde Park is reminiscent of the triumphal arches beloved of the Romans. The view serves to suggest the superb vistas available in the Park dear to fashion, which covers some four hundred acres, and is encompassed by a carriage drive two and a half miles long.

Arthur Mee, in his book ‘London’ (1937), gives us more detail about the Arch and the gruesome past of the place where it stands. This is the short, less harrowing, version.

At the top of [Park Lane], the meeting place of four great roads, stands the Marble Arch, which changed its address in the year of the Great Exhibition [1851]. Till then it stood at the entrance to Buckingham Palace; now it stands at the head of Oxford Street a few yards away from a little brass plate* which tells us that this was Tyburn Hill. Here were hanged men and women and children, heroes and malefactors, patriots and traitors.

The site took its name from the little river Tyburn, one of whose arms crossed Oxford Street here. Tyburn then lay among the fields, with only a few houses, from one of which the sheriffs watched the executions. Round the gallows were stands with seats, let to spectators at half a crown. Until 1783, when Newgate took its place, Tyburn was the busiest scene in the world of agony and sorrow. It became the frightful clearing-house for criminals of both sexes and of all ages. Upwards of 200 petty offences were punishable with death, and offenders were sent in horrifying numbers to die here in batches, a dozen or more at a time.

Vintage postcard of Marble Arch, London.

The arch was set up by John Nash ten years after Waterloo at a cost of £80,000. Chantrey’s statue of George the Fourth in Trafalgar Square was made for it, but never fixed. The arch was designed after [one] in the Roman Forum, and made of marble from Michael Angelo’s quarries at Carrara. It was orininally intended to symbolise the victories of Trafalgar and Waterloo in its picture panels, but the arch was made an arch of peace instead.

Map
*The little brass plate was replaced by a bigger concrete marker in 1964.

Bath Abbey

Extracts from ‘Notes on the Cathedrals’, an Edwardian pocket guidebook (c.1904) by W. H. Fairbairns.

The modern city of Bath was the Roman Aquae Sulis. Here the conquerors, attracted by the genial climate of the Avon valley, established themselves, and built not only a complete series of baths but a magnificent temple to Sul Minerva. The baths, more or less altered, we can still see, but of the temple there remain only the fragments in the museum.

Bath Abbey fromm the Roman Baths. Image from an Edwardian pocket guidebook.

The Abbey from the Roman baths

Early Christian tradition tells of the foundation of a nunnery by King Ostric at Bath in 676. A hundred years later Offa King of Mercia certainly established a college of secular canons here, who in the tenth century gave place to Benedictine monks. King Edgar came to Bath in the year 973 and was crowned in the Abbey Church on Whitsunday of that year.

From the Norman Conquest onward the history of Bath Abbey is closely knit to that of the Cathedral at Wells, and although there have been many changes, the diocese to-day bears the historic title of Bath and Wells.

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An artist’s impression of Wells Cathedral by A. R. Quinton

John of Villula, a native of Tours (where as a doctor he had amassed a considerable fortune), was appointed Bishop of Wells in 1088 and removed the place of the see to Bath Abbey, the rights of which he had purchased from William Rufus. The removal caused serious discord between the men of the two places, and it was not until 1218 that the question was finally settled and the unbroken succession of Bishops of Bath and Wells began.

The present building was begun by Bishop Oliver King who was translated from Exeter in 1495. He is said to have been moved to do this by a dream in which he heard a voice saying ‘Let an Olive establish the crown and a King restore the church.’ The representation of the vision was sculptured by the bishop on the west front of the Church.

West front of Bath Abbey. Image from an Edwardian pocket guide book.

[As a result of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the reign of Henry VIII] …Everything of value was sold, the building remaining roofless until 1572, and it was not until the time of Bishop Montague (1608 – 1616) that the Church was fully restored.

In 1860 Sir Gilbert Scott was appointed architect, and between 1864 and 1874 the sum of £37,000 was expended on the building.

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The west front of Bath Abbey with the pump house at right.

Wells Cathedral seen from Milton Hill. Image from a vintage postcard.

Wells Cathedral

Fans of the TV series, Doctor Who, will know that a battle scene between the Doctor (David Tennant) and Lazarus was fought inside Wells Cathedral.

 

Bristol Cathedral

Taken from a pocket guidebook, ‘Notes on the Cathedral’. No date or author credited but published between 1900 and 1911.

Bristol was one of the sees founded by Henry VIII, and like Oxford the Cathedral was originally the church of an Augustinian monastery. This monastery was founded in 1142 by Robert Fitzharding, afterwards Lord Berkeley.

Vintage postcard of Bristol Cathedral and College Green.

Fitzharding in 1155, by a charter which is still preserved in Berkeley Castle, received from Henry II the forfeited estate of Roger de Berkeley, and was thus enabled to complete the building with considerable elaboration. Fitzharding became a Canon of his own monastery, and died there in 1170. His descendants, the Barons of Berkeley, were great benefactors of the monastery, and many of them lie buried in the Cathedral.

