AN ENGLISH RASCAL’S TAIL?

Rascallyrascal

PAW THREE

Woof, well I’ve decided the boss is probably a little nuts, if not barking mad, like me when I get my teeth into something really juicy and my eyes start to glaze over like a hopeful serial killer.  You see he soon decided to give me something called a birthday and not quite knowing how old I am, the pretty Greek vet having only guessed my age from my rascally size and the condition of my pearl white teeth, he chose April 26th, 2015.  He says it’s because of some human poet, or something, over four hundred years ago, but sometimes I have no idea what he is wittering on about. Not that that was his exact birthday either, but the day of something called a baptism, when some bloke in a dress dipped him into a stone pool of water in a place called Stratford. Odd, these humans. The very thought makes me shiver, like some bedgragled sewer rat, just as I did when he dragged me into that stand-up shower room in Hampshire, just because I had been romping through all that country mud,  trying to be free and have fun.  Where was all this indoor rain suddenly coming from, it was worse than being left outside in Corfu? Quite a different prospect too, Hampshire, to my mountain retreat in Greece.  Great vistas of Cyprus trees and the lovely sea were suddenly swapped for winding English lanes, fenced fields, rolling downs and that square of green garden behind the long thatched cottage, with its white walls and motor bike parked so obtrusively outside.  Not that we lived in the house, me and the boss, we were only allowed occasional access to the kitchen, the loo, well the boss was, and of course secretly that horrid shower too, but instead lived at the end of the garden in something called a forge.  It was once an old blacksmith’s workshop, with a tiled roof and big chimney stack, and a cranky old metal step ladder inside that took you up though a hole to an attic room in the pitched roof, with open beams and a little broken window, where something called a futon doubled as a bed. Quite difficult to navigate if you are blind drunk, my new home.

With a stone step up to the metal door, beyond the fence, then four wooden steps down to the sunken floor, and filled with old furniture, a heavy green sofa and lots of plastic storage boxes, stuffed with books and bricabrak, it was quite an odd choice for the boss’s Bohemian hideaway, if choice it was.  But at least it had a splendid new wood burner that glowed like dragon fire in the windy nights and the boss made good use of the art deco drinks cabinet, with its door that swung open on a cantaleevered  bar, well stocked with bottles of warming whisky and green tinted Ginger wine.  Perhaps it was really a dressing cabinet. The boss of the cottage opposite had billed it as a kind of Ayuvedic sanctuary in times of trouble, a place for healing and retreat in the village of T-, which the boss would  certainly come to question, but two blokes had made it their home already. One, J, part actor, part seafaring man, part public school drop-out type, who the boss had taken flying the summer before over the sparkling Solent, had used the retreat for nearly a year in times of strain and discovered the art of locking himself behind that metal door and appearing to be out, when there was too much psycho mayhem outside.  He said as he lay there in the summer he could hear the sound of cows chewing the cud, but maybe it was the drugs. Another, the South African J, working in the great old city of Winchester with the really barking mad, had apparently lived there for six whole years.  His was the horrid portaloo upstairs that the boss disguarded with the chemical bottles and the baby wipes on the recommendation of a lady with big feet. That smell is frankly septic.

Of course the boss had also made special contingency plans for my own arrival that frosty January.  A visit to the little pet shop in Arlesford, and to the country store Scats and Pets At Home in Winchester had opened a whole new world and produced  two shiny metal dog bowls,  for water and ruffage,a big packet of crunchy Iams, various sachets of meat, a splendid extendable lead and  a comfy rectangle of fluffy bed laid thoughtfully by the fire. I think the boss is a bit gay sometimes, though mightily generous,  but I am afraid I opted for the big green sofa, when I found I couldn’t follow him up those metal steps through the ceiling, and my whining died away, as his face suddenly vanished above me. Oh  yes, and a plastic green poop scoop he hung prominently  from the shed in the garden, as a sign of thoughtful intent,  and that little metal disc around my neck. It had popped out of a big automated  engraving machine in the fancy pet shop, in the shape of a bone, and proudly engraved with the motto Rascal – Boss’s Telephone No: – David Clement-Davies. Twice in fact, because we lost the first when he attached the lead to my new bone tag by mistake and  I jumped too hard.

So here I was, in happy Hampshire.  Or perhaps that is a moot point, or certainly a mutt one!  It had something to do with that little pink sign pinned up for months on the forge wall that the boss kept eyeing suspiciously as we returned from walks, saying PLANNING PERMISSION, a bit like the sign that appears in Watership Down, that endangered rabbit book.  Good book that, certainly worth a Fiver,  though not many positive role models for dogs!  Thing is the boss of the cottage was planning to do up the place, to add a much needed bathroom, kitchen and loo.  To make it a real home, though not for me or the boss, despite the apparent arms of unconditional friendship extended.. Not that he ever had the courtesy to tell my boss when our time might be up anyhow.  At first the word was that permission had been denied from the big Estate, whose own boss is family of the other thatched-cottage boss, something to do with the houses beyond, or heritage status in the South Down’s park.  Hmmm.  Then it was turned around and that marvellous burly bloke in the bowler, he who would recite Dylan Thomas  under the stars, Captain Cat and all, and worked as a builder, was called in to discuss the realities.  He had often worked with one of the younger inhabitants of the thatched cottage, flatmate of the boss in a sense, the young fellow with the issue with Christmas puddings. On that note I might say getting home safely at night could be a little tricky because, like that motorbike parked so obtrusively on the pavings to the cottage door, it seems humans constantly mark their territory too, consciously or subconsciously, and so the path to the forge was  usually strewn with axes, logs or disembowelled washing machine parts, from the burgeoning  scientific fringe of the Hampshire commune.

It was on the boss’s birthday though, to return to that subject , on something called Epiphany, for the spiritually literate, and an impromptu party down the local pub, aided by the generous souls behind the bar, that the boss heard his so called host discussing it.  He had not wanted to come much either, or remembered even a card, despite that book the boss gave him on his own birthday, A Time of Gifts, about the land of Romania. But his host was never one to allow others to be happily any centre of attention. Perhaps I should digress then and tell you a little more about the village of T-.  Down a winding track off one of the main dogging sights in England, whatever that is, it lies around the windings of the river Arle, hence the ford somewhere,  and is the kind of place you might imagine inspired either Brigadoon or The Fog. The running joke is can you ever really escape and would you want to? In fact a great legend hangs over T-, and a great court case too, but its centre is the estate and the big house, the houses, barns and farms that line the minor road and, of course, being held in the arms of the local pub.  I was sitting by the fire there one day, dreaming of Corfu, when a charming older bloke started recounting to the boss what it had been like before the onslaught of machines. Whole communities linked to the work on the estate, hand harvesting, tithe cottages, swelling public and lounge bars, lives richly interconnected.  Now the smart money from London, advertising, bananas, a touch of media in the other boss’s case, so he says, dominates the smartly done up houses and the old post office, apart from the farmer who is turning his hand to champagne and drives his own combine harvesters, and meanwhile the trade of a publican can be a precarious one. Taxes on beer, VAT, drink driving laws, the fear of being too generous at a lock-in or the cause of affairs, drunken laughter, disapproved of fireworks, noisy folk staggering home under the brilliant stars to disturb the more genteele on the village council.  Those who like such things had been struggling for the prize of best kept village of the year, while others had been dreaming of revolution. Then I open my jaws to yawn and curly out my tongue when the boss tries to explain that even the estate is in the hands of higher powers, like the agents Carter Jonas. That both English history and capital has always centred on ownership.

A charming bloke called Lennie ran that pub once, a local legend. It picks up on Thursday, and Friday is village night, but in a winter mid week you can hear the ticking clock, the cracking spit of the fire  and the sound of your own heartbeat. Great charm that place though and among the friends the boss had made real warmth and love. You just ignore the dogs you don’t want to talk to, or try to. It’s funny how I forget, wherever I go, wherever I arrive, being a travelling little Rascal, that all those humans already have history, an endless pattern of intersecting stories, even if they will not recognise how similar they all are in their fear. They intersected most at that thatched cottage, or that pub. A place of intense dramas, sad stories, happy ones and long tongued babbling gossip. H, propping up the bar, coughing like an asmatic  piston engine, whose family name decks those bits of stone in the churchyard up from the house, looked out for by the kindly bald chef, a dab hand at the arrows. S, that bright-eyed sailing heart, lady of dogs herself, with a hoarse, loud laugh, and very game and warm. The supposed posh folk on the other side of the bar, that very nice champagne socialist who wanders through talking the horrors of his recent unemployment, then parks one of his four cars and takes his family off to trek Morocco. Or the big boss, my boss chatted to about Graham Greene, a spy and Catholic writer no one reads anymore. But why am I going on about the silly humans? The characters that most interested me were the animals, before the dogs started barking in T-.

P, the ex City publican, had looked at the boss as if he was suddenly one of us, now I had arrived, as if he could now understand, meet ladies down the Winchester car park perhaps, or had put his name on The Hampshire Register.  Which arranges the scrutiny of suitable romantic folk, of the right income, culture and tastes, of course, but charges lonely ladies much more than men.  I think one of the clientele was on it already, but I must admit the boss seemed to perk up a bit at my way with the ladies. P also said something very nice, firstly ‘i’d have him’ and then to the boss ‘now you have a best friend for life’. But no, too much about humans. You see P had three canine residents himself, Rosie, Honey and of course old blind-sided Nelson, with canine dementia. At first all I knew was smells when I danced through the door and cocked my leg on other trails laid  inside.  P looked at the boss knowingly and handed him a big roll of kitchen paper.  So I began to do something down the pub called socialising and the measure of their welcome was the measure of how nice those people are, and their animals too. Mighty Igor,  a noble dog who looks like S’s human father,  and that yappy Jack Russell named after Japanese horseradish. Yet for a dog like me there is always a caveat.  The deep seated knowledge in every owner of the mirror that I and my friends might throw on their own ability to be in the world. It goes quite deep this relationship with humans and animals, you see.  Take that farmer talking at the back over a beer of his cows who had miscarried twice so faced an inevitable journey in the direction of the dinner plate. I mean, you have to face realities.  It’s life and death out there. The boss was already facing realities when such a normally sedentry fellow was suddenly forced up at dawn, to crunch through iced mud or over frosted fields, ravishing when blushed with the pink of dawn, to test his vocal chords trying to call me home or to stumble along lonely lanes too late at night. Rascal.  RAScal.  RASCAL. Come back here, you little…  He was noticed on THE ESTATE, or we were. Meanwhile with the feeling that the sword of Damacles was about to descend on both our heads though, courtesy of PLANNING PERMISSION.

