A little something for Halloween, or ‘Sleep Tight – Don’t let the bed bugs bite”

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The Upper Berth₁

From Punch Magazine 1891

From Punch Magazine 1891

There is nothing more enjoyable during the long cold winter evenings then sitting down and scaring yourself witless reading a good ghost story. It was during one of these rare moments (granted it wasn’t evening, cold or winter but I was by myself!) that I began to re-read one of my favourite ghost stories, ‘The Upper Berth’ by the American writer, F. Marion Crawford. Apparently I am not alone in my feeling that this is one of the creepiest stories ever written. Rumour has it that the master of the ghost story, M.R. James also found the story pretty darn scary. In brief, the story is recounted to a group of friends by the main character, Brisbane who tells them what happened to him whilst travelling to England aboard the Kamtschatka and his grisly experience of the ‘dead thing’ in cabin 105. Below is a brief extract.

“Have you a room-mate?”

“Yes; a deuce of a fellow, who bolts out in the middle of the night, and leaves the door open.”

Again the doctor glanced curiously at me. Then he lit the cigar and looked grave.

“Did he come back?” he asked presently.

“Yes. I was asleep, but I waked up, and heard him moving. Then I felt cold and went to sleep again. This morning I found the porthole open.”

“Look here,” said the doctor quietly, “I don’t care much for this ship. I don’t care a rap for her reputation. I tell you what I will do. I have a good-sized place up here. I will share it with you, though I don’t know you from Adam.”

I was very much surprised at the proposition. I could not imagine why he should take such a sudden interest in my welfare. However, his manner as he spoke of the ship was peculiar.

“You are very good, doctor,” I said. “But, really, I believe even now the cabin could be aired or cleaned out, or something. Why do you not care for the ship?”

“We are not superstitious in our profession, sir,” replied the doctor, “but the sea makes people so. I don’t want to prejudice you, and I don’t want to frighten you, but if you will take my advice you will move in here. I would as soon see you overboard,” he added earnestly, “as know that you or any other man was to sleep in 105.”

“Good gracious! Why?” I asked.

“Just because on the last three trips the people who have slept there actually have gone overboard,” he answered gravely.

The intelligence was startling and exceedingly unpleasant, I confess. I looked hard at the doctor to see whether he was making game of me, but he looked perfectly serious. I thanked him warmly for his offer, but told him I intended to be the exception to the rule by which everyone who slept in that particular state-room went overboard. He did not say much, but looked as grave as ever and hinted that, before we got across, I should probably reconsider his proposal. In the course of time we went to breakfast, at which only an inconsiderable number of passengers assembled. I noticed that one or two of the officers who breakfasted with us looked grave. After breakfast I went into my state-room in order to get a book. The curtains of the upper berth were still closely drawn. Not a word was to be heard. My room-mate was probably still asleep.

the upper birth

As I was reading, I started to think about all the ghost stories both fiction and real life testimonies where the haunting takes place in a bedroom. Often the occupant lies shaking with fear as footsteps and voices are heard in the room; bed coverings are removed by unseen hands; objects are moved; beds are rattled and oppressive figures are felt standing over the bed, at the foot of the bed or scarier still in the bed.

This again led my thoughts on a new trajectory. With all these haunted bedrooms, has anyone ever changed the furniture, and if they have, has the haunting ceased? Are the hauntings rooted to the place or linked to the furnishings? There are numerous stories about haunted possessions such as mirrors, dolls, teddy bears and paintings, so why not a bedroom suite!

A portal to hell?

Image from wikimedia

Image from wikimedia

It is not surprising that bunk beds are considered sinister. It is strangely unnerving to be lying in bed and not be able to see the other person. You can hear noises and see movement but in general, whether or not you are in the lower or upper bunk the other occupant can feel like a disembodied presence. One of the most famous cases of a haunting is believed by the family to have been caused by a cursed bunk bed.

In the spring of 1986, Allen Tallman along with his pregnant wife, Debbie and their two children, Kenny and Mary Ann moved into a house in Larrabee Street, Horicon, Wisconsin. Initially all was peaceful but in 1987 inexplicable incidences started to occur. Doors would close on their own; footsteps were heard; a radio dial moved on its own; chairs rocked and a basement window was removed and placed on the floor. The children repeatedly became sick and the family started to suffer from terrible nightmares. Kenny and Mary Ann also testified to seeing a strange hag-like figure in the bedroom. Kenny’s description of the figure appeared in a newspaper,

I saw an old lady standing in the door of my room. A little old lady, really ugly, with long black hair and a glow about her like fire.”₂

On the TV show ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ Allen Tallman related how he finally had enough of the situation and challenged the presence to a fight. Shortly after this, he was returning home from work in the early hours of the morning when he saw what he describes as something glowing “…inside the garage, an orange red. There were flames coming out of the overhead door. There were two eyes in the windows.” Terrified he ran into the kitchen where he was attacked. His words had obviously angered the spirit who he heard whisper to him once when he was sleeping on the floor of his daughters’ room “you’re dead”₃. Pastor Wayne Dobratz was brought in to investigate and concluded that the presence was not only evil but demonic. Finally the family had had enough and left their house never to return.

The house on Larrabee Street. [image from newsfromthespiritworld.com]

The house on Larrabee Street. [image from newsfromthespiritworld.com]

The family strongly believe that the source of the haunting was that of a second hand bunk bed which they had bought in February 1986. The bunk bed was moved into the girls’ room in the May of that year and it was in that room that the children and relatives saw the figure of the old woman (it would be interesting to know if the basement window was removed whilst the bunk bed was being stored there!). The bunk bed was eventually disposed of and buried in a landfill site. What is fascinating is that despite the local legend which surrounds the house no subsequent owner has ever reported anything sinister or supernatural and the family themselves have never experienced any other supernatural incidents. This does support the Tallman’s view that it was the bunk bed and not the house that was cursed.

The curse of the cot

Haunted chamber in Chambercombe Manor – the cradle on the left is said to rock by itself

There is a well-known superstition that parents should never place their baby in a cot or use a mattress or blanket which is second hand. Many people strongly believe that these objects can be either haunted or cursed with the spirit of a new born who has died threatening the life of a living child. One woman describes how shortly before she gave birth she was given an old white wicker crib. The first night it was in the house she was awoken by the sound of a baby crying. She finally realised that the sound was coming from the crib. Believing the crib to be haunted by the soul of a dead child, she placed it in the attic and bought a new basinet. This did not stop the haunting cries which continued to be heard even during the day. The sound was so loud that “My mother and even the neighbors heard the shrill cries coming from my house and thought I had given birth prematurely.”₄ In the end she sold the crib and never found out what happened to it.

Maybe that is one of the reasons why I found it so hard to find the stories I was looking for.  People who have bought beds with an ‘unusual’ history normally want to sell them on quickly and decide to omit certain details that could make potential buyers think twice. The exceptions seem to be people who become fascinated by their strange beds and keep them in spite of their history or people who have lived with the objects all their lives and have become used to them.

