Tag Archives: London



Perhaps it is the Shardlake books on Tudor England that have inspired Phoenix Ark Press to again blog the story of Shakespeare’s youngest brother Edmund this January and the significance of many discoveries made about him and London to Shakespeare scholarship. 2016 is of course also the 400th anniversary of ‘the poet’s’ death and this time blogs, rather than engaging in arguments about the bogus Earl of Oxford theory or whether Shakespeare was a Catholic, will try and pinpoint specific discoveries and themes thrown up by nearly two years work by David Clement-Davies in the London Metropolitan archives and elsewhere. He believes that some of those discoveries are quite unique, cast significant light on the forming and the dating of the plays, especially the writing of the three parts of Henry VI, but also help build a fascinating picture of London and Southwark in particular, over a period of two hundred years. That play, bear baiting and brothel district, a gateway across the river and hub of ‘aliens, foreigners and strangers’ right opposite the walled city of London on the Thames.

David has been disappointed in the current desultory publishing climate not to find more interest from mainstream publishers for a book about Shakespeare’s Brother. Perhaps that is partly because there are only six records of Edmund Shakespeare’s life and death, while Shakespeare’s work and immortality itself so draws focus from any possible historical narrative of a largely unrecorded life. But at least blogging facts, theories and discoveries will make the work available. It is written from memory and without consulting 8 notebooks held here, so forgive errors or do write in to challenge them. The one joy of blogging is that mistakes can easily be corrected. If you use it please would you credit David or Phoenix Ark Press.

This running blog will be rather free form, but we start with a top ten of crucial facts that may be of assistance to future scholars and writers:

1) William Shakespeare had three brothers, in a large family of eight children, although three of his sisters died young. Shakespeare was the eldest, Richard and Gilbert Shakespeare following, and Edmund Shakespeare was the youngest. Edmund was sixteen years Will’s junior, born in May 1580, and of all the others was the only one to become a player too, in London. Although there is no record of Edmund in any extant play bills nor among the players listed in the First Folio. Edmund Shakespeare died in the freezing winter of 1607, at the age of only 27, and was buried in St Saviour’s Church, Southwark, formally the main church of St Mary’s Ovaries priory, on December 31st, at the cost of 20 shillings and with ‘a forenoon toll of the great bell’. It was the same year Shakespeare, now a Gentleman with a large house in Stratford called New Place, married his daughter Suzanna to the herbalist John Hall.

2) St Saviours, today’s Southwark Cathedral, was the dominating church of Bankside, that included the ‘Liberties’ of The Clink, Bankside and Paris Gardens. If you walk them today they represent a comparatively tiny area but it is from the Vestry minutes and Token Books of St Saviour’s that most of the clues about Edmund Shakespeare and Southwark come. Token Books were the yearly list of locals paying for Easter Communion Tokens, given back to the churches to prove attendance, and thus both a tithe and a kind of minor census. Many are very hard to read, in that scrolling Elizabethan ‘secretary’ script, with its uncertain spelling and of course at the time the spelling of names in particular were very changeable. Both Philip Henslowe, sometimes called Hensley, and his son-in-law the player Edward Alleyn became vestrymen and wardens of St Saviours for a time. Henslowe was one of the most significant figures in Southwark who built the Rose Theatre there, was a major landlord and brothel keeper, and became Master of the Game and Keeper of the Royal Barge House in Paris Gardens. He was also leader of The Admiral’s Men, chief rivals to Shakespeare’s troupe, and it is his diaries, really his book of accounts, playhouse receipts and payments for new plays, that gives us the most important evidence of the players and dramatists of the time. There are no extant records from the Globe and The Lord Chamberlain’s, later the King’s Men. Henslowe would also build The Fortune Theatre north of the river in 1600 and then The Hope in Southwark. He died in the same year as Shakespeare. David believes that the rivalry between the companies has been underestimated, the effect the building of the Globe in 1599 had on the Rose, which was just up the way but closed by 1605, and the fact that Henslowe went north of the river almost immediately, only building the Hope when Shakespeare’s activities at the Globe had declined.

3) There is some debate about where Phillip Henslowe, who was played by the actor Jeffrey Rush in the film Shakespeare in Love, actually lived in Southwark, since one account places him hard by the Clink Prison, the little prison of the Bishop of Winchester’s palace on Clink Street. In fact the token books prove that Henslowe lived in a tavern and tenement grouping on Clink Street called The Bell, hard by St Saviour’s, but in sight of The Clink. It was very possibly named around on the foundry bells for the church. They also prove that Edward Alleyn and his wife moved in with him in the plague year of 1603, when Elizabeth I also died. The lists of tavern dwellings in the Token Books are often broken down into the name of streets, alleys or their dominating tavern, like The Bell, The Three Tunnes, The Elephant or The Vine, in an area that was also still very rural, dominated to the south by Winchester Park. The Token Books also prove that both Henslowe and Alleyn sat on something instituted after the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 called The Great Enqueste, that seems to have been an investigation into officers and local practices by James I. In Southwark it culminated in a scandal coalescing around the abuse of money for the poor by the wardens and vestrymen of St Saviour’s, and a vestry that had risen to 80 strong. There were many complaints about the building of a huge new refectory or dining hall and there was even a bill mooted in Parliament. The Wardens and Vestrymen resisted and appeared to reform themselves. A very great many of the records from St Saviours, especially leading into the period up to the Civil War, are missing. The position of Warden was not only a prominent local one but gave Wardens rights to sign off leases and wills and it is hard to believe that someone as wary of the public eye as Shakespeare was not concerned by Henslowe’s local dominance.

