Coronavirus Diary 13 – Breaking the curfew for a peek over London

You know sometimes you just think you’ll write a 10 minute blog post and then 2 hours later…..

If some one had told me 6 months ago that I would be living in a 1830’s house in a village with a raging plague outside and the best chance I’d have of acquiring fresh meat would be to break curfew and sneak into the woods to gather firewood and hunt a deer I’d have thought you were totally bonkers.  Even if we forget the deer and keep the others then I still wouldn’t have believed you.

Aside from the awful deaths and in my own personal case, lack of money, I have had far worse periods of life.  I remember my Grandad told me that even though fighting in WW2 was obviously a total nightmare, he was given the chance to experience things he would never normally get to do such as travel to the Pyramids or Rome.  To play the Cathedral organ at Basra and to give him his once chance to visit the resting place of his own father (https://stephenliddell.co.uk/2017/01/25/remembering-my-great-grandad-ernest-heard-who-died-100-years-ago-today-in-amarah-iraq/).  He’d have been the first to say h’d have preferred to spend 6 years back at home safe and sound though.

I kind of feel the same way.  There’s really very little aspect of 21st Century life that I take part in or am missing.   Due to being blind in one eye I have such sensitive hearing and this is the first time living near London in m life where there are no planes or car to over power my senses and I can sit in the garden and listen to ants climbing over blades of grass or tiny spots of pollen falling on the undergrowth when a bee is too greedy and overloads itself.

One of the reasons I bought this tiny but intensely characterful old house is because it is surrounded by fields, farms and woodland in almost every direction just a few minutes walk from where I live.   We’re not allowed out except for trips to get shopping or medical facilities or a daily walk or jog.  Being at High Risk, I shouldn’t go near anyone and really should stay indoors but since I moved on January 31st I have only ever really been out once so in a way I have already had self-isolation period before anyone else knew it was a thing.

As I couldn’t book my first trip away for 6 or 7 years in February due to being pushed under the train and the upcoming apocalypse, my bucket list of places to see before I die has been much reduced to about 2 or 3 locations and all within a walk of where I live.

I was missing my friends, not just the ones that talk back but the places I have spent the last 7 years of my life walking round every day.   The elegant literary squares of Bloomsbury; the iconic buildings of Westminster; the grotty alleys of the East-End and the maze of wonky streets and massive towers around the City.

So I decided on the first nice day of spring to head off to a new viewpoint which had only been open to the public for a few years having once been the private property of a heavyweight boxing champion!  If the virus is going to get me then there was just one last thing I had to do, bag me my new view of the big smoke.

London is largely at sea-level so many of the most famous and beautiful places are on hills.  Hampstead Heath, Alexandra Palace, Harrow-On–The Hill, Primrose Hill but I live way above all of them at over 500 feet or around 150metres.  From my bedroom window looking through a narrow gap between buildings nearby, I can see 20 miles and there is another gap looking north but I haven’t worked out what I’m looking at year.  It’s a bit easier with London though as its rather hard to miss!  However between me and the viewpoint facing south as a 2 mile walk mostly through woods and that’s where I headed.  I’d never be safer from the virus than on the first serious day of the lockdown when all those pesky people with their good immune systems and thoughtless coughs and sneezes were safely behind doors!

It was strange going out after all this time.  Not the fact that there was no-one else out as I always go to work before the world wakes up but it was just strange to be outdoors.  I savoured everything.  The wind, the sunlight, the sounds and smells.  The feeling of the different surfaces underfoot, it was all so…. forbidden!

I only met 2 or 3 people on my walk there.  The first was a young lady who no doubt mirrored the “You’re not supposed to be out, you’re contaminated’ look.  Due to a break in the parked cars she was naturally able to get onto the road to walk before I could.   Then a mile or so later I met two joggers and this time I walked in the road.  Right in the centre of the old main road to London.