The haunted four poster

 

Haunted chamber in Chambercombe Manor,

Haunted chamber in Chambercombe Manor, complete with fourposter bed and haunted cradle (it is said to rock by itself)

I came across one such story submitted by an Australian teacher to a website on ghosts and mysteries (website link is shown below). In his post he describes how his neighbours at that time bought an antique four poster bed. Strange things began to happen. At first it was just that the cat would not sleep on it, then they noticed a cold damp patch at the end of the bed, later they both began to sense a presence sitting on the bed. They sold it on to a second hand dealer. The author continues that twenty years later he happened to read about a couple who had bought the exact same bed and had experiences similar to that of his old neighbours

“However, they found it fascinating rather than scary. They kept the bed and slowly the haunting progressed. Finally, they were able to make out the form of a woman sitting on the end of the bed, and hear her sobbing. Fascinated, they began the task of tracing the provenance/history of the bed. Back they went through several owners. And yes, all had similar experiences. They included my neighbours from the 1970′s and most, like them, had sold on the bed without telling anyone of the haunting. Further back they researched, through more people. Finally they found a gruesome story involving the bed. A young woman had been attacked, viciously stabbed, and bled to death on the end of the bed…The last couple felt sympathy rather than fear for the young woman’s ghost and decided not to try and get rid of it.”₅

The Great Bed of Ware

 

The Great Bed at V&A Museum ©V&A Images

The Great Bed at V&A Museum ©V&A Images

Lastly I wanted to write about a very special bed whose history has been well documented and has been a source of wonder for me ever since I saw it on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The beautifully carved oak bed is thought to have been made in the late 16th century by Jonas Fosbrooke, a German craftsman for an inn in Ware, possibly as a publicity stunt. The enormous bed is over three meters wide and weighs about 641kg and is believed to be able to easily accommodate four couples. It is first referred to in 1596 by a German prince staying at the White Hart Inn.  During its long history the bed moved around between five inns in Ware, The White Hart, The George, The Crown, The Bull and the Saracen’s Head. In 1870 the bed was bought by Henry Teale and taken to Rye House, Hoddesdon, as a visitor attraction for his pleasure garden.

Although large beds were not uncommon in public houses where space was at a premium and men often slept in the same bed to save money, the Ware bed had to have been unusual considering how famous it became. Its fame was such that it was even mentioned by Shakespeare in Twelfth Night when his character Sir Toby Belch describes a sheet of paper as “big enough for the Bed of Ware”. It was also referenced in Ben Jonson’s 1609 play ‘The Silent Woman’ and in George Farquhar’s 1706 play ‘The Recruiting Officer’. There is also a story which appeared in the London Chronicle in July 1765₆ about how in 1689 the bed became the subject of a bet when 26 butchers and their wives agreed to spend the night in it! Not sure how they would have physically managed that but it would have sure given a different meaning to the expression ‘sleep tight’.

The bed is reputedly haunted by the ghost of its maker. It appears from all accounts to be either a snobbish or prudish spirit, depending on which story you wish to believe. One version is that the ghost takes offence to any person of a rank lower than royalty sleeping in the bed and the other that he dislikes couples having sex in the bed. Whenever such a ‘despicable’ act would occur he was reported to take direct action to put a halt to their amorous activities by pinching the couple until they stopped (he must have been furious with the butchers and their wives!).

Ware Drama Society in the Great Bed of Ware, 1964 [Image from ourhertfordandware.org.uk]

Ware Drama Society in the Great Bed of Ware, 1964 [www.ourhertfordandware.org.uk]

Last thoughts before I say goodnight!

Night time when we are surrounded by darkness and silence is when we feel at our most vulnerable. It is the time when people are alone with their thoughts. Fears, sadness and anxieties built up through the day come to the surface and prey on unguarded minds. It is also the time of the witching hour when it is believed that the veil between the unseen and seen world is at its thinnest and people are most susceptible to demonic and unnatural forces.

If you then start reckoning into the mix the number of deaths, both natural or through murder or suicide that take place in beds; the countless cases of invalids lying in bed, often alone for hours, maybe thinking unpleasant or depressive thoughts and scenes of jealousy and anger as wives and husbands have discovered their adulterous spouses, it is not then unexpected that so many ghost stories take place in bedrooms. What is strange is how few stories both fictional and ‘real’ seem to exist about haunted beds as opposed to haunted bedrooms. It could be that unlike more portable items such as mirrors, rocking chairs and paintings in many cases it is just more convenient to sell bulky antique beds with the house or it could be as I previously said that people just prefer to remain quiet when selling dubious bedroom suites.

Despite how fascinating this topic is, I would just give a word of warning, if you are out looking for a bed, maybe play it safe and head to Ikea!

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James McBryde’s 1904 illustration for Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad from M R James’ Ghost Stories of an Antiquary

Some ghost stories for Halloween…

You can find the F Marion Crawford’s terrifying tale ‘The Upper Birth’ in full, along with several other spine chilling tales, in the Portmanteau of Terror section of this blog.  Enjoy….

Happy Halloween!
Happy Halloween!

Notes:

  1. The Upper Berth by F. Marion Crawford
  2. News from the Spirit World, Haunting Tales: Ghost of Larrabee St. (Tallman’s Ghost), http://newsfromthespiritworld.com/2013/01/24/haunting-tales-ghost-of-larrabee-st-tallmans-ghost/
  3. News from the Spirit World, Haunting Tales: Ghost of Larrabee St. (Tallman’s Ghost), http://newsfromthespiritworld.com/2013/01/24/haunting-tales-ghost-of-larrabee-st-tallmans-ghost/
  4. Real Haunted Beds; http://www.hauntedamericatours.com/haunted/Curesbedtroubles.php
  5. The haunted bed, http://www.ghost-mysteries.com/viewstory.php?id=6023
  6. History Extra: The Great Bed of Ware, http://www.historyextra.com/bedofware

Bibliography:

  1. The Upper Berth by F. Marion Crawford
  2. News from the Spirit World, Haunting Tales: Ghost of Larrabee St. (Tallman’s Ghost); http://newsfromthespiritworld.com/2013/01/24/haunting-tales-ghost-of-larrabee-st-tallmans-ghost/
  3. Real Haunted Beds; http://www.hauntedamericatours.com/haunted/Curesbedtroubles.php
  4. The haunted bed; http://www.ghost-mysteries.com/viewstory.php?id=6023
  5. History Extra: The Great Bed of Ware; http://www.historyextra.com/bedofware
  6. The Great Bed of Ware; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Bed_of_Ware
  7. Ware, Hertfordshire; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ware,_Hertfordshire
  8. Local Legends; http://message.snopes.com/showthread.php?t=48421
  9. 10 objects believed to be haunted; http://www.mandatory.com/2012/09/21/10-objects-believed-to-be-haunted/

 

 

 

 

 

Freedom by Luna Ballantyne – 50 Shades meets the Newcastle Witches

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Freedom by Luna Ballantyne

10687939_826441087408888_7700292095574105890_oThis is just a quick shout out for my good friend Luna Ballantyne (aka Ingrid Hall) who is launching the first in her new series of erotic time-slip novels this weekend.