So to the nub of the matter and that other stranger to foreign climbs I mentioned, the lady from Romania who arrived the very same day at Luton airport, just ten minutes from where my master later picked me up.  So as they were settling in back home he was trying wondering if he’d recognize me, how much I’d grown and how well Claire and Stimati had treated me. Incidentally, long, long before I was born, 168 years in dog terms, at the count of seven, 1990 in human counting, the boss had been to Romania, obviously from Luton Airport and talking of that had once seen Lorriane Chase in an airport in Spain. You know, “Were you truly wafted here from paradise?” He went in a freezing January, just after the pack leaders there had been shot in something called a Revolution, the Ceaucescus. He remembers armed soldiers at the airport, bullet holes in the hotel lift in Bucharest, listening devices so large even the CIA could uncover them and very interesting times. He also remembers astonishing scenery, the mighty Carpathians and a culture split between an attempt at a modern world and peasant Russia in the 18th Century. He travelled all over, for five weeks with a beautiful blond in a fur hat he only made love to back in London he was so depressed, and some of the sights and stories found their way into one of his novels, about wolves and stuff.

But anyway we were all in England now and the cottage boss had borrowed the boss’s car to pick her up, but while being perhaps a tad nervous at arrivals, had also noticed a borrowed set of golf clubs in the vehicle, his own. Now I am not exactly proud of my own boss for turning to a game like golf, which not only spoils a good walk but bans dogs from enjoying vast swaiths of the free Hampshire sward, but it does have its Zen attractions and it’s damned good fun pooping in a bunker to scandalize the Club House.  The point is the cottage boss then proceeded to make such an absurd fuss about the cleaning of said instruments, that had languished in the shed under a mountain of cobwebs and had been considerably spruced up anyhow, you might think he thought someone was trying to steal his etchings.  This in fact was simply part of something humans call a PATTERN, or maybe PLANNING PERMISSION, namely repeated behaviour whenever he returned from foreign climbs and needed to be the centre of attention.  Also because he wasn’t sure he liked the boss in the forge anymore, despite nicely calling him one of the family, but didn’t quite know how to work the politics of it.  It had happened before with a fellow called N, a hippy window cleaner and gardener who did have the unfortunate habit of appearing in polite society with bits of  loo roll stuck to his bared stomach, or nearly burning down the place, the rascal. This might well earn him the epithet of being a bit of a wanker and yet he was strangely also something of a fond character in the eccentric fabric of this supposedly healing  place. The boss and he had stood in the rain in the garden during the most astonishing electric thunderstorm and raised their hands to The Dogs.

Talking of wankers though, or that very un-wolf like habit of always trying to go for the supposed weakest link in the pack, the cottage commandant now began to direct his insecurity towards the end of the garden, where I was trying to kip happily on that long, green  leather sofa, thoughtfully protected from my lovely paws by purchased coverlet,  and the boss was trying to do some work and get his life back. I said hello to this human fellow one day, who claims to be much taken with the environment, even if he does frighten pregnant cows by running wildly through fields, and while graciously letting me stay I was a tad suspicious when he remarked his arriving girlfriend would like me, much as he doesn’t like the effort of dogs himself. Like me she did, and I her, waifs and strays together, as I did that fellow who loves aged Christmas pudding too much and his pretty girlfriend too, the boss’s other flatmate.  But alas,  I fear that human writing was already on the forge wall and our happy pack days were numbered. More of which I shall tell you anon, because now I have to go and have a bone, if nothing like the one so prized by the happless gardener.

David Clement-Davies has appointed himself Rascal’s boss and has published several novels, often involving animals, including Fire Bringer, The Sight, Fell, The Alchemists of Barbal, The Terror Time Spies and The Telling Pool. Richard Adams, author of Watership Down, described Fire Bringer as one of the best anthropomorphic fantasies known to him. Last year, based in Hampshire and with help from friends and readers, after a long and bruising battle with his own publisher in New York, he successfully crowd funded Dragons in The Post, which he is still working on.

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SHAKESPEARE’S BROTHER – EDMUND SHAKESPEARE

Originally posted on Phoenix Ark's Blog:

Published work on Edmund Shakespeare, London and Southwark, back on July 1st 2012, was too long, so it has been reworked into short storytelling chapters, the first of which starts today. There are still a few errors, or slight mistakes to be checked back with our original notebooks, though there are very definitive elements to come too. It is a thrilling adventure in Shakespeare and local history. The chapters will become part of the project Shakespeare’s Brother, posted above. Readers are very much encouraged to write in with corrections, or to point out glaring errors.

SHAKESPEARE’S BROTHER – The biography of a borough and an unrecorded life

by David Clement-Davies

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The…

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AN ENGLISH RASCAL’S TAIL?

Rascallyrascal

PAW TWO

My name?  In fact the boss and that human female sort named me, as they started to ask what it should be, almost like fond parents trying for character and joy in the kids! A name must find it’s rightness though, have it’s evolution too. Rascal. Something like scamp or scoundrel, but much more fun somehow and nicer too. Nothing really scurrilous, of course! More of the Rascal when I run away, learn to dig, eat everything in sight, and nip, nip, nip. That female human arrived not long after him, up in the mountain village of Sin-. She was carrying bags and bottles, beer and bundles of wool, with which she crocheted incessantly, in between the gardening and getting the stove to work and the fume pipes up. An ever moving needle trying to join the threads, to make things practical and real, to make us warm really and sell in the local fairs too:  Hats, head bands, legwarmers, snoods. 

Up from the semi-notorious little bar she runs in season down near the beach where she camps out in the back for the whole season, after the night has turned to day again and the sea is singing and sighing in waking ears. Putting fairy lights in the olive trees, that drop stones on your head when the seasons change and the people leave again. Persuading her guests to make love, get drunk or paint on rocks collected from the beach. Her nest, I guess. Some things that happen there could scandalise a rock star. They tried to close her down last year but she fought back.  Would you believe that half that village is painted pink, like the boat that sails into the bay with their partying guests from the giant Pink Palace hotel. It’s run by a fiesty lady called Magda who said she liked my Master’s spirit as she prepared to host, out of season, a group of travelling nuns. They compare it to a horrid place called Kavos, down in the south, that caused a scandal with a British documentary about the drunk and the louche, although the boss thinks it nicer and says the island has room for many different things anyway. A sense of real freedom.

A tall, curly haired feisty Jewish American lady from Chicago, she was, not that she believes in Race or Religion, except of the hippy kind, with strong hands and quite a tale to tell. “I’m a Donkey and a trader,” she jawed, one day, not quite understanding my Master, who she thought is “just too posh”. She came to her island 29 human years ago and asked a Greek man to marry her, one afternoon on the beach. His Shirely Valentine, if she’d being English. She had been just as wild as a teenager in Chicago but always wanted to live on an island. In fact some fortune teller told her that she would. So travel and marry she did, and had four human pups herself, three boys and a girl and all grown up now. One was just going into the army to do his National Service. Married a man who got a bit unhappy though, or some say just too Greek and so eventually she left. It took quite some guts in a small Greek community. She met the boss through mutual friends: The deligful Chancie B, another American girl with whom the boss would sing snatches of extempore musicals. Brave, warm, Chancie B. The ever lovely Mi, who he met when she was doing the cleaning in the big villa where he was staying two years before, and asked him to sign his books. They thought he was a celebrity. The fiery Rosetta, like a stone to be translated, and her warm hearted-brother, with their Dutch and Indonesian angle on things. V and her daughter. Mind you there are many English females married to Greek men on the island, but I bet not many of them ever married a girl too, like the Chicagoan did. The boss met her short lived wife too, with her new soon-to-be-dumped girlfriend, that day he arrived at the house in the pelting rain. It rains  on Corfu like nowhere else, hence all that greenery, but the wonder is the brooding storms and the flashing lights in the steamy skies. Sometimes you’d think The Dogs in the heavens themselves are angry, in that hot-house micro climate, but when a far off village is caught in a halo of light you’d think the heavens had opened and you lived in a Renaisance painting.

Perhaps our first real bonding was nothing but care, or a little needed responsibility. Humans will find they’re always happier when they’re caring for something else, despite their need for freedom. It was when he saw I had caught that cat family’s jippy eye too and muttered on about taking the mutt to the vet. The American dame was much more practical, or hard nosed. Much more careful with resources too. A paper napkin dipped in cold tea would do the old wive’s trick. So he heald my head and wiped the yellow scum out of my eye with a bit of napkin soaked in English Breakfast and after a day I felt better. So did he. I didn’t feel exactly free when he suddenly appeared with a strange strip of brown leather and put it around my neck, then something else of white rubber too. Then in my life so far I had been scruffing it among the broken bicycles, the rubbish and old matresses, in that little barn with a broken roof next to his house, 18-something it says above the arch, and kept lifting my back leg and scratching my ear and back, as you do. “Fleapit”, he called me sometimes, rearranging that flea collar and giving me a pat. Not that I always scratch because of fleas, my coat sometimes just gets a little itchy and too hot too. Our first walk, on that strange brown tie, I didn’t like at all, even if walking in the mountains is cool and lovely in Autumn. I wondered if he was trying to steal my freedom and so I sat, solid, until he tried to drag me and then gave up. Must of the time I kept to my perch up there by the mountain house. Then a young friend he chatted to on some Facebook thing, who had already suggested the boss needed a pet, told him to try another way. To put it on me in the house, and walk me around, so I wasn’t frightened of it. That he has started to understand, when I turn and run for a dangerous road, or look back at him wondering if I’ll obey, that firmness isn’t anger, and that you mustn’t frighten me.  He’s learning the trick of treats too, and talks grandly of something called reverse psychology.

He saw some nerves in me too that day he took me down to the wildest and strangest place I had ever been. We tipped down the hard tarmac road in his over smart Mercedes hire-car, with its glittering views at the neck of the mountain, to a place called Agios Gordios. So I bounced along a beach, my ears flapping, my bottom wiggling like an African dancer, starting to discover the world. “Paradise” the American lady called it, as they picked lemons and gorged on fresh tangerines from the tree, or walked along the beach and swam in mid November, or tried to practice Tai Chi up on the hill in the sparking sun. I like humans who do odd things. Down in the bay a great standing rock edges the shore and the hill on the islet to the North looks like the face of a giant sleeping bhudda, reclining his mythical back. Well, that’s what a girl he had met on the beach suggested, although he thought it looked like a drunken troll over his beer and calamari. She had told him too that this island was said to be the home of Nausicca, meeting Ulysses, always trying to get home to Ithaca. Ah, but humans seek so many meanings, stories, when perhaps it’s all so simple really. He kissed her that evening, that girl on the beach, as the sun became the fiery sea, but she went to difficult Athens in search of a wilder man. That windy day I had my first breath of the racing sea though, as I scampered beside them and they talked the hope of buying some little place, in this dark financial climate, or she looked at a magical plot of land, although wthout building permission, something to call her own. They looked up Yurts too. But at the end of the bay, where the water sometimes fizzes with sewage, I saw that big man fishing with his giant rod and hid in the bushes, shivering. The boss picked me out and they wondered if as a smaller puppy I had been beaten by some macho Greek.

