Wednesday, 2 April 2014


Exhibition poster displayed in the portico of The British Museum.

Recently my brother Michael and I, who incidentally lives near Aarhus on Jutland, went to see the new Viking exhibition at The British Museum called, “Vikings Life And Legend.” My brother went to the first exhibition about the Vikings at the British Museum thirty years ago. He was interested this time to see how our view and knowledge of the Vikings and the Viking world has developed and changed. There have been many new discoveries, mostly through archaeological excavations, that have  developed our knowledge and informed our understating. The exhibition has been organised and curated by experts at three of Europe’s main centres for the study of the Vikings. Michael Eissenhauer at the Staatliche Museum in Berlin, Neil MaGregor at the The British Museum in London and Per Krisitian Madsen of The National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen have all participated in producing this exhibiton. The exhibiton covers a number of themes, Warfare and Military Expansion, Power and Aristocracy, Belief and Ritual and Ships and the Viking.

The entrance to the new Sainsbury Exhibition Centre in the British Museum where the Viking exhibition is located.

When the name, Viking, is mentioned many people still have a preconceived idea of a savage, ruthless raider attacking peaceful farming communities, stealing, murdering, burning and pillaging. The 1958 film, produced by Richard Fleischer, starring Kirk Douglas and based narrowly on some of the Old Norse Saga stories, is many peoples idea of what the Vikings were like and what they got up to. That was a part of what they did but they created new settlements and traded with other people. They also were farmers and developed religious beliefs and, what perhaps is more surprising to many and highlighted by this new exhibition, they learned and adapted from other cultures often taking on new ideas and ways of belief.  We know they also settled and set up new communities because we have so much evidence here in the British Isles. But it was a turbulent history that went along with that.
The Viking Age lasted roughly from the late 8th century to the late 11 th century. To put a more precise date on it, it lasted from about 800 Ad to 1066 Ad , in Britain anyway. 1066 was the year of the Norman Invasion in Britain and also the year of the last great Viking Invasion with an army under Harald Hadrada that was defeated by our last Saxon King, Harold Godwinson at Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire. Other countries might think of the Viking era extending beyond that period.

The Peterborough Chronicle. One of the versions of the Saxon Chronicle that gives evidence about the Vikings in Britain.

The word Viking itself is misleading. There was not a Viking country as such. The Vikings, or raiders,  came from an area of northern Europe which nowadays covers, Norway, Sweden and Denmark. These countries did not exist at the start of the Viking age. The word Viking comes from an old Norse word , vik, meaning inlet. The word viking or vikingr, means raiding party or even piracy. The Latin word , vicus, means a trading centre or emporium. An old English word, which can be found in place names today is ,wic, which might derive from the word Viking. We have places such as Norwich,  Keswick in The Lake District, and villages such as Scopwick in Norfolk. The English language has developed over more than a thousand years and includes Celtic, Roman, Saxon, Viking words, and French from the Normans. This rich development of our language has created some convoluted ways of spelling and ways of organising our grammar and so the history of Britain, including the period of the Viking invasions and settlements, can be found in names.

The Viking world

One of the main reasons for a somewhat biased view of the Vikings and an emphasis on their brutality has come down to us from the Anglo Saxon chronicles of the late 8th century. The monks of Lindisfarne were attacked and murdered, and the treasures in their church stolen by the ,”heathen,” hoards that came over from the north in their longships. The Anglo Saxon Chronicles, written later, were begun by King Alfred in Winchester during the late 9th century. Alfred wanted the history of England recorded. Various versions were written and distributed to a number of cathedrals around the country  to edit and keep up to date. The monks who wrote them show signs of prejudice , where a chronicle in one part of the country  mentions an event from one point of view, others might see it differently or decide to ignore it all together. The Saxon chronicles are therefore to be treated with an element of scepticism but also as a rich source of historical evidence. The chronicles are the first sources to mention the invasions and raids from the north.
"AD. 793. This year came dreadful fore-warnings over the land of the Northumbrians, terrifying the people most woefully: these were immense sheets of light rushing through the air, and whirlwinds, and fiery dragons flying across the firmament. These tremendous tokens were soon followed by a great famine: and not long after, on the sixth day before the ides of January in the same year, the harrowing inroads of heathen men made lamentable havoc in the church of God in Holy-island, by rapine and slaughter."Entry for the year 793 in the Anglo Saxon chronicle.