4) Of the six known records of Edmund Shakespeare’s existence the first is his christening record, a couple of days after his birth, at Holy Trinity Church Stratford. The next two are the records of the christening and burial of his infant son in July and August 1607, four months before his father’s death, in St Leonard’s Shoreditch and St Giles Cripplegate respectively. There Edmond is marked down as a player, though there is slight confusion about the Sirname Shakspere or Sharksby and the name for the son either as Edmond or Edward. They are explained by mishearings and uncertain spellings. The boy child was barely a month old when he died, and perhaps because of the rise in local infant death records, probably not from plague but from an outbreak of some infant disease. As to the beliefs or practices of the Shakespeare family, whoever his lover was, in the scrofulous morals of London at the time, they certainly made sure their child was christened and as Germaine Greer says ‘owned’ the birth and the baby. It appears from a side note in the records that the unknown mother of the child was living in The Morefields. There is as yet no likely record in either St Giles or St Leonard’s of the mother dying in childbirth. The Morefields, where the famous London eye hospital now is, was a poor area, although improved in the planting of new gardens, especially around the new Scot’s Kings arrival into London. It also housed the infamous little Bethlehem Hospital, or Bedlam. The More fields stretched across the road that ran straight up through the Bishop’s Gate, where Shakespeare had lived inside the wall in his early years, in the parish of St Helens, that ran up to both The Theatre and The Curtain in Shoreditch. St Giles Cripplegate is barely ten minutes walk from St Leonard’s, the graveyard once just against the outside of London Wall. Christening and burial in different churches may be because many graveyards were simply overflowing at the time, but some church politics at the time is suggested by the entry by the child ‘baseborn’. It was not far through The Cripplegate that Shakespeare himself for a time lived on the wealthy Silver Street, near the Barber Surgeon’s Hall and in the house of the Tirer or wigmaker, the Hugenot immigrant Christopher Mountjoy. Since Shakespeare was undoubtedly back in Stratford in June 1607 for Suzanna’s wedding, at the time Edmund’s lady was having a difficult birth, it throws up many questions about the state of the family at the time. The next two records of Edmund are his burial on December 31st 1607 in St Saviour’s. One is at the very end of a Vestry bill of burials, the other is the copy of that record into the main burial register. The final record of Edmund is in the 1607 Token Book of St Saviour’s, from the Liberty of Bankside, that record of a purchase of communion tokens, and shows that at sometime that year Edmund Shakespeare was living at a tavern-tenement complex, with a garden, called The Vine. It is very likely that he died there too, since he was buried just six minutes walk away in the big church, where many players and dramatists are buried.

5) A slight doubt has been raised over records of Edmund Shakespeare because of the activities of the famous 19th Century Shakespeare antiquarian John Payne Collier. Collier’s work on the players in Southwark was crucial but he was very publicly disgraced for forging entries in Henslowe’s diaries and perhaps elsewhere. The records were certainly in his hands. There is also a slight doubt about the vestry bill and the register of burial at St Saviour’s because two other names of dead men appear after Edmund’s in the bill, which are not in the final burial register and Edmund’s name appears as the last, on such an apparently numinous date as December 31st 1607. However, those other names are over the page and there is nothing about the entries or the ink that suggests forgery. It suggests the church official neglected to turn the page when copying the names into the Burial Register. The most possibly suspect entry is in fact in the Token Book then, putting Edmund’s lodging at The Vine, because of the seeming difference in ink colour, the fact it seems a bit squeezed in and is semi scored out. In fact the entries were done by hand by local Roundsman in a very rough and ready way and ink can discolour. If the place Edmund was living, The Vine, is a forgery it does not at all undervalue what the work on The Vine reveals about the whole neighbourhood and its links to local St Margaret’s church. There is also no doubt Shakespeare had a brother called Edmund, from the Stratford record, that he was a player too, from the Christening record of his son and that he was buried that day in St Saviour’s. It was a church Shakespeare must have passed and visited many times and that 20 shillings for a ‘forenoon toll of the great bell’, represents an expensive and honouring funeral, probably paid for by Shakespeare’s purse. It is of course possible that Edmund’s burial, who seems, if he was working much as an actor, to have been just as active around north London and The Fortune Theatre, might have been paid for by someone like Henslowe but that is pure conjecture. There is no knowledge of who was present at the funeral on that freezing winter’s day and local legend has it that it was done before noon so that the actors could go off to perform in the afternoon, in the vein that ‘the show must go on’. Local lore also says The Vine was a tavern brothel, but in a district of brothels there is no evidence it was, if an attitude to such trade was entirely different. It is very possible that the theatres were open, and with the big winter freeze of the river, the start of the great frost fairs, people spilled out from the city and could walk across the water. It is very vividly testified to by a pamphlet, probably by Thomas Dekker, called ‘The Great Frost, Cold Doings in London’. However, a pre-noon burial was a common thing, as was an honouring either with a toll of the little or great bell, as the records show was given to both gentle folk and many honoured servants too. Time to quote John Done though – “Go not to ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.’