Apart from me though what exactly is this strange creature, this human writer who dares to share my tale? Is he tempting the Fates? I wonder sometimes, as I put my head on the floor and look at him mournfully from the tops of my big brown eyes. Or I stretch my forepaws in front of me, and stick out my white back legs and look up at him like a Lipizana pony. I’m very good at clocking him from the corner of my eyes, as I wrestle with a bone or nose between his legs. As we sit not quite alone – in that house for a while in Greece, or in that chilly forge in Hampshire, in a flat in St John’s Wood, or up there in Cumbria, in the cottage by the big hall. He sits in front of a glowing glass screen, moving his fingers. He says things aren’t the same anymore though, now we have the internet. Says that Publisers fight for little and it’s all about money and we’ve lost a sense of the lyric too. A touch of the exile in the boss, you see, or disapproving of fair-weather-friends. Mind you, with that blog success and all the horny mutts out there you’d think we might try the dog equivalent of Fifty Shades of Grey. Would you call that Fifty Shades of Greyhound? Not if that funny, red-faced bloke in the pub in T- has his way, so irritated with dogs humping each other, and the boss gives me the snip. Except the boss thinks there is something far more irritating – him.  Perhaps I should be famous, that last infirmity of noble minds. But if so, as famous as who? Rin-tin-tin, Greyfriar’s Bobby, Lassie, or the boss’s favourite, Snowy? No, I think I’ll just be Rascal. I sometimes make him feel guilty when he lifts a bottle and ask him if he’s looking after me quite right. Misunderstanding me. He seems sad, sometimes, or as if something bad had happened to him. Something he could not quite believe. But not all the time, for sure, for already we have had sunny times together, especially there, on the magic isle. You see, I think he has a sense of humour, a sense of play and fun and life. So I bark and play and tell him to be more dog.

I must say he seemed to look a little guilty at the way his affection was suddenly transferred from those cats to me, up there in sleepy S-. I think he felt somehow protective that they would always try to eat the food he suddenly started putting out for me, or scratch at my eyes and hiss like vixen. How rude. I mean, take that day when he appeared with a big plastic house from a place called Jumbo, a sort of Greek Toys-and-Utensils-Are-Us, and put it down outside his door. I had been whining again, that pining, near irresistable sound that comes out of me when I want to be let in, or go outside or just be noticed. Then he’s started to realise everything is about a need for attention and affection. You see I am very good at being let out, to do my business, and it made him wonder if I had be house-trained already. Yet why do these humans think their training is everything, or they are? We have insincts, you know, and I’m really very clever. We get embarrassed too, feel shame, you can tell it when we hunch to do our stuff with a little dignity. Not that he gave into to easy sentiment at my aching moans, or let me in to sleep inside.  Even when I was so wet with the rain I looked as if I’d been through an industrial washing machine. So he got me that house of my own instead. But those cats, four of them, had sneeked inside before I could scratch my balls and curled up fast asleep, like a living rug, as if they owned the place. But frankly that’s cats for you. I admit I didn’t know he’d done his bit for island cats, though not with the dedication of some of the good English ladies who patrol the dustbins on Corfu. The English and their animals!. The year before though, living in Andreas’s lovely self-built house in Pikoulatika, it means little village, he’d opened the door and a tiny kitten, a bundle of shivering, big-eyed fluff that I might eat in an instant, had come running in terror from the local dogs and jumped into his arms for safety. Squeeky he called her and when he had to leave that time he made sure she had a decent home, courtesy of a kindly caretaker of a house up on the hill, he met in the bar by Eleni’s supermarket. So Squeeky was taken up to Lord Thingie’s place, a rich Englishman, with the other animals and became by default the Lady Squeeky! Well, the boss always believed in travelling, high to low, and that you’ll find the really high among the low, and the lowest among the high. That’s the story anyway and as we all know stories are rarely the whole story, if even real. I mean, he heard the poor man lost his job, so perhaps the Lady Squeeky has gone feral. Between you and me though I didn’t like that cheap plastic house at all and I don’t like kennels either. I like to travel and be free, whatever that means, among the things we all love, adventure, safety, warmth, a real home.

It was her little house not his and he’d had to sell his tiny flat in London. Or rather occuption had been left her by other strangers to the island, one a German disc jokey, an alcoholic and fond of drugs. He had died in some foreign country or another. I saw my Master working through his old record collection one day, catologuing it for his hostess, a kind of thank you. Before the damp came and seized his neck like iron and the big handed physio had to drive up to S- with her portable bed and home made oils. Five hundred records there were, not that it means much to me- Imagination, Heaven 17, Mowtown, Cliff Richard, rarer things – looking as if the world was always passing away. He stopped at a cover of David Bowie but seemed disappointed when the back album cover was missing the dog’s bollocks. $5000 dollars that would have been worth but they all have to survive too, that I’m starting to undersand. Not that I believe easily in the…what do humans call it?…the pathetic fallacy. I mean, that a dog could think and feel as they do. No, I mean have all the words for it that they seem to need so much. Pathetic, isn’t it? Even though they say that non-verbal behaviour comprises 85% of all human communication too. Body language is the magic they are alway forgetting. So I should declare from the start that I’m different, proudly a dog not a person. Or perhaps that’s exactly what he’s trying to understand. Yet, before you dismiss the fact a dog could talk or write, you forget the thing that makes all writers write – a relationship, a conversation. Perhaps we’re writing this together then, with inky paws.

Then I have seen those clever humans be so astoundingly wrong, so stupid and so cruel. But I ask you, can animals think and feel, what an utterly silly question? How could they spend a small fortune in one of their clever universities to prove that a stag experiences stress when it’s hunted? Not questions they want to ask much when they guide us to their abattoirs, make us smoke, cut us up to make their medecines or put on dinner plates. Well, not dogs, of course, except perhaps in other tasteless countries. When he went to Vietnam once he had hysteria trying to decipher the local menus and what the Pox was – as they offered fox. Quite as nasty as that snake they sliced before his eyes and used the blood for a pungent wine. I’m not too easily one for animal rights, mind, since I want to chase them too, half the time. That’s only natural.

Perhaps I’m being sentimental. I mean I’m just a dog. On the other hand, no. I ask you, should we question that animals think and feel, or that those humans animals think too much, yet forget the stories intimating the mystery of their very consciousness, out of the web of nature? The great sea squid whose skins  flare with anger, burning red, when they hunt him, but turn a gentle blue when fear is gone? Fear is the flea. The great grey elephants that lumber across their dead and stop to pass their sun-bleached bones between their trunks, as if trying to understand. Wolves, oh wild wolves, my noble forefathers, who when a mate has gone will dig a hole, lie down and howl out such deep pain, in something the humans call mourning. It isn’t the howl that’s so strange, but that the pack will stay quite silent, in respect and recognition. Then love always hurts, it’s deep in the body. I guess hate can be too. He knows of wolves, he wrote of them, and has met several too. He was even been ‘snogged’ by one in Colorado, at a Sanctuary, a swingeing, feral tongue through her bars. But then those canine mouths have enzimes that kill far more germs than human’s carry. I think he’s the patron of a little Trust for them, in somewhere known as Reading. Do they really know the astonishing mystery their minds so try to encompass though, the wonder and surprise, the luck of being here at all? The evolution of everything. Or perhaps the real question is this, where does all that human thinking, all that language, all that knowing come from, that suddenly sparks into conscious awareness? Where do I come from and where am I going?

I’m going everywhere, I’ll tell you, a world traveling dog. That’s my plan. He used to write about his travels for the papers and hopes to inspire me with the things he’s seen already: Great sperm wales breaching off the steamy Azores, slithey yellow-red sea snakes and racing caymen off the shores of Costa Rica, dashing rebok in the burning Namib desert. So what should a travelling dog hope to see now that two pairs of eyes are so much better than one? They are, you know. Perhaps we’ll meet those ancient Chows by the palace in the Forbidden City, a pack of Huskies racing through the arctic snows, or take a space flight to the moon? For a moment it was touch and go, whether he’d take me. He didn’t really have a place himself and had dreamed of finding a lovely wife, being a touch over romantic. I suppose I was quite a suprise then. Besides, from what I hear he’s hardly a saint and sometimes he’d look at me with confusion, as if the last thing he wanted was a bloody dog. Then if he’d really known what it took to care for me, the time, the worry, the walks, the constraints on his freedom, the moves… Next the airline told him that to get into Britain it would cost something like £500 pounds and all the stress of travelling in cargo too. That country seems to like its rules and borders, but animals come to Britain strictly cargo. He thought I was too young for that.

At Christmas he argued with the American and left to stay in the little Hotel Britagne, opposite the football stadium. He couldn’t take me with him. He was preparing to go back home too but I didn’t know he’d gone to see a formidable Dutch lady called Louisa, thanks to the suggestion of the pretty girls at Aegen Airlines. They seemed to approve of this sudden rescue plan, breaking the cliché of Greeks and animals, or perhaps Greeks especially like their writers. I mean, they have so much past. Louisa runs The Ark, a place for strays, although she complains how many commend her, but how few will really help. How locals dump dogs over her wall near Benitzes and disapear. There are worse stories, of course. Of neighbours poisoning animals and darker things too, but everyone has their own problems, I guess. Yet when he walked me prominently through the village on my collar and my lead, the gentle old lady in black who makes her pennies selling loaves of bread in her tiny corner shop nodded warmly. “Take him” Iannis had said too, who runs his simple little bar with his sister where he drank hot chocolate, “If he doesn’t have a collar”. The boss waited to see if anyone else would claim me and they didn’t. He seems very glad.

