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Episode 11: Middlesex

Where is Middlesex?

In our eleventh episode, we referred to loads of interesting Middlesex-based things - and promised links and photos, so here they are:

The Long Man of Wilmington

This mysterious guardian of the South Downs has baffled archaeologists and historians for hundreds of years. Fertility symbol? Ancient Warrior? Early 18th century folly? We may never know.

In 1925, this iconic monument was given to The Sussex Archaeological Society by the Duke of Devonshire. We have cared for the scheduled monument ever since, ensuring it is free for the public to access.

The Long Man is Europe’s largest portrayal of the human form, dating back to at least 1710 when the surveyor John Rowley illustrated the figure. In 1766, the artist William Burrell made a drawing during his visit to Wilmington Priory, which lies under the steep slopes of Windover Hill.

Rowley’s drawing suggests that the original figure was a shadow or indentation in the grass rather than a solid line. The face had a distinctive helmet shape, giving credence to the idea him being a war-god.

Until the 19th century when it was marked out in yellow bricks, the Long Man was only visible in certain light conditions. It is claimed that during this restoration the feet were incorrectly positioned. But, despite local legend, there is no evidence, historical or archaeological, to suggest that prudish Victorians robbed the Giant of his manhood!

During World War II, the figure was painted green to prevent enemy aviators using it as a landmark. Restoration in 1969 replaced the bricks with concrete blocks that are now regularly painted to keep the Long Man visible from many miles away.

Many theories of his origins abound. Some are convinced that he is prehistoric, others believe that he is the work of an artistic monk from the nearby Priory between the 11th and 15th centuries. Roman coins bearing a similar figure suggest that he existed in the 4th century AD and there are parallels with a helmeted figure found on Anglo-Saxon ornaments. Until new evidence is unearthed, we shall have to content ourselves with the words of Reverand A A Evans who said, “The Giant keeps his secret and from his hillside flings out a perpetual challenge.”

Saint Dympna

Dymphna was born in Ireland sometime in the seventh century to a pagan father and devout Christian mother. When she was fourteen, she consecrated herself to Christ and took a vow of chastity. Soon afterward, her mother died and her father - who had loved his wife deeply - began to suffer a rapid deterioration of his mental stability.

So unhinged was Dymphna's father, Damon, that the King's counselors suggested he remarry. Though he was still grieving for his wife, he agreed to remarry if a woman as beautiful as she could be found.

Damon sent messengers throughout his town and other lands to find woman of noble birth who resembled his wife and would be willing to marry him, but when none could be found, his evil advisors whispered sinful suggestions to marry his own daughter. So twisted were Damon's thoughts that he recognized only his wife when he looked upon Dymphna, and so he consented to the arrangement.

The Historical Founding of London

The Romans founded London about 50 AD. Its name is derived from the Celtic word Londinios, which means the place of the bold one.

After they invaded Britain in 43 AD the Romans built a bridge across the Thames. They later decided it was an excellent place to build a port. The water was deep enough for ocean-going ships but it was far enough inland to be safe from Germanic raiders. Around 50 AD Roman merchants built a town by the bridge. So London was born.

The early settlement in London did not have stone walls but there may have been a ditch and an earth rampart with a wooden palisade on top.

Then in 61 AD Queen Boudicca led a rebellion against the Romans. Her army marched on London. No attempt was made to defend London.

Boudicca burned London but after her rebellion was crushed it was rebuilt. Rich people built houses of stone or brick with tiled roofs but most people lived in wooden houses.

By the end of the 2nd century, a stone wall was erected around London. The wall was 20 feet high. Outside the wall was a ditch.

In the middle of the 3rd century, 20 bastions were added to the walls (a bastion was a semi-circular tower projecting from the wall).

The Lord Mayor's Show

The Lord Mayor's Show is one of the oldest traditions of London life.

Dating back to the time of King John and the Magna Carta, the annually elected Lord Mayor was required to travel from the safety of London to swear loyalty to the monarch at Westminster.

As such, the show has attracted the attention of artists, writers and film makers to record the events.

Here is footage of the event in 1965, though it happens every year - to this day!

Dick Whittington

The legend of "Dick Whittington and his Cat" is one of England's most famous folk tales, and there is evidence to suggest that the pantomime version of the story, that still delights audiences today, was being played in much the same form in the 17th century.

The above link tells the story in full - although Martin will be giving his take next week!

Spring Heeled Jack

Out of the night he came, a leaping, bounding superman who terrified the English nation for more than 60 years.

At first, tales of this devil-like figure who leaped from roof-top to roof-top was accepted as hysterical nonsense. But in January 1838 this strange creature received official recognition when a barmaid, Polly Adams, was attacked while walking across Blackheath in south London. Mary Stevens, a servant girl was terrified by what she saw on Barnes Common, and in Clapham churchyard a woman was assaulted!

Lucy Scales, a butchers daughter was attacked in Limehouse and Jane Alsop was almost strangled by a cloaked creature in her own home before her family managed to beat-off her attacker… at which point he leapt and soared off into the darkness.

Jane Alsop described her inhuman attacker to London magistrates…”He was wearing a kind of helmet and a tight fitting white costume like an oilskin and he vomited blue and white flames!”

The Lord Mayor of London, Sir John Cowan, received complaints from several parts of London describing a demonic creature with eyes like balls of fire and hands like icy claws, and able to bound from roof-top to roof-top with ease.