The deserted old main road to London

The deserted old main road to London

Normally this road would be busy even though it is no longer the main road to London.  Centuries ago these woods were full of highwaymen, possibly even Dick Turpin himself.  The few people who lived where I live were known for their bad behaviour and it being a dangerous place to pass through.  I live in a little place called Bushey Heath; it must surely be here or similarly named places that gave birth to the term ‘Heathen’.  You can also see it is indeed quite Bushey!

At last I was able to leave the road and disappear into the woods.  There is a reputed burial site of the legendary Queen Boudicca in here; it must be said she has more than one reputed burial site… a little bit like how John The Baptist has so many heads scattered around the place I guess.

When finally I reached the open space I must confess I uttered a swear word!  I’d been waiting to see this view for years and combined with being house bound mostly sine Christmas and the whole ‘we’re all going to die’ thing.

Looking out over London

Looking out over London

London is such an immense city and is both far too large geographically and covering too large a period historically for it to be a stereotypically beautiful view in a uniform sort of way that Edinburgh, Bath or even Paris and Rome could be said to be.  Even being able to see 40 miles ahead and perhaps 60 miles from left to right, I couldn’t see anywhere near all of London.

Though lower than me and 10-12 miles away from me, Hampstead Heath rendered St Pauls invisible but I could see lots of my other hangouts.  A mix of Parliament and Westminster Abbey, a big arch which after 10 minutes I realised was the London Eye, the BT Tower in Bloomsbury, The Shard at the south end of London Bridge, the Gherkin, the Deathstar, Canary Wharf and the Docklands way over to the east and right ahead of me the Crystal Palace transmitter and the South Downs which are pretty much exactly on the other side of London.

Looking over Wembley

Looking over Wembley

I could see the light glinting off still running tube trains in the distance; I could hear some construction work still going on at Wembley all of 5 or 6 miles away.  Aside from that it was just me and nature.  I wonder how many of the millions of people below had ever seen their city like this.   What the old British tribes led by people like Queen Boudicca must have thought when they saw the invading Romans far below or the city being ravaged by fire or as with Churchill watching how the aerial defences were coping from his nearby vantage point in WW2.  All were national disasters just like this one.  There must surely have been someone who hid away from The Plague near this very spot and thought to themselves that they’d rather be here safe in the woods than down there.

The Shard, The Gherkin, BT Tower and Westminster

The Shard, The Gherkin, BT Tower and Westminster

The easiest thing to make out on the photo above is the top third of The Shard on the left, the tallest building in Europe. To the right of it you can see a cluster of some of the tall buildings in the City of London with the tall narrow tower in the centre being the BT Tower in Bloomsbury.  A little to the right of this is roughly Westminster and in the flesh you can make out the famous buildings.  You can see some of the new developments in Vauxhall and Victoria too.

What I find interesting is you can see the undulations of what this part of North London must have looked like, the various hills and valleys that reach down to the Thames… all would have been covered in forest just a few centuries ago.  You can more easily imagine the lost and hidden rivers and how all those stops on the Underground would once have been isolated villages and given that this photo really only shows half of London on the North-South Axis, just how big the city is and how it really does sit in a very wide valley capped by the hills I live on on the north and the South Downs on the other side.  That’s why it gets the fog and more surprisingly, partially the arid climate.

Canary Wharf and The Docklands

Perhaps only locals will appreciate this but just to the left of the crane you can see some of the tallest towers of Canary Wharf poking up behind the hill.  They are a lengthy tube ride or most of a days walk away from Westminster and yet both very much Central London.

I sat in the cold late winters sun like a lizard warming up and admiring the incredible view for which these photos do it in no way any justice whatsoever.

After a while a 74 year old lady scrambled up the hill in front of me with her dog and we chatted from a very healthy distance for 15 minutes.  She didn’t want to get the virus b

I'm still alive!