A Viking axe head used for chopping wood and splitting skulls.

Six years before Lindisfarne was raided the Anglo Saxon Chronicle records for A.D. 787. states that 

"This year King Bertric took Edburga the daughter of Offa to wife. And in his days came first three ships of the Northmen from the land of robbers. The reve then rode thereto, and would drive them to the king's town; for he knew not what they were; and there was he slain. These were the first ships of the Danish men that sought the land of the English nation."

Either this is the beginning of greater tribulation, or else the sins of the inhabitants have called it upon them. Truly it has not happened by chance, but it is a sign that it was well merited by someone. But now, you who are left, stand manfully, fight bravely, defend the camp of God."
Alcuin (735-804)

These Saxon extracts, are notable for a number of reasons. First they are written accounts by educated monks who saw their very existence and Christianity under attack. They show that there was a feeling of terror but also that they had a guilty conscience. Maybe they felt that they had done something wrong in the eyes of God to deserve this? These chronicles, are the first evidence in Britain for the Vikings. They are a biased account but as in all stories, whatever the source, there is truth too. It is understandable how a concept of savage heathens came to be the foremost opinion about the Vikings initially.

The site of Lindisfarne Abbey in Northumberland.

Michael and I walked into the exhibition amongst hundreds of other people. It is a very popular exhibition and as such this creates problems in viewing some of the exhibits. The archaeological evidence, after more than a thousand years, includes mostly metal objects, some wood, and of course ceramics, ivory and jewels. Many of the items are small and getting a good view amongst huddled onlookers, shouldering each other for space, was difficult at moments. The first displays showed artefacts belonging to children, women and men; brooches, axes, pins, and a sword hilt. These artefacts denoted wealth. To own any of them meant some level of success but the larger the item and the more intricate the designs displayed on them, showed increasingly greater wealth. So it appears size does matter, or amongst the Vikings anyway. I heard some muttered criticism as we went around that many artefacts appeared to be repeated. There were many sword hilts with various patterns and designs on them; there were numerous brooches, all of a similar shape and there were many shawl and kilt pins of a similar round design and pattern. However what was fascinating was that it appeared that these were not all the same. They came from different parts of the Viking sphere of influence which included all of  Europe,east into into Asia and stretched west to North America. They also came from different time periods. It was interesting to see that the overall construction and shape of these artefacts remained the same but the patterns differed extensively. There were Arab influences and Asian influences. These artefacts made it clear that the Vikings learned from and were influenced by other cultures. They were also evidence for the extent of Viking exploration.

A Viking shawl pin.

What enabled the Vikings to extend their range of influence across four continents were their long ships. The largest long ship ever excavated, Roskilde 6 (six longboats have been found in Roskilde harbour. They are of various sizes), takes pride of place in the large hall in the middle of the exhibition. It is thirty seven metres long and was excavated in Roskilde harbour in 1997 which is situated on Zealand, the main island of Denmark, not far from Copenhagen. Many of the keel planks are preserved. These preserved parts of the ship are displayed within a large steal cage  structure built in the shape of the original long ship. You can see that it was massive. What was important about these long ships was that they were designed with low keels so they could travel far inland along river systems which aided not only, their raiding parties but also more importantly their search  for trade. It also meant that if they wanted to establish a settlement in land they could  and not just be confined to the coast. The design of these ships, long and narrow, made them fast and they were also very manoeuvrable. We can tell this from the working reconstructions that have been built in recent years.

 Roskilde 6, in the exhibiton.The largest Viking long boat excavated so far.

“It held up to 100 warriors and would have been part of a 100-strong battle group that would have terrified enemies.
"This ship was a troop carrier," said Gareth Williams of the British Museum told the Guardian.
"There are records in the annals of fleets of hundreds of ships," Williams said.
"So you could be talking about an army of up to 10,000 men suddenly landing on your coast, highly trained, fit, capable of moving very fast on water or land."
The dates suggest Roskilde 6 may have been built for King Canute, who according to legend set his throne in the path of the incoming tide, to prove to his courtiers that even a monarch could not control the force of nature,”

Wrote Richard Alleyne in The Guardian.