As Zara sets out on her ‘Freedom’ night – to celebrate her divorce from staid ex-husband Pete – she finds herself tangled up in the web of the mysterious ‘Max’ aka the Bastard of Bilbao. Pulled from the flames of a burning pub by a mysterious stranger Zara is whisked away on a raunchy week-long sexual odyssey of self-discovery. Zara soon finds that there is more to her rescuer than meets the eye. Raunchy sex, time-travel and a twisted love that stretches back into the dark days of the Newcastle witch trials – Zara’s life will never be the same again as she looks beneath the mask of the time-traveling highwayman.

The first in a series of erotic fiction, Freedom introduces the character of Giraldo de Logrono otherwise known as the Bastard of Bilbao a swashbuckling adventurer, sexual mercenary and time-traveling highwayman.   As the series unfolds, so does Luna’s unique take on the Newcastle witch-trials: as it is only by traveling through time seducing strangers that the highwayman can break the curse laid on him by the beautiful witch Elizabetha, and hope to rescue her from her fate at the hands of the evil witch-pricker!  Serious history it’s not, but it’s fun, fast paced and sexy!

Join the launch party on Twitter – October 19

If you want to join the fun this weekend, Luna will be having an over 18s only launch party on Twitter, complete with adult games and the chance to win some suitably naughty prizes.

Join Luna Ballantyne on Twitter for her Launch Party this weekend: October 19 between 4-6pm GMT. Use hashtag  #thehighwayman to join in the games.

You can also find Luna Ballantyne on Facebook

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Floats the Dark Shadow…Gilles de Rais collides with Belle Epoque Paris

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Floats the Dark Shadow by Yves Fey

BookMark-329x500I couldn’t resist reviewing this delicious little indie-published mystery thriller from the very artistic pen of Yves Fey.

Floats the Dark Shadow is sub-titled ‘A Mystery of Paris’ and that seems apt as Fey has captured the romance and the contradictions of that famous city so well. The novel is set during the supreme decadence of the Belle Époque, the late 1890′s, when Paris having survived the turmoil and bloodshed of the Commune era, stood on the cusp of the modern age.

Theodora Faraday is a young American artist and feminist, living in Montmartre.  She spends her days  framing Montmartre in oils and pastels as she wanders the Bohemian streets accompanied by the Revenants – a group of poetic-types in search of inner darkness.  But be under no illusions, this is not a fluffy romance novel, this is a very dark story of murder and deceit… a serial killer is kidnapping and torturing children, reincarnating an ancient evil that stalks the gas lit streets of Paris.  Theodora soon finds that her friends are implicated in the killings and she must work with Michel Devaux of the Sûreté to investigate the crime and bring the killer – or killers – to justice what ever the personal cost.

Le_Petit_Journal_-_Bazar_de_la_Charité

Le Petit Journal – Incendie du Bazar de la Charité . Via Wikimedia

The first thing that stands out in this work is that Yves Fey knows Paris.  Her streets are real – the sights, sounds, smells and atmosphere are conjured skillfully.  She seems to capture the interleving of the beauty and sophistication of the city with its underlying menace.  All of  its blood-soaked history and its dirty little secrets mean that violence is never far from the surface in this glittering Fin de siècle metropolis.  From the obvious  horror of the murders of innocent children, to the political violence of the Anarchists that provides the introduction of Inspector Devaux to the plot, and the gender violence inherent in the tragedy of the Bazar de la Charité (where men fleeing the flames beat down women and children in order to escape – 126 died in total and hundreds were horribly injured).  In short – this Paris is not sentimental – it is a world where the weak are not safe and everyone has an agenda.

"Gilles de Laval, Lord of Rais, performs sorcery on his victims", an 1862 illustration by Jean Antoine Valentin Foulquier via Wikimedia

“Gilles de Laval, Lord of Rais, performs sorcery on his victims”, an 1862 illustration by Jean Antoine Valentin Foulquier via Wikimedia

Fire runs as a theme through this novel, the Killer believes that they are the re-incarnation of Gilles de Rais, right-hand man of Jeanne D’Arc; a man who following her death at the stake, became Frances most notorious child killer and occultist.  He is said to have killed between 80 -200 victims and was hanged for his crimes and then burned in 1440.

By the end of the novel – fire has touched everyone.

Throughout the novel Fey succeeds in hiding the killer from the reader, the dark shadow of suspicion fell on several of the characters, but I was still surprised when the killer was unmasked.  Like all good crime stories the clues are there if you can spot them…

This novel is also a romance of sorts and this element is important  – especially because it does not play out  conventionally.   Theodora is smitten with Averill Charron, her cousin, and one of the Revenants. Averill with his fallen-angel good looks and his sexual ambiguity seems to be the ultimate in Absinthe-drinking nihilistic doomed poet types.  Neverthless,  I actually found that the chemistry and sexual tension between Theodora and Devaux, was far more interesting than her mooning around over the slightly wet Averill!

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Albert Maignan’s “Green Muse” (1895) via Wikimedia

Where the novel falls down is that the author almost tries to pack too much punch into it.  Perhaps showing off her knowledge of the dark side of the nineteenth century a little too precociously for one novel.  There are some almost set-piece scenes:  there is a trip to the catacombs, the Grand Guignol theatre, and an asylum where a public display of the newly invented vibrator is being given by the one of the characters (in itself a truly disturbing scene).  All of these are wonderfully written and observed but I quickly found myself totting up who and what was in Paris in the 1890′s and laying bets on whether they would turn up -  Oscar Wilde was mentioned and Occultists Moina and MacGregor Mather and the very esoteric WB Yeats all feature with various degrees of prominence and there was even room for an Anatomical Venus in the plot!

Despite this plethora of hammer horror scenes and famous names from history,  at times some of the more prominent characters seemed a little under-written.  I would have loved more involvement from the Criminal Mastermind Blaise Dancier, and his interactions with the detective Devaux.  However, I suspect Fey will be exploring this relationship further in future novels.

Despite, or even, because of its flaws, I still found myself utterly captivated by this novel.  Floats the Dark Shadow succeeds in evoking a dark and menacing yet enticing vision of Belle Époque Paris.  Fey has created a cast of memorable characters with plausible back-stories who I hope will be further developed in future stories.

You can find out more about the ridiculously talented Yves Fey at yvesfey.com and Floats the Dark Shadow is available at:

 

 

Waxworks – sex and death and political reportage!