I’m still alive, a bit bedraggled looking perhaps but alive nonetheless!

ut told me if she did, she didn’t care too much as she was 74.   She looked very good for 74 so I guess climbing this 500 foot hill 6 days a week wasn’t doing her any harm.  Her dog made me laugh as it stood their content the whole time we talked and just when she headed off, it discovered a smell and she was pulling at it for nearly a minute before it was ready to leave.  How typical we both laughed.

It’s these sort of interactions that people who drive everywhere have no idea about and as Grandad would have said prove that even this horrible virus has its plus points.

If you want to see some other views of London try out My first trip up Londons newest roof garden @ 120  and  Photos from St. Pauls Cathedral  to name just a few.

 

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Kent Invicta! – The undefeated Garden of England.

My last post on the re-discovery of Eanswythe of Kent ended with a mention of the proud tradition of the county of Kent.   Today Kent is often known as the garden of England with its kind climate and multitude of fruit, beer and wine related industries but for all that, Kent has some steel.

The official motto of Kent is Invicta which is a Latin phrase often used in the latter days of the Roman Empire to keep morale up; illustrating no matter how bad things were, Rome had never been conquered!

At first glance, it might not make much sense for the county that comes closest to continental Europe and as such seemingly the natural invasion route but there is something to it and like other corners of England there is a definite strong local identity here.  Kent for a time saw off the Romans and whereas other parts of England and the U.K. fell under the rule of various groups, Kent became settled by the often forgotten Jutes.

Kent was also targeted by various other empires and nations right up to The Battle of Graveney Marsh – The last battle on British soil.

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The Invicta motto for Kent however really goes back to the invasion of England by William the Conqueror in 1066.  Legend has it that, while marching from the 1066 battle site at Hastings, William marched on to London on his way to the (then) capital Winchester.  While passing through Kent, the local people picked up branches and marched at William’s men.

Outnumbered, scared and on enemy territory, William and his army took flight and took a different route to London. As the people of Kent felt that they had chased William away, they adopted “Invicta” as a county motto.

 

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Kent Invicta monument © Copyright Robin Webster and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

 

A different version of the legend above is depicted on a monument at Swanscombe in Kent, where legend states this meeting took place on the Old Roman Road to London (Watling Street). The monument was moved in the early 1960s due to the construction of the A2 dual carriageway. It is now located in the church yard of Saint Peter and Saint Paul’s Church in Swanscombe.

Near this spot by ancient tradition the men of Kent and Kentish men carrying boughs on their shoulders and swords in their hands met the invader William Duke of Normandy. They offered peace if he would grant their ancient rights and liberties otherwise war and that most deadly. Their request was granted and from that day the motto of Kent has been INVICTA meaning Unconquered.

Its origin has also been said to have been because Dover was not besieged or defeated on William’s march through Kent, but instead agreed to a conditional surrender to him, on its own terms, and was therefore not conquered by him. Holding of land in Kent by gavelkind, rather than the feudal-Norman laws of primogeniture, lasted until the 20th Century standardisation laws.

The law of primogeniture is a great example of just how destructive and alien the Norman conquest was.  Primogeniture means that land and property are inherited by the oldest son.  The Anglo-Saxons had a much more democratic way of running things (some times even their kings were elected) and this was to equally split the land and property out rather than just to the oldest son.   The very fact this tradition survived just outside London suggests that the people of the county did indeed acquire some concessions from William the Conqueror as did other areas such as Durham and Northumberland in the north and the already rich and powerful City of London (as opposed to London generally).

Arms-kent

The county motto and shield of Kent.

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Coronavirus Diary Supplemental – Self Isolating with a good book!

I wasn’t going to post anything today.  Being cooped up inside for week after week and having a work in progress living room where one can live but not yet feel comfortable today offers a rare chance to go in the garden.

Last Sunday it was snowing and yet today on Palm Sunday it is 21 C or 70 degrees and the first real Springlike weather is upon us.  I have an 80 foot or so long southwesterly garden which I thought today I would make the most of.