6) The major work on Southwark began to unfold after David discovered the name of The Vine from a lecture given by Professor Alan Nelson of Berkeley university on the Token Books, although it was known previously and published. It involved looking at leases both in the Metropolitan and National archives and the tiny records in the boxes related to St Saviour’s. It coalesced both around the discovery of the will of one Edward Hunt Esquire in 1588, the year of the Armada, bequeathing the Vine tavern to his pregnant wife Mary and her brother John White and scraps of ‘leases’, really tiny bits of hand written paper from the 15th Century, relating to a Fraternity at the Church of St Margaret’s. St Margaret’s once stood right by The Tabard Inn and up the road from The White Hart, in the middle of Long Southwarke, the road that ran straight over old London Bridge. Today it is the sight of a Slug and Lettuce bar but it was also the site of St Margaret’s Cross and the original starting point of Southwark Fair. In Hogarth’s painting of Southwark Fair the old Norman church is still in evidence, though it had become a prison, a courthouse and a tavern called The King’s Head. A very Catholic church, as reflected by the Brotherhood and in an area that was of course also Chaucer’s Canterbury Road, it was suppressed in 1534, its parishioners subsumed into now renamed St Saviour’s, three minutes walk away. It’s prominence was also because it stood right in the middle of the King’s Highway, just before you reached the gate to London Bridge, which is probably why it was also used afterwards as a local Compter, or Court lock up. The Commissioners who fined St Francis Langely, who built The Swan Theatre, for not keeping up the Manor of Paris Gardens probably met there. The records suddenly stop then at The Reformation, with scrawled, handwritten documents entitle Testi 1-V, which are the as yet untranslated Latin interrogations by the King’s commissioners of the wardens. The reformation ax had fallen on the history of the little church. In 1460 though Livery and Land Rights had been granted to the wardens of St Margaret’s Church for their brotherhood, and in fact sisterhood too, of ‘Our Lady Of Assumption’, by Henry VI himself at Westminster. Being less than 8 miles from Westminster Southwark fell withing ‘The Verge’, the moveable area of authority that operated around the King’s person, but Henry granted the local wardens not only a livery but the right to buy land worth up to Sixty Marks. They started investing in two local taverns, The Vyne and what appears on the computer records of The Metropolitan Archive to be The Har- although the tiny piece of paper is torn. David now believes from other records that The Har was in fact The Haxe, or The Axe. The Vine stood on the long earthen track that became a kind of Broadway of its day called Maid Lane. Maid Lane has been cut to pieces by time, bridge building and concrete, but on it, and flanked by marshland first the Rose, then the Globe and then The Hope came to stand. As Ben Jonson records in his Execration Against Vulcan The Globe was ‘forced out of a marish’ or a marsh in 1599, when the players carried the wood from the old The Theatre in Shoreditch across the river, as the lease on Giles Allen’s land ran out. By Edmund’s day The Vine was a tavern-tenement complex, with gardens, stables and waterways, according to the standard lease, in a grouping also called Hunt’s Rents, as there were so many named ‘rents’ in London. It is hard to pinpoint it exactly or how large it was, but it may well have given its name to the modern Vinopolis and been hard by The Globe. But on the Grant of The Brotherhood of Our Lady of Assumption the two most prominent wardens named were local knights, Peter Averne and John Le Hunt. There can be no doubt that John Le Hunte is the direct ancestor of Edward Hunt Esquire who died in 1588 and was also buried in St Saviour’s. As the church was suppressed its property and profits passed back into secular hands and there is no evidence the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Assumption survived The Reformation or went underground. John Le Hunte would have been a boy in Southwark when Henry V stopped just down the road in front of St George’s Church, to be welcomed by Alder or older men and city minstrels singing him a plaint to his victory at Agincourt in 1415.

7) The history of St Margaret’s church though is a fascinating window into Southwark itself and the inter-relationship of churchmen and locals, taverns, theatres and brothels. The whole area of course fell under the aegis of the Bishops of Winchester, with Winchester Palace or House right by St Saviour’s, on Clink Street facing the river. Much has been made both of the licencing and profiting of brothels in the area by the church and Winchester, a sea second in importance only to Canterbury, and it did become an area of vice and crime, especially lurid in the Puritan imagination, and a key to Civil War Propaganda. One pre Civil War pamphlet shows a soldier aiming his canon at the legendary Hollands Leaguer, a moated brothel popular with courtiers that was probably in the Manor House of Parish Gardens, once owned briefly by the Cloth Algener, or tester, and impressario Francis Langley. It is certainly true that the Bishops of York made much profit from the cheap tenements that flourished in Southwark, and with the independent nature of the Liberties of London, later spawned the murderous slums of the Rookeries. The Tabard was owned by the Bishop of Hyde. Also such a tough area because of the presence of five prisons in Southwark, including the famous Mashalsea, that also stood on Long Southwarke. The records certainly prove that in running the Vine and The Axe the wardens of St Margaret’s and the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Assumption were paying ‘purse money’, ie cash, straight up to the Bishop of Winchester. They also show payments for the lighting of the lamps along the river, the improvement of the ways and evidence of an argument with a Flemish woman at the Axe. Whether or not she was some proto Mistress Quickley, it also testifies to the influx of foreigners along the river, especially Dutch and Flemish immigrants, but if in the mind of someone like Sir Walter Raleigh the association with prostitution was with foreigners, and not our lovely English girls, in fact brothels had been licensed there since the 12th Century. As well as securing prices paid by ‘incontinent men’, it ensured girls might spend an entire night with clients, regulated food and drink, but also tried to ensure the liberty of the girls and the fact that they could not be held against their will by ‘the stewe holder’. The name ‘the Stewes’ for Southwark Brothels, especially housing the famous Winchelsea Geese, is probably a conflagration of the Scandinavian word for a stove but also the name for the Royal Carp ponds in Southwark. The fishy connotations are quite obvious, not least in Hamlet’s discussion with Polonius of the honest trade of Fishmongers, but also John Donne’s poem The Bait, when he talks of swimming in ‘that live bath’. Fishmongers Hall was of course the most prominent Guild House, right opposite St Saviour’s on the north shore and west of Billingsgate fish market that served London.

8) St Margaret’s church records, like so many in a time of proto records, and when the register of christenings, weddings and funerals also began at The Reformation, are not only the real beginning of urban and administrative history in London but accounts – how much things cost. They give their own astonishing insights, an echo of living history. But they are especially fascinating in trying to relate Shakespeare’s histories to real local history on the ground, since they span the reigns of Harry V, Henry VI, Edward IV, Richard III and the King Shakespeare never wrote about, Henry VII. The way some are headed ‘Harry V’ for instance also capture so much of the intimacy in referring to the Crown that is such a part of Shakespeare’s own language. But one of the most fascinating aspects is the uncovering of the role of little St Margaret’s, the Bishop of Winchester William Waynflete and the story of the rebel Jack Cade, all so prominent a part of Shakespeare’s Henry VI, part II. Not nearly enough work has been done of the three parts of Henry VI, not least because they represent Shakespeare’s first real appearance on the London theatre scene and his recognition among other writers.