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Blink

House of Wax starring Vincent Price, directed by Andre de Toth 1953

House of Wax starring Vincent Price, directed by Andre de Toth 1953

There has always been something slightly eerie about wax works. Something a little uncanny about these facsimiles of life. Even the apparently innocuous models of celebrities and soap stars have a certain air of the bizarre and the disturbing about them. Perhaps it is a sense that those sightless eyes might just blink when you turn away; or that when the lights go down the effigies might just yawn, and shake out their stiff limbs and begin to wander about the museum. It is something that writers and film makers have long exploited – wax works lend themselves so readily to horror and to human fears, evoking sex, death, torture and obsession. But this is nothing new….

The Face of death

The Romans – inveterate snobs – made a public display in their homes of wax effigies of long departed ancestors. Other cultures also commemorated the dead using effigies, sometimes using clay instead of wax. In short the link between wax images and death has a very long history.

In popular culture waxworks have a long been used to depict the famous dead, gruesome deformities and notorious criminals as well as to disseminate current events to a largely illiterate populous. They were a popular feature of travelling shows and have been recorded at St Bartholomew’s’ fair as early as 1647. The popular taste for celebrity, sensationalism and death also has a long pedigree.

 

The rise of the Anatomical Venus

Anatomical figure by Anna Morandi Manzolini. Courtesy Museo di Palazzo Poggi, Universita di Bologna.

Anatomical figure by Anna Morandi Manzolini. Collection of Museo di Palazzo Poggi, Universita di Bologna.

In the eighteenth century waxworks took on a more respectable function, yet in doing so became even more firmly associated with sex and death. Medical schools, particularly in Italy, excelled in producing waxworks to illustrate the human body, its functions and ailments. Waxworks filled the gap in anatomy classes at a time when the supply and storage of fresh corpses could be a problem.

However, whereas male models were usually posed upright and were seldom painted, female models took on a supine and morbidly eroticised appearance – often sumptuously laid out on cushion replete with flowing hair and jewellery, and posed in attitudes of death that could be mistaken for sexual ecstasy.

The eighteenth century often managed to successfully combine the ideals of scientific and medical enquiry with prurient titillation and sensationalism (Dr Graham and his Temple of Health being a prime example of this) and these beautiful yet macabre female waxworks appealed to this appetite. The Italian made anatomical ‘Venus’ soon became the eighteenth century ‘must have’ executive toy. Not just for the medical man about town, but for the discreet private collector as well.

 

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Italian Anatomical Venus by Clemente Susini, note the relaxed pose, luxuriant hair and jewelry. Image copyright Sticky Pearls via Tumblr

 

Italian Anatomical Venus by   Image copyright sticky pearls via Tumblr

Italian Anatomical Venus by Clemente Susini, with all her inner workings exposed. Image copyright Sticky Pearls via Tumblr

Even the prim and proper Madame Tussaud’s could not quite get away from the Venus tradition. In the nineteenth century the anatomical Venus had somewhat fallen out of fashion developed a low rent ‘pornographic’ image. The illustrious Madame T, once she had established herself in England, wanted to use waxworks for informative middle class family entertainment; clearly titillating images of sexy corpses would not fit the emerging ideals of Victorianism that Madame T so effectively marketed.

Perhaps this is why the otherwise unsettling ‘Sleeping Beauty’ waxwork which is one of the oldest waxworks on display at Madame Tussaud’s, and is purported to be either the lovely Madame Amaranthe or Louis XV saucy mistress Madame du Barry, has a clockwork heart ticking away under her satin bodice. A gentle reminder to the viewer that despite her disturbing vulnerability and air of deathliness, Sleeping Beauty is not part of the sordid old eighteenth century with its predilection for necrophiliac voyeurism!

Nevertheless perhaps a waxwork with a beating heart creates its own particular brand of horror….

 

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Sleeping Beauty. Image copyright Blastmilk via Flickr

Three Dimensional Newspapers

Salon de Cire, Curtius Tableau of the French Royal family at dinner.  Public domain.

Salon de Cire, Curtius Tableau of the French Royal family at dinner. Public domain.

In the time before photographs, and before the world became an interconnected web of constant communication, wax works held their own as a popular medium for spreading current affairs – and gossip.

In late eighteenth century France Philippe Curtius ran a successful ‘cabinet of curiosities’ which included waxworks and other oddities. The show ran under the auspices of the Prince de Conti initially at his Palace in Paris. The show included celebrities including the royal family at dinner – viewers could hob-nob with royalty and note the latest court fashions whilst in the Caverne des Grand Voleurs they could experience the thrill of coming face to face with notorious criminals such as the eighteenth century poisoner Antoine-Francois Desrues (perhaps this was a precursor to the chamber of horrors made famous by Madame Tussaud, where curious onlookers could examine the faces and forms of heinous criminals and their victims without risking their own personal safety!)

 

Pamela Pilbeam, in her biography of Madame Tussaud’s, points out that one of the benefits of running a waxwork show in France was that it was not subject to the same censorship or regulation that the Opera and theatres were subject too.

Once the revolution came, this was to change. Although the waxworks became a useful tool in providing the population of Paris with updates on the political situation (and Curtius managed to shed his Royalist sympathies remarkably swiftly). However, the speed of the changes and the escalating violence of the revolution soon made this occupation a hazardous one. Madame Tussaud, who worked with and trained under Curtius, recollected (in her slightly embellished memoirs) modelling the freshly guillotined heads of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, and later the revolutionaries themselves…one particularly grisly incident was the modelling of the rotting corpse of Marat in his bath (he was murdered in his bath by Charlotte Corday), thus unintentionally blending horror with political reportage!

Severed heads of prominent revolutionaries including Robespierre himself. (Image by Rodama1789)

Severed heads of prominent revolutionaries including Robespierre himself.

The enduring appeal of waxworks

There is really simply too much to write about waxworks in one single post – the notorious chamber of horrors and noted female wax modellers deserve posts of their own.

For now, it is enough to say that although from the twentieth century onwards the medical and educational need for wax models has been superseded by plastination and other forms of technology; and we have a plethora of multi-media images of royals, celebrities and politicians to chose from; there is still a thrill in coming face to face with a waxwork. Standing shoulder to shoulder with Henry VIII or enjoying the frisson of controlled fear in a chamber of horrors – and wondering, just wondering, what will happen if you blink…

Sources

http://morbidanatomy.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/ecstatic-raptures-and-immaculate_19.html

Pilbeam, Pamela, Madame Tussaud and the History of Waxworks, Hambledon and London, 2003

 

 

The Faeries of Blackheath Wood

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The Victorian ideal of a fairy scantily clad nymphet, still a popular image for the fae today.  Lily 1888.

The Victorian ideal of a fairy as scantily clad nymphet, still a popular image for the fae today. Luis Ricardo Falero 1888.

Just a short post this week…having managed to put my back out doing DIY I don’t know if I want to stand up, lie down or pace around because doing anything is just toooooo painful :0(  Anyway, enough of this moaning – on with the post.