Roskilde 6 being conserved in Roskilde.

The exhibition makes it clear that the Vikings , throughout their most active periods, were continuously extending their contacts and influence and they were interacting in many ways. One of the important ways  they interacted concerned religion. The Vikings began as pagans, or as the monks on Lindisfarne called them, heathens. They worshipped Odin, the father of their gods, and Thor, the god of war, but also Frey, the goddess of fertility and Freya the goddess of sex and Hel who ruled over the land of the dead. Most of the countries that bordered the lands that the Vikings came from were Christian and they started their contacts with these neighbours by killing Christians and burning their churches and monasteries but eventually even the Vikings turned to Christianity after three hundred years. This exhibition shows how the Vikings developed towards and finally embraced Christianity. It was a similar process to the Romans acceptance of Christianity. The Romans began to worship the Christian god alongside their other gods to begin with.  The Vikings followed a similar adaptive process.

Viking runes.

Apart from the written evidence recorded by the people they met, traded with or raided, there is not much written evidence from the Vikings themselves. There are many rune stones but these are mostly memorials to chieftains and their gods. As Christianity took hold some stones have prayers and crosses carved on them. They are not a record or history of the Viking times. The Vikings had an oral tradition of telling stories called sagas. They related stories about journeys and adventures, mainly focussing on one chieftain or important leader. These tell us some things about the Vikings and often give us hints about where they went. It is difficult to work out how much is fact and how much is fantasy. Although, runes, sagas and the chronicles of those peoples the Vikings met all give us insights and evidence about the Vikings It is down to artefacts and objects for solid evidence. This exhibition is full of solid evidence grouped and set out in an interpretation that is formed from the latest research and archaeology. If there is another exhibition in a further thirty years it will be interesting to find out how much more our understanding has moved on. When it comes to the Vikings it seems we will always be learning something new and adding to and adapting our understanding.

Remains from a Viking ship burial.

The Vikings still cause strong controversy and often our views of them are formed by geopolitical theories. Because of the long reach of the Vikings it is not true to say that they represent just the Scandinavian countries. They were Aryans and Hitler used them as an example of the strong, thrusting spirit of the Aryan race. Another name for the Vikings  in the eastern part of Europe were the Rus. Russia today gets its name from the Vikings who settled and traded there, but the present day Russians deny vigorously this northern European legacy. It undermines their view that they see themselves as a Slavic race.
Gareth Williams , the  curator who curated the  British Museum version of the exhibition  writes in the  the exhibition book,

“Interpretation of the past is inevitably informed by the character of the society making the interpretation…..”

He does go on to say, with some hope,

 and the academic view of the Viking phenomenon since the late twentieth century has been less narrow for a number of reasons.”

Viking axe head found in Russia.

Other forms of research are being followed. The Vikings are generally not associated with a system of money. They traded using a system of barter and exchange. The use of coins was minimal. If the people who they traded with wanted some sort of monetary assurance then the Vikings would use gold or other precious things in exchange. However, as the Viking period progressed the exhibition shows they did form a monetary system. A study of numismatics therefore, helps us develop our view of the Vikings. Viking treasure hordes have been discovered with coins in them. Some coins from trading contacts were turned into jewellery, especially necklaces.  Place names and language help map where the Vikings settled and here in Britain, especially in the north of England where there was a Danish Kingdom that drove out the Saxons for a while, have many place names with a Viking origin. Advances in the detecting of DNA and the historic links that DNA provides shows the extent of the Viking urge to settle. Through DNA scientists can map the Viking world.
Viking hoard discovered in York. There are some coins of Slavic origin amongst these.

The exhibit that fascinated me the most was the reconstruction of a Viking ship burial. The conservators and curators have reassembled the artefacts and evidence exactly as they were found in one such burial. The shape of the boat was indented into the soil. The wood had disappeared because of age and the geological composition of the ground but all the iron rivets from the original boat still remained and these are laid out as they had been when they were excavated. The personal artefacts of the warrior are also laid in the position they had been found. A sword to one side, buckles and brooches placed in their exact positions. and a metal jar, positioned where the feet of the warrior would have reached with coins and other precious things inside. I got a sense of a Viking life.