9) The attempt to uncover more about Edmund Shakespeare’s own life and death has largely foundered on the lack of evidence and records. It is fairly surprising there is no record of a player brother in the First Folio, among that close knit group of actors who worked together for 25 years in Shakespeare’s Company. The relationship between Shakespeare’s works, Edmund and brothers in general is an ever tantalizing one, that must again be considered speculation. It is also true that families and especially brothers play a dominating role in Shakespeare’s utterly human dramas but ones that are so concerned with internal imagination, and psychic wholeness, in a language of family that was also related both to the idea of the Commonweal and to those fathers, brothers and sisters of the Church. In terms of a younger brother not least in As You Like It, where Orlando is made the hero against the corruption of older brothers, politics and the court. Is that Shakespeare’s consummate awareness but also guilt at work, and perhaps a kind of warning to a younger brother arriving or struggling in the City as a player, who was 19 in 1599? Is it somehow telling that the only fictional Edmund in Shakespeare, not counting the historical Edmund Mortimer, is Edmund in King Lear, one of the most vicious, yet intelligent of them all? Perhaps it reflects nothing at all about a real younger brother, whose name ironically means ‘wealth bringer’, but it throws some light on Shakespeare’s own experience, especially in that traumatic year of 1607. Shakespeare had already written his greatest tragedies, his themes growing darker and darker in the last years of Elizabeth’s reign and into the reign of James I, but Lear was certainly written by 1606, and performed for James I at Whitehall at Christmas. Did that presentation of an Edmund on stage, for a player brother struggling on the social margins and watching it, have any effect on the real Edmund or produce any sense of guilt for his eldest brother, when he died so young, just a year later? The most interesting clues though come in a sea change in Shakespeare’s work, with Pericles, probably written with the tavern-brothel keeper and general thug George Wilkins, the argument about the social status of players that had developed in 1603 at the College of Heralds, now Shakespeare was a Gentleman, and the marking down in the church records of Edmund’s son as ‘baseborn’. Was Edmund Shakespeare at odds with Shakespeare the Gentleman and did a greater tragedy ensue we are as yet unaware of? The very prominent presence of Heraldry in Pericles, and Pericles’ crest represented by a withered branch only flowering at the top, can hardly be ignored. But there are other references in Pericles, particularly to the poet John Gower, who is also buried in Southwark Cathedral, that give it a significance that is yet to be fully explored.

10) Edmund Shakespeare’s life is of course important in terms of the evidence, or lack of it, about Shakespeare himself. Many controversies remain, perhaps quite wrongly, about who Shakespeare was. The fact that there was a Stratford Edmund Shakespeare who was also a player only adds to the evidence about Shakespeare and his whole and much neglected family. Some have argued that the Stratford Shakespeare cannot have been the London Shakespeare, not least because Shakespeare does not refer to himself as a player or writer in his Stratford will. That is just rather silly, because he also leaves mourning rings to his first actor and King’s Man, Richard Burbage, and to those gatherers of the First Folio, Henry Cundell and John Hemming. Perhaps though Edmund’s presence at the Vine too will give the final link in the chain to confound the doubters and especially the Earl of Oxford theorists (who was dead by 1604) in its ownership by Edward Hunt, esquire. That is if any link can be made between a book owned by the Warwickshire cleric Richard Hunt and the London Hunts, that bears an inscription describing Shakespeare as the ‘Roscius’ of his day, a term from the celebrated Roman actor applied to the like of Edward Alleyn. Of course Edmund’s life, both as a Shakespeare and a player, is valuable in itself and in all it has helped uncover about the period. Of which there is more to come.


Phoenix Ark Press, January 4th, 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 first Wikepedia image shows the South end of St Saviours, Southwark Cathedral, restored in the 19th Century. It state was very different in Shakespeare’s day. The second picture shows the War Memorial, that was once St Margaret’s Cross and the start of Southwark Fair, and Slug and Lettuce bar that was once St Margaret’s Church, where John Le Hunte and the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Assumption were granted livery and land rights of up to 60 Marks by Henry VI in 1460. Jack Cade met the Bishop of Winchester here, after the Battle of London Bridge, staying over the way in The White Hart Inn.

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The next instalment of HORRID HEROES AND CRAZY CROOKS by David Clement-Davies is the true tale of Dick Whittington. If you know the wonderful version by Roald Dahl, all David can say is that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!


I think perhaps we ought to skip
The early years of Dirty Dick
Who was (in truth) extremely sad
A crummy little orphaned lad,
The servants treated like a louse
In Hugh Fitzwarren’s London house.
Where, in the kitchens, for his supper
Dick worked and slaved as Washer-Upper
And in the evenings, on the floor,
Slept on a bed of filthy straw
His only friend among the tat
Tiddles, a scrawny Cheshire cat…
So there they’d sit, consuming rum
And toasting better days to come.
Until, one evening, having tea,
Sir Hugh turned to his family
And cried “My dears, it’s time, you know
I let the servants have a go.
I’ll get them to invest their tips
In one of my brand new Merchant ships.”
Fair Griselda (Fitz’s daughter)
Scowled and moaned “You never oughta
Oh blast, oh hell, it isn’t fair”
Then thrust her nostrils in the air.
“My duck,” soothed Hugh “don’t think pa’s sappy
We have to keep the workers happy.
Besides, it really isn’t funny,
But just right now I need the money!”
The household quickly took the hook
The cook whipped out her savings book,
The coachman cried “I’ll try the prank”
The butler smashed his piggy bank.
The only one left out that day
Was Dick, of course, who couldn’t pay.
But then the ruthless little snot
Came up with this disgusting plot.
“I’ll not be exiled from their fiddles
“I know,” he grinned “I’ll give ’em Tiddles.”
So seizing kitty by the scrag
Dick stuffed him in a leather bag
Then sent his only friend to sea
To earn for Dick a monstrous fee.
Which proves that, if you hadn’t guessed,
Dick was a crook, just like the rest.

So now our story changes tack
For no news of the ship came back
Dick waited there, a year and more
For all those riches, held in store,
But got no message from the log
And no news of his travelling mog.
At last the crook began to ditch
This plan to make him Super Rich
And then the dreadful little thief
Purloined Hugh’s spotted handkerchief
And glancing round him, sly and quick
Dick tied it to Hugh’s walking stick.
With all his worldly goods wrapped up:
His toothbrush in a paper cup,
And from the larder, for his tea,
Dick pinched a slab of mouldy Brie.
So Dick set off, at ten to two.
To make his loot, in pastures new.
In several hours, slowing down,
Dick reached the edge of London town
And here it was (as we all know)
That Dicky rested, outside Bow,
Where, after lunch, the lazy chap
Decided that he’d take a nap.
But just as Dick had settled in
The old Church bells began to ring:


Now Richard, who was really thick
Was sure he couldn’t, BLOODY HELL,
Have just been talked to by a Bell!