I spent the early hours editing the first 10% of my new book and hope to put a chicken in the oven as soon I press publish and then go and read in the garden.   My books are still in something of a jumble from having moved and I was thinking over breakfast what to read.  I was looking for The Binding which I am part way through reading but it took me half an hour to find it.  In the mean-time I had decided to finish off The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Absolutely Everything which is a very fun read and I think very apt at a crisis like this.   I started it about 5 years ago when the now Bishop of Melbourne recommended it to me whilst I was visiting Walsingham.

Then I was diverted by a book entitled Worst Possible Scenario, a survival guide which I have no doubt read several times before.

In the end I settled on The Road To Oxania by Robert Byron.  I remember he came up in a class discussion all the way back in 1996 in my Mongol and Central Asian history classes.  A verse that I’d forgotten came back to my memory.  By the Si-o-seh pol bridge in Isfahan, Iran, Byron wrote:

“The lights came out. A little breeze stirred, and for the first time in four months I felt a wind that had no chill in it. I smelt the spring, and the rising sap. One of those rare moments of absolute peace, when the body is loose, the mind asks no questions, and the world is a triumph, was mine.”

Byron was said to be the first real writer of travelogues; I do so hope he would consider myself a traveller when I go away rather than a tourist!      The quote above is of when he set his eyes on Esfahan, the place I most want to visit in the whole world both in 1996 and in 2020.

Somehow from across the ages his quote spoke to me and I too look forward to a rare moment of peace and one for the first time since 2019 with no chill in the wind.

The link shows my top 100 places I’d most like to visit with many of them in the Middle-East and Central Asia.  I must have been wistful earlier in the week and I managed to find the old Lonely Planet guide show to Central Asia which I’d been looking for for 20 years.  If you have a spare 45 minutes then have a watch below.

It shows the sort of places I like to visit and pretty much how I get around.  I would so love to visit Khiva and Bukhara and Samarqand and then go into the mountains of Kyrgyzstan.  The travelogue below beautifully illustrates the incredible buildings and cultures of the cities, the problems with travelling but the rewards too.  And how isolated but beautiful are those green mountain valleys?   I remember eating a sheep that some Bedouin cooked for me, it wasn’t that dissimilar.

Several years ago I wrote my own travelogue, if you’re intensely bored or the weather isn’t as tempting as what Robert Byron and myself are going to enjoy then you might like this instead.

I've been to holiday hell so you don't have to!

I’ve been to holiday hell so you don’t have to!

Planes, Trains and Sinking Boats is available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.My books are also available direct from through Barnes and NobleKoboSmashwords and Createspace.

Alternatively, if you send me an email, I can send you a signed copy of any book for the usual retail price plus postage.

You can see my Amazon bookstore for the UK and US here and for Apple fans you can purchase directly from the iTunes/iBooks store or by clicking the logo below.

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Coronavirus Diary 12 – Small steps, big solutions

One of the things about self-isolating when you’re on your own is that there are very limited opportunities to speak and fewer still that anyone might answer back.   Yesterday I went to my front door and daringly opened it.

There weren’t many people about even by curfew standards.  The little school opposite me remains open to allow parents who are classified as key-workers such as in the NHS, food and deliveries industries to cary on going to work.  Usually the playground and fields are swarming with children and little voices but now there are just a handful and somedays not even that.

I waited and waited and finally a dog walker happened by but when they saw me standing at the door they crossed over the road and continued on the other side.   10 minutes later and something very similar happened.

I thought this to be odd as people generally walk in the middle of the empty roads when they meet walkers coming the other way, let alone someone standing in their own house.  Then I realised that these must be regular walkers and they have seen my eye-catching warning poster and they must be doing their bit to protect my lungs!

Abandon hope, all ye who enter in.

Realising I wasn’t going to be able to speak to anyone I headed back to my kitchen.  Ever since I moved in exactly 2 months ago, my washing machine tray has been filling with water in the area you’d normally put softener in.   No-one could understand why, even the plumber who has been working on the house pipes and shower didn’t know what to make of it.