So despite the doubt of his going back home it seems to have been a good beginning too. With another needle to press a little chip below my skin and a smart plastic book to record the vet’s visits, I became official! This dog had got a passport. Then came that Rabies jab, although I don’t think they have it on Corfu. Much nastier things like Heartworm, of course, or vicious little flies that burrow through the skin and kill you slowly. First he left though, for near six weeks and went back home. I stayed with the American. If I had not got a chip, my strange little passport, and not begun to travel, who knows what would have happened to me? Perhaps another stranger might have become my friend. Or perhaps a life entirely at home, up in the Greek mountains, fed now and then from friendlier plates, watching the big skies and the stars, might not have been so bad. A wilder dog. We both want to go back home sometimes. Then, on the other hand, there are always the passing humans – in Regent’s park in London, up in Cumbria, down in Hampshire – who comment “Isn’t he lucky?” Not that silly gossipy Kiwi though in T-, who is often bleary eyed with beer and caught emotions and took a dislike to my Master, so nearly had a fight. The problem isn’t so much that then he lied about it at the bar in the village, who sometimes love their little dramas more than truth or standing up, the problem is he was also rude about me! I ask you, he hadn’t even met me and how can you like anyone who takes it out on animals? Besides, not an especially good representative of the Estate. The boss misses that village too, but not the stupidity. Another young bloke, a great source of pub drama and gossip, may in fact have a streak of brilliance, but has a deep problem with Christmas puddings. But, as I said, I intend to be a real inspector of such things. Then I’ve noticed already how these humans so behave in packs and underlying politics. The difference with animals of course is they say that wolf packs, when one of their kind is wounded, will go back and protect their own. But I guess that’s a pressing question we all come to ask in life, who is really your own?

I did think I’m lucky when I met those poor dogs in the village near Penrith. One huge, timid weak-eyed retriever had been rescued from being blooded up in Peterborough. Another, who walked with a stiff right leg, pinned wih metal inside after a break, had been left hanging from a road bridge by some thug. What sad, pathetic human could do that? What animal? It seemed to make my Master very angry. Meantime, thanks to a contact of Louisa, Clare and Stimatis at the transport firm Delfini, the call came to Corfu late in January from England. A road trip for £300, me doted on by the Italian ferry crew and Clare saying I would be their poster dog. The three days driving overland, through Italy, Germany and France, Clare texting all the way, across the Channel to Bedfordshire. Quite a culture shock. With my chip, jabs and little passport no horror stories about quarantine either. His host’s girlfriend was arriving the very same day, at Luton, from Romania. Two strangers in a foreign land.  I knew he loved me when I first got to Hampshire and, worse for the weather that night, he lay down on the floor by the roaring fire to kip and I suddenly joined him on the rug. Side by side. Reunited. So here I am, the Rascal, or travelling somewhere else with the boss, asking what comes next as a Rescue Dog abroad. Then of course, there is always the question of who exactly is rescuing who?

David Clement-Davies has appointed himself Rascal’s boss and has published several novels, often involving animals, including Fire Bringer, The Sight, Fell, The Alchemists of Barbal, The Terror Time Spies and The Telling Pool. Richard Adams, author of Watership Down, described Fire Bringer as one of the best antropomorphic fantasies kown to him. Last year, based in Hampshire and with help from friends and readers, after a long and bruising battle with his own publisher in New York, he successfully crowd funded Dragon in The Post, which he is still working on.

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AN ENGLISH RASCAL’S TAIL?

Rascallyrascal PAW ONE

Well, firstly, I should set things perfectly straight. The fact is I’m not English at all, I’m Greek. I was born on the beautiful, generous island of Corfu, among the proud tall-headed Cyprus trees, ringed by the hazy, light-drunk sea. With views from my little mountain village of S-, straight to the snow-capped mainland and Albania. Views that would make your tail wag and your heart go woof. In a village where the man in the car shop is shaking with anger about Parkinson’s, age and leaving America, Chicago as it happens, where the huge butcher barks at you about miss-parking your car, but when a wedding’s on the whole town smartens up and chucks rice hard in the gilded Orthodox church. Where the little lottery shop is full on Fridays, half the houses are empty but the village band is starting to travel the world. I will too. Around me there were lemon trees and eucalyptus, winding cobbled paths, jumbled houses and, at my eye level, squirming oleander grubs that turn into moths so strange you’d think an alien had come to town.

I was born about ten months ago, I think, although it doesn’t mean much to me. Seven dog years they always used to say for one of a Man’s. Now they’ve got their pet malls, their well-stacked shelves of vitamins and dental chews, their toys galour, their carefully balanced nutritional diets and their industries of heavy petting, I guess that has all changed too. So now it’s five to one, I think, unless he buys me the shinier labelled dog food which always means cheap. Perhaps we’ll all live forever in the West, one day, but I wonder if he has got me a Pets At Home loyalty card yet, or some needed veterinary insurance? Eight months is what the white coated humans guessed, apparently, when he took me down in a strange moving metal box (I shat in another) and they pressed something thin and sharp into my coat. Then they looked at my plum-pink gums and pearl-white teeth and picked me up and put me on a metal plate. 11 kilos ten, a boy, with a curly, wagging tail, bursting with new life and the wonder of everything to be discovered. You see, I’m what they call a rescue dog. Rascal the rescue? Not that I needed rescuing especially, up there in pretty, sleepy Sin-, on big Corfu. A dog of Greece, now come to England and perhaps the world.

Apparently I’m a mongrel, a mutt, “the Inspector” one of them calls me, artistically I hear. There’s a play called The Real Inspector Hound, you see. But I’m springing with hybrid vigour and a cross between something called a Collie and a Spaniel. I’m meeting many such types already, I can tell you. I’ve wrestled with a bounding South African Ridgeback on the muddy banks of the river Itchen.  I’ve played with Hampshire Hank, that gentle, giant bulldog, with a face like the alien in Predator when he takes off his helmet. I’ve tried to mount a febrile Wiemarama in the Cumbrian snows, not far from the great stone circle called Long Meg. I’ve chatted politely to a Chow, like those Porcelain statuettes outside Chinese restaurants. I’ve even met two crosses between a Chihuaha and a Yorkie, minute bundles of elegant fluff trotting along the leafier groves of St John’s Wood. Perhaps though more to say of style dogs anon, after all he lived in New York city for a while. Of course I’ve nosed old one-eyed Nelson in the village of T-, as they used to put it in Russian novels, who I think has canine Alzheimer’s and someone wants to stuff. Mind you the owners can be even stranger than their much reflecting pets and of that I think I’ll be an inspector too. Being so friendly though, so interested in anything new, so keen to play, I affect my Master many happy introductions. Some not so.

“Touch of the terrier too, right?” insisted Ratty, standing by the fire in that pub in Hampshire, our home for a while. “Good for you” he said, when the boss told him how I got here and I sprayed over the stale pee on the floor, to make my mark. That little jack russel, Wasabi, was getting nasty behind the bar. Then Ratty relented on his supposed knowledge of dog genetics and gave his sweet, huge-eared English Springer Spaniel a slurp of more warm beer. His were working dogs, which made me jealous, having such energy, but now I’m working in a different way. Ratty’s one of the names we haven’t changed, to protect the innocent or the guilty, the mad, the arrogant and the lonely, because, well because the man is utterly himself. A Hampshire rascal too, much tolerated by his small-framed, big-eyed bitch-girl, who saved me from a scrap and being picked on by the rougher old timers, when she carried me back to the boss. “’Spose he speaks Greek and eat kebabs then?” was the joke down that pub, until the boss joked back about racism, or how Hampshire is somewhat smug. Especially a few self-appointed ‘characters’ who prop up that bar and try to snipe and stir the gossip. Meaner souls. Ah, such tales of that pub though and the friends my Master made. Real friends, like that charming pirate and wildflower man who attacked him with a nettle, or the fine burley bloke in the bowler, or the lovely lot behind the bar. Tales of how the countryside is so much wilder than the city – booze, drugs, affairs, crises, struggles and jokes – but the skies are bigger and the nights more pure.

Then breeds aren’t English, or Welsh, like my boss originally, or Greek either, are they? I mean, we’re all alive, all in the mystery. It’s only the humans that really make the distinction and seem so sad and nasty about it sometimes too. So keen on hierarchies. How different was this land of England though to my home. On the warm Greek wind and in my Master’s face I sometimes sensed that these are interesting times back in my homeland. Just an intimation, because I really worry about walks and bones and food, not politics. Times of toughness and great distress, perhaps rebellions too, if any can rebel now from that thing humans call money. I heard this year that some new dogs have come to try and change it all, a pack called Syriza. Sometimes when you see the gaps in the world these days, you know they’re right and something has to change. Yet I must admit I do not like this plan that Tourists should spy on Greeks who do not pay their tax.

The boss comes from a political family himself, mind, a Liberal lot. But then he thinks that, though important, it’s never the answer to happiness. He remembers more the old house in Wales and tales of their animals. His father’ horses, Gleam and Starlight, their Gun dog Cooter and their own animals too, when he was growing up – their Corgie, Pwt, the name is Welsh for ‘little one’, with giant ears, four white fur socks and sleek as a lovely fox. Not like the Queen’s fat mutts. Poor old Tigger, the Golden Retriever who spent too much time alone, looked after by Cyril the gardener, and Dusky the grumpy pony. Such stories, bright and sad, he thinks he owes it to his father to try and tell. Then I knew little of that and hardly remember my own mother and father at all. Perhaps they were friends of travelling strangers come to Corfu, as so many do, especially from England. 10,000 have settled on an island where they still play white-flannelled cricket on the grass in front of the pillared Liston in Corfu town, that smart parade of bars and cafes. Though now and then a Cofeat will comment archly about a Pakistani in the team. There seem far worse signs of that happening out there in the frightening world though. But who can follow all the threads? I remember my mothers teet’s, of course, the warmth of her body, and her loving licks on my little nose and my soft, downy black-white fur. I remember a feast of wrestling smells, that nose-wide web so much realer to me than their crazy human forms and meanings. I remember my first taste of food and the textures of things and human voices too, in the distance and the nights. Then I found myself more or less alone, up there on the mountain in little S-

I would watch from my place on the wall for the big men cutting down the dead olive trees on the slope, and for the burning sun cresting the ridge of lush, green hills. Watch those sleek graphite-grey cats slinking about the blue and white house next door. A cat family where half the little ones seemed to have weepy or missing eyes, like the kittens surviving around the island’s metal dustbins. Where a strange man had suddenly begun to feed them. He came in what they call October, I think, and moved himself into the big room below the old house. With its rusty metal door and the glass window that he cracked shutting it too hard. Perhaps he was drawn by stories of an English writer on Corfu once, called Gerald Durrell, his family and other animals, or his darker brother Lawrence, but that was long ago. His name is David. So I would sit on the slope of scrubby wasteland and bark at noises, or eye those blasted cats, or gaze at those glowing sunsets too, that filled my head with impossible dreams. What do dogs dream? Until one day he came and stroked me and offered me some food. We made friends immediately, me and that writer.