Well, this bit made the whole thing seem
Just like some awful, cheesy dream.


This clanging made Dick’s fingers itch.
Then gave the dozing snitch a stitch.


At this Dick woke up, with a start,
A mighty thundering in his heart
But rubbed his fingers in his ears


The bells continued with a clang

“WE’VE NOT GOT ALL DAY LONG,” they sang,

As Dick heard what the bells just said
His eyes bulged from his greedy head
Forgetting all about his pack,
To London Town Dick hurried back
Where he discovered, with a grin,
His long lost ship had just come in.
For when (a year before) the liner
Had anchored off the coast of China
Tiddles, that hungriest of cats,
Had gobbled up a plague of rats
And charmed the Nation’s Emperor
(Who’d never seen a cat before)
Then, since his palace was infested
The chinaman had swift invested
So on the spot, right there and then,
Bought Tiddles for a million Yen.
Which was a quite ginormous fee,
In such a dodgy currency!
Yet Dirty Dick could not have cared
A jot how little Tiddles fared.
Instead he hoovered up the dough
And bought a suit from Saville Row
Then, as the richest in the land,
Dick asked Griselda for her hand
Who, though she was absurdly snooty,
Was still delighted by his booty.
So in a carriage, off they go,
To marry in that church in Bow
And now the pair await with glee
The bells enchanting prophecy.
Which proves that if you want to win
Like Richard you must not give in
And also shows, I’m sad to say,
That ruthlessness will often pay.


The last time that we heard of Dick
That horrid boy had turned a trick
And with Griselda, sweet and fair,
Was waiting to become Lord Mayor.
But if, this far, you’ve got the gist
Of Dicky’s story…here’s the twist.
Oh they got married, just near Bow,
Griselda wasn’t happy though
For everyone could plainly see
That Dirty Dick was dastardly.
Since, filthy boy, he held that path
That meant he’d never had a bath
Despised good soap to wash his face,
Yet lorded it around the place,
As poor Grizelda found their lair
Were soon as filthy as her hair.
Almost a tale too foul to tell,
Since no one could abide Dick’s smell,
But also shows why we all bitch –
‘There’s nothing worse than filthy rich!’
Yet as they stewed in noble rot
Now Dick refined his master plot
And bribed the townsmen, one and all,
To make him Mayor of City Hall,
Just as those talking bells had fated,
But as Dick dressed, to be instated
And Grizzy sobbed there, on the floor
There came a knocking at their door.
A furry banging – RAT, TAT, TAT,
And straight in walked a GIANT CAT.
Scrawny Tiddles who, since landing,
On all those rats, had been expanding
And, leaving China, made his fill
In business – working RENT-A-KILL.
The mog was sporting sparkling gnoshers,
Eight inch claws and huge goloshes.
And with a Pot-pourri of Rose,
A giant clothes peg on his nose.
“Meeeeooow” purred Puss, “So Dick, you swine,
You’d sell your Tiddles down the line?”
“Oh no,” cried Dick, “by boiled Salami,
I think I must be going balmy,
It’s bad enough a chatty bell,
But not a talking cat as well!”
Tiddles twitched and licked his paws,
Then opened out those murderous claws
And, with strange glintings in his eye,
He let his vicious razors fly
Across the sofa, round the beds,
Where Dick was swiftly torn to shreds
And smart Grizelda (not a slouch)
Stuffed Dicky’s entrails in the couch,
Then, kissing Tiddles on the nose,
She swooned “Oh Pussy, I propose
That now that Dirty Dicky’s ditched,
You steal his job and we get hitched.”
Which happened, as was only fair,
When Tiddles did become Lord Mayor
And with Grizelda in cahoots
Became that famous PUSS-IN-BOOTS!
And so it was that Griz, the louse,
Installed that couch in Mansion House
Where, on Dick’s stuffing, there they sat
That Lady Mayor and Cheshire Cat,
With lucious tongue to priss and preen,
Since cats are quite superbly clean!
But now I bet you’re wondering why
Those rotten bells had told a lie.
It’s not as strange as you suppose
Since this is how the story goes:
They hadn’t meant LORD MAYOR, as read,
But tried to say HORSE HAIR instead,
(You know, the kind of stuff you get
To fill a couch, or coverlet.)
And since, as all smart children know,
Those chatty bells were made in Bow,
It meant they only ever sang,


Horrid Heroes and Crazy Crooks is under copyright to Phoenix Ark Press, 2014, All Rights Strictly Reserved. The picture is a woodcut from The Famous and Remarkable History of Sir Richard Whittington, Three Times Lord-Mayor of London (1770). If you would like to read about Al Capone, Sweeney Todd and Sherlock Holmes, look at the blogs below.

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Had to blog it, and to say HAPPY NEW YEAR too. After watching the wonderful, explosive fireworks from my view of the London Eye, I rang a friend who lives in the centre, Wimpole Street, who told me about the party that had been going on since 9pm, in what was once Guy Ritchie’s house. The chant that came from them, with the private fireworks too, was thank God we’re lawyers. Dear me, a wonderful, happy, and prosperous New Year to everyone, except absolutely anyone who is a lawyer.

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One of the more disappointing books we’ve read of late, partly because of the strength of expectation, must be Peter Ackroyd’s Shakespeare, the biography. With a supposedly subtle white glove draped across the highly designed front cover, to suggest the weave of everything, which Falstaff comments on in The Merry Wives of Windsor, this hefty tome is surprisingly conventional and very much one for the Establishment too.