A mass burial of Vikings on the south coast near Weymouth. DNA testing has shown that these were young Viking men who had been decapitated.

People wonder when the Viking period actually came to an end. This exhibition makes it clear that it didn’t really end as such. A couple of things happened. The states of Denmark, Norway and Sweden were formed. Instead of being a series heterogeneous groups of scattered and very loosely connected communities, they became homogeneous, forming clear identities under one rule  like the other so called civilised countries around them. They also became Christians.

The exhibition is excellent. If you are thinking of going I would suggest you book on line in advance. There a very few tickets available on the day and this exhibition is popular.
It runs from 6th March until 22nd June.

Here is a link to the British Museum booking facility.

A video link . Be afraid, be very afraid!!!!!!


As a postscript, here are the brochures my brother Michael bought 34 years ago at the British Museums exhibition The Vikings and also the brochures he bought when  he went to see the Danish version of the same exhibiton in Copenhagen.

My brother Michael, e-mailed me to say:

"By the way, there's a joke her in DK that roughly goes that the reason for so many beautiful women in Denmark is because the Vikings stole all the good looking women from England."

Yes, the Danes have a sense of humour!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, 28 March 2014


I saw something amazing today.
I was invited to teach at a school near Woking this morning. It was in a year six class. The children in year 6 are eleven year olds. I had a great morning with the children. We did grammar and punctuation together. The children also evaluated a topic about the Victorians they have just completed. They worked very hard with great enthusiasm.

Break time came. The school has a small playground. The gardens of adjacent houses border each side. At one end of the playground there are climbing frames, a climbing wall and scrambling nets. Many of the children worked off their energy grappling with these constructions. There is a small area for football with a set of five aside goal posts. Because of the size of the  area, the proximity of the houses and the nearness of the climbing frames the children are not allowed to use footballs to play football. Many would get hit by flying balls and the balls would invariably end up in the neighbours gardens. However, they are allowed to play football with one tennis ball.

I was astounded. The speed of the game and the individual skills of the boys and girls, stunned me. They controlled long passes at speed with the outside of their feet. They shot first time with pinpoint accuracy. Their running on the ball was as smooth as a panther chasing its prey. High balls thrown out by the goalkeepers were controlled on the chest and brought to their feet with one deft action. Dribbling, side stepping, step overs,(with a tiny ball!!!!????) were achieved with heads up  and eyes looking for space and all the time the children were in perpetual motion.
I have played football myself and coached school football teams for many years. I have never seen such effortless skills as these!!!!!!!!!

(This might make you laugh. They all wore their school uniforms including collars and ties!!!!ha! ha


Wednesday, 19 March 2014


Apparently Shakespeare, in the guise of Romeo and Juliet, sells chocolate bars. I saw this advertising hoarding on Raynes Park Station, near Wimbledon,the other day.

Here is Jane's effort!!! What do you think?

Chapter 1
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a sweet tooth, must be in want of a delicious bar of Cadburys Milk Chocolate.
However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth of his chocolate cravings are so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered immediately, the rightful property of someone or other of their village sweet shops.
"My dear Mr. Bennet," said his lady to him one day, between her sucking a crunchie bar and swooning over a chocolate flake "have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?"
Mr. Bennet replied that he had not.
"But it is," returned she; "for Mrs. Long has seen crate loads of chocolate bars being delivered already, and every one with wrappers advertising, offers. She told me all about it."
Mr. Bennet made no answer.
"Do you not want to know who is going to provide these inviting special offers with every chocolate bar?" cried his wife impatiently.
"You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it."
This was invitation enough.
"Why, my dear, you must know, Mrs. Long says that Netherfield is taken by a young man with vast boxes of Cadburys Milk Tray from the north of England; that he came down on Monday in a chaise and four to see the place, and was so gorging himself on a chocolate bar,   at the time, that he agreed with Mr. Morris immediately; that he is to take possession before Michaelmas, and more of his chocolate bars, in wrappers advertising the said free offers of e-books and Kindles and all kind of wonderful temptations will be  in the house by the end of next week."
"What is his name and how do I get hold of some of his chocolate with the free offers?"
"Bingley," and you must use your pinz nez to read the small print on his, "Mars."