In a desperate attempt to take my mind of my back I re-watched a fabulous short film about faeries on You Tube.  I recall first coming across this particularly dark tale of the little folk on the excellent Angry Scholar Blog (but I can’t find the link to the actual post itself).

I grew up reading a musty collection of Edwardian children’s books handed down from my grandparents, my parents and then to me.  Hence I grew up thinking that fairies were all rather elegant ‘gels’ who fluttered around flower petals in rather chic if not risqué 1920′s flapper dresses.  As soon as I began reading folk-tales about the wee folk and their less pleasant habits I soon adjusted my view of faeries…nevertheless the harmless flower fairy image has persisted well into the twenty-first century.

The famous Cottingly Faries hoax of the 1920's.

The famous Cottingly fairies hoax of the 1920′s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For anyone still clinging to this twee Tinkerbell view of faeries,  Ciaran Foy’s dark little masterpiece The Faeries of Blackheath Woods may make you think twice about following those dainty little flappers into the deep dark woods…

ENJOY….

 

 

 

With her head tucked underneath her arm…..

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A (very) brief history of Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn, this is possibly the most famous image of Anne, and most likely closest likeness, however no contemporary images of Anne survive (this image dates from the late 16th century). Image: National Portrait Gallery.

I have always been a bit of a sucker when it comes to royal ghosts – the bloodier and more headless the better – and they don’t come more headless than Anne Boleyn.  Strong willed, intelligent and beguiling, Anne Boleyn supplanted the popular Queen Katherine of Aragon and stole the heart of Henry VIII.  She successfully held the amorous Henry at bay until he divorced his wife and broke with Rome – talk about a tease.  Once queen she presided and flirted with a dazzling and talented young court, encouraged religious reform and was not afraid to go head to head with the King. Nevertheless she could also be ruthless – she passionately hated the Lady Mary, Katherine’s loyal daughter, to the point where Lady Mary became convinced that Anne was trying to poison her. She also made some very dangerous political enemies such as the equally ruthless Cromwell.

Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I, locket ring taken from the dead finger of the Elizabeth I in 1603.

Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I; locket ring worn by Elizabeth I until her death in 1603

In short, it would seem that the seeds of tragedy were planted early on in Anne’s relationship with Henry VIII.  She was never a popular queen, and being an English commoner rather than a foreign princess she could not call on powerful alliances abroad to protect her when the kings love turned sour and the vultures began to circle.  Eventually, having failed to produce a male heir, and successfully alienating a lot of powerful men around her, including the King her only protector, Anne was accused of adultery with several men of her inner circle, and incest with her brother George (and just for good measure witchcraft was also added to the litany of charges).  Following the execution of many of those closest to her, on 19 May 1536 Anne Boleyn herself was executed by a French swordsman on Tower Green.  The fickle Henry was canoodling with Jane Seymour as Anne’s head fell.

Although we might all think we are familiar with Anne Boleyn, thanks to the most recognisable image of her (reproduced here), no contemporary images of Anne survive.  All we have are ghosts of her memory – initially created in the reign of her daughter Elizabeth I who, privately at least, did wish to keep the memory of her mother alive. It is a powerful reminder of how someone so famous, briefly so powerful and who held the most famous King of England in her thrall, so much so that he reshaped the English church in order to win her, was almost expunged from history after her fall.  Only the whim of fate, which placed her daughter Elizabeth I on the throne, ensured that this most enticing of Tudor queen’s was not lost to history for ever.   Sic transit gloria mundi indeed…

The Hauntings of Anne

Having just read Alison Weir’s fascinating account of the fall of Anne Boleyn, ‘The Lady in the Tower’, I was delighted to find a section in the appendices relating to the legends of hauntings related to Anne Boleyn.  Weir brought the historian’s rigour to these colourful tales and cross-referencing the tales against Anne’s known movements, and attested connections with a place during her life, Weir was able(sadly) to debunk quite a few of these sightings.  Well… at least to provide evidence that the spectre in question was not Anne Boleyn!  From my point of view, the fact that we don’t really know what Anne looked like, does make identification of her spectre problematic!  Nevertheless, here are a few tales of this royal revenants peregrinations…I will leave it to the reader to decide on their veracity…

Blickling Hall

Blickling Hall.  Image by Lenora

Blickling Hall. Image by Lenora

Blickling Hall in Norfolk is one of my favourite stately homes. On a lush summers day it seems the quintessentially English ancestral pile with its dusty rose brick walls, mullioned windows and topiary garden….but on a dark night in May this rural idyll is rudely shattered by the unquiet souls of the dead.

Although the current hall was rebuilt in the early seventeenth century – well after Anne’s death – legend has it that Anne and her siblings were born at Blickling.  The earlier hall had belonged to the Boleyn family in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.  George and Mary were born there, and it seems likely Anne was too.

One local tale that was well established by the eighteenth century, according to Alison Weir, concerns Thomas Boleyn, Anne’s feckless father.  Happy to benefit from Anne’s rise, Thomas nevertheless stood by and did nothing as his children Anne and George went to their bloody deaths on the scaffold.  It is said that his tormented spirit is seen driving pell mell up the drive way of Blickling Hall in a carriage driven by a headless coachman and a team of headless horses, pursued by blue devils, and sometimes the headless corpse of George Boleyn.  By 1850 Weir notes that this version had elaborated to say that the luckless Thomas was cursed for a thousand years to ride out on the anniversary of Anne’s death, crossing every bridge between Wroxham and Blickling, his gory head in his lap.  (There is a slight flaw in this embellishment – Thomas died in bed, with his head fully attached).

As with many stories passed down in folk memory they are often elaborated and embellished with the telling, and by the nineteenth century versions of this tale had Anne as the occupant of the carriage – dressed in pure white but glowing red, and with her blood drenched head resting on her lap.  Some versions have Thomas, her father as the coachman.  The carriage drives right into the hall and disappears, or else stops to allow the gory Anne to descend and begin a nocturnal perambulation of the gloomy chambers of the Hall.

The lake at Blicking - does Anne's ghost search in vain by its shores...? Image by Lenora

The lake at Blickling – does Anne’s ghost search in vain by its shores…? Image by Lenora

Sightings of Anne (and/or Thomas) and the carriage have been frequent and reported by witnesses of varying degrees of credibility.  In 1979 an apparition supposed to be Anne was sighted in the library, in 1985 a former administrator of Blickling Hall was awoken by female footsteps in the night only to find no one there.  Another sighting occured during world war II when a Butler accosted a mysterious lady by the lake.  She was dressed in Grey and had a white lace collar and mob-cap.  When asked what she was looking for she replied with the poignant words “That for which I search has long since gone.”   It has been pointed out that the costume described sounds more seventeenth century than sixteenth, and that lace was extremely rare in the 1530′s, nevertheless adherents point out that Anne was beheaded in a very similar costume with a white-collar and coif.