Reassuringly researched, with reportedly a team behind him to check the facts, and so wary of making mistakes, it attempts a different voice by using short chapters and unusual quotations to take us back to a time, successful sometimes in a linguistic impression of chrisolm oil at a Stratford birth, for instance – as in the language making the texture of lives – yet says nothing really new or important at all. It is not that ignoring all the competing theories about Shakespeare is wrong, what is is ignoring the intense passions and conflicts that a period and the problems of history itself evoke and why.

The reason of course is that Shakespeare is such an all-encompassing writer, the poet of all time, that any attempt at conventional biography as an explanation or reflection of his genius, his facility, fails. You need someone like the Russian surrealist Bulgakov, who wrote his fictive Life of Mr Moliere, to try and unite the art and the facts. It is only ever an attempt. But what is so disappointing is that a brilliant creative novelist like Ackroyd, wunderkind of imaginative time travel, and fakery too, above all such a specialist on the London of the period, just opts for safety. So the author who wrote The Thames, Sacred River, and spoke on Dessert Island Disks of being on the side of the ‘spiritual’ camp, in the science-faith split, just fights shy of the issues that might have struck a real sounding bell to Shakespeare and the mystery of his linguistic ‘miracle’, language’s miracle, at a very specific time. Of course for everyone who approaches Shakespeare there is a kind of sanctity that must be acknowledge too, the author who authors trust above all, (except Tolstoy), but that sanctity might come with a little more profanity.

In assuring us Shakespeare is such a conventional writer then, so interested in power, for instance, so consumed by Kingship, that naturally reflected his career path or even his ‘politics’, he sometimes bores, while also touching on ideas that might be really interesting. That those original Wooden O’s were kinds of ‘wombs’ of creativity, for instance, seen within the context of a language in astonishing flux and self-discovery, at a period of intense spiritual conflict during The Reformation. Actual places of magic then, as Katherine Duncan Jones argues. Or that for the author who conceived of such strange, eventful histories, baldly factual history is not quite enough, especially because Shakespeare was so aware of it.

There are flashes of real creative insight, for instance when Ackroyd squashes the competing authorship and anti-Stratford theories with the simple remark that Shakespeare could not have lied about the happiness of a rich Stratford and Warwickshire childhood without some serious psychic disturbance on the surface of his plays. He is a man who knows the connections between writing and the life truths. Yet in just suring up a reassuring view of the validity of word of mouth reports, John Aubrey’s first impressions, or vignets around the few details there are, like those yards of red cloth and Shakespeare and the King’s Men processing in the train of James I, when the Lord Chamberlain’s Men became The Kings Men in 1604, he voids half the point of ‘the play’, the first professional players and playwrights in their new theatres and the struggle of meaning through art.

The biggest cop out is that ‘Shakespeare had no humanitarian purpose’, or it was really only about survival, money and putting bums on seats; the great entertainer, at the centre of a playwriting factory in London. You know what he means about the Humanitarian purpose question, as though we had to fix Shakespeare to a political party, and Dr Jonson said no one but a fool ever wrote for anything but money, but it is just rather disappointing about a writer who went so far and challenged himself so much.

Then there is his treatment of Southwark, that says so little about a place that was such an interesting Reformation fault line too. It is not the stewes, the brothels, or the bear baiting and gamboling dens there that are so important, but the position of the Bishop of Winchester, St Saviours church, Ben Jonson’s description of The Globe as a ‘fortress to the whole parish’ and why Shakespeare might have followed John Gower’s and not Chaucer’s literary tradition, or how the ‘liberties’ affected Shakespeare, younger and older.

The truth is not nearly enough work has been done on the significance of early plays like the three parts of Henry VI, that so sound the historical importance of Southwark, and probably started around 1592. But Ackroyd, as if he is getting old and weary, in need of a literary pension himself, quickly voids the challenges of a place and has Shakespeare inured to it all, spending most of his time up on wealthier Silver Street, near the Cripplegate.

Yet Shakespeare spent at least ten years there, probably longer, it was the place of the Rose and Swan, and the locus of the Globe, so his creative outlet whether in London or Stratford. While in picking John Gower to be the Chorus for Pericles, in the year his brother Edmund died, 1607, with such an issue of brothels highlighted in that strange play, it suggests how significant a place was to his themes and even crises. Pericles is also a play that has a scenario of a coat of arms at its centre, a withered branch flowering at the top, when his youngest brother, also an actor in London, had just died within four months of his own infant son, who was marked down in the church register as ‘base born’. Perhaps it is one of the reasons for that much noted ‘sea-change’ in Shakespeare’s art, a phrase from The Tempest, towards romances trying to heal time and families.

The truth is though that all the clothes of elegant or nervous research around Ackoryd’s own words and insights swamp his own voice. So it is highly significant that he suggests Shakespeare was ‘protected’ on Bankside and in London, in the backing of patrons or powers-that-be who were perhaps not exactly ‘establishment’, yet it is never really followed up. It would be the antidote to a book like 1599 by James Shapiro that takes a boy’s own view of the player’s independence, carrying that wood south of the river to build The Globe and a thrilling year in Shakespeare’s life. The truth is though that Francis Meres suggests Shakespeare had already well succeeded in London before The Globe was even built, as Ackroyd calls Shakespeare a ‘phenomenon’, and The Globe’s position within the skirts of the Liberty of the Bishop of Winchester is still of untapped significance.

If nothing comes from nowhere, except perhaps Cordelia’s silent love, it is even more important at a time where English history itself seems to appear from nowhere. Ackroyd touches on one of the keys to it all, language as metaphor, those clear springs in the old city, which borders on saying something else, and the uncertain ‘map’ of place that cannot be subsumed to the apparent facts, which is also the opposite of Shapiro’s high American literalism and attempt at precise factual, even journalistic detail. Yet Shapiro succeeds where Ackroyd fails because of the passion of his imaginative engagement, the sensitivity of his discourse about Shakespeare’s Stratford influences and the effect of plays like Henry V, Julius Caesar or As you Like It on contemporary audiences and why. That of course is not enough either, always the poet vanishes again, as was his intention and freedom, but it proves the need for something the great writer knew above all, so underestimated as instinctive storyteller, the compelling narrative.


