Category Archives: London


I met Ivana Trump once, it was in a little London art gallery, I think Cork Street, and remember well wondering about this botoxed, attractive, semi glamorous Eastern European woman and how celebrity, and this was long before Trump ever got anywhere near the most powerful office in the World, The President of The US of A, affects us all.  I was affected, just because this was Ivana, some kind of apprentice in Trump’s Celebrity life journey, or once the ultimate power couple, and wonder now how her ex husband’s new position will draw others out of the woodwork.  With new revelations about Trump’s private life I suspect they will be coming thick and fast, whether Monica Lewinsky made a fortune out of the Bill Clinton business or not, and for one take on that you should read Philip Roth’s The Human Stain. Such is life.

Actually though it wasn’t Ivana I remember most from the evening, she seemed a bit sad and was an ex, but an extraordinary guy who kept announcing he was a hypochondriac. Obviously having been in extensive therapy, part of the cure was the revelation, the speaking it, and though I smiled encouragingly, I was not entirely sure what normality really is, when, after cheap wine and swift tasties had been snacked, art sort of looked at and the coats ordered, he produced a huge sports bag and opening it revealed a forest of drugs, pills, hypodermics and tubes, that sort of reassured him on his way.  I am not being nasty to the hypochondriac, though life can be cruel, if I was not sure I had made it to the most exclusive opening, but now The Donald is in charge, I wonder who needs going into therapy the most! Come on The Don, Corleone or not, tell us the truth, you’re insane and so is the rest of the world, but who’s providing the cure?

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I must confess to a dastardly crime against the Theatre, or myself, in not staying for the second half of Loves Labours Lost at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. Perhaps it was the difficulty of the play, or too much slapstick, the industrial scale milking of comic moments, or some of the more bizarre accents too, that turns John Hodkinson’s Don Amardo into a mixture of Shylock and Manuel from Fawlty Towers. It all got rather exhausting then, as did the constant word games and rhyming couplets, though I think it was wanting to gas with an old friend over a drink that really did it. There was a moment of hesitation too when, right at the end of the first half, Berowne erupts into a speech of true Shakespearian power and poetry, presaging deeper things to come, but the friend and the drink won out, no matter how terrifying the price of a Brandy Alexander has become in Central London.


The regret came seeing the deliciously exuberant and utterly charming production of Much Ado About Nothing the next night, so also getting a clearer picture of why director Christopher Luscombe both twins them and sets the plays pre and post First World war.   A deeper understanding was only aided by sitting next to the actor Andy Wincott, who plays Adam Macy in the Archers, and no less than Tara King from the Avengers, charming Linda Thorson, whose eyes are as beautiful and foxy as ever, the cause of many adolescent labourings of lust, and who was so effusive about Love’s Labours Lost, darling, she could have walked straight into the magical cast. Linda convinced me I had missed a true theatrical moment though when all that unnatural idealism falters, though the passion is not spent but so rudely interrupted, both by the women banishing the men in the play and here by the horror of a World War, beyond the ceaseless war of the sexes. Then American novelist Phillip Roth is convinced that the reason we still respond to myths like the Iliad and Odyssey, is that the fight for Woman really lies at the bottom of all conflict and all Art.  Well, obviously life itself.


As for theatrics, Much Ado About Nothing is very stagy too, yet what indeed is a far richer and more complex play, given added depth of frame by the characters now returning from the Hell of Passchendaele, and the rest, quickly evoked by the stage presence of metal hospital beds and echoes of The Shooting Party, became a tour de force. Here then what was for me far too Norman Wisdom in Nick Haverson’s Costard in Loves Labours, grows into a marvellously rich and wounded Dogsberry, perhaps Shell-Shocked, who had the audience both howling and squirming with genuine human pity. Though not as painful, in the tremendous all singing and dancing sets, as the shaming and apparent death of pretty Hero in the highly dramatic wedding scene. Much Ado is potentially far darker and more cynical than this version, especially in the Iago-esque malevolence of Don John, maybe not so inexplicable in motive considering what had just happened in this time frame, and the venom that lies only just below the Social surface, but that is kept firmly under control and the show fizzes. Steven Pacey is tremendous both as Donnish Holofernes and especially Leonato and though Beatrice and Benedict are very well matched, Edward Bennet’s lovely Benedict steals the laurels, in scenes that must have been a joy to improvise in rehearsal and brought some delightful audience interaction too, punters so love.

The reason for twinning them at all is the echoes the plays share and the theory that Much Ado is in fact the lost Loves Labours Won, so perhaps a sequel, mentioned by Francis Meres in Palladis Tamia, published in 1597, that book that also sounded the murder of Christopher Marlowe. To me the jury is very much out on that, probably still wanting to believe that the lost ‘Won’, like that vanished version of Don Quixote, Cardenio, is still out there somewhere. Yet finding a line through both is convincing and certainly seems to energise the actors in this inspiring ensemble cast.