Blickling Hall can even boast a lost chamber – no English country pile should be without one – associated with Anne Boleyn.  It is said that there is a room at Blickling that had such an evil atmosphere it was walled up and its whereabouts lost – it was called ‘Old Bullen’s study’.  Just as an aside, personally I don’t think some one as elegant and sophisticated as Anne would be as crass as to leave an evil atmosphere behind her, (intense perhaps – but surely not evil) perhaps Old Bullen could in fact be greedy, gutless Thomas!

Tower of London

tower-of-london

The Tower of London from the Thames. Image from ‘London Attractions’ Tourist site.

Unsurprisingly there are many tales of Anne connected with the Tower of London – after all she was imprisoned here from April until her execution on 19 May 1536 and it was here that she watched as her brother and the men closest to her were brutally executed.

My favourite tales from the tower relate to the service that Anne has provided to countless soldiers, the first noted as being in 1864.  A guardsman on duty one night saw the white-clad figure of woman emerging from the Queen’s House.  Approaching to offer a challenge he got a clear look at the figure and was horrified to discover the lady was sans head!  The soldier was found to have fainted and accused of being drunk on duty and court marshaled.  One would not expect a hard-bitten military court to consider the appearance of a headless Tudor Queen as a mitigating factor in such dereliction of duty, however when two witnesses were produced the case was quietly dropped.  Needless to say, the ‘Anne Boleyn defense’ was used more than once by soldiers down the years to explain abandoning their posts!

Other sightings include ‘bluish figure’ floating across the ground to the Queen’s House and in 1967 the case of one John Hawden who observed a strange glow coming from the windows of the White Tower,  lighting a mysterious figure moving between the rooms.  When he asked a fellow warden about the phenomenon he was told that it was probably the ghost of Anne Boleyn and that many wardens had witnessed it (although few spoke of it).

Hever Castle

Hever Castle, Anne's family seat in Kent.  Image by Puffin.

Hever Castle, Anne’s family seat in Kent. Image by The Giant Puffin via wikimedia.

Hever Castle was the Boleyn family seat in Kent and therefore has strong connections with Anne Boleyn.  The most famous story relating to Hever takes place on Christmas Eve (always a perfect time for ghost stories) and relates to a bridge over the River Eden, close by the Castle.  Anne is said to be seen crossing the bridge heading for home.  In other instances her shimmering wraith-like form is seen lurking about the lawns.  The Splatter blog (see sources) describes a chilling encounter with Anne on the bridge over the Eden.

In 1979 a member of the Society for Psychical Research set about capturing an image of Anne on the bridge.  Staking out the bridge on the appointed day, he was not to be disappointed.  On the stroke of midnight Anne duly appeared in the form of a white light.  Delighted, he took his picture.  Elation soon turned to fear though, when the white light came hurtling directly at him and passed right thorough him.  As he turned he saw it disappear over the bridge towards Hever.  The following day when he developed his film he found that the entire roll was exposed and not one image had been captured….

 

Hampton Court and other places

Hampton Court - does Anne's restless spirit roam these corridors?  Image by Lenora

Hampton Court – does Anne’s restless spirit roam these corridors? Image by Lenora

Oddly enough there are not many sightings of Anne at Hampton Court – perhaps even her ghost finds it too painful to revisit the site of her greatest triumphs and her eventual fall.  However in the late 19th Century she was sighted walking the corridors dressed in blue and looking rather sad.

Anne’s restless spirit is associated with more locations that can be covered in this post.  Some other places she has been sighted at include Windsor Castle, Rochford Hall in Essex and Bollin Hall, Cheshire.  One memorable sighting is recounted by Alison Weir and is based on an interview Nora Lofts conducted with the old sexton of Salle Church in Norfolk.  This story links Anne with Witchcraft.  Anne is said to walk at Salle Church on the anniversary of her death. Wanting to find the truth of the legend the old sexton sat vigil determined to catch the royal revenant.  However, all he saw was a hare run a course about the church before disappearing……the hare being a symbol, particularly in East Anglia, of witchcraft.  (NB. Why is it always an old Sexton in these stories…?)

 

 Anne’s lasting memory

Some sightings of Anne’s ghost or imprint seem well attested by credible witnesses at sites with a verified connection with Anne’s life.  Others have grown around received wisdom and when checked against the historical ‘facts’ cannot possibly relate to Anne (this is not to say that they are not bona-fide sightings – just not necessarily sightings of Anne).  Whatever the truth of these tales, their continued popularity demonstrates how much Anne, with her glittering life and her cataclysmic fall from grace, has entered into the subconsciousness of a nation (and beyond).  People WANT to see Anne Boleyn and to claim that connection with her enduring ‘glamour’ and her tragic end.  Even now, vigils are held on the anniversary of her execution at Blickling Hall and other locations associated with Anne.  This woman who might have vanished from history with out a trace as the discarded wife of a fickle King – still has the power to fascinate and captivate us.

Image by Lenora

Anne – among us still? Image by Lenora

In her own words

So much has been written about Anne Boleyn, I would like to end by letting her speak for herself. The following poem has been attributed to Anne in the days before her execution…

O Death, O Death, rock me asleepe,
Bring me to quiet rest;
Let pass my weary guiltless ghost
Out of my careful breast.
Toll on, thou passing bell;

Ring out my doleful knell;
Thy sound my death abroad will tell,
For I must die,
There is no remedy.

My pains, my pains, who can express?
Alas, they are so strong!
My dolours will not suffer strength
My life for to prolong.
Toll on, thou passing bell;
Ring out my doleful knell;
Thy sound my death abroad will tell,
For I must die,
There is no remedy.

Alone, alone in prison strong
I wail my destiny:
Woe worth this cruel hap that I
Must taste this misery!
Toll on, thou passing bell;
Ring out my doleful knell;
Thy sound my death abroad will tell,
For I must die,
There is no remedy.

Farewell, farewell, my pleasures past!
Welcome, my present pain!
I feel my torment so increase
That life cannot remain.
Cease now, thou passing bell,
Ring out my doleful knoll,
For thou my death dost tell:
Lord, pity thou my soul!
Death doth draw nigh,
Sound dolefully:
For now I die,
I die, I die.

Sources

There are a lot of great books and websites out there devoted to Anne, her history and her ghost, here are a few that I found particularly useful in preparing this post:

http://marilynkaydennis.wordpress.com/2011/12/28/anne-boleyns-ghost/

http://onthetudortrail.com/Blog/

http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/anne-boleyn-portraits-which-is-the-true-face-of-anne-boleyn/

Weir, Alison, The Lady in the Tower, Random House, 2009

Of martyrs, hens and hangings

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Strange tales from the Camino

Golden Altar 3The Camino de Frances runs for nearly 500 miles across Spain and takes in some extraordinary sights – not least of which are the churches and cathedrals.  English churches were stripped out of their booty during the reign of Henry VIII – no such thing happened in Spain.  For anyone used to pottering around elegant but largely unadorned English churches those of Spain come as a bit of a culture shock.  God and Gold go hand in hand the extravagant and exuberant altarpieces of many Spanish churches and cathedrals.