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As part of the project here on Edmund Shakespeare, as promised, we are blogging the treatment that preceded a partially completed novel, but then the detailed research on Edmund Shakespeare and Southwark that should really build a history of an ‘unrecorded life’.

Apparently a script was read in Stratford last year that reached the Cohen Brother’s desk on Richard Shakespeare and another in the pipeline about Susanna.



It is spring, 1596, and a handsome 16 year old lad we mistake for Will Shakespeare, is trying to escape a life at home in provincial Stratford, rattling along the road to dreams and greatness in London. His thoughts are mixed with a montage of the opening of two theatres in Bankside and Blackfriars, where a children’s troupe becomes the Queen’s Choir, and of groundlings, nobles and critics, and the thunder of applause, or the pelt of vegetables. In London, Edmund Shakespeare arrives, and makes for the Curtain Theatre, in Shoreditch, walking in with the reverence of going into a church, to see the aging Edward Alleyn rehearsing the Prologue of Henry V – ‘Or may we cram, Within this wooden O, the very casques, That did affright the air at Agincourt? O, Pardon! Since a crooked figure may, attest in little place a million; And let us, ciphers to this great accompt, On your imaginary forces work…’

Edmund’s brother William, now 30, is in the middle of writing a new history, as a member of thrilling young troupe of actors, Lord Strange’s Men. The process of acting, rehearsing and rewriting, all together, is clear, but two years after they were closed because of plague, the theatres are open again, although the City of London has just banned them within its mile wide limits, and business is moving south, indeed London is on the move. The players are now in the hands of one of the ‘Liberties’, and, dangerously, South of the River, the influence of the just ascended Bishop of Winchester, Thomas Bilson, on payment of an annuity to Elizabeth of £400, in a world where offices were bought. A hawk against Catholic recusants, like Shakespeare’s own Grandfather Edward Arden, and hugely ambitious, Bilson ‘carried prelature in his very aspect’, a defender of the notion Christ descended into hell, the ‘Decensus Controversy’, not to suffer in sympathy with the ‘damned’, but to wrestle the keys of heaven from the devil.

We see the Bishop dining in his great hall in Southwark, a dead ringer for Antonio, in Measure for Measure, but it hides his Court’s apparent acceptance that a human hell can be maintained in London, with the Bishop of Winchester’s brothels, and the Clink prison next door, where the prisoners have to fund their own incarceration. The Church is much in play, at a time when the Elizabethan Religious Settlement is crucial, the Book of Common Prayer insisting children must be baptised, the first Sunday after their birth. While the likes of Arden had been executed for plotting against Queen Elizabeth, as his Catholic Son-in-law, John Sommerville, had been racked, and executed in The Tower. The Tower too looms over the whole drama, both literally and metaphorically for the high-born, a warning to over ambition. Elizabeth’s is an attempt at a more tolerant time, and stability too, but religion is a dangerous political tool, and eyes are everywhere still.

William Shakespeare is on the cusp of huge success though, with his plays starting to appear four years before, in 1592. It has already been a roller-coaster ride, and Edmund gives blessings, and a gift from their mother, Mary Arden, as we hear the line from the theatre, ‘We few, we happy few, we band of brothers….’ Will tries to persuade his baby brother against the dangerous, murderous and filthy city though, despite his affection for Ed, and the scheming, paranoid court.

He tells him simply to go straight home, to the healing countryside. To pretty Silvia, a local girl he grew up with, and they all thought Ed would marry. To go back to their mother, Mary Arden, and the pastoral ‘Forest of Arden’, of Stratford and Warwickshire, to get married, and make gloves! Ed’s loves are hunting deer, sitting by the mill chase, stealing apples, and running wild, and the seasons, blossom-fall, high summer, barren trees, blasted heaths, and deep snow will be much in evidence. We see they were the young Shakespeare’s loves too, and it is a constant theme of town versus country, hard city versus healing nature, as countrymen and women flood in along the Canterbury road, Chaucer’s road, at Borough, to make their ‘fortunes’ in town.

‘The theatre, Ed,’ Will asks Edmund, warily, ‘is the plague in your blood too?’, warning him too how hard it is to really make it as a player, because they are vain and fractious, jealous and backbiting, and in love with the ‘bubble reputation’. Perhaps he should go and see Gilbert, their brother also doing business in town. Edmund comments that Will is losing his hair.

To be continued…

Shakespeare’s Brother is in Copyright to David Clement-Davies and Phoenix Ark Press 2102 All RIghts Reserved

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With an irresistible sports fest in the UK and Wimbledon and lovely summer weather in full swing, Phoenix Ark Press are also making the part sporting thriller and Mayan apocalypse story The Godhead Game available for download this Sunday, July 1st. Exclusively available at Amazon.com or Click here Enjoy.

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The mounting crisis at St Paul’s, with the resignation of the Dean, Graeme Knowles, is becoming almost Shakespearian, but it highlights something about London; the enormous power and significance of The Square Mile. The City of course was once exactly that, and the powers now enshrined by the Corporation of London were historically guarded furiously. It is why that area, bounded by its Dragon statues, has a separate branch of the police force. Now they don’t want tents and the masses on their patch, but they never did. They always wanted commerce. Stand on the hill and look straight down Fleet Street and you will see it runs past Temple Bar, down the Strand, to Westminster and then Buckingham Palace beyond. “What the City loves to earn, Westminster loves to spend” was the old adage, but they too always looked warily at one another and created complex checks and balances to protect their powers.

Around that mile, in Shakespeare’s day, grew up the so-called Liberties of London, like Southwark, South of the river. In Shoreditch was once the biggest collection of slums and brothels in Europe. So too lay the playhouses, the bear pits, and the beer and Pleasure Gardens. Of course, in a different age, it was the Bishop of Winchelsea in Southwark who both purchased his position from the Queen, at £400 a year, and licensed many of those brothels. How times have changed, in this rather haunting crisis of the headless Anglican Church, except that the City’s attitude has always remained the same and always will. It was they who established edicts to drive out rogues, vagabonds and sturdy beggars, whether wearing T-shirts calling for the abolishment of money or not, though in 1572 actors at least, the players, became exempt from those if protected by a Lord or patron, and so the Burbage family could establish London’s first permanent playhouse for purely theatrical performances – called simply, The Theatre. Yet still only on the fringes of that powerful Square Mile, as were The Red Lion, London’s first permanent building, The Curtain, Rose, Swan and Globe.