Meanwhile a very plausible RSC Land has been achieved by the Downtown Abbey style set, reflecting the real and very beautiful Charlcotte Manor in Stratford, the home of the Elizabethan grandee Sir Thomas Lucy. That could lead you wandering off down the fustian halls of Scholarship itself, if to an entirely different play, The Merry Wives of Windsor. Since that manor where legend has it Shakespeare was hounded for poaching deer and had to flee for his life, may find its way into the play’s references to lice, a pun on the ‘Luces’ of the Lucy crest. It is also the scene where Justice Shallow first appeared, and Shakespeare was probably taking a swipe at the London Sherriff and obvious crook, Sir William Gardner, relation of Mary Tudor’s Bishop of Winchester, Stephen Gardiner, who had Shakespeare and others up in late 1596 on charges of Murder and Affray. All more or less convincing speculation in what is still a pretty threadbare biographical patchwork of Shakespeare’s life, swamped by the imaginative astonishment of the plays and his mind. But the firm grounding does no harm at all, though must raise costs over the Elizabethan chimney pots. Then it is an extremely generous production, in the lovely setting of the Theatre Royal (if I still think the RSC needs a London home), much aided by Nigel Hess’s specially commissioned score, that gives it a touch of the Musical, the verve of the cast and, since Donald Trump is about to redecorate The White House in Gold, the post fin de siècle sense that we might all be entering very interesting and ugly times indeed.

The photos show Costard and Don Armado, Beatrice and Benedict and the inspiring ensemble cast in the RSC and Chichester Festival’s twinned productions of Loves Labours Lost and Much Ado About Nothing, currently running in London at The Theatre Royal, Haymarket. Tickets by kind courtesy of the RSC.




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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.


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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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.


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


Filed under Community, Culture, Education, London


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.


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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One of the great problems about Shakespeare, and building up a realistic and factually correct picture of Southwark too, where his brother Edmund died, is working with such little evidence. That highly eccentric American couple, the Wallaces, came up with another piece in the jigsaw when, after reading through 5 million documents, they unearthed a court case involving Mary Mounjoy and Stephen Bellot, relating to Shakespeare lodging with the tirer, the theatrical wigmaker, Christopher Mountjoy on Silver Street, near the Criplegate. It saw Shakespeare giving evidence in court over the question of a promised and unpaid dowry to Bellot, where Shakespeare seems to have helped the couple plight their troth but to have withdrawn his testimony, saying he coud not remember the sum, probably proving an ultimate loyalty to Christopher Mountjoy. There were also all kinds of sexual shenanigans in the Mountjoy household, and Mountjoy was marked down by the judge as a rather disreputable character, adding the prick of scandal to the Shakespeare story. That tale also narrows the circle of Shakespeare’s intimates and ties him to the co-author of Pericles, the very unpleasant George Wilkins. Wilkins owned a tavern brothel on the corner of Turnmill and Cowcross ‘streets’, then outside London Wall and in a semi rural area in developing London. He was had up in court repeatedly for violence against women, including kicking a pregnant woman in the stomach and stamping on another, perhaps two of his working girls. When Stephen Bellot and Mary Mountjoy, whose mother was also called Mary, were pursuing their own love affair they had gone to stay in Wilkins’ tavern. It adds great interest to the brothel element so deep in Pericles, based on John Gower’s Confessio Amantis.

I think a much neglected story though is the other time Shakespeare had a run in with the law, in November 1596, when he was accused, with two mysterious women, Dorothy Soeur and Anne Lee, along with Sir Francis Langley, of ‘Murder and Affray’ by the local Surrey Sherrif Sir William Gardiner. It was standard legal language and had come out of a long standing tussle between Langley and Gardiner, who Langley had called ‘a perjured knave’ in a tavern up in Croyden. At the time Edmund was sixteen, whether he was in Stratford or London, quite the age to pursue a player’s career. To add to the Shakespeare presence in London rather than Stratford their brother Gilbert was a haberdasher for a time in St Bride’s, off Fleet Street. Langley of course was a highly succesful and rather disreputable Algener, who put official stamps on cloth bails to establish their quality and clearly benefited from seizing goods and the potential for bribery too. Who also got his title by buying the manor of Paris Gardens, that third little Liberty along the river Thames in Southwark, walking away from big St Saviour’s church, through The Clink and Bankside. He was fined by the city authorities for not keeping up the Manor properly, probably sitting in the Compter court in old St Margaret’s Church, that had been dissolved sixty years before, and whose Brotherhood of Our Lady of Assumption had once owned The Vine tavern where Edmund died. Langley took the commissioners out to lunch, but at least they kept their integrity by fining him again the following year.