But aside from the awe-inspiring bling of the alters, there are also many strange, and sometimes gory, hidden away amongst the treasures.  If you can drag your eyes away from the gold, glitz and glory for long enough you will find some very strange things on the walls of these buildings.

Bota Fumeiro - Santiago Cathederal

Bota Fumeiro – Santiago cathedral

The cult of martyrdom

skull and lion bwThe word itself is from the Greek, meaning to witness, and came to be applied to those who suffered torture and death for their Christian faith – although the concept and psychology of martyrdom pre-dated Christianity and existed amongst Jewish and Pagan Peoples as well. It was the Christian Church however, who really ran with the idea of martyrdom and it became an important aspect of the Christian Ethos.  The Catholic Church in particular seems to have made quite a cult of the suffering of Martyrs and viewed them as powerful intercessor between worshipers and their god.

Bones and relics of martyrs quickly became currency, both spiritual and materially, and appeared in churches and religious establishments.  The market for martyrs could be competitive and certainly brought great riches for many religious houses with the faithful flocking to centres of pilgrimage such as Santiago de Compostela, here they could offer gifts to the relics and hope that the saint would look favourably on them.

The bones of a saint

The bones of a saint

Wounds 1

Visceral wounds

Female martyrs are often depicted as beautiful

Female martyrs are often depicted as beautiful

A Martyr being beheaded

A Martyr being beheaded

Slaughter of innocents

Slaughter of innocents

Admittedly, and no disrespect to Christian’s intended, what struck me most intensely in viewing many of the relics and images of martyred saints that are displayed in Churches and cathedrals along the Way of St James, was the sheer delight in portraying gory and visceral deaths.  Some of the images had an almost macabre humour whilst others seemed almost distasteful in their veneration of human suffering. In the days before sadomasochism had been identified, I can’t help thinking that, whilst pious viewers saw the images as a offering an example of Christian fortitude, there must surely have been many others who viewed these images with something other than their god in mind.

cherub with chains

 

Shackles donated to a church

Nevertheless, some of the images of martyrdom and miracles have a distinct sense of humour about them.

'I think he's dead'  'No I'm not, it's just a flesh wound!'

Persecutor: “A scratch? Your head’s off. Xtn Martyr: No it isn’t. Persecutor: What’s that, then? Xtn Martyr: [after a pause] I’ve had worse. Persecutor: You liar. Xtn Martyr: Come on ya pansy.[1]

The following tale is associated with the Church of Santo Domingo and is both bizarre and humorous.

The Miracle of the Cock and the Hen

santo dom 1During the Camino, I visited the cathedral of Santos Domingo de La Calzada.  Here I was baffled by the presence of a very ornate hen-house situated within the cathedral and inhabited by a rooster and a hen.  Not sure if it was simply that the priest simply had a fondness for fritatta’s (they did seem quite popular along the Camino) I soon found out that it was connected with a very odd tale involving a pious pilgrim, a woman scorned, a resurrection from the dead and some zombie chickens*.

I have come across a few versions of this strange tale, the version below is taken from the website of Santo Domingo cathedral and seems the most comprehensive:

“Legend tells of a German Pilgrim called Hugonell who was walking to Santiago with his parents, when they decided to rest at an inn in Santo Domingo de la Calzada. The owner of the inn´s daughter immediately fell in love with him; however her feelings were not reciprocated, so the girl, angered, placed a silver cup into his luggage and accused the boy of theft. Thieves at that time were punished by hanging, and this was the fate of Hugonell. His parents, saddened by his death continued the pilgrimage, and upon arriving in Santiago de Compostela, began their return journey to visit the grave of their dead son. When they arrived in Santo Domingo however, they found their son still hanging in the gallows but, miraculously alive. Hugonell, excited, said to them: “Santo Domingo brought back me to life, please go to the Mayor´s house and ask him to take me down”. Quickly, the parents arrived at the Mayor´s house and told him of the miracle. The incredulous Mayor, who was preparing to have dinner with friends, responded: “That boy is as alive as these two roast chickens we are about to eat,” and suddenly, the chickens came to life, sprouted feathers and beaks and began to crow, and so, to this day there is a saying about the town which goes: “Santo Domingo of the Way, where the roosters crow after being roasted”.

santo dom hen coup 4

Hen coup in Santo Domingo Cathedral

Sacred chickens

Holy Hens

From silver hens...

From silver hens…

...to sacred cookies.  The legend is popular today as ever.

…to sacred cookies. The legend is popular today as ever.

 *Not strictly true – in this version the chickens are at least allowed to sprout new feathers and beaks – other versions leave the reader imagining bald cooked chickens running zombie like through the town – a truly fowl image *har har har* (sound of tumble weed blowing across the internet).

 References

All images copyright Lenora at http://www.hauntedPalace.co.uk

[1] Adapted from Monty Python’s Holy Grail – Black Knight scene

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_martyrs

http://www.english.catedralsantodomingo.es/santo_domingo.html

The Camino de Santiago – Part One

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The Camino de Santiago

The Conche shell -  iconic symbol of the Camino de Santiago

The Conche shell – iconic symbol of the Camino de Santiago

Greetings all!  I have returned from my epic hike across northern Spain, and amongst other posts that I have been nefariously plotting whilst away, over the coming weeks I would also like to share some of my photo’s from my travels.

Basically, for the past six weeks Bonnie and I have been hiking the famous Medieval pilgrimage route the Camino de Santiago – more specifically the Camino Frances. The route runs from St Jean Pied-de-Port in France to Santiago in the West of Spain and runs through the provinces of  Navarra, La Rioja, Burgos, Palencia, Leon, Lugo and La Cornuna (the last two forming the very Celtic region of Galicia).  This particular Camino route (and there are lots of them) is round about 490 miles (790km) and by far the most popular and well sign-posted route to Santiago.

Although historically the Camino is famous as a Catholic pilgrimage route, today walkers of all faiths and no faiths walk the Camino (it has become particularly popular recently following release of the film ‘The Way’, starring Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez).  There is also a growing pagan element to the walk as many of the pilgrims continue on, past Santiago, and make their way to the rugged Costa da Morte and to the village of Fisterra.  Here they burn their shoes on the rocky shores at the end of the world.  It is said that this is an echo of the practices of pre-Christian pilgrims who sought spiritual rebirth at the temple to Ara Solis in Celtic times.

The Camino de Santiago (source: http://www.santiago-compostela.net/)

The Camino de Santiago (source: http://www.santiago-compostela.net/)

Rather than begin with the obvious – the religious architecture of the Camino – I prefer to indulge my passion for all things arboreal and begin with the Trees of the Camino de Santiago!