Thursday, 6 March 2014

ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING ( born 208 years ago today)

Elizabeth-Barrett-Browning, Poetical Works Volume I, engraving.png

Born: March 6th 1806 - Died: June 29th 1861 

                        How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
                                    by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)
                                     How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
                                            I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
                                       My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
                               For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
                          I love thee to the level of everyday's
                                    Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
                                    I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
                                        I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
                             I love thee with a passion put to use
                                              In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
                                   I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
                                                    With my lost saints, --- I love thee with the breath,
                                                       Smiles, tears, of all my life! --- and, if God choose,
                                  I shall but love thee better after death.

Saturday, 22 February 2014


Part of a painting in The Tudor House Museum in Bugle Street. It shows the Marquis of Landsdownes house next to Castle Square. The house Jane lived in is just before it.

We can refocus our view of Jane Austen's life and her novels  by seeing it through the prism of her stay in the maritime port of Southampton. It is so easy to ignore or pass by Jane's Southampton experiences but they were an integral part of her life.

In 1782, Jane, at the age of seven, was sent to Mrs Crawley’s school in Oxford, with her sister Cassandra and her cousin, Jane Cooper. However a measles epidemic occurred in Oxford in 1783. Mrs Crawley removed her school swiftly to Southampton. Measles could be a killer in the  18th and 19th centurys and removing her charges was the best thing Mrs Crawley could do. Jane was in Southampton only a short while before an infectious fever rampaged through Southampton, brought to the town by troops arriving from foreign fields. The three girls became very ill and although Mrs Crawley, for some reason, did not want to contact their parents and did not want them to write to their parents, Jane Cooper managed to get a message to her mother who was staying in Bath at the time along with Mrs Austen. The two mothers immediately travelled to Southampton and nursed their children to health before taking them back to Bath. Unfortunately Mrs Cooper caught the fever herself and died. So Jane’s first encounter with Southampton was not an auspicious one.

The medieval entrance into Southampton, The Bargate. The site of the Costa coffee shop is the site of All Saints Church where Jane attended services given by  Dr Mant.

Jane,visited Southampton again in 1793. She was nearly eighteen and arrived in Southampton to visit a cousin from her fathers side of the family from Tonbridge in Kent. Elizabeth Matilde Austen had married a Southampton gentleman with the surname Butler-Harris. He became the Sherriff of the town.They lived in the St Mary's district of Southampton, outside the ancient walls, on the site of the old Saxon town. Jane was asked to help her cousin because she was about to have a baby. While in Southampton Jane went to a ball at The Dolphin Hotel in the High Street to celebrate her 18th birthday.

Her third experience of Southampton followed her time in Bath. In 1801, to the consternation of Cassandra and Jane, their father, George Austen, retired, and left the parish of Steventon, along with the rectory, to his son, James and his wife Mary. Jane was twenty five years old and had imagined she would lead the rest of her life at Steventon. She led a settled existence and had formed her writing habits  in these familiar rural surroundings. Suddenly all this was disrupted and she and Cassandra were removed to Bath for the next five years. George Austen died in 1805, the year of The Battle of Trafalgar and the following year, 1806, Cassandra, Jane, Martha Lloyd and their mother all moved to a house in Castle Square, Southampton. In 1806 Jane’s brother, Francis, married Mary Gibson. He was a naval officer and so had to go away to sea. He wanted his mother and sisters to live with his new wife and keep her company. Portsmouth, where Francis would sail from, was a place for sailors, a rough and colourful place, rife with the dens of iniquity. Southampton, nineteen miles away at the head of Southampton Water, was far more genteel and had been a successful spa town attracting the aristocracy. Jane and her family immersed themselves in the life of Southampton for two years, shopping, attending balls, going to the theatre, attending church services, visiting new acquaintances and receiving and entertaining nephews, nieces, brothers, friends, neighbours and sisters’ in-law. Jane observed many detailed aspects of her life in Southampton in her letters to Cassandra and also to other members of her family.

The Assembly Rooms near castle Square.

Jane Austen and her family moved to Southampton in 1806 and by this date she had already written, Susan, an early version of Northanger Abbey, Elinor and Marianne, an early version of Sense and Sensibility and First Impressions a first version of Pride and Prejudice. Later, after leaving Southampton for Chawton, she was to edit these early versions before publishing them and also to write, Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion in their entirety. Southampton and her experiences there must have influenced her editing and her writing.  Jane Austen wrote about the world she knew and lived in. 