Langely of course also built the Swan theatre in Paris Gardens in 1595 to cash in on the growing theatre trade that Henslowe’s Rose had well established on nearby Maid Lane, which was much more splendid and silvered on the outside. Both young Ben Jonson and Shakespeare were involved with Langely and the Swan then, two years before Shakespeare and the Burbage brothers decided or were forced to take down the oldest permanent London theatre, ‘The Theatre’, up in the Shoreditch. When the lease on Giles’s Alan’s land ran out and he tried to put up the price, so the players transported the valuable wood and their ‘house’ across the water. The newly named Lord Chamberlains Men used it to build the immortal Globe Theatre on Maid Lane, in the Liberty of Bankside, where The Vine tavern also stood. Just up the way from the Rose and ‘forced out of a Marish’, as Ben Jonson wrote in The Execration Against Vulcan. He also described the Globe as ‘The Fort to the whole Parish”. It is the Swan though that had the most interesting and unhappy fate of all the London theatres, because it never really succeeded, certainly after 1597, was sold on by Langley, who died in 1601, and would later be described as being very decayed and ‘hanging down its head, like a dying Swan’. Both the Rose, closed by 1605, and the Swan suffered from the success of The Globe.

But what happened that day when Langley and Shakespeare were caught up in an incident with Dorothy Seour and Anne Lee in November 1596 and who were they? As Horton wrote in his fascinating book on the case, alongside his idea about Justice Shallow in The Merry Wives of Windsor of 1597 being a satire of the deeply unpleasant Sir William Gardiner, who specialised in extortion, it is lovely to see Shakespeare giving him a piece of his mind, or perhaps even the glint of his sword. But why are those two women named and were they having some kind of merry party in a more colourful establishment in Paris Gardens, when an argument broke out? Of course the stewes ran along the river front in neighbouring Bankside, but Paris Gardens was certainly a brothel district too, that housed the famous Cardinal’s Hat, right next door to where the modern Globe reconstruction stands – not on its original site in Bankside, though two minutes walk away. It is very probable that the infamous Holland’s Leaguer, and there is still a Holland Street there, to testify to the influx of Dutch immigrants into the district, came to be in the moated manor house of Paris Gardens. In the reformation period especially remember that Sir names too, so often emerging from trades like Baker, Fletcher, Smith, Thatcher and so on, were really beginning to be defined, partly in the institutionalisation of records and us all. Take for instance the name of one of the carpenters working at St Margaret’s Church 100 years before, under the reign of Henry VI, who is simply called ‘Peter of the Bridge’. The bridge being great London Bridge, the only crossing point over the river into the City then. The Holland clan though, originally a Dutch family, certainly turn up elsewhere as being a kind of London crime family, much involved in prostitution but then business seemed to have involved a lot of people in crime. It is interesting Shakespeare puts a John Holland in Henry VI, as one of the less appealing rebels engaged in Cade’s Revolt. As for Dorothy Soeur and Anne Lee though, I found several Soeur’s in the Token Books from St Saviour’s relating to Paris Gardens. The name is obviously from the French for Sister, but whether that has a religious echo too, or was just a common emergence of a Sirname, I don’t know. Meanwhile of course one of the strongest comments on Paris Gardens, where the Royal Barge house also stood, that came to be owned by Philip Henslowe, in a city where literally everything was franchised, also comes from Ben Jonson, who described Paris Garden’s as ‘that accursed ground.’ There will be another blog on the intriguing figure of Kate Arden, Jonson specifically mentions, and also on who those ‘Sister’s’ are Jonson mentions going to investigate the supposed crime when the Globe burnt down in 1614, but was quickly rebuilt.