Whilst I was rummaging in the fridge looking for something to eat I came across a discarded piece of white plastic hidden at the base of one of the shelves.  I noticed it a month ago but couldn’t find where it had fallen off from so I’d left it where it was.     Obviously my self-isolation levels of boredom have sky-rocketed in the intervening weeks and I had the brainwave of seeing if it fits in the washing machine and it precisely fits in the problematic flooding tray.

Why anyone would put a washing machine tray part in the bowels of their fridge I am not entirely sure.  I only hope it won’t become evident when I next wash something.   I still haven’t even tried the dishwasher; I think that can wait until after the lockdown.

It’s not just me making progress, the NHS today opens the largest intensive care unit in the world just over a week from when plans were drawn up.  Two months ago people were amazed that China managed to build a new hospital from scratch in just 4 or 5 days and as usual everyone said nothing similar could happen here but of course it has… in someways not as big an achievement and in others bigger.

HMS Nightingale has been created out of the epic London Excel Centre  and will be dedicated to those suffering from the worst effects of the Coronavirus.   Equipment has been trucked in and even the RAF has been flying in to neighbouring and temporarily closed London City Airport and transporting the necessary materials.

HMS Nightingale

HMS Nightingale

It just shows what can be done if people actually put their mind to it rather than dilly-dally with bureaucracy.  For a task this big and this urgent of course only the Ministry of Defence would do and at times hundreds of soldiers along with carpenters, stewards, NHS staff and countless volunteers have been working all week creating a hospital out of nothing on an almost unimaginable scale with even the oxygen supply piping being 4 miles long.

The operation has been overseen by a veteran Army Medical Services of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and various humanitarian responses to disasters around the world, Colonel Boreham.  He said: “We came together about nine days ago, sat around, with social distancing, a coffee table and looked at the designs of this facility and building.   There will be over 80 wards with 42 intensive care beds in each one.

“This corridor is one-kilometre long. And there are two wards like this. When it is all up and running there will be capacity for 4,000 patients.

“We looked at how to re-purpose it into a design of a hospital system so it has a patient-flow system.

“You literally design on a piece of paper what it looks like with the engineers and the NHS.  You then present that and you’ve got a plan. Once you’ve got that and a timeline you can start to finesse it.

“We can do that around the world and do the same thing here, literally bent over a table working it out. That’s your start point.”

“I’m from London, I have friends and family in London,” said Col Boreham, who is the head of the medical advisory and mentoring team helping the NHS.  Many of the people working here, many of the soldiers working here, are from London. It is very personal, it cannot be anything else.  It focuses the mind, and that is why you have everyone pulling together, there is one common purpose. You are saving people’s lives.”

Photo from the Ministry of Defence

Up to 16,000 staff will be required and no doubt some of the nearly million volunteers who have signed up to help the NHS in whatever way they can.

It is a quiet incredible achievement and great news but of course the best news possible will be when the last patient walks out and it all closes down.

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Coronavirus Diary 11 – Self-isolating with Soya…. Ugh!

Yesterday was a day of unexpected pleasures; namely a food delivery by a friend.  My kitchen is now loaded with enough root vegetables to last a week or two and I also have a chicken, some sausages, 5 gluten free chocolate brownies and a spare pox of porridge oat flakes and my first eggs of 2020.

Very annoyingly and well after this particular horse has bolted the supermarkets in the U.K. now have a policy of only 2 products per sale which call me stupid but was exactly what many people were saying should have been happening a month ago.    Sadly in the case of soya milk, this isn’t much help at all.

