Newsletter-367-October-2001

 

No. 367: OCTOBER 2001      HADAS 40th anniversary year     edited by Deirdre Barrie

OUTING TO WALTHAM ABBEY AND THE GUNPOWDER MILLS   Part 1

Our first stop on the outing to Waltham Abbey and the Gunpowder Mills was at Theobalds Park, the current resting resting-place of Temple Bar. "Abbey National Centre of Excellence" said the sign at the entrance, appropriately enough.

Built by Wren in 1672, Temple Bar originally stood as the entrance to the City of London, at the foot of Chancery Lane. Monarchs were greeted there by the Lord Mayor. Titus Oates and Daniel Defoe were pilloried there. Traitors' heads were displayed on spikes. In 1878 it was demolished (presumably to ease traffic) and ultimately privately acquired, to be taken into retirement at Theobalds Park, where it stands in a secluded corner of the grounds.

Although it is several storeys high, the slope of the ground diminishes the effect of Temple Bar's height, but it is nevertheless a monumental building, bigger than one supposed from illustrations, because it is quite deep, and the upper arch contains a room. The strong presence of the building is enhanced by the heavy grandeur of its style.

I think the outline of the building is well known, perhaps because for many years it was the logo of one of our defunct insurance companies. There is a wide depressed arch over the roadway entrance filled by a massive wooden gate, coffered, studded and spiked. On either side are quite narrow openings for pedestrians. The upper arch contains central windows on each side, flanked by marching niches, and it is topped by curved pediment. On each side of the upper arch are big curly stone volutes, like bookends. There is also a great deal of decoration in the classical style of its period.

The building is covered with notices warning that it is dangerous to enter. The chance would be a fine thing. Wisely it is surrounded by a spiked steel fence which is perhaps ten feet high, and a great frustration to photographers. It is good to see that so much of it remains in an identifiable state, but it gives the impression of being on the cusp of dissolution. The top is covered by sheets of corrugated iron giving a slight touch of the pagoda.

A private trust was created in 1976 which would like to restore the building and place it to the north of St Paul's, but it looks like time may defeat it. Thanks to Stewart Wild for his expert guidance. In Michelin terms, "worth a detour",        LAURENCE BENTLEY

 

OUTING TO WALTHAM ABBEY AND THE GUNPOWDER MILLS — Part 2

The Town of Waltham Abbey, formerly known as Waltham Holy Cross, includes an area called Waltham Cross which relates to an Eleanor Cross, not to be confused with a cross brought from Somerset by an official of King Canute and placed in the Saxon church. It rep utedly had healing powers and cured Harold Godwinson of a paralysis.

We had the luck to be shown round by Peter Huggins who took part in the dig there 25 years ago. He showed how the building developed over the centuries, always using the 8th C foundations which encompassed a 7th C wooden church. Harold in 1060 added transepts, making a T-shaped church similar to some in Germany, and founded a secular college. He prayed there on the way to Hastings and is buried there though not, Peter thinks at the designated spot.

Henry II, as a penance for the murder of Beckett, greatly enlarged the building and established an Augustinian order. The Lady Chapel, originally a Guild Chapel built by private subscription, has a fine 15th C wall-painting of Judgement Day.

This was the last religious house to be dissolved, in 1540 when Thomas Tanis was organist. The Norman nave escaped destruction because it had always been the Parish Church. The Victorian restoration, by William Burgess, includes a painted ceiling, copied from Peterborough Cathedral, featuring the signs of the zodiac.

Externally, the building is a mishmash of styles and materials, including Saxon herringbone masonry, and immaculate East Anglian flints. The gardens have a wall containing fragments of Portland stone from the Plantagenet church, and beyond are the foundations of a smithy where iron was forged from local coal and ore. The Royal Gunpowder Mills, not far from the Abbey, occupy a site half the size of Hyde Park, on the banks of the River Lee (or Lea). Started in 1660, bought by the government in 1797, they made gunpowder, gun cotton, nitroglycerine and cordite. The Barnes Wallis bomb was tested there. From 1948-1977 it was a research establishment. The site has now been cleaned at a cost of £18 million and given to a Trust who opened it to the public last May.