This year, 2014, is the two hundredth anniversary of the publication of Mansfield Park. One of the strands in Mansfield Park, that Jane Austen explores, is the clergy. The clergy feature strongly in Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park and to a greater and lesser extent in all her novels. Her father was a clergyman, James her brother was a clergyman and her brother Henry eventually became one. In many of her letters she mentions the clergymen she knew and this is evident in her letters written from Southampton.
It is interesting to note that while living in Southampton, Jane and Martha Lloyd attended the services officiated by Dr Mant at All Souls Church in the High Street. There were other churches closer to Castle Square. St Michaels Church in St Michaels Square was a short distance from Castle Square and is the oldest church in Southampton, and also there was Holyrood Church, in the High Street. There is no mention of these churches in her letters. It seems that Jane Austen searched out Dr Mant and his sermons, to be challenged by his radical views.

The Greek columned building on the right is All Saints Church where Jane Austen attended services with Martha Lloyd.

Dr Mant was a leading biblical scholar. He was born in Havant in Hampshire in 1745 and died in 1817. He was one clergyman who wrote and delivered his own sermons, unlike Mary Crawford’s suggestion in Mansfield Park, that a sensible clergyman should rely on prepared sermons such as those of Blaire. Dr Mant wrote pamphlets and treatises and caused controversy and debate about,”Regeneration and Conversion.”
In 1770 he had been the headmaster of King Edwards School, then situated in Bugle Street, Southampton. It appears that he was an ambitious clergyman who wanted to make a name for himself. We know he was interested in education and we know he took a very personal interest in his congregation although it can be debated what sort of interest.

Wednesday 18th January 1809 (To Cassandra) Castle Square
 “Martha and Dr Mant are as bad as ever; he runs after her in the street to apologise for having spoken to a gentleman while she was near him the day before.-Poor Mrs Mant can stand it no longer; she is retired to one of her married Daughters.- “

Tuesday 24th January 1809 (Castle Square)
(referring to Martha’s ongoing relationship with Dr Mant)
“As Dr M is a clergyman their attachment however immoral it is, has a decorous air…!”

Mrs Mant was born Elizabeth Roe in Lambeth. Lambeth is the borough that Lambeth Palace, the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the leading Church of England cleric, is situated. We can conjecture she was the daughter of a high ranking cleric herself. Unfortunately It appears that her husband, Dr Mant, was a flirt and that Martha Lloyd was besotted with him.

In Mansfield Park there is  a detailed discussion about the clergy. Edmund Bertram, the second son of Sir Thomas Bertram, has two parishes lined up for him to provide his living, when the time is ready. On the visit to Mr Rushworths estate, Sotherton, while visiting the family chapel, Julia Bertram expresses the idea that Edmund could perform the marriage of Maria to Mr Rushworth then and there, if only he had already taken orders. Miss Crawford, who knew nothing of Edmunds future ordination, exclaims,

“Ordained!” said Miss Crawford; “what are you to be a clergy-man?”
“Yes, I shall take orders soon after my father’s return- probably at Christmas.”

Miss Crawford has to struggle to conceal her feelings, “rallying her spirits, and recovering her complexion.”Mary Crawford is obviously taken aback and we can sense her negative view of Edmund becoming a clergyman from her tone. Later she brings up the topic again. They are walking on the terrace and Miss Crawford finding the weather hot requests that they all  go for a walk in the cool shade of the ,”wilderness.” Once in the wilderness Miss Crawford returns to the subject of ordination again.
“So you are to be a clergyman, Mr Bertram. This is rather a surprise to me.”

Castle Square today showing the Bosuns Locker, the site of Jane's house.

The idea that Edmund, who she had set out to capture as a husband, should be a clergyman had not occurred to her. A debate about the clergy continues between them. Mary Bertram argues that the youngest son in a family usually takes holy orders. The second son, in her understanding traditionally inherits from a wealthy grandfather. Edmund makes it clear that he has chosen this course. Maria Carwford  finds this difficult to understand. She thinks it a rarity that anybody should choose to be a clergyman.