He seemed to like the way I always greeted him when he came back up the cobbled steps and cracked pavings, past the old wall to his funny kennel. He had been off swimming, or drinking beer on the beach, nosing about the Archaeological museum in the old town, or standing astounded at the views, up there at Kaiser’s Seat. Sometimes returning with his shopping, or from sitting drinking chocolate in the local bar and trying to get a connection. Sometimes carrying a plastic keg of cleaner water from the village below to fill the empty Evian bottles. A happy, simple life. He would laugh as I bounced and skipped and flew into the air like a crazy kangaroo and called me pup, that gradually changed to “puppa”. He seemed amused when he gave me something nice, a treat, and I would take it back up the steps, above the lemon trees, and guard it in my special hiding place. Something glittered in his eyes as he looked at my face. Then perhaps I was blessed by being so sweet-faced, with not a nasty bone in my body. The feathers in my ears, the hint of beige down in my forepaw sleeves and the little black afro on my head were more pronounced then, but they made him laugh too. Rascal he named me, perhaps because of my size and bounce, perhaps because of something inside him too. I wonder if it will affect the road I take, since we’re all affected by the names we’re given. Not deep in me, of course, except when he calls, but in the way humans, who so love their labels, boxes, categories, kennels, treat and see me.

Mind you, I think, with my pointy little snout, when the urge to chew and gnaw and really bite comes – plastic, shoes, snoods, seat belts, laces, socks and fluffy slippers, anything really in my teething – that I’m not an angel at all, a sudden gift from The Dogs, but a wonderful little demon, a lovely, gnawing werewolf. He especially loved the way I would follow him and lick his hand till it tickled though. Little does he know that I liked the taste of something on his skin, but so a friendship was born that my tale is all about, in our travels and strange adventures together. You see I had an idea one day to try what he does and write about people, humans, but through my own bright eyes. I mean, we’re all animals, aren’t we? The dog’s blog, I think I’ll call it. How lives can suddenly change, for better or for worse.

David Clement-Davies has appointed himself Rascal’s boss and has published several novels, often involving animals, including Fire Bringer, The Sight, Fell, The Alchemists of Barbal, The Terror Time Spies and The Telling Pool. Richard Adams, author of Watership Down, described Fire Bringer as one of the best antropomorphic fantasies kown to him. Last year, based in Hampshire and with help from friends and readers, after a long and bruising battle with his own publisher in New York, he successfully crowd funded Dragon in The Post, which he is still working on.

If you are enjoying this rascally tale please share it now, or even better support a writer, his dog and a little publisher by contributing what you can here - Donations

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THE SHAKESPEARE BLOG – SOUTHWARK, CURE’S COLLEGE AND THE ORDER OF NOBLE POVERTY

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I blogged last week on the founding in 1588 of the little Alms House run by Saviour’s Church, Cure’s College, on Maid Lane in Southwark, where the Rose, Globe and finally Hope theatres stood, by the Stewes and the river. Parish Gardens, that centre of theatre, brothels and bear-baiting, was nicknamed ‘The Bear College”. I also said that the draconian rules for those 16 local poor folk, men and women, laid down by that saddler to Queen Elizabeth, Thomas Cure, were a forewarning of the dreaded Workhouses to come, that Dickens so pilloried in novels like Oliver Twist. I’m certainly convinced that the shape of modern Capitalism and many of the woes we face today were born in Tudor London. In that privatisation of Church land called The Reformation, but most especially in the explosion of Private enterprise from the walled City, that turned the old English idea of Empire, lost in France, into an Empire of trade around the World. So the East India Company was founded in the same year the little wooden Globe theatre went up, 1599, and in 1605, I think, the Virginia Bay Companies too, that led the expansion in the Americas and the race, especially with the Dutch, for brave new worlds. The East India Company would of course define British power and Foreign Policy for Centuries, owning private armies and putting up their first little fort in Madras in 1607, the year Shakespeare’s brother Edmund died and was buried in Southwark. That same year there is a record of Hamlet being performed on board an East Indian ship, The Red Dragon, off the coast of Sierra Leone. It was formerly a warship called The Spirit of Malice and is mentioned in AL Rowse’s book on the astrologer Simon Foreman. The echoes of such a dynamic time are all over Shakespeare, of course in The Tempest, but also in Falstaff’s descriptions of himself in The Merry Wives of Windsor, in terms of Continents and Countries. Then there is that strange, almost unintelligible dedication on the cover of the sonnets about ‘well wishing adventurers’ setting forth. Those vital player’s patrons The Herbert brothers were of course major share holders in those City Companies, as the idea of sharers and private enterprise is also reflected in Shakespeare’s own theatrical Company, whose leading members had fingers in several little business pies in London, like groceries and sea-coal. In 1612 the first ‘Free Standing Lotterie’ was launched in the city too, to fund New World endeavours, and from common purses too, which all 13 original American colonies would soon take up. I’ve said before they were remarkably early origins then to that so-called ‘American Dream’ (and Shakespeare is filled with dreaming) born in London and the City. It was of course all about trade but also private banking and ownership, along with the massively lucrative beer trade, that in terms of private wealth remains true to this day.

Meanwhile, although Elizabethan ‘social security’ nets were remarkably fragile, they were there, in Parish organisation, although with the often hypocritical and allied hands of Church and State control. Take the unconsecrated graves of prostitutes and the poor at ‘Crossbones’ in Southwark. While there is that telling note in one of the St Saviour’s Records, of a payment ‘to send a woman out of the parish’, as Wards tried to deal with the growing issue of the Urban Poor in London and to fob it off on neighbouring parishes. In the meantime much of the condition South of the River grew into a true nightmare, with places like the Marshalsea Prison on Long Southwark, but also those Liberties themselves, areas of independent jurisdiction, that also spawned Crime, prostitution and slums like ‘The Rookeries’, where Daniel Defoe sets much of Moll Flanders. Despite all our worries then about Banking scandals today and the inequality of rules and playing fields, it was probably only the changing of the laws of debt in the 19th Century that saw true social reform. It is also true that the one old photo I have seen of Cure’s College, by the time it had developed into a stone structure by the early 19th Century, is very forbidding indeed.

Yet I got a fascinating insight into modern Alms Houses the other day when I helped a friend move rooms at the oldest Alms House in England, in Winchester, at The Hospital St. Cross and The Order of Noble Poverty. Of course the links with Winchester and Southwark were very strong indeed. It is very doubtful that poverty was ever considered especially noble in England, outside the beliefs and Orders of sections of the Church, but it is a charming and very historic place, rather like an Oxford College, and dominated by a huge Norman stone Church. It boasts the title of the oldest charitable institution in England. Incidentally scenes from the brilliant Wolf Hall, now running on the BBC, were shot here. It’s a pity I didn’t get to bump into Mark Rylance then and ask such a fantastic actor and former Artistic Director at the modern Globe why he believes the silly and impossible theory that Shakespeare was the Earl of Oxford. It just happens to be that the beneficiaries at St Cross today are all men, and refer to one another as ‘Brothers’, while at Cure’s College there were certainly men, women and children too. You do not have to be of any Religion, I believe, and Cure’s founding document specifically laid down that members had to be of a Protestant faith, though the Brothers today are required to attend Matins in the Church in their red robes. But in return they have charming rooms, peace and quiet, friendship and excellent and highly subsidised lunches too. They are not, as the poor of Cure’s College certainly were, required to work for their bed and board. I didn’t see around the whole place, like The 100’s Hall where a hundred locals were fed regularly, and my dog Rascal upset the ordered tranquility a little when we wandered into the Garden, but that and other Alms Houses in Winchester and around England are a testament to an ancient and noble tradition.

David Clement-Davies February 2nd 2015

For writers in the Sixteenth Century it was hard to survive, books and plays often supported by private donations. We seem to have returned to that time, in some ways, so please realise that the research on Edmund Shakespeare and Southwark represents two years of unpaid work.  If you enjoy these blogs then and can afford to support Phoenix Ark Press, please donate below.  Many thanks.

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The photo shows the main Courtyard of St Cross,medieval but edged by an original Tudor balcony.

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THE RASCAL’S RETURN

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RASCAL IN GREECE AND AFTER ARRIVING IN ENGLAND

Just a quick post on one of the lovlier elements of trying to live between Corfu and Hampshire and that was befriending Rascal the super dog on the island! When I left in December it was bite the bullet time though, so I got injections, a pet passport and microchip. But just too late, and along with the prohibitive costs of flying him over and the potential trauma of having to send him in cargo to the UK, he had to be left with a friend. Never fear, the Ark is here, and that redoubtable Dutch lady Louisa, who told me about the possibility of Rascal being driven overland. It cost £300, so I hope the Rascal’s grateful, but this post is really to recommned Clare and Stimatis at Delfini.

From start to finish Clare set my mind at rest, with constant texts about their travels, via ferry to Igoumanitsa, to the Italian mainland and up through Germany. I was almost jealous of the journey. When I drove to Bedfordshire to meet the pup they were sweet, clearly love and understand animals, both cats and dogs, and I saw the excellent travelling cages they have and the three very contented dogs they had brought back, including mine. Their transport business is not limited to pets but they travel regularly between the UK and Corfu, so if you are minded to adopt, be aware of the options before you think it all too difficult.

To visit Delfini’s website just CLICK HERE

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THE SHAKESPEARE BLOG – THE MYSTERY AND MAGIC OF RESEARCH

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An American friend has just asked, in this very free form Shakespeare and London blog, what it is like doing the research itself, in the backrooms and the stacks of great libraries?  A worthy digression, I think, about real life in London, past and present, and the hunt for Edmund Shakespeare or his brother.  Although I first heard about Edmund’s tombstone in St Saviour’s church from a schoolteacher in a pub up in Clapham, and had already started a pretty bogus novel, perhaps that search really began in earnest when I heard a London lecture by Professor Alan Nelson from Berkley University, talking to a small audience in that church about the St Saviours Token Books. Then another to his theatre students down in the lecture hall at the modern Globe reconstruction, explaining how to use the main resources – the London Metropolitan and the National Archives. So talking of the detective work around wills especially, mostly held in the National Archives, among all those pipe rolls and government documents, but also giving that name of the place Edmund Shakespeare was in 1607, the Vine Tavern on Maid Lane in Southwark.   I should say that from start to finish in that search though I have found the academics mostly pretty uncooperative, and of course there is a competition that surrounds everything to do with Shakespeare.  Alan Nelson is doing his own biography of the bard for the 2016 anniversary, but I do think he might have been more forthcoming, as might others, especially James Shapiro’s UK publishers.  Perhaps anyone on the hunt for the bard succumbs to that twinge of paranoia or jealousy that infected that American couple, the Wallaces, who unearthed the Mountjoy Court case early last century and the Silver Street story, but came to believe the British Establishment were spying on them and trying to steal their work.  To add a semi psychic twinge to the Wallace’s peculiar talents, perhaps needed in the imagining of any past, they returned to Texas during the oil rush determined to strike black gold and did exactly that.