It is largely covered by alders (best for making charcoal), has 5 miles of canals and has become an SSSI. From the Land Train you have tantalising glimpses of ruined huts, indestructible blast walls, elegant bridges, heron and pike. The HADAS lecture last May described the Mills as they were. Now go there, a ticket covers 2 consecutive days.

On the way home we took tea at Forty Hall, built for a Lord Mayor of London and now home to a flock of geese, all snoozing, facing the sun. Our thanks to June and Stuart.

ROSEMARY BENTLEY

Future Events

Church Farmhouse Museum - "Do You Believe in Magic?" (22 Sept 2001 - 6 January 2002)

The Museum's autumn exhibition is on conjuring and stage magic, and will include material on early magicians and escapologists such as Houdini, as well as Victorian "props" from Davenports, Britain's manufacturers for conjurers' equipment. The Museum hopes to present some shows over half-term and the early part of the Christmas holiday. Please ring 0207 203 0130 for further details. GERRARD ROOTS

 

Medieval Treasures at the Tate: 17 Sept - 2 March 2002, Duveen Galleries, Tate Britain

The exhibition (admission free)"highlights the international context for British art and the cataclysmic effects of the Reformation". Displays of architectural ornaments, funerary monuments and freestanding figures.

This exhibition will be of especial interest to members who visited Wenlock Priory on the way to Wales, during HADAS's recent trip, as among items on display will be two panels and fragments, all that remains of the Wenlock Lavabo, described as "a wonderful example of 12th century narrative sculpture". This was a ritual wash basin (which resembled a large fountain) used by the monks.

THE TWO HENRYS - Audree Price-Davies replies to Percy Reboul

It was very kind of Mr Percy Reboul to comment on my write-up of the visit to Canterbury Cathedral. There are one or two inaccuracies which I would like to indicate.

I did not "sum up in a single sentence great events in history". I sought to show in a few paragraphs that Canterbury Cathedral shows evidence of the power struggle between church and king. I did not label either Henry II or Henry VIII as bad. The actions of kings as leaders have to be judged within the historical context of the facts and there is no room for emotional sympathy.

Henry II was aware of the necessity to reform the judicial system - I wrote this. The people however were not happy with the reforms and applauded Becket's opposition. In a moment of exasperation Henry II asked his famous question and four knights took him literally. Henry, alive to public feeling, did penance at Calais for the murder. History is not written in black and white - both sides had their reasons.

I did not write that Henry VIII "lusted after Anne Boleyn" - Mr Reboul wrote this. I do not know whether Henry did or not - it is irrelevant. If it had not been Anne Boleyn - it would have been someone else. His quarrel with Rome was not "about a divorce from Catherine of Aragon" even though "in the context of the times the claims he made to have the marriage annulled had some validity". This was merely the pretext. The real reasons were more complex. Henry wanted an heir, Catherine had borne a daughter, Mary; but Henry wanted a son, and so he wanted to marry again. The church diverted a great deal of money to Rome and used its influence to interfere in official appointments. The Reformation in Germany weakened the influence of the Pope in the west and the growing nationalism in England made many question the influence of the Pope in English affairs. If Henry had not broken with Rome it would have been left to succeeding rulers and it would have been more difficult. Henry was statesmanlike, well-advised and aware of the opinions of his time. It is not possible in write-up of a visit to quote the background history - I assumed this. Mr Reboul has an axe to grind about the Henrys, but he should not attribute ideas to me which I do not hold and did not express, so that he can refute these ideas in support of his theory. It seems I was right about the beheading of statues and breaking of windows by the Parliamentary solder,- but for the wrong reasons! Oh, really!

Does Mr Reboul really believe that “cakes and nice hot freshly-brewed tea are another of the great England! What price glory!

I used Trevelyan’s History of England as a text book.

                                                                                                AUDREE PRICE DAVIES

 

CALIGULA'S LOST SHIPS

At the side of Lake Nemi outside Rome is a huge double-chambered museum, as big as an aircraft hangar — but it is almost empty. It was built by Mussolini to house two immense Roman ceremonial barges salvaged from the bottom of the lake in 1929-32, after nearly 2000 years.