Not many people drink Soya milk voluntarily unless they are vegan and even then there are alternatives such as coconut, rice, hemp, oat though in my mind most of them are not for me.  Cows milk was always my favourite drink of all so anything else was always going to be an imposition and 5 years later I still crave just a small glass.  Sweetened Soya milk doesn’t taste like real milk but it is passable.  A bit like a cheap brand of beans or coke doesn’t taste anywhere like as nice as the real stuff but it looks the part even if the taste leaves you wondering why they bothered.

There is also unsweetened soya milk which is nowhere near as nice.  In fact I’d go to say it is vile.  Below that there is the equivalent of long-life unsweetened soya milk which really should be banned by the United Nations; if I am ever unfortunate to find that in a shopping bag then my shoulders really do sag.  The only way I can consume it is in a rather odious concoction of home made cocoa or hot chocolate with sugar.  The whole thing goes down better if I either hold my nose when drinking it or don’t drink anything for several hours beforehand so that it goes down quickly.

Whichever type of Soya Milk you get though, it comes in 1 litre cartons which is tiny in comparison to the 4 or 6 pint bottles of cow milk that you find in shops these days.  If you use Soya milk as most people would use cows milk with their cereals or hot drinks then 2  cartons of soya milk might last 4-5 days at best for one person.

Most people who have Soya Milk aren’t doing so out of Vegan convictions and will be doing so due to issues due to issues relating to dairy allergies and many of these will be suffering from more severe issues such as coeliac or maybe Crohn’s disease which links into issues with your immune system where in effect your immune system fights the body similar but several orders of magnitude up from what many Hay-fever sufferers are familiar with.

Having a compromised immune system is one of the things you don’t really want to have which is why I often get bad chest infections so given that such people have been told not to go shopping and or get others to gather essentials for you then only allowing enough milk for 4 days doesn’t seem to be a great case of joined up thinking and likely just part of a broad response by someone high up the chain somewhere that does not come across this in their day to day life.

So yesterday my main meal was an intensely appetising cheese on toast.  Before you get too excited it was 2 week out of date gluten free bread and 6 week out of date goats cheese.   And people used to wonder whether anyone could survive on WW2 rations today.  What with a love of Spam and 6 week old cheese I think the answer is a resounding never mind survive it, some of us live on it!   There’s a reason I never throw out any old food!Food Waste I don’t buy it.

 

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Coronavirus Diary 10 – Creatively Self-Isolating

One of the things I love is being creative.  I’ve always wanted to be more creative.  I’ve written books, penned magazine articles and had the odd television and radio appearance as a nominal ‘expert’ but ever since I creatively started my own business I have had ever decreasing amounts of time to be creative in a non-business sense.

My plethora of books I wrote during my years of paid employment and then at the start of working for myself became a trickle and it hasn’t progressed in a few years.   The books still sell of course but the long-term sales such as they are don’t really fulfil my creative urges.

As it happened my luck was in this weekend as I decided to take a break from impending bankruptcy and death (that order seems to be the most likely) when someone sent me a request from the BBC that they were looking for 10 minute short manuscripts on the theme of social isolation and the use of video-technology to bypass this somewhat.

I’m sure the BBC has better screenwriters to hand but I thought I would give it a go seeing as no-one seems to have a more extreme case of social isolation and I can nominally write and I’ve even sold the odd script before so I know how the process works.

One of the things I really enjoy about screenwriting is that the format is very different but to me seems most intuitive.  I often write about how I enjoy watching even the worst films because aside from the entertainment, I like the technical aspects even if they are put into practice very badly indeed.  I have several books of how my favourite films or television shows went from page to screen and how what is written on a page transfers into a image. I find it all fascinating.

I also find scripts to be relatively very quick and easy to write, at least to a certain level and so it proved with my new work ‘Together, Apart’ which I wrote on Saturday afternoon and after going through things several times and getting it to fit within the narrow parameters of the submission requirements, sent it off on Sunday morning.   I’m not entirely sure it is what they are looking for but it is close, inexpensive to film and a unique story.   In the end it doesn’t matter too much if they buy it or not as for a day or two at least I felt creatively fulfilled.