The police did not dismiss these stories and even the Duke of Wellington, although aged nearly 70 went out armed on horseback to hunt and kill the monster!

The Deptford Creek Necker

Faraway creatures lurk in Deptford Creek. Take a guided tour along its bed at low tide and the volunteer custodians of this fragile ecosystem will uncover Asian mitten crabs, egrets returned from Africa and eels born in the Sargasso Sea.

But there is a stranger resident still, one most guides won’t speak of – even if, consciously or not, they steer clear of the corner of the Creek it inhabits. Here, it is said, lies a deep, drowned lair, home to a long forgotten creature with a long forgotten name: The Deptford Creek Necker.

The form taken by the Deptford Creek Necker varies from account to account. Merman? Serpent? Hag? Some call it a Shellycoat or Grindylow, say that years ago, when the Thames and its tributaries spread wide and unhindered into ancient bog and marshland, the thing swam down from the north, and became trapped here by the encroaching city...

Bessee and The Blind Beggar

In The Legend Of The Blind Beggar, Henry de Montfort was wounded and lost his sight in the Battle of Evesham in 1265, and was nursed to health by a baroness, and together they had a child named Bessee.

He became the "Blind Beggar of Bednal Green" and used to beg at the crossroads.

The story of how he went from landed gentry to poor beggar became popular in the Tudor era, and was revived by Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, published in 1765.

The legend came to be adopted in the arms of the Metropolitan Borough of Bethnal Green in 1900.

Bloody Bishop Bonner

The East End is a fascinating area full of grisly tales, scary stories, and haunting histories. But few can top that of one of London’s most bloodthirsty men who inflicted pain and punishment, torture and death on hundreds.

The man’s legacy is imprinted in our street names of Bonner Street and Bonner Road, in pubs in the former The Bishop Bonner, and even on a bridge, Bonner Hall Bridge and its adjoining gate, Bonner Gate.

There have been sightings of this man and his ghostly coach and four black horses haunting Victoria Park, and similar scary sightings of him around Globe Town, particularly Bonner Street. He has also been spotted elsewhere at the western end of Roman Road, towards Bethnal Green.

Old Father Thames

Rivers, bringers of life, have long been associated with sprites, spirits, deities and other supernatural beings. No one knows quite how long ago the figure of Father Thames was first invoked. It's likely that people have always paid obeisance to the river in one form or another.

Peter Ackroyd in his 2007 biography of the river reckons Father Thames "bears a striking resemblance to the tutelary gods of the Nile and the Tiber". Gods such as the Roman Tiberinus share the long hair and beard.

London's most impressive representation of the river god can be found in Trinity Square, near The Tower. The divinity perches high on the former Port of London Authority building. He is shown naked, save for a rather impractical cloak that must inhibit his swimming. He clutches a Poseidon-like trident in his right hand, while his left hand points east towards the sea.

The Holly Man, Sheep Drive and Pearly Kings and Queens

Every January, a man shrouded in an ivy suit emerges from the River Thames in a rowing boat accompanied by a merry posse. They wish ‘wassail’, meaning ‘good health’, to the people congregated by Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, Bankside.

The ceremony is the traditional beginning of the Twelfth Night celebrations that mark the end of the Christmas period before people return to work.

Mummers perform a traditional folk play of ‘wild verse and boisterous action’, which features such curious characters as Old ‘Oss, Turkey Sniper and Clever Legs.

London Bridge is perhaps most famous for falling down, but every September, it becomes the site for a strange spectacle as a herd of sheep is driven across the bridge by ‘freemen’ of the City of London.

The Worshipful Company of Woolmen, one of the City’s Livery Companies – associations and guilds of ancient and modern trades – has been around since the 11th century and is responsible for the whole affair.

Every September, pearly kings and queens descend on Guildhall for the annual Harvest Festival, which involves Morris and maypole dancing, marching bands and a pearly parade.

The tradition has its origins with 19th-century costermongers (market traders) and during the Victorian era, a street cleaner and rat catcher by the name of Henry Croft became the very first Pearly King. He might have gotten the idea from the flashy style of the coster kings and queens – elected to represent the collective interests of the costermongers.

The Tower of London and its Ravens

It is said that the kingdom and the Tower of London will fall if the six resident ravens ever leave the fortress.

Charles II is thought to have been the first to insist that the ravens of the Tower be protected after he was warned that the crown and the Tower itself would fall if they left.

The King's order was given against the wishes of his astronomer, John Flamsteed, who complained the ravens impeded the business of his observatory in the White Tower.

The Real Founding of London

Geoffrey of Monmouth, in The Historia Regum Britanniae (‘The History of the Kings of Britain’) written about 1136, tells the story of how the Trojans came into conflict with Gogmagog and the giants of Albion.

Although Geoffrey made it clear where Brutus and the Trojans originated, he revealed nothing of the history of Gogmagog and the giants of Albion.

Later writers promoted several versions of a story of the origin of the giants.

According to British medieval legend and myth, the island now known as Britain was once named Albion after an exiled queen named Albina. She was the eldest of a family of sisters who had been exiled from their homeland in Greece, though some versions of the story say Syria.

How this came to be is an outlandish and in many ways disturbing story, found in the 14th century poem, Des Grantz Geanz (“Of the Great Giants”) which was popular in its time and probably best read as an allegorical work.

Leonard the Demon

Two giant wicker effigies of Gog and Magog, the traditional guardians of the City of London, have been carried in the Lord Mayor’s Show since the reign of Henry V.

Here is a documentary all about their potted history!

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