It had been known for centuries that the ritual ships lay at the bottom of the volcano-crater lake and there were several attempts to raise them — one in 1599 used an early diving bell. Mussolini lowered the water level to get the ships out. But his tribute to his Roman forebears did not last long. On the night of 31 May 1944, retreating German soldiers fired the ships, which were destroyed.


Metal fragments remain — the lead piping die-stamped with the G.CAESARIS AUG GERMANIC which dated the ships to 37-41 AD; anchors, a rotating platform which shows that the Romans used ball-bearings; a deep-water valve. I was very taken by a wonderful series of fierce and lively bronze heads holding mooring rings: a leopard (with spots), a lion and a wolf. (see above)

The ships (230 feet long and 35 feet across) were unpropelled craft, either pulled by shore-to-shore lines, or pushed across the sheltered lake by smaller boats. There was a temple to Diana Nemorensis nearby.



An excellent account of the ships is given in H.V. Morton's indispensable guide A Traveller in Rome, where he quotes from Frazer's The Golden Bough to the effect that the priest of Diana at Nemi was always a runaway slave who had to murder the previous priest, and spent his time waiting nervously for his successor to arrive and challenge him by plucking the "golden bough".

In 1995 Rosario D'Agata, a retired oil-company executive who lived at Nemi, started the Diana Lacus Association to reconstruct one of the 70 metre ships.

Although there was a commencement ceremony in 1995, and an impressive keel has been laid outside the front of the Museo Delle Navi by the Di Donato shipbuilders of Terre del Greco, work seems to have ground to a halt, possibly from lack of funds. All the internet references lead to a web page which is frustratingly unavailable.

D.BARRIE

THE MISTRESS OF MYSTERY IN MESOPOTAMIA, AND IN BLOOMSBURY

An exhibition on Agatha Christie might hardly seem prime material for a HADAS Newsletter. But the renowned crime writer (she was the most popular novelist in history, with more than two billion books sold) was married for almost 50 years to archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan, excavator ofNimrud and Tell Brak among many other notable western Asiatic sites.

Agatha Christie's archaeological ventures with her husband gave her material for many of her novels — think of Death on the Nile or Murder in Mesopotamia, for example. Now, 25 years after her death, the British Museum is to pay due credit to that aspect of her own story, in Agatha Christie and Archaeology: Mystery in Mesopotamia, running from November 9 to March 24. Much intriguing material, much of it not at all the normal content of archaeological displays, is promised, and including films made by Agatha Christie herself, memorabilia and personabilia.

To gain a taste of how Christie linked the two threads of her life, and to enjoy a very good read, Mary O'Connell recommends her "archaeological memoir", Come Tell Me How You Live. It begins with this delightful poem ("with apologies to Lewis Carroll"). HADAS is most grateful for permission to reprint it here.


I'll tell you everything I can
If you will listen well:

I met an erudite young man
A-sitting on a Tell.

"Who are you, sir?" to him I said,

"For what is it you look?"

His answer trickled through my head

Like bloodstains in a book.

He said: "I look for aged pots

Of prehistoric days,

And then I measure them in lots

And lots of different ways.

And then (like you) I start to write,

My words are twice as long

As yours, and far more erudite.

They prove my colleagues wrong!"

But I was thinking of a plan
To kill a millionaire

And hide the body in a van

Or some large Frigidaire.

So, having no reply to give,

And feeling rather shy,

I cried: "Come, tell me how you live!

And when, and where, and why?"

His accents mild were full of wit:
"Five thousand years ago

Is really, when I think of it,

The choicest Age I know.

And once you learn to scorn A.D.

And you have got the Knack

Then you could come and dig with me

And never wander back."

But I was thinking how to thrust

Some arsenic into tea,

And could not all at once adjust

My mind so far B.C.

I looked at him and softly sighed

His face was pleasant too...

"Come, tell me how you live?" I cried,

"And what it is you do?'