This may all be high drama, even farce, which is better than real violence, though a more violent farce may ensue, and now the Dale Farm Protestors against Capitalism have joined the merriments too. But it was foolish of St Paul’s to close its doors at all, and this succession of resignations may lead to a mounting tragedy that exposes the confusion in the Church and the powerlessness of people in the face of laws that are practical, even involved with Health and Safety, but also fundamentally designed to support the functioning of a City, and a now world financial system. Money and trade are what matters to London, as to New York. We all know we somehow need that system, which incited the Mail Online to produce a headline like ‘A Rabble Without A Cause’, yet it is the concentration of wealth within that Mile, like some vast piggy bank only those in the know understand, or can really raid, that makes this rather a telling moment, and the physical position of the protestors very interesting too, poised between the House of God and the House of Mammon. It seems to have got far more coverage than protestors traditionally camping outside the supposed seat of Government and legislative power, Parliament. In a world where wool and bushels of corn have become International bank transfers, complex derivatives and deals made far beyond the skirts of the Old Lady of Threadneadle Street, it is purely symbolic, but symbolism is what catches the media eye too and translates so many human aspirations and paradoxes around the globe. All the world’s a stage!

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As Phoenix Ark have renamed the Internet – The Cyberverse, so something should be said about the newly named Anti-Social Networking, after some interest in the blog about London Burning and Boris Johnson. About the co-ordinated use of closed Blackberry Mobile Networks too, in rioting. The truth of human freedom is that we seem to demand many vicious ‘freedoms’ nowadays, and you cannot control the swirling democratic forces of communication, that clearly have both good and bad sides. Good sides when used to fight real injustice and tyranny, bad when used for criminality, violence and attempting to attack real ‘social’ networking – namely some kind of decent and really connected society.

There are many things to be said about thugs, and frustrated young men too, or women, but many about the seeming breakdown of any kind of real Social Contract too. It affects those people who would never think of rioting, as its spreads a rot into difficult corners of society too. There really is a breakdown of power and opportunity at many levels, as lenders turn the screw, and people who look at the bewildering game of Banks and Markets, as Capital always moves upwards in the nature of the machine, increasingly cuts them off from opportunity, chance and hope.

But it seems we are all rather dazed and confused nowadays, and perhaps the discussion should return to what ‘freedom‘ really means too, what values and responsibilities we really should share, and how ‘rights‘ are ridiculous without duties too. But how can that start at a grass roots level, the level of family and community, if we mistrust what is happening at a supra-economic level? Who knows the answer, because there are many powerful arguments on both sides, both for cuts, and the kind of Social plans of enlightened reinvestment that were deployed during the 1920’s Depression in America. In terms of Anti-Social Networks World Markets seem so interconnected now, they are enormously volatile and thus playable too by those ‘in the know’, and who knows who is leading what? But on any front, swept up as we all are by it, where is the real vision and real leadership?

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Phoenix Ark Press are delighted to present the long-awaited arrival of award winner David Clement-Davies to the realms of adult fiction, with a rich literary vampire novel called The Blood Garden, written under the adult fiction pen name of David C Davies.

Set in modern Covent Garden, both the place and among the blood-red folds of the famous Royal Opera House and The Royal Ballet, in an environment echoing films like Dark Swan, it pits the mysterious and charismatic American actor Paul Romantin, against a disillusioned London detective, Adam First. In a partly epistolary novel about love, sex, death, art and murder, it is a remarkable and dark love story, to rival the likes of Eliabeth Kostova’s The Historian, or Bram Stoker’s classic Dracula. Talking of Bram Stoker, he may make a stagey appearance too, and in what is both a time-slip vampire story and also a realistic crime novel, so too may the likes of the blood-soaked figure of Jack the Ripper. Hold on to your plush red seats and watch the curtain rise on brilliant and moving drama.

‘David C Davies may have invented an entirely original genre. The vampire detective novel, with London itself as a main character.’ Mike Jones – Bloomsbury

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It looks more like some futuristic warhead than a pickled vegetable, but what a way to go! A friend and Daily Telegraph journalist claims it was she who first coined the nickname ‘Gherkin’, for Norman Foster’s glass and metal miracle at the heart of the City, on 30 St Mary Axe, but now it’s semi-official. The Gherkin stands on the sight of the former Baltic Exchange and, although plans for a larger Millenium Tower were dropped, like the Twin Towers that building was destroyed in a terrorist attack, from the massive bomb placed by the Provisional IRA. The night before last though there was a Charity-PR-Photo Show at the top of the new incarnation, and that astounding view is a wonder to man and phoenix alike. At night, with an open 380 degree view over sparkling London, sharp and clean in the hard cold, your mind and heart soar, beyond the shiny suites, fizzing champagne and the polite guff, out across the capital; then down, to Tower Bridge, and the Tower of London, like a medieval mecano set, and out along the snaking bend of the river Thames. To its coming rival too, Renzo Piano’s ‘Shard’, looking like a cross between Thunderbird III, only because of the scaffolding, and an architectural Christmas present, waiting to be unwrapped. The Gherkin may not be enormously tall, but it’s what’s in the way that counts, namely nothing, and in that glass and metal capsule, surprisingly light in design, you feel as if a map of the world has been laid before you. Well, at least a map of thrilling and often eccentric city. With a nod to the Institute of Chartered Surveyors, it brings on thoughts of William Blake, no longer wandering through each ‘chartered’ street, ‘near where the chartered Thames doth flow’, but asking a better question – ‘how do we know but every bird that cuts the airy way, is an immense world of delight, bounded by our five senses?”

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