”For what is to be done in the church?”…….. “A clergyman is nothing.” She argues.
“”But I cannot call that situation nothing which has the charge of all that is of the first importance to mankind individually or collectively considered,” answers Edmund.
“One does not see much of this influence and importance in society, and how can it be acquired where they are so seldom seen themselves? How can two sermons a week, even supposing them worth hearing, supposing the preacher to have the sense to prefer Blair’s to his own? Do all that you speak of? Govern the conduct and fashion the manners of a large congregation for the rest of the week? One scarcely sees a clergyman out of his pulpit.”

Fanny, of course hearing this, admires Edmund all the more.

”There,” cried Miss Crawford, “you have quite convinced Miss Price already.”

“I wish I could convince Miss Crawford too.”
“I do not think you ever will,” said she with an arch smile.

There are two other clergymen in the novel. Mr Norris, who is only spoken of but never makes an appearance, is the husband of Mrs Norris the officious, self-centred sister of lady Bertram. He dies early in the novel. He had the holding of the parish of Mansfield from his friend Sir Thomas. His greatest achievement in the novel apparently being his death. Mrs Norris recovers remarkably quickly after his death and gets on with being a busy body.  Then there is Dr Grant who takes over the parish after Mr Norris’s demise. He is the uncle to Mary and Henry Crawford. An amicable gentleman. Through the words of Mrs Norris we hear that the Grants buy expensive food and eat lavishly. These two clergymen sound like two ineffectual men who became clergyman to provide a living and no more. I am sure there were many of those sort in parishes in Hampshire. Jane must have known some.
Jane takes us to the heart of the drama of being a clergyman, either real clergymen in her letters or fictitious ones in her novels. The clergymen in the novels always add an important element to the plots and the clergymen in real life add spice and intrigue to Jane’s everyday life.

Jane s letters from Castle Square also provide some detailed insights into what a ball was like and the politics and manoeuvrings that a ball entailed
Friday 9th December 1808 Castle Square to Cassandra
“Our ball was rather more amusing than I expected, Martha liked it very much, and I did not gape till the last quarter of an hour.-It was past nine before we were sent for, and not twelve when we returned.-The room was tolerably full, and there were perhaps thirty couples of dancers;- the melancholy part was to see so many dozen young Women standing by without partners, and each of them with two ugly naked shoulders!-It was the same room we danced fifteen years ago!-I thought it all over-and in spite of the shame of being so much older, felt with thankfulness, that I was quite as happy now as then.-We paid an additional shilling for our Tea, which we took as we chose in an adjoining room.- There were only four dances, and it went to my heart that the Miss Lances, (one of them too named Emma) should have partners only for two.-You will not expect to hear that I was asked to dance- but I was- by the gentleman we met that Sunday with captain D’auvergene. We have always kept up a Bowing acquaintance since, and being pleased with his black eyes, I spoke to him at the ball, which brought me to this civility; but I do not know his name, and he seems so little at home with the English Language that I believe his black eyes may be the best of him. Captain D’auvergne has got a ship.”

Nelson's Flagship, The Victory at Portsmouth.

It appears that Jane was feeling her age at this ball. She is sanguine about the whole affair and obviously made the best of it. She even appears to have enjoyed herself. It, “was rather more amusing,” than she expected. “I did not gape,” presumably meaning that she did not yawn. The ball began at nine in the evening and went on past midnight. She was concerned for the women with no partners.  Women need partners, in more ways than one. It is interesting to find that young ladies in their quest to keep up with fashion will make some unsuitable dress decisions. Some fashions do not compliment all body shapes. “The two ugly shoulders,” reference points to a fashion issue. These women should not have showen off their shoulders. They appear to be keeping up with fashion no matter how painful the consequences.

In her letter, Jane is reporting to Cassandra, in quite some detail, the goings on at the Dolphin ball. Who was there, who was not; how people interacted and her sensations and feelings about the ball. We have the preparation for the ball, the ball itself and the post ball analysis.