He said: "1 hunt for objects made

By men where'er they roam,

I photograph and catalogue

And pack and send them home.

These things we do not sell for - gold

(Nor yet, indeed, for copper!),

But place them on Museum shelves

As only right and proper.

"I sometimes dig up amulets

And figurines most lewd,

For in those prehistoric days

They were extremely rude!

And that's the way we take our fun,

'Tis not the way of wealth.

But archaeologists live long

And have the rudest health."

1 heard him then, for I had just

Completed a design

To keep a body free from dust
By boiling it in brine.

I thanked him much for telling me

With so much erudition,

And said that I would go with him

Upon an Expedition...

And now, if e'er by chance I dip

My fingers into acid,

Or smash some pottery (with slip!)

Because I am not placid,

Or If I see a river flow

And hear a far-off yell,

I sigh, for it reminds me so

Of that young man I learned to know —

Whose look was mild, whose speech was slow,

Whose thoughts were in the long ago,

Whose pockets sagged with pot sherds so,

Who lectured learnedly and low,

Who used long words I didn't know,

Whose eyes, with fervour all a-glow,

Upon the ground looked to and fro,

Who sought conclusively to show

That there were things I ought to know

And that with him I ought to go

And dig upon a Tell! 

 

A-SITTING ON A TELL from COME, TELL ME HOW YOU LIVE, published by HarperCollins, Copyright 1946 by Agatha Christie Mallowan

COURSES

"Introduction to Archaeology" — West Herts College, Hemel Hempstead. Term 1 began on 25th September, but please phone Jack Goldenfeld on 01923 285225 if you are interested.

(Jack Goldenfeld, a lecturer at the College, has been assessing the late Ted Sammes' archive material, and has just returned from America where he visited Mesa Verde and the Crow Canyon Archaeological Museum, Colorado.)

"Post-Excavation Analysis" — Avenue House, 15-17 East End Road, Finchley, N3 — 6.30-8.30 pm for 24 meetings. Fee £118 (£59 concessions).The course, which began on 26 September, aims to record, assess and analyse to modern standards the full site archives from the excavations carried out by the late Ted Sammes, with a view to publication as part of a programme of research into the origins of Hendon. Lecturers: Jacqueline Pearce, BA and Kim Stabler, BA, MA. Please phone 020 7631 6627.

Other Societies' Activities

Thursday 41h October

London Canal Museum, 12-13 New Wharf, Road, King's Cross, N1 — "Keeping our Canal Heritage Alive". Talk by Tom Chiplin, 7.30 pm. (Concessions £1.25).

Saturday 6 October

Barnet and District Local History Society. Coach trip to Brighton and Preston Manor. Free time in Brighton itself in the morning. If interested please phone Pat Alison (01707 858430) for an application form as soon as possible. Cost: £13, departs 9.00 am from Barnet Odeon.

Wednesday 10 October

Barnet & District Local History Society: "Families Working on the Cut (Canals)". Talk by Valerie Johnson. Wyburn Road, Wesley Hall, Stapylton Road, Barnet, 8.00 pm.

Mill Hill Historical Society: "History and Impact of Roman Canals on Britain": talk by Dr Roger Squires. Harwood Hall, Union Church, The Broadway, NW7, 8.15 pm.

Friday' 19 October

Wembley History Society — "Church Farm, Hendon". Talk by Gerrard Roots (of HADAS). Jubilee Hall, corner Parsonage Lane/Chase Side, 7.30 pm

Sunday 21 October

Friern Barnet & District Local Historical Society — "Over 150 Years of History of Friern Hospital" conducted walk led by Oliver Natelson (2-4 pm). Meet outside New Southgate Station for 2 pm. Charge £1.

Thursday 251h October

Finchley Society — "London Assembly" (Jean Scott Memorial Lecture) given by Brian Coleman. Drawing Room, Avenue House, East End Road, Finchley, N3. 8 pm.

Wednesday 31't October

Friends of Bruce Castle The Peopling of London" — talk by Gail Cameron (Museum of London) Bruce Castle Museum, Lordship Lane, N17, 7.30 pm.

 

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