But so I set off, in my little Gold Peugeot, to the main centre of the work done, the London Metropolitan Archive in Clerkenwell.   Like every area in London proper, visiting that much changed part of the city of course has its own place in the jigsaw, because scrubby and little-streeted Clerkenwell, with its rough market and emergent cappuccino shops, its modern Turkish immigrants or its Roumanian dominated strip bar, was in Shakespeare’s day the Clerk’s Well, where clerks, scribes and limners settled and Dutch and Flemish immigrants probably ended up in brothels too. There were other major wells, like The Bridewell, Hanwell and so on. Those limners later morphed into the printers and booksellers who especially congregated around St Paul’s Cathedral and Paternoster Row, and modern St Paul’s, with Wren’s proud dome, as opposed to the wood steepled church, of course still looms up now and then among the constuctions.  The idea of wells though, in a City once famous for its clean and pure springs, as Peter Ackroyd says, became as redolent in my head as the 212 parish churches that defined both the development of London and the creation of Reformation records too, or as important as the river itself. So the topography of the place became vital, passing streets like Bowling Green Alley, among so many in London echoing that popular sport, once played out in open fields, as eagerly as archers practiced at Newington Butts, or falconers hunted on the Morefields .  Like visiting the still working pub on the corner of Cowross and Turnmill Streets, near to Smithfield market, which was once George Wilkin’s brothel tavern, where the young Mary Mountjoy stayed with her lover Stephen Bellot.  That would have been in a near rural district outside the now vanished City wall and Smithfield was both a market and a place of popular burnings. Then there is that original remnant of a wattle and daub Elizabethan tenement building, through the arch approaching the very ancient St Bartholemew’s Church, just down the road, that once also had a spittal, or hospital.

Where I was coming from became just as important too, living in Lambeth, in a little flat on Gilbert Road in Kennington, that just happened to have the name of another of Shakespeare’s brother’s – Gilbert. Richard was the other. Kennington, with it’s Dog House pub, probably on the site of one of the old dog houses that surrounded London, once on lands of The Black Prince and where Sir John Fastolf, who fought at Agincourt and that echo of Jack Falstaff, owned land as well as a tavern, the Boar’s Head, in Southwark. I got to know much more about the area in the light of the Shakespeare research. For instance that Lambeth was once the Lamb’s Bath on the river, or that the little market street ‘Lower Marsh’, like ‘Upper Ground’ in Paris Gardens, testified to the effective swamp land this was South of the unembanked river, haunt of cutpurses and gypsies. Hence on Maid Lane too the Globe theatre had been ‘forced out of a marish’ in 1599, or a marsh, as Ben Jonson records in his long poem The Exacration Against Vulcan. Of course the astrologer Simon Foreman also lived in Lambeth, marrying in St Mary’s, beside Lambeth Palace, now the modern Garden Museum. But right at the end of Gilbert Road, turning into Renfrew Road and running into Kennington Lane, the search also began for another lost Elizabethan theatre, the wooden playhouse in Newington Butts, where Shakespeare may have played. On Kennington Lane the names of some ugly Council Estates, like Othello and Brutus Court, testify to its presence, perhaps in the circle that is now a garden, although a mile from the river down Newington Causeway it proved too far out, which is why Henslowe cashed in by building The Rose on Maid Lane. The most likely source of any extant records or clues was at its local church too, St Mary’s Newington, there being nothing in the Metropolitan Archive, which still has a thin sliver of medieval curtain wall looking especially incongrous on Kennington Park Road. A vicar I had befriended told me that Giles Frazer had taken over there, the Cannon who resigned at St Paul’s over the Occupy London protests, but whether he had become too much of a celebrity, was too busy, or thinks Shakespeare and the players unimportant to the plight of the modern urban poor, he never got back to me. That modern poverty is of course much in evidence, especially around the Elephant and Castle, that rather swamps the lost area of Newington Butts.

The London Metropolitan Archive itself though is in an unremarkable little street in Clerkenwell north of the river, faced by a large deconsecrated church and a playground, once a plague burial ground, I think.  Through the glass door, once you’ve pressed the button, and have signed in with the usually polite but disinterested security guard, up you go, see-through plastic Metropolitan bag in hand, to deposit any closed bags in the locker room.  Much the same process and security as in the British Library, where I spent a great deal of time too, reading their copy of Frances Meres’s book, or learning more of Kit Marlowe.   The place is modern, efficient and helpful, and the sourcing is done on a row of computers, mostly, or via the shelved parish record catalogues. Your hand written order chits are then slipped into the order box, to await delivery in the glass sided and temperature regulated reading room beyond.  Pencils and sharpeners in hand you then await the thrilling delivery of those buff boxes, filled with vestry minutes, token books, wills, covenants, scraps of semi-legible medieval paper, hand drawings, or leases, to unfurl them on the reading tables, open delicate volumes on large v-shaped foam reading mounts, keep the tomes open with heavy lead book snakes, or fall fast asleep.  I admit I have never been very good with libraries, easily distracted, keen to flirt, hungry for discoveries that take a long time,  Yet when Shakespeare is in the frame, or that particular period, there is a very special thrill getting your hands on original Elizabethan paper.  As Alan Nelson pointed out of the Token Books, which are just like long restaurant menus, bound with breaking linen threads, all hand written lists of Southwark locals and purchases of Communion Tokens, paper far long-lasting than anything we would produce today, often with particular watermarks. Summoning up images of that first paper mill on the Thames that saw its founder knighted by the Queen, as the establishment have always knighted captains of industry. This was the very beginnings of the printed word though.

So what are you exactly holding there, as you search for that golden moment that never comes, the sight of an unknown record of Shakespeare, or his brother Edmund?  Well, the loose leafed vestry minutes from St Saviours, for instance, are often single or double folds of paper, scratched with fading black ink, often with the minute instincts of the accountant or secretary and hard to read. But so the thrill begins of seeing those words on the covers of the Token Books, that are already numinous places in your head – “Ye Liberty of the Clink, “Ye Libertie of Bankside, “Ye Liberty of Paris Gardens.” Then there is the variable spelling, especially of names, the accounting of pounds and pence, L an i, and the Elizabethan confusion with f, ff, and s.  At first too you have no idea who these hieroglyphs refer to at all, until, screwing up your eyes and your brain too, an english sentence suddenly pops out  and firms up in your  mind- “To the widowe Bradshawe”, “paid to the bishop to bringe water from the Thames in their cartes” –  “A forenoon toll of ye greate bell“, “Paid to the sexton for the burning of mens bones“.  Lives, love, commerce, the past, the church, begin to echo in your head, flicker like candle light, and just for a moment the jigsaw becomes clear, until it is lost again in a maze of broken pieces.  Depending too perhaps on whether or not you believe in ghosts, or trying to get to some harder truth, the conjunction of realities and falsehoods that makes any life, it can be both depressing and even frightening sometimes doing that lonely research.  Take for instance the year 1603, five years before Edmund Shakespeare’s little tragedy, when Queen Elizabeth I finally died, I think in March, after standing for hours on her feet.  As with the death of King James, meaningfully or not, plague hit London very hard that year, and its echo is held in the St Saviour’s Burial Register.  That, like some of the Token Books, is too fragile to be released into the eager hands in the Reading Room and so is on microfilm now. But look at that year patterned on a scrolling neon screen, a patient etherised upon a table, and you will get an astoundingly dark taste of that time.  I believe the average monthly mortality rates in the parish of Southwark were something like 80 deaths, nasty, short and brutal enough, but in May that “Suma Mensis” rises to something like 200, then around 350, to over five hundred by July. So the agonising litany unfolds, in a year that took the player and original Globe sharer Will Kemp too - “A man in the street”, “A servant dropped by the wall”, “A woman in ye Church yard” “A Gentleman”, “A boy”, “A girl” “A stranger”.This was Shakespeare’s real and very dangerous London and remember that Southwark, across the river and outside London wall, was only one Parish among those 212. By October the tally has climbed to over 850 dead and then, the next month, it suddenly dips again.  What lets you really touch it across the centuries though, gives the sense that that great church of St Saviours had become almost besieged by the dead, is the physical sigh of relief you can detect in that unknown vestryman’s hand, as below the list of the fallen a scrolling line trails off down the page.  The plague had finally broken, taking over 100,000 lives across London, and it also shows that although some believed it was a visitation by God, or the ‘foul miasma’s’ of the brothels, bear pits and theatres, these people must have known that it had a pathology.  You sigh and look out of the window at a winter night, or leaves coming on the trees, and wonder what it all signifies, or if it is a tale told by an idiot.

That’s the dark stuff though, compared with the fun of the hunt, and those moments of greater satisfaction.  The egg on the face moment of thinking I had found a reference to a Ben Jonson play in the ‘records’ of Cure’s College, the accumulating data of the centuries, the fascinating snippets about a death ‘in sui felo’, a suicide at the house at Bank End that was overturned in such a rowdy liberty because it would have meant a daughter did not inherit when her father drowned in the river, the approach to the local poor shown in a payment “to send a woman out of the Parish“, and the real thrill of linking the Vine Tavern where Edmund died, to the founding of that local fraternity at St Margaret’s Church on Long Southwark, in the reign of Henry VI, and its ownership by John Le Hunte, Edward Hunt Esquire’s ancestor.  There is another very remarkable thing you of course learn at the London Metropolitan Archive too, as you chat to the staff about the Guilds structures in London, the 12 great Livery Companies, or who might have fallen into what parish, and in what particular Ward, as a group of uneager schoolboys arrive to try something else with the computers, or a lone figures plods away at their own family history. Namely that before Henry VIII’s shattering Reformation itself there simply are no records, apart from a scrap of a document from the Magna Carta period referring to the rights of a Man.  In that sense Shakespeare’s or the Tudor age is a kind of beginning of modern time, in that crowding but still deeply rural and wooden London, and in the municipalization of us all. Nothing ever so certain as Death and Taxes! In the restructuring of the Church into parishes too and the very founding of Parish Registers of christenings, weddings and funerals, in the suring up of Sir Names, so often based on trades, once called The Mysteries, in the all-consuming account of daily expenditure, and in the move from the fable and the chronicle to the conception of modern history and sociology. Then of course there is that secularisation of theatre, or players, the explosion of printing, literature and poetry and of course the man of the moment and all time, Shakespeare, with his strange, eventful histories. A man who knew so well how both the records and people lie, or veil, but that the real history is the history of the human heart, mind and soul.