I’d like to get back to finishing off my latest non-fiction book now I actually have the time though the overall global circumstances has admittedly taken off some of my enthusiasm.

If you’re stuck at home on your own, what hobbies or work have you been catching up on?  Or if you have never seen a television script then  you’re welcome to have a look at my very first almost 25 years ago!   Writing For Television – My first TV script from 1996!

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Revealing the remains of Eanswythe – An ancient Anglo-Saxon princess and Saint.

Exciting news has come out recently, at least exciting if ancient skeletal remains are your thing. An Anglo-Saxon princess who was one of England’s earliest Christian saints has been identified by scientists in a church in Kent.

The remains have been found to Date from the mid-seventh century AD, the princess was the daughter of King Eadbald (literally “the prosperous one”), the ruler of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Kent, who was that micro-country’s monarch from 616 (or 618) to 640.

Parts of the Kentish royal dynasty’s lineage are unclear but some interpretations of their genealogy suggests that he was the present Queen’s 40th great grandfather.

His daughter Eanswythe, whose fragmentary skeleton has just been identified, was a devout Christian who was said to have refused to marry the pagan king of northeast England; and instead decided to become a nun.

St Eanswythe

St Eanswythe

She was only a teenager at the time she founded and became abbess of what may well have been England’s first nunnery.

She was the granddaughter of Bertha, a Christian queen of Kent who, along with St Augustine, was arguably the key individual responsible for helping to initiate pagan Anglo-Saxon England’s conversion to Christianity and it is of course in Kent where one can find the magnificent Canterbury Cathedral.

Rather horrifically, Eanswythe’s life was cut short by a likely outbreak of the Bubonic Place and she died in her late teens or very early 20s.

She was and still is the patron saint of Folkestone and a local history project, aptly called “Finding Eanswythe”, is using the full panoply of modern science to rediscover the long-lost secrets of her life.

A thorough examination of her surviving teeth suggests that she ate relatively refined food. In life, her dentition appears to have been pristine – with virtually no pre-death wear and tear.  Her bones also showed very little sign of injury – apart from a potential stress fracture in one foot bone and two possible damaged finger bones.

Isotopic analysis will also be carried out and may reveal where she grew up and more details about her diet and royal lineage.

As sometimes occurs, if her short life was fascinating enough, even more things happened to her in the the last millennia and a half.

According to mediaeval accounts, she was buried in her own private chapel, overlooking the sea above Folkestone. But as coastal erosion undercut the cliffs, the abbesses who succeeded her increasingly realised that the building would eventually end up crashing into the sea below.  Some time in the eighth century her remains were removed from the stricken chapel and put into a specially built shrine in the nunnery’s main church. By the late 11th century, the nunnery had become a monastery.

However, following the Norman conquest, a castle was built around it – so, in the 12th century, the monks demanded that they be allowed to somewhere more tranquil.

The princess’s bones were therefore disinterred again and moved, in 1138 AD just a few hundred metres away to a brand new church, a later though still ancient version of which still stands today as Folkestone’s Parish Church. Here she became the centre of a local cult and was believed to be able to help cure disease. Her official saint’s day is 12th September.

But, after the mediaeval period had drawn to a close, Eanswythe’s story took a new and unexpected turn with the infamous King Henry VIII.  When the king broke away from the Roman Catholic Church and established the Church of England, the government became increasingly hostile to the veneration of saints.

In 1535, the prior of Folkestone seems to have realised that, unless he took drastic action, government officials would seize and destroy Eanswythe’s bones. So he (or some of his monks) appear to have hurriedly forced the lead box containing them into a secret hole in the church wall and blocked it off.

The prior, or a senior church member, then showed the officials a probably gold or gem-studded reliquary, almost certainly containing just a few parts of the saint’s skull.  The  box, with its diminished contents, was subsequently seized by the officials and was then acquired by a member of Henry VIII’s household, a Folkestone politician and businessman called Anthony Aucher, who no doubt profited substantially by selling any gems which had adorned the reliquary.