Don’t tar anyone, and especially not Shakespeare, with that brush of scandal or rumour, that had so tainted his near exact contemporary and great inspiration Christopher Marlowe. Who schoolboys still fancy was a brothel creeping carouser, not to mention a spy, who ‘died in a tavern brawl’. Francis Meres’ book of 1598, which first mentions Shakespeare as the most important writer of his day, and is critical for dating, specifically alludes to Marlowe’s unhappy fate, contemptuously too in the light of Marlowe’s atheism, as Shakespeare alludes to him in As You Like It, though in a very different voice, and speaking of “a great reckoning in a little room’. That little room was most likely neither a tavern nor a brothel though,but a far more respectable place, one of the many houses across London that offered bed, food and drink. It was in Deptford, where the Marine docks were, and belonged to Eleanor Bull. But there Marlowe was killed by three men who were certainly agents of Francis Walsingham: Apparently over the ‘reckoning’, the bill, but most likely in a semi authorised hit, related to the rivalry between Walter Raleigh and The Earl of Essex, the faked Dutch Church Libels that had been pinned up on the Broadgate wall attacking foreigners, in a UKIP style frenzy, and both Marlowe’s muted atheism and his possession of banned books. Marlowe’s spying credentials were pretty obvious when you remember he went to Cambridge (and the Master of his College would end up hanging himself by his britches) and was at one point in Flanders investigating Counterfeit coin. His murder clearly had an enormous effect on Shakespeare, and his wariness ever after of the public eye, or the disgrace of fortune and men’s eyes, that could be so fatal in Tudor England. Another indication that Shakespeare’s involvement with those two woman probably wasn’t lubricious either though is the fact that in his book on the doctor and astrologer Simon Foreman AL Rowse specifically names Anne Lee as the sister of Sir William Motson, who made a name in the navy.

Yet the stamp and thrill of intrigue certainly surrounds that court case too, and most especially the extraordinary events that unfolded in the coming year, 1597. Just follow the threads. Sir William Gardiner was clearly trying to bring disgrace on a local rival, Francis Langley, whose playhouse the next year staged ‘The Isle of Dogges’. That lost play co-authored by Jonson and Thomas Nashe satirised Elizabeth I’s palace on the Isle of Dogs, where Canary Wharf now stands over the water, or rather her blood hound courtiers. It saw the Swan closed, along with all the theatres that summer of 1597, for the writer’s ‘lewd and seditious’ work. Nashe, who later dismissed the play as an ’embryo’, fled London, and ‘our Tom’ is affectionately mentioned in Meres’ book early next year too as soon to be welcomed back ‘to Rome’, namely the favour of the court and London. By then the hoo-ha was blowing over. Jonson, along with two fellow actors at the Swan, were arrested and put in the Marshalsea prison on Long Southwarke for a couple of months. Francis Langely alone was denied a licence for The Swan though, when the theatres reopened, and though it was known for plays, and staged sword fights and bouts of extemporary verse too, it never really took off and within four years Langely was dead.

But the plot thickens when you discover that in the Marshalsea Ben Jonson was interviewed by Robert Poley, who was a notorious agent of Walsingham’s and one of the three men in that room in Deptford with Marlowe. It was a man called Nicholas Skeres who had stabbed Marlowe in the right eye. Then consider the fact that Langley was also caught up in a case involving a fenced diamond, which reached up to and displeased the Privy Council itself. Also that it is very likely that the order to close the theatres, not because of sedition but the general threat of plague, came down before any mention of sedition, or the actors’ arrest in mid summer. Was the Swan’s closure then and the scandal of that year in fact somehow drummed up and related to the conflict between Gardiner and Langely, by extension Shakespeare, jostling for local influence, in a climate where the control of the theatres was becoming more and more political? Driven too by the kind of cloak and dagger double-dealing, extortion and blackmail common to spies that might well involve fenced diamonds too and which Walsingham’s spy network constantly engaged in, especially his hired men in that little room. Was the report to the Privy Council of a seditious play much more about underhand efforts to hobble Langley altogether, by him, or someone else, including the ubiquitous and connected Phillip Henslowe? That year would certainly echo very darkly through Ben Jonson’s life, who in 1598 would kill his fellow player Gabriel Spenser in a duel on the Hogsmeade, on the edge of Hoxton. He pleaded Benefit of Clergy and was only branded on the thumb, although Spenser started it. But Gabriel Spenser had been one of the players performing the Isle of Dogges at the Swan and one of the three actors, including Robert Shaa, imprisoned in the Marshalsea too. It and the fate of the Swan, rather than any high moral concern with the seemier side of the little Liberty uncharacteristic of Jonson, is much more likely to be the reason he would so strongly label Paris Gardens ‘that accursed ground’ in The Execration Against Vulcan.