David Clement-Davies January 24th 2015   

For writers in the Sixteenth Century it was hard to survive, books and plays often supported by private donations. We seem to have returned to that time, in some ways, so please realise that the research on Edmund Shakespeare and Southwark represents two years of unpaid work.  If you enjoy these blogs then and can afford to support Phoenix Ark Press, please donate below.  Many thanks.

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The image is a Wikipdia photgraph of Shakespeare’s Stratford will, written in the classic ‘secretary’ hand, not Shakespeare’s but a scrivener’s, but with his signature at the bottom.

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THE SHAKESPEARE BLOG – THE STRANGE CASE OF EDMUND SHAKESPEARE AND MR JONSON!

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One of the less succesful moments in the search through St Saviour’s records for Edmund Shakespeare, his immortal brother William and Southwark in general was when I stumbled on a payment in the London records “For Mr Jonson’s Book“. It came in an odd place though, namely the loose leaf records of Cure’s College, that little Southwark Alms house founded in 1588. You have to know the difficulty of reading those records, most especially deciphering variously spelled names, and gradually beginning to recognise them too, to understand why, as your eyes start to deteriorate or your pencil blunts in the London Metropolitan Archive, you can suddenly give into the tendency to convince yourself of a Eureka moment.

The first and real Eureka moment was when I had linked the lease of that tavern where Edmund Shakespeare very probably died in December 1607, The Vine on Maid Lane, directly to a local Southwark fraternity granted Livery back in 1460, The Brotherhood of Our Lady of Assumption, and given rights by the King at Westminster, Henry VI, to buy local land of up to Sixty Marks. That was a true window on the history of the entire area because it established the significance of St Margaret’s Church, in the middle of Long Southwark and right opposite the Tabard. Which linked lay church life to the growth of London and commerce in general, in a very louche area, famous for the Bishops of Winchester licensing those ‘Winchester Geese’, for bear and bull-baiting and later for its theatres too. Peter Avergne and John Le Hunte were two of those livery wearing church wardens who invested in both The Vine and The Axe on Maid Lane, in a riverside district of perhaps 300 inns by Shakespeare’s day. John Le Hunte is clearly the direct ancestor of Edward Hunt, Esquire, who by Elizabeth’s reign owned sizeable land in Southwark called ‘Hunt’s Rents’ and bequeathed the Vine tavern to his pregnant wife Mary, also in 1588. His will is up on line. From there many discoveries arose, from the appearance of ‘pleyers’ working for the church back in the 15th Century and performing around St Margaret’s Cross, to the story of the rebel Jack Cade. Who marched from Blackheath and sacked the City in the real beginning of the Wars of the Roses, and fought the Battle of London Bridge, meeting the Bishop of Winchester, William Waynflete, inside St Margaret’s. Cade and his men were staying just opposite at the White Hart Inn, a few doors up from the Tabard. The very catholic and originally Norman church of St Margarets was of course suppressed at the Reformation, and turned into a local compter prison. As the big church, St Mary’s Ovaries Priory, was renamed St Saviours and Bermondsey abbey was broken up too. The Tudor revolution had begun and Southwark was hit dramatically.

But there was a valid reason for my false Eureka moment over “Mr Jonson’s book”, which at the time I thought might be a payment for a lost play by Ben Jonson himself, perhaps the missing “Isle of Dogges”, because of the date of 1598, or possibly “Every Man in his Humour”. Though there are no extant records for the Globe theatre, and Phillip Henslowe’s account books remain the prime source for the period and the theatres, it was not so absurd to assume, in the ad hoc nature of early impresarios and payments from the bag in local churches too, that Henslowe’s hand had got in here somehow. After all Henslowe was both vestryman and warden of St Saviours, which he lived right next door to at the Bell, for several years with his son-in-law the great actor Edward Alleyn. Whose name appears with Henslowe’s on The Great Enqueste in James’s reign, when a scandal developed at the church over abuse of money for the poor. The other reason is those ancient papers for St Margaret’s, St Saviours, and Cures College too, are all bunched together in those buff boxes in the London Metropolitan archive.

Heart in mouth I turned to The Shakespeare Institute in Stratford and Professor Martin Wiggins, a Jonsonesque figure himself in his leathers and Doc Martins. Martin was encouraging at first, although it was tellingly the price of the payment, which I hadn’t written down properly, that raised the greatest question mark. He explained that plays of the period were worth £5 or £6, although Henslowe often gave advances of 20 shillings to writers, which is incidentally the same amount that was paid for Edmund Shakespeare’s funeral. True to any writer’s concern with money, fame and fortune though, as I sought for the book I was trying to write too, I rushed back to the archives only to discover that this payment for ‘Mr Jonson’s Book” was for a mere tuppence! On further eye-scrunching scrutiny of those often illegible papers, if on very good and thick Elizabethan paper, it turned out that this Mr Jonson was just a local scrivener, his little ‘book’ perhaps for copying something, or making an accounts book for the church, and my hopes were dashed.

Yet never be disheartened too easily in the search for such a fascinating period. This goodly scrivener became another of the local figures coming back to life along the river, characters dimly discernible through the veil of financial records, like the Sexton paid at a time of obvious plague “for the burning of men’s bones”, or one “Widow Bradshawe”, one of the local beneficiaries of a place at that alms house, Cure’s College, whose name appears repeatedly. With the likes of Henslowe himself, Ned Alleyn and lost Edmund Shakespeare, they help build a fascinating sociological history of Southwark and theatreland, much about London’s poor too, among whom the players moved constantly. As fascinating as the characters in the Token Books or Vestry Minutes, in trouble with local Constables for refusing to buy Communion Tokens, at various times of heightened religious tensions, or marked down for the number of women moving in with them. Or as the foul mouthed watermen and taverners along the river, among the Stewes, or the sudden occurence of new professions in the marriage and christening records of St Saviours; like shipwrights or a ‘Hansom man’, one of the first moving ‘taxis’, joined with the arrival in Southwark of printers and publishers called ‘men in books’. An odd tale for a blog, in an age when millions of words are spewed out onto the web every day, and so losing so much value, meaning and power. But I am still convinced that was an age as revolutionary to the world of thought, because of printing, reform and theatres, as the internet or the closing of the London Stationers office only as recently as 2005 is to the now.

David Clement-Davies January 22 2015

For writers in the Sixteenth Century it was hard to survive, books and plays often supported by private donations. We seem to have returned to that time, in some ways, so please realise that the research on Edmund Shakespeare and Southwark represents two years of unpaid work.  If you enjoy these blogs then and can afford to support Phoenix Ark Press, please donate below.  Many thanks.

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The image is taken from Wikipedia and is a portrait of Ben Jonson.

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THE SHAKESPEARE BLOG – SOUTHWARK, SHOES, SCANDALS AND SADDLERS

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One of the most famous of all Shakespeare’s soliloquies must be Henry V’s immortal “St Cripsin’s Day” speech, but few know its special significance to a Southwark audience, in particular at the Globe. Agincourt of course took place on October 25th 1415, the feast of Crispin Crispianus, brother Saints who would have had special significance to soldiers because they were the patron saints of cobblers and shoemakers. Of course Southwark, as well as being theatreland and crowded with taverners and watermen along the river and Long Southwarke, the great thoroughfare across the bridge, was, as an area of ‘the stink trades’, butchery, tanning and leather working, also a great centre for cobblers. Indeed, when Henry VIII called St Saviour’s ‘a verie great churche’ it was also at a time when he granted incorporation to the Guild of Leatherworkers and one Leonard Scragges as Warden. The associations with the leather trade would continue, particularly in the presence of one Thomas Cure, Warden of St Saviour’s, as Phillip Henslowe would become too, and saddler to Queen Elizabeth I herself.

The Cures became a prominent Southwark family and are mentioned several times in Al Rowse’s book on the astrologer Simon Foreman, who specifically referenced visits to the Globe to see Macbeth and The Tempest. There were two Thomas Cures, father and son, but one Cure attended Foreman’s wedding, further along the river in Lambeth, in the Church of St Mary’s Lambeth, which today is the Garden Museum. Elias Ashmole, William Tredescent and Captain Bligh were all buried there, but Foreman’s house was just across the road, all in the shadow of the beautiful Elizabethan building and seat of the archbishops of Canterbury, Lambeth Palace. There is a wonderful inscription on the wall outside St Mary’s regarding a bequest of £100 to be used for the education of two local boys, yearly, but which specifically forbids it to ‘Watermen, chimney sweeps and Catholiks’!

The social role and purpose of the church was one that would be specifically challenged in Southwark at St Saviours in the days when Henslowe was a Warden and also running his theatres and the Royal Barge House, along with being ‘Master of the Game’. Then a scandal erupted around their use of alms for the poor and the building of a huge new refectory, when the number of Vestrymen had risen to 80 strong. An act was even mooted in the parliament, though in the end the Wardens appeared to have reformed themselves. They were already running a local school and alms house though called Cure’s College, which appears constantly in the records I was searching through in my hunt for Edmund Shakespeare. It stood on Maid Lane too and by the 18th Century had become a forbidding stone institution around a central garden. It was founded though in 1588 in the Will of Thomas Cure, who died in the same year as Edward Hunt, that owner of the Vine Tavern on Maid Lane and direct descendent of John Le Hunte, one of the Brethren of that Brotherhood of Our Lady of Assumption at St Margaret’s Church on Long Southwarke, repressed at the Reformation. Cure’s bound will is one of the more remarkable documents in a collection I think so important I even approached the Liberal MP Simon Hughes to try and establish a special Southwark-Shakespeare collection, though to no avail.

There will be a further blog of the importance of Southwark to the Reformation battle itself, especially in a church that lay at the beginning of the Canterbury Road, where Becket had preached, and which later became highly prominent in Mary’s attempt to take England back to Catholicism too, because she staged the Marian heresy trials inside the church. But Thomas Cure was of a very Elizabethan religious stamp, veering towards that puritanism that would spread in London closer to James’s I’s reign, at least on the surface. His will establishes provision for 16 local poor, men and women, but also the rules under which the college functioned. So they had to kneel at dawn and dusk, on the ringing of the hand bell, and recite the Lord’s Prayer. They had to work for their upkeep too, and Cure laid down specific fines against brawling, swearing and fornicating. It all makes starker reading in the light of Southwark’s especially colourful reputation, that land of theatres, brothels and gamboling houses, but is absolutely the prototype for the hated Victorian Workhouse. Except in Shakespeare’s day it was a much humbler affair with the records full of little payments to buy a cloak or hose, stockings, for one of the boys or girls, to send for a Doctor, or to buy bread. I have wondered if Phillip Henslowe’s own hand is on those records, as he continued to fill his purse from his entertainments, but it gives a fascinating picture of local life and of the very thin social support networks they had.