Bristol Cathedral vertUnder Abbot Knowle the greater part of the church was rebuilt (1306 – 1332). This Abbot refused to receive the body of the murdered Edward II which consequently was taken for burial to Gloucester. The king’s tomb became a place of pilgrimage, and the offerings there made enabled the monks to adorn the church [at Gloucester] with exceptional magnificence. In 1538 the monastery was dissolved; four years later the church became the Cathedral of the new diocese of Bristol. So it continued until 1836 when it was united to Gloucester, and in 1884 was again made an independent see by Mr. Gladstone subject to the bishop’s income (£3,000) being raised. This was accomplished in 1897.

The most stirring event in connexion with the see was the riot of 1831. On Sunday Oct. 30 the trouble began by the entrance into the city of Sir Charles Wetherell, the Recorder, an opponent of the Reform Bill. The palace of the Bishop, who had voted against the Bill, was fired and destroyed, the cathedral itself being saved by the courage of the sub-sacrist, William Phillips.
Publishers – Swan Sonnenschein & Co., Ltd. with The Photochrom Co., Ltd.

Bristol Cathedral green

Salisbury Cathedral

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Tuck’s Oilette. 1904

Very few English cathedrals have received the unstinted praise that has been bestowed upon Salisbury. It is well deserved. The beautiful and peaceful situation, the wonderful harmony of the building, and the marvellous spire are all most impressive, and charm the visitor. There is of course the greatest possible interest to be found in the study of the alterations and additions made to the Mediaeval cathedrals, but it is good to have at least one building that speaks, and that so beautifully, one thought.

…..in 1220 the building as we know it was begun, three alters being completed in 1225…. and in 1258 the whole building was finished, costing, at present value*, about half a million [£]. The spire was added about one hundred years later. Since then there have been renovations and restorations, and certain strengthening works, but the beautiful church has survived them all, and is substantially as its builders left it, the most perfect example of the period.

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Publisher, J. Salmon Ltd. Artist, A. R. Quinton.

Features to be noticed. The beauty of the site, and the proportions of the building. No other church has stood on this site.
Spire: highest in England, and the most beautiful in the world; thickness of walls 2 feet to a height of 20 feet, and then only 9 inches; 23 inches out of perpendicular.
Number of windows is said to equal the days of the year; the pillars the hours; and the doorways the months.
‘Notes on the Cathedral’ [pocket guide book], W. H. Fairbairns, S. P. C. K., London.
* ‘present value’ – c. 1912.

Salisbury from Harnham Hill. Vintage Photochrom Celesque series postcard.

Salisbury from Harnham Hill. Photochrom card. Celesque series.

For a vertigo-inducing view of the famous spire from the outside, go to this recent feature in the Daily Mail.

Book your own tour of the tower (from the inside) on the Cathedral website.

Artistic Licence

These two vintage postcards, published when London’s Admiralty Arch was still “new”, illustrate the liberties an artist could take with a scene compared to a photographer (in the days before Photoshop).

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Tuck’s Oilette number 7975. One of a set of 12. First recorded use 1919.

In this view by H. B. Wimbush, Nelson’s Column has grown to a dizzying height and dwarfs the Arch. The domed tower on the right has not only been stretched but moved several hundred meters to the left. As you can see from the image below, it can’t actually be seen from this position at all. We can only speculate on why the artist put it there. It may have been simply to balance the composition. Digital photographers didn’t invent the art of bending reality – they were just catching up.

A vintage postcard of the new Admiralty Arch, London.

National Series. Published by M & L Ltd.

The truth is less exciting, although this image is so empty it must have been taken on a weekend in the off-season! Not much doubt about which card would have sold best. The message on the back of this one is more interesting than the front. The writer has dated it 16. 6. 16, although the last number has been over-written and could be 19. The message takes up all of the back so it must have been posted in an envelope, and we have no address for the recipient.

Dear Mrs Land,
Just had a note from Mabel to say she has settled down. Will try and get out to Richmond where she lives in a day or so. Everything went off just fine at the wedding and say – Tom Murray is a splendid fellow. Straight as you make them. Will see you soon as we are booked for U.S.A. on 28th this month. Have still the wee mascot so I’m safe.
Kind regards to Mr Land and self. A. R. Don.

It’s a tantalizing hint at the lives of several people and leaves more questions than answers. Was Mr. Don an American soldier being repatriated in 1919 after the war, or a private citizen braving the Atlantic U-boat menace in 1916? Whatever the case, he was superstitious enough to need a lucky charm. Did Mabel find it difficult to settle down and why, and was she the bride? Was the splendid Tom Murray the groom?

Maybe one of you fiction writers out there can exercise your own artistic licence, change the names, flesh out the characters, invent your own answers, and create a short story. I’m sure novels have been inspired by less.