But now try to fit Shakespeare back into the jigsaw. The years 1596 to 1599 were certainly monumental in his life and career and by extension perhaps Edmund’s too. In 1596, apart from that court case over an incident with Langley, Dorothy Soeur and Anne Lee, his only son Hamnet had died in Stratford at the age of 11. The next year, as well as writing The Merry Wives of Windsor for the inauguration of their new patron George Carey to The Order of The Garter, the obviously by now highly successful and relatively affluent Shakespeare would buy the second biggest house in Stratford, New Place, although for the comparitively modest sum of £60. Meanwhile, though his plays had already played at The Theatre, The Curtain and Henslowe’s Rose on Maid Lane, Shakespeare was clearly involved with the likes of Jonson and Langley at the Swan in Southwark, as the case proves. That they were trying to form an independent company is suggested from the fact that several of the Henslowe’s players were accused of breaking their contracts for him, and later went back to perform for The Admiral’s Men. Meanwhile Shakespeare and the Burbages must have known that the lease on the land on which The Theatre stood north of the river and city would soon run out, rather than quite the sudden drama someone like James Shapiro describes in his excellent though perhaps too literal book ‘1599’. So was Shakespeare already looking for an independent venue in 1597, where he could lead his company to new heights, and also own the plays and take the house receipts, in a way that Henslowe’s writers and actors never did? Shakespeare’s presence in his own house is hugely important to his swelling confidence and authority. The events of summer 1597 clearly blackened the appeal of the Swan and Paris Gardens though, and just over a year later, in the spring of 1599, the new Globe theatre went up in Bankside instead, on the southern edge of marshy Maid Lane. Almost simultaneously Henslowe, whose diary is filled with the rivalry between his Admiral’s Men and The Lord Chamberlain’s later-to-be King’s Men, saw the lie of the land and rather than trying to compete directly in Southwark built the Fortune Theatre, following the Globe’s design, on Golden Lane north of the river. He would not really ‘return’ either, though he always lived in Southwark by the Church at ‘The Bell’ on Clink Street, until Shakespeare had retreated to Stratford after 1612, when Henslowe built The Hope, opposite The Globe on Maid Lane, in 1614.

The whole saga, along with that celebrated falling out with an original Globe sharer, the bawdy clown Will Kempe, who would later call Shakespeare a ‘shakes rags’ in print, highlights the difficulties and rewards of succeeding in the early theatre business, but also to me an underestimated conflict between Shakespeare and that most prominent Southwark man, Phillip Henslowe. Of course Ned Alleyn’s wife’s famous letter about the return of the players company safely to London after another bout of plague testifies to the closeness of those original actors and companies, while both Shakespeare and Henslowe both became Grooms of the Chamber under James I. But a closeness that could also have a very violent side, like Jonson’s duel with Spenser. Shakespeare was anything but the Puritan, divided self or not, inhabiting a world that was generally so lusty and lubricious, and much was about both independence and money. But it is hard to believe the kind of mind that penned Rosalind in As You Like It, or wrestled with the corruption of brothels in Pericles, described by the players as ‘not debauched’, could have much approved of that Warden of St Saviours, Master of The Game, Keeper of The Royal Barge House and major Southwark landlord, Henslowe. But of that more to come too.

David Clement-Davies 10 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.


The picture is the 1595 sketch of The Swan Theatre in Paris Gardens, closed in the summer of 1597, around the staging of The Isle of Dogges and denied a licence.

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Happy New Year everyone and much hope for 2015, but a special toast today to the writer CJ Sansom and his wonderful Shardlake detective stories.  Set under Henry VIII and covering the exploits of the hunchback lawyer, Mathew Shardlake, that sane, compassionate practitioner in the Court of Request at Lincoln’s Inn and ever dealing with the harm of religion, Sansom’s books are utterly convincing and totally compelling too, with all the skill of a good detective yarn, mixed in with a very serious attempt to recreate the living history of the period, with a serious approach to the vicious realities of Tudor politics. Hence his books are most fascinating for his meticulous recreation of Tudor London, both in terms of topography and social structures.

It was something Phoenix Ark had to try to do engaging in the unique work here on William Shakespeare’s youngest brother Edmund, who died in the freezing winter of 1607, at the age of only 27, and in obviously tragic circumstances too, only four months after his infant son had died, on the edges of the city.  It was in the same year that successful Shakespeare, now a ‘gentlemen’ from a grant of arms that had caused a little fracas at The College of Heralds, had married his favorite daughter Suzanna to the herbalist John Hall in his home town of Stratford. It was also the year of the suppression of ale drives in Bath and Wells by the Puritans, the performing of Hamlet by the sailors on the East Indian ship The Red Dragon, off the coast of Sierra Leone, and of the Midland Riots against the enclosures of common land too, that came close to Stratford in the month of Suzanna’s wedding.

There are many potential clues to the effect that year had on Shakespeare, not least in the play Pericles, where the hero, dealing with the riddle of incest that haunts the play, presents a crest represented by a branch that only flowers at the top.  It is very hard not to see that as a clue to the dilemma Shakespeare faced about his own status, especially in relation to that family tragedy,  since his youngest brother’s infant baby was marked down in the records by a church hand as ‘baseborn’. Many of Shakespeare’s ‘romances’ after that are concerned with themes of art’s power to achieve restoration and reconciliation, much involved with the theme of families. Edmund was buried in the dominating Southwark Church, St Saviours, now Southwark Cathedral, at a hefty cost of twenty shillings and with ‘a forenoon toll of the great bell”.