David Clement-Davies 20 January 2015

For writers in the Sixteenth Century it was hard to survive, books and plays often supported by private donations. We seem to have returned to that time, in some ways, so please realise that the research on Edmund Shakespeare and Southwark represents two years of unpaid work.  If you enjoy these blogs then and can afford to support Phoenix Ark Press, please donate below.  Many thanks.

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The image is a Wikipedia photo of Southwark Cathedral, renamed St Saviour’s at the Reformation but originally part of St Mary’s Overies priory. Thomas Cure was a Warden here as was the famous Phillip Henslowe and for a time his Son-in-Law the actor Edward Alleyn. Shakespeare’s youngest brother Edmund was buried inside the church on December 31st, 1607, at the age of 27.

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THE SHAKESPEARE BLOG – WHERE DID THE SHAKESPEARE’S LIVE IN SOUTHWARK?

London_Bridge_(1616)_by_Claes_Van_Visscher

One of the more intriguing questions in trying to reconstruct Elizabethan Southwark and follow the clues to Shakespeare’s life and story too, with so little evidence, is where he lived.  Today virtually nothing of that wooden, largely rural, Elizabethan world remains, swallowed by concrete and the spawning Metropolis.  There is of course St Saviour’s church, which only became Southwark Cathedral in 1905.  Although described by Henry VIII himself as a ‘verie great churche’, perhaps third after the abbey and St Paul’s, where Becket had preached the night before his murder and on the Canterbury Road too, it was far more dilapidated in Shakespeare’s day, especially after the Dissolution.   Then, beyond what was the Liberty of The Clink, where Winchester House stood,walking into the neighbouring Liberty of Bankside, there is the little ‘wherryman’s seat’, a  slice of stone in the wall, where a waterman sat, in a district of watermen, overseeing fares up and down the river.  It is just off that line of modern restaurants that includes The Real Greek, up from the Anchor pub.  Once the stewes stood here, the famous brothel houses, and since a colorful surveyor’s map in the Metropolitan Archive describes it as allowing space for ‘two cartes de front’, ie side by side, that topography has changed little.  Walk down that street and the circular shape of the buildings testifies to the site of the old bear-baiting pit, even today,  that I think also became the site of Henslowe’s Hope theatre in 1614.  Walk on and you get to what was once earthen Maid Lane, modern Park Street, where you can see the outline of and information signs for the famous Globe theatre.  Down from that, away from Southwark Cathedral and on the other side of the street, but inside a modern building, are the foundations of Phillip Henslowe’s Rose Theatre.  On from there you will pass into what was once the liberty of Paris Gardens. There Sam Wannamaker’s great reconstruction of The Globe stands, near to or on what was once The Swan theatre, hence the name of the Swan Restaurant.

Start again from St Saviour’s though and you begin to get another flavour of the times. Hard by the wall there is still a Green Dragon Court, which testifies to the existence of the ubiquitous Green Dragon Inn there and the records of St Saviours are full of babies born in the Green Dragon.  Through there, running onto Borough High Street, was once Frying Pan Alley and there stood The Frying Pan. It was a builder’s merchant and Henslowe’s accounts are full of purchases from the Frying Pan of ‘tymber and nailes’ for his theatres, and also his houses and tenements.  Both sides of the Church then had chained gates, as there were all over London, that could be raised in time of threat or revolt, to block off the streets.  Where Henslowe himself lived was on Clink Street, effectively running out of the West door of the church, at The Bell on Clink street, I think on the river side of the Street and effectivly number 4, according to the Token books.  It did not put him opposite or hard by the prison, the Clink, the bishop’s prison by Winchester House, as some have it.  You would not expect someone of Henslowe’s status, not only an impressario but later Warden of the Church, Master of the Game and Keeper of the Royal Barge House, to live right opposite a prison, though his accounts also record him lending money to writers to bail them out of Clink.  But walk back through Green Dragon Court and you get to the noisy modern Borough High Street, overcrowded by the railway bridge, leading up to and over modern London bridge and to London Bridge Station.  That was once earthen Long Southwarke, the main southern entry point to the walled City over the river.  It’s western side has shifted fifty yards, since old London Bridge was fifty yards to the east.  But along it were wooden two-storied Elizabethan taverns and tenements, in an area that had 300 taverns and where the records show the Bishop of Winchester granted licences for the tavern owners to fetch water from the Thames in their carts.

Down Borough High Street though, on the left walking away from the river and along a little alley, a sign on the side of a printer’s shop testifies to the presence of Chaucer’s immortal Tabard Inn.  The White Hart Inn was just up the way, beyond the still standing George,  on the same side of the street.  There Jack Cade stayed with his men during his rebellion under Henry VI, as Shakespeare recorded in his play, touching colour that was very local to him too. There too Sir John Fastalf’s servant Payne went to see Cade, as is recorded in a letter in the Paston letters.  I think Shakespeare new of that history and translated real characters like Payne and John Fastalf into Falstaff. Almost right opposite Cade met and was double crossed by the Bishop of Winchester, William Waynflete, inside the old St Margaret’s Church, so central to our and Edmund’s story.  He fled to Rochester, then Susex, was captured, decapitated and paraded through the city with his head in his lap.  From St Margaret’s of course, dissolved at the Reformation and turned into a Compter, there are records of ‘pleyers’ performing in the 15th Century, the old Mystery and Miracle plays.  St Margaret’s Cross stood on the site of the modern War Memorial, which was also the starting point for St Margaret’s then Southwark Fair.  The Norman Church stood there, in the middle of the King’s Highway, right up to Hogarth’s day, and afterwards it became the site of the Town hall and is now a Slug and Lettuce bar.    Walk down the road and you get to the remaining wall of the notorious Marshalsea Prison, where Ben Jonson and Gabriel Spenser went in 1597, and so would Dickens’ father.  St George the Martyr church beyond was the place Henry V stopped in 1415 on his return from Agincourt to be heralded by minstrels.  St George’s though was the effective lytch gate into the southern city and ‘london’ then, surrounded by open countryside and St George’s Fields and Winchester Park. Where Elizabethans hunted, picnicked and went falconing.  The maps all show wooden ribbon developments along Long Southwarke and the river, though immigration and building was taking off in Shakespeare’s time.  Beyond the road ran to Newington, and the archery fields of Newington butts, where there was another wooden theatre Shakespeare may well have performed at as a young man.  Though only a mile away, in what is the modern Elephant and Castle, it proved too far out for the wealthy city folk and partly led to Henslowe’s building of the Rose on Maid Lane.

So back on Maid Lane, near that marker for the Globe, look around and ask where The Vine tavern stood, where Edmund is recorded in 1607 and very probably died too, since he was buried on this side of the river.  It was in a grouping of ‘Hunt’s Rents’, passed down from that Warden of St Margaret’s under Henry VI, John Le Hunte, to his ancestor Edward Hunt Esquire. It may have been hard by The Globe, or further back towards Clink Street in what is modern Vineopolis, but it had first belonged to the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Assumption at St Margaret’s. There will be another blog on the lease.  There were of course other taverns along Maid Lane you can pick out from the scruffy Token Books, like the Three Tonnes and the Elephant, mentioned by Shakespeare in Twelfth Night, appealing to a very local crowd.  Following those Token Books, as street names themselves began to sure up, is a fascinating business, through the three neighbouring riverside liberties of the Clink, Bankside and Paris Gardens. Another Liberty was The Mint, and there are also seperate Token Books for The High Street, namely Long Southwark.  But so you pick up names like Pepper Stairs, The Boar’s Head Tavern, Molestrand, Pigeon Stairs, Upper Ground, in Paris Gardens, and so on.  A poor and tightly packed area of watermen and the ‘stink trades’, butchery and tanning, brothels, many taverns, bear and bull-baiting arenas, and of course theatres, Southwark was a very hard district, and of course London’s entertainment centre par excellence.  It had its grace though, in the surrounding parks, and it is interesting that bouts of plague affected the low, bunched waterside houses much more than the wide High Street.

So, as you get a feel for the place as it was then, the question remains where did Shakespeare himself live and work?  We know from unpaid tax rolls of 1595 and 1596 that he had lived in St Helen’s for a time, which was a Parish just beyond modern Holborn, by the Bishop’s Gate through the wall and north of the river in the City proper. That road ran straight up through the wall, passed the Bedlam Hospital to Shoreditch, where The Theatre, built by James Burbage, and The Curtain theatre stood.  St Helen’s seems to have been an area much favoured by musicians.  From the Court case involving Mary Mountjoy and Stephen Bellot we know that for a time, probably around 1604, though the case was later, Shakespeare lodged on affluent Silver Street, which was a street of Silver workers originally, and also was the site of the hall of the Barber Surgeons.  It was by the Cripplegate through the wall, which would allow easy visits by Edmund and his unknown lady, who lived in the Morefields.  But early ‘biographers’ of Shakespeare suggest that he lived in Southwark for as many as ten years.  He would certainly have commuted there too, on foot, by wherry or on horseback.  The famous Shakespeare antiquarian Edmund Malone claimed possession of a now lost document also placing Shakespeare on Clink Street. Meanwhile  though another document relating to the Bishop of Winchester, and suggesting Shakespeare had Winchester’s protection, put him, by 1598, I think, in a ‘domus et aliorum’, a house with others.  Was that a house attached to the Globe construction on Maid Lane, with other players and the Burbages, though it would have been a very noisy place to work?  It is of course possible that it was the Vine itsel, if that was known to the players.  Then of course it is perfectly possible that Shakespeare lodged and wrote in different places when in London and Southwark.  Interestingly Peter Ackroyd points out that the church spire mentioned most in the plays was St Olave’s, and though there were several St Olave’s inside the city, long gone St Olave’s Church was east of Old London Bridge, on the water. At one point half its graveyard was washed away by the tide. Perhaps Shakespeare even had a room to light a working candle on Long Southwark itself, where he could watch the welter of humanity streaming into the city.

David Clement-Davies January 12th 2015

For writers in the Sixteenth Century it was hard to survive, books and plays often supported by private donations. We seem to have returned to that time, in some ways, so please realise that the research on Edmund Shakespeare and Southwark represents two years of unpaid work.  If you enjoy these blogs then and can afford to support Phoenix Ark Press, please donate below.  Many thanks.

Donations

The picture shows a Wikipedia image of the 1616 Vischer engraving of old London Bridge and St Saviour’s Church. 

 

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