Meanwhile, Eanswythe rested safe and secure in her dark hiding place inside the church’s north wall, just beside the altar.  As with several such incidents, her hiding place was gradually forgotten long after restoring them would have been a safe thing to do.

When in 1885, workmen engaged in modernising the church stumbled across human remains there was immediate speculation about the possibility that they could be the bones of St Eanswythe and the discovery was reported in newspapers worldwide.  Baa then however, there was no scientific way of confirming her identity without doubt though it would seem to be a reasonable assumption.

For 132 years, the bones were stashed away in a specially constructed wall niche and once again began to fade from memory, until just three years ago a group of local historians and archaeologists decided to try to solve the mystery.

They did so by asking scientists to examine the bones in order to discover the long-dead individual’s age at death and sex – and by carrying out radiocarbon dating tests to ascertain whether the bones did indeed date from the seventh century.  The results indicate that the fragmentary skeleton was indeed that of St Eanswythe.

Medieval sources had said that she had died very young and the scientific examination of her bones and teeth revealed that the individual had been between 17 and 21 years old when she died which goes to show that sometimes the much derided ancient sources are accurate.

The radiocarbon tests then revealed that she had died in the mid-seventh century – the exact period when Eanswythe‘s life ended.  Examination of her teeth showed virtually no pre-death scratches on her tooth enamel, a fact that suggests that she had consumed on relatively good food.

Apart from the purely historical events, Eanswythe was credited with all manner of stories and miracles during the medieval times and so became highly venerated by the local people of Folkstone.

She was believed to have miraculously made water run uphill (a story probably developed in order to explain an optical illusion which seemed to show a local aqueduct channelling water up a gradient).   Eanswythe was also said to have miraculously lengthened a wooden beam to construct a church by calling on Christ to help when a pagan king and his gods had failed to lengthen it.   And exactly the sort of miracle that I love, she was also credited for resurrecting a dead goose that had been stolen and eaten. I wonder if she can help out with toilet rolls?  Her ghost was said to have cured a man suffering from leprosy or some other skin disease.

In a sense, she symbolises the huge contribution to early English history made by high-status women. Prior to the coming of Christianity, it is not known whether Anglo-Saxon women played any major political roles with the establishment Christianity certainly did it bit for girl-power.  Princesses played a major part in the conversion of England from paganism to the new faith. When Anglo-Saxon and other Christian princesses married pagan Anglo-Saxon kings, their presence often allowed Christianity to gain the upper hand and flourish.

What’s more, those royal daughters who did not marry kings and princes were established by their royal fathers or brothers as abbesses of a new type of institution – nunneries, which in turn, alongside the monasteries, began to wield substantial social and cultural influence. Many of the new abbesses (like Eanswythe) became popular saints and were revered for centuries.

Church of St Mary and St Eanswythe, Folkestone

Church of St Mary and St Eanswythe, Folkestone

St Eanswythe died some 1,360 years ago but her newly rediscovered life and times are about to captivate a new audience.

“Our identification of St Eanswythe’s skeletal remains open up the possibility of using DNA to investigate the ancestry of the Kentish and Frankish royal dynasties,” said the senior archaeologist involved in the project, Dr Andrew Richardson of the Canterbury Archaeological Trust.

“St Eanswythe was a local heroine of great relevance to local people. In mediaeval times, they saw her as their protector from disease and suffering. Researching her today will bring the people of Folkestone nearer to that history,” said the head of the Finding Eanswythe project, Dr Lesley Hardy, a historian at Canterbury Christ Church University.

Kent has a long and proud history all of its own, maybe a good subject for a post but for now if you enjoyed reading about this ancient English female figure then you might also like Æthelflaed – Lady of the Mercians and a similar themed post on our greatest ever monarch  Have they found the missing bones of King Alfred The Great?

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