The joy of reading Sansom, although it is only in HeartStone that he begins to touch on the theme of players and the theatres, and the first permanent wooden theatre, ‘The Theatre’ in the Shoreditch, did not go up until 1575 in the reign of Elizabeth I, is his scholarly mapping of both time and place, that echoes the difficulty of seeing into that period through the records. Sansom is meticulous, although never letting it swamp the thrilling narrative, and it’s wonderful to retake a journey with him, even if discoveries here happened 50 years later. Those discoveries, although not including the place Edmund was probably staying in the Winter of 1607, The Vine tavern in Southwark, revealed that tavern was owned by Edward Hunte esquire and had once been part of the land rights, granted under Henry VI, of a local religious fraternity called The Brotherhood of Our Lady of Assumption. Their church was St Margaret’s, right on Long Southwark, effectively today’s Borough High Street, that crossed old London bridge and was the major Southern gateway into the City of London. It’s highly Catholic traditions, and the Church itself, were suppressed at the Reformation, it became a Comptor prison, a tavern that features in Hogarth’s painting of Southwark Fair and then it became the town hall. Today it is a Slug and Lettuce bar and only a little plaque on the wall remembers the Norman church that had such an astonishing history.

Part of that history was the betrayal inside the church of the Kentish rebel Jack Cade, despite the promise of pardon, under Henry VI, by the King’s chancellor and Bishop of Winchester William Waynfleete, whose huge tomb still decks Winchester Cathedral, alongside that ‘great’ Prince of The Church pilloried in Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Henry Beaufort.  I am sure it would thrill CJ Sansom to pour over the Tudor records of St Margaret’s in The London Metropolitan Archives, much as they are just effectively accounts, and find proof of payments to ‘pleyers’ as far back as the mid fifteen century, both on St Margaret’s and St Lucy’s days, as well as Hoe and then Hop Mondays, in a vital beer making district.  St Margaret was of course the patron Saint of the little Church, but St Lucy’s day is now a festival honoured by Catholics on, I think, the 13th December.  The problem being that it was then the shortest day of the year, as John Donne’s poem ‘A Nocturnal on St Lucy’ proves.  Namely the Winter Solstice, and an especially Northern European festival, in an area of a great influx of ‘aliens, foreigners and strangers’ according to the antiquarian John Stowe, especially Flemings and Dutch.  The Soltice now falls on the 21/22nd of December,  we celebrated this year with dinner, but it was the new Gregorian Calendar that had been instituted by the Pope (and though more accurate was not taken up in Reformation England for another two hundred years) that made a mismatch in day calculations by as much as ten days. That ten day gap would explain the difference between the modern dating of St Lucy’s day and John Donne’s appreciation of his own times and a celebration that has deeply pagan roots and in Sweden is marked by maidens were wreath’s of flaming candles on their heads. Remember of course that Hamlet’s great spiritual and intellectual dilemma and struggle, in the murderous court of Denmark and Elsinore, is marked with the line ‘the time is out of joint, of cursed spite that ever I was born to set it right.’ Sansom’s books superbly capture how seismic those times were for the modern world, so much made out of Tudor London, and how much they put the human out of joint.

St Lucy’s day was one of the little clues that lit the magic lantern of the past then, in such a fascinating and troubled time, and such an intimate London district too. London was of course tiny in comparison to now and very rural too. Sansom’s masterful sense of fact and history does it even more, bringing an entire world to life and with a deep sense for real history.  The work on Edmund Shakespeare and London here has never been properly set down, though pinched by someone without an accreditation, who got their book into the Huffington Post bestseller lists.   It sits in the posts here and in eight notebooks now in Hampshire.  Even better then that the crackling novel now underway, HeartStone, takes Shardlake to Hampshire and Portsmouth during possible French invasion. There has been no great revelation about what Edmund Shakespeare, a player in London too, although in none of the extant lists or the First Folio, was like. Nor about the woman he sired a doomed child with up in the Morefields and buried in Cripplegate, near Shakespeare’s temporary lodgings on Silver Street.  Yet there have both been many significant echoes of Shakespeare the man and writer, from Pericles to that crucial year in his own family life, as well as important links in the historical topography of Southwark.  Sansom’s mastery only gets the juices flowing to try again then. So a toast to him and a huge recommendation to follow the adventures of the Shardlake books. Happy New Year.