 The Trees of the Camino

(All images copyright Lenora at http://www.hauntedpalace.co.uk)

001 SJPP

At the Citadel above St Jean Pied de Port, France.

The citadel, St Jean Pied de Port

The citadel, St Jean Pied de Port

 

Tree on the way to Orisson, via Route de Napoleon, across the Pyranees

On the way to Orisson, via Route de Napoleon, heading over the Pyranees

The road to Roncevalles, coming down off the mountains, Spain

The road to Roncevalles, coming down off the mountains, Spain

The Plane trees of the Espolon in Burgos

The avenue of plane trees of the Espolon in Burgos

Trees and stone shrines on the great wide expanse of the Meseta

Trees and stone shrines on the great wide expanse of the Meseta

The trees and logs had some amazing moss and lichen growth.

The trees and logs had some amazing moss and lichen growth.

 

Spring Blossoms near Hornillos

Spring Blossoms near Hornillos

Heading into the mountains near Rabanal

Heading into the mountains near Rabanal

OK, no trees, but nice colours!

OK, no trees, but nice colours!

Grove pf beech trees on the way to Molinaseca

Grove pf beech trees on the way to Molinaseca

Nature taking over - Castillo de los Templarios

Nature reclaiming the land – Castillo de los Templarios

Knitted tree warmers were all the rage in Cacabelos!

Knitted tree warmers were all the rage in Cacabelos!

Through the fields and Vineyards to Villafranca

Through the fields and Vineyards to Villafranca

O'Cebreiro at dawn, entering the Celtic lands of Spain

O’Cebreiro at dawn, entering the Celtic lands of Spain

Ancient tree at Castano Mill

Ancient tree at Castano Mill, Galicia

Gnarled logs

A fallen giant

Early morning in the forest, Galicia

Early morning in the forest, Galicia

0019 a fork in the road_Galicia

Left hand path or right hand path…?

One of the many shrine trees along The Way.

One of the many shrine trees along The Way.

Dawn in the forests of Galicia

Dawn in the forests of Galicia

A rustic gate in Galicia, at times Galicia feels more like Britain or Ireland...

A rustic gate in Galicia, at times Galicia looks more like Britain or Ireland than Spain!

Is that the Grim Reaper!?

Is that the Grim Reaper!?

Commercially planted Eucalyptus trees (used for the pulp industry) have begun to replace the ancient beech and oak forests in some parts of Galicia.

Commercially planted Eucalyptus trees (used for the pulp industry) have begun to replace the ancient beech and oak forests in some parts of Galicia.

In some places the old Oak and Beech trees still hold their own against the eucalyptus

In some places the old Oak and Beech trees still hold their own against the eucalyptus

Nearing Santiago, the moon over the forest.

Nearing Santiago, the moon over the forest.

 And thats all for now Folks!

The Bone Hill of Finsbury Square

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Bunhill Fields Burial Grounds, London

Skull tomb bunhillBunhill Fields is sited in the Finsbury area of North London, a short walk from Old Street tube station.  Twice in recent months I have found myself meandering through the clutter of tombstones, monuments and ancient trees.

Although the burial ground really took off as a non-conformist cemetery from the seventeenth century onwards,  the origin of the name goes back to earlier times.  Originally known as bone hill, the site may have been used for burials as far back as the Saxon period. It is also possible that the gruesome name came about much later.  During the mid sixteenth century St Paul’s was clearing out its overflowing charnel house and in the somewhat pragmatic manner of the time the excess bones were dumped on nearby fenland until they formed, one imagines, a very gruesome looking hill.

Although the cemetery was remodeled in the nineteenth century, you can still get a feel for how jumbled and cramped together London Cemeteries were before work began to alleviate pressure on London’s overcrowded urban cemeteries with the opening of the likes of Highgate Cemetery and Brookwood in the mid-nineteenth century.   Bunhill Fields saw its last burial in January 1854 – it is estimated that over 120,000 people were buried in the burial ground during its existence.

Famous incumbents

Susannah Wesley, via wikimedia

Susannah Wesley, via Wikimedia

Bunhill fields attracted some quite famous individuals as a nice place to go whilst awaiting the final trumpets (or what ever the individual’s own particular brand of religion specified).  John Bunyan (1628-1688), author of The Pilgrim’s Progress; Daniel Defoe (1660 -1731) author of Robinson Crusoe and the naughty novel Moll Flanders;  Susannah Wesley (1669 -1742), the Mother of Methodism; and William Blake (1757-1827), visionary poet, painter and keen nudist (!) all took their final rest in Bunhill.

Amongst the gnarled old trees and scattering of wild flowers are not only notables and famous literary and non-conformist figures. There are many equally unique and extraordinary individuals..

Most of the graves are fenced off to protect them, however you can still get close to some of the larger monuments.  Here are a few of my photo’s of some of the more famous monuments:

Tomb of John Bunyan

Tomb of John Bunyan

Detail from John Bunyan's tomb - the Pilgrim

Detail from John Bunyan’s tomb – the Pilgrim

 

Monument to Daniel Dafoe

Monument to Daniel Defoe

William Blake's simple headstone

William Blake’s simple headstone

 

And the not so famous….

Amongst the many notable individuals, there are of course may thousands of ordinary individuals whose bones lie in Bunhill Fields….and one has to spare a thought for the suffering and fortitude of some of these unfortunate individuals such as Dame Mary Page, relict of Sir Gregor Page Baronet, who slithered off this mortal coil on March 4th 1728 at the age of 56, her epitaph reads:

Dame Mary Page, who expired after:

Dame Mary Page, whose epitaph reads ‘In 67 months she was tapd 66 times and had taken away 240 gallons of water without ever repining at her case or ever fearing the operation.’

One wonders if Dame Mary actually wanted her demise commemorated in quite so detailed a manner!

The Bone Hill Today

Today the old burial ground is protected landscape, filled with wildflowers and ancient trees and patrolled by the ubiquitous grey squirrels that abound in English park lands.  Here are a few more of my pictures for you to enjoy…

Inscription on the gateway to Bunhill Fields

Inscription on the gateway to Bunhill Fields

A row of impressive tombs

A row of impressive tombs

trees and tombs

A piece of wilderness in the heart of the city

Daniel Defoe monument

Daniel Defoe monument

Dame Mary's monument - I wonder if they considered a fountain...

Dame Mary’s monument – I wonder if they considered a fountain…

Before cemeteries like Highgate and Brookwood opened in the 19C, it was standing room only in city graveyards.

Before cemeteries like Highgate and Brookwood opened in the 19C, it was standing room only in city graveyards.

 

The squirrels of Bunhill

The squirrels of Bunhill

 

 

 Sources

Images – all images copyright Lenora and Haunted Palace unless otherwise credited.

http://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/city-gardens/visitor-information/Pages/Bunhill-Fields.aspx

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bunhill_Fields

 

 

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