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UKIP achieving in the polls, mutterings of the final break up of the BBC, yawning questions about the reality of recovery or the direction of this country, a feeling that social differentials have returned to the 16th Century, without the patronage, and what greater place to look on its real greatness and courage again than through the tradition of its writers and that greatest age of theatre, the English Renaissance! It seems you do not need a rebirth when the kind of productions the Globe company just staged as The Duchess of Malfi are screened on BBC Two, in the new covered theatre next to Sam Wannamaker’s Globe Theatre on Bankside, now called The Sam Wannamaker Theatre. It is a beautiful little house, in fact much smaller than the real Blackfriars Theatre over the water from the original Globe, that the Burbage brothers fought so long to open, and where Shakespeare staged a performance of Henry VIII, in the very place that Henry had announced his Divorce to the Bishops, and the restructuring of the English Church. Perhaps art was never so far from truth as we think. So Ben Jonson referred to the new trend in theatre in The First Folio, with the audience sitting on the stage, the arrival of more expensive seats, candlelight that ended open air rounds and precursored ‘the limelight’, but also the darker, more intense tragedies of Jacobean theatre, in an age tipping towards Civil War.

But so you’ve had a bit of schooling or University and think you know it all, yet to rediscover Webster through this performance was almost miraculous. Perhaps that is the very point of reconstructed houses and doing it as it was, taking you back to the power of individual words and an individual consciousness. It is not the period costumes that naturally get in the way, it is the attempt to make things ‘modern’, when perhaps everything was always the same. It was written in 1612-1613, five years after Shakespeare’s brother’s death, probably the year Shakespeare wrote The Tempest and has all the flaws of the bloody revenge tragedy. Yet so does Hamlet, a stage strewn with corpses at the end, or King Lear, and what is so astonishing about both that age and the play is its profoundly revolutionary nature. In the creation of a woman as ‘The Prince’, and such a remarkable, articulate woman, raising up a man and steward because of his virtue and her love, but destroyed by the coiled lusts of near incestuous family possession and male power, it is feminist par excellence. Yet neither Shakespeare nor Webster would have placed themselves within the constraints of Feminism either, reaching to sound out the source of human tragedy, or the power of theatre to explore the human condition, in the empty glass of life’s performance. When men and woman are at war tragedy must ensue and Art is the struggle to understand. It remains a running question how, after the age of that greatest and most impossibly challenged Queen, Elizabeth I, and the death of a strangely female centric faith like Catholicism, with all its roots in female nature worship too, Puritanism so defined the model both of English power and English brutality, in the explosion of world capitalism that defines almost everything we do.

It is very hard to do such bloodletting on stage without it becoming comic, and yet this production, seemingly perfect for that little, powerful TV Box too – please give us more and you can have my license fee – proved that that very transition to intimate theatre was the movement from external symbols of faith towards the exploration of more intense individual human psychology, perhaps stripped of the life-giving link Shakespeare has to the generative power of nature itself, but set against the attempt to give meaning on any kind of wider philosophical life journey. Does it compare to Shakespeare? Well sometimes, if you see it within the movement of its age and what happened. But above all it and this production underlined the sacred place of theatre, to sound the heights and depths of the human ‘soul’, both foul and beautiful. Funny, careful, perfectly lit by candle light, sinister and deeply sexy, Gemma Aterton as the Duchess was brilliant and, though he will inevitably draw comparisons with Alan Cumming, David Dawson was utterly courageous. Dominic Dromgoole’s direction was a masterpiece of modern ‘period’ theatre, which frankly is just great theatre. Boy, having tried Kickstarter here, do we wish that world Globe venture with Hamlet had succeeded! But have no fear, British theatre is alive and well and living on Bankside (if you can afford the seats) and sometimes on the BBC too.


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He calls it, with a certain peasant drollery, The Society For The Protection of Unwanted Objects, otherwise known as the Emporium. Much a theme and place to scribble about here at Phoenix Ark Press and the unofficial Society For The Protection of Unwanted Authors! It is a little jumble shop up in London’s Herne Hill, at 125 Dulwich Road, run by James Castle, a gladly rediscovered mate from yesteryear, when he liked gate crashing my parties (always strictly uninvited by demand) and treading shamelessly all over my strewn manuscripts, being rude about the Upper Classes. Now he specialises in house clearances and reclaiming the curios that go in and out of fashion with the ever changing tide of times.

I went up to see James partly out of necessity regarding an antique pipe and partly drawn by the place itself, Herne Hill. I know, I know, who on earth would want to risk the scruffy outskirts of hill bound South London, hard by Dulwich Village, despite the apparently leaping house prices and the new pedestrian zone by the station? Gastro pubs seem to be breaking out there like a rash of the Black Death. Except of course for the fact that it appeals because Herne the Hunter is a key figure in my novel Firebringer, and it must have been over the likes of Herne hill that the rebel Jack Cade marched from Blackheath into Southwark to stay at the White Heart Inn in July 1450, hard by the Tabard and old St Margaret’s church, apropos of work here on the Canterbury Road and Edmund Shakespeare. It was also in Dulwich that the great Elizabethan actor Ned Alleyn lived, to found that College of God’s Gift, later to become Dulwich College school. Then Alleyn’s father-in-law was the ubiquitous Phillip Henslowe, famous for his diary and accounts books, Master of the Game, Keeper of the Royal barge house, landlord, Southwark Cathedral warden, brothel keeper and the owner of the Rose, Fortune and Hope theatres. They both made a great deal of money together in that riverside world of the Liberties. Besides, I might be living there soon, if I’m not careful.

No lost manuscripts or Elizabethan jewels in James’s cluttered shop, sadly, but instead three fine hours spent sipping some wine, watching James work, irritating him by suggesting a make-over and wondering where the hell my life has gone to. It’s gone to Herne Hill Society! Despite accusing him of living off the profits of dead men’s clothes, or wondering how I could make it all more designer bijoux, it is actually James himself that makes the place and defies the critics by being so proudly what it is, an old fashioned jumble shop. It is the same passion that finds a true charm in objects that others would immediately consign to a skip or run over in a Ford Mondeo and makes little bits of gold by cleaning up an old pair of scissors, to find that sterling name Singer, and a price tag of £10. So the Ladybird edition of The Shoemaker and the Elves hangs in the window – unwanted books can be the most painful waifs and strays of all, like childhood memories – along with a handmade WWI wooden airplane, a couple of quality shirts, unused, and a whelter of oddities and curios. Not quite Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium and yet, little bits of magic…. James has other strings to his bow but it is something he devotes more than half his time to now. There is very little reason to the place but a lot more rhyme, since it has turned into a decent small business, that thrives on James’s enthusiasm not just for objects, unwanted or wanted anew, but for the stories they carry and the connection they bring with real lives around him now, going up or going down. Then, as Wilde quipped so splendidly, “we’re all in the gutter, but some are looking at the stars…”

James is good with people, neither deferential nor rude, but was funny about what he does and being hard nosed too about making a living, as he resisted my attempts to clamber across a railway arch of clutter to get to the lute sitting in the back room and sing drunken madrigals. He wasn’t at all amused by my suggestion a storyteller could hold an open day and weave fabulous tales around the objects and so give them an instant price-hiking provenance. He says he now has enough stock in the background to last a lifetime, as he darts towards his mobile to check out prices ‘out there‘ and do half favours for the folk struggling around him. James sometimes worries if he is too kind, as I accuse him of being low life pond swine, and he mixes work with helping people out. He makes it clear he is not a charity and yet clearly likes being fair and also sets off in his van to deliver things to places like The British Heart Foundation. The problem with those charities is that nowadays you seem to have to have things Dry Cleaned by Delphic Nymphs before they will actually accept them and in fact most Charity people do not know the trade, as James does, and so the potential value of everything and anything. A snapshot of customers ranges from the mentally challenged, the irritating know-all, the sweetly browsing tourists and the couple buying a frame to create a revealing picture for a gynecologist flatmate, to passersby wondering where the photo man is or if their motor will get a ticket. All just grist to the mill at The Society For The Protection of Unwanted Objects.


You can visit the Emporium at 125 Dulwich Road by taking a train to Herne Hill, or hopping the number 3 bus: 125 Dulwich Road, Herne Hill SE240NG London, United Kingdom. 14:00 – 19:00. Phone 07817 538872 Email:


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Hello all,

I’m attempting to wrestle with showing grace under Kickstarter fire, not to mention bad hair days, and so sorry a blog has become a tedious repetition of links and reminders. I’m a little surprised though many readers have not backed the great Light of The White Bear fight and seem to be here only for the un-allowed and long gone private lives of authors and editors, and the gossip too. Not to mention the laughable poison that can sometimes lurk in the immediate neighbourhood of dear old Facebook. It was a delight to see that jumped on by other supporters.

Very well though, as the project seems to fail at last, though 40 backers is damn good, you can have the whole story of Harry N Abrams, (very rarely the whole story of anyone’s innards), in both a film and the updates, by CLICKING HERE

They really are very welcome to disagree, and of course still almost publish Fell, one reader blogged he could not find in the shops, but I should be telling the story of Uteq of the Black Paw! Another glimpse is in an Update, but then off to study St Cuthbert and get a bloody life.


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Filed under Books, Culture, Fantasy, London, New York, The Phoenix Story