All these elements too are in Jane’s description of the ball at Netherton in Pride and Prejudice and also the ball at Highbury, in Emma. In fact the ball at Highbury is held in an inn just as the Dolphin ball is. We can see some similarities and connections between the two locations. There is even a fireplace at the end of the ballroom in the Dolphin as there is a fireplace in the ballroom in Highbury. Similar themes and actions occur;expectations, anticipation of happiness, disappointments, unexpected occurrences, absences and surprise attendances, character analysis, detailed observations,  facial expressions, the tone of voices and eavesdropping on conversations and all the rules and formalities of a ball. Jane’s letter from Southampton and the two fictitious balls are closely connected in many ways.

The Dolphin Hotel, Southampton.

For Elizabeth, the Netherton Ball, certainly was not the smooth, elegant, enjoyable occasion she had probably hoped for.
“Elizabeth blushed and blushed again with shame and vexation.”
Hearing her sister Mary  sing and then sing again, her mother talking in an  audible whisper about the expectations she had for her daughters, Jane with Mr Bingley and Elizabeth with Mr Collins. All the while Elizabeth was acutely aware that Darcy was overhearing her mothers speach. This caused Elizabeth agonies of embarrassment. Perhaps the displaying of “two ugly shoulders,” is not on a par with what Elizabeth suffered but the element of suffering and embarrassment is there.

At the Highbury Ball in Emma, Miss Bates, who continually talks, keeping up what might seem a stream of ineffectual banter, is one of the most irritating of characters. She  is comical in some ways as well as irritating but she has a very important role to play for the reader if not the characters in the story. Jane Austen, in her letters to Cassandra about the Dolphin Balls is playing, in a much more subdued way, the part of Miss Bates. Jane and Miss Bates tell us the details, things we would never find out otherwise. Miss Bates enters the ball and,

“every body’s words, were soon lost under the incessant flow of Miss Bates, who came in talking….”

She constantly verbalises her feelings, her thoughts and what she sees about her. It is a fractured, flitting sort of speech. In one way she is a clown, a comic character but she has her serious side. We  learn a lot of the finer details about the event.  Miss Bates is anxious to recall the food that is set out so she can report back to her mother, soup , asparagus, baked apples and biscuits and a delicate fricassee of sweetbread.  We know Mrs Elton wore lace and the room was filled with candles and she virtually lists the names of everybody there in one virtuoso piece of constant talking.

While in Southampton, the Austens got to know a family called the Lances. Jane attended balls with Mrs Lance and her daughters and visited Mrs Lance at her grand house overlooking the valley in which the Portsmouth Road wends its way from Southampton across Northam Bridge. All the social niceties, manners and rules of politeness are as much in  evidence in Jane’s letters as they are in her novels. Her visits to Mrs Lance could almost be scenes from her novels.

The Lances House at Bitterne.

Thursday 8th January 1807 to Cassandra.

”to the Berties are to be added the Lances, with whose cards we have been endowed, and whose visit Frank and I returned yesterday. They live about a mile and three quarters from S. to the right of the new road to  Portsmouth, and I believe their house is one of those which are to be seen almost anywhere among the woods on the other side of the Itchen. It is a handsome building, stands high, and in a very beautiful situation. We found only Mrs Lance at home, and whether she boasts any offspring besides a grand pianoforte did not appear. She was civil and chatty enough, and offered to introduce us to some acquaintance in Southampton.”

 At a later date Jane visited the Lances with Martha Lloyd.

Friday 9th December 1808 to Cassandra.

“Martha and I made use of the very favourable state of yesterday for walking to Chiswell- we found Mrs Lance at home and alone, and sat out three other ladies who soon came in.- We went by the ferry and returned by the bridge, and were scarcely at all fatigued.”

The same rules of etiquette apply whether Mr Knightley is visiting Emma and Mr Woodhouse in Highbury or Darcy is visiting the Bennetts or the Bertrams are visiting Mr and Mrs Grant in Mansfield Park. The same tensions, politeness’s and finally the analysis and reaction and thoughts about the people visited.

Northam Bridge taking the Portsmouth Road over the River Itchen.

Any group wanting to visit the England of Jane Austen would do very well if they based themselves in Southampton. The Dolphin Hotel, where those balls were attended, is a Georgian building and a four star hotel.
From The Dolphin Hotel a walk around Southampton might include, Castle Square and a pub lunch in The Juniper Berry (Bosuns Locker), on the site of Jane's Southampton home. Other sites mentioned in her letters are the theatre, the site of All Saints Church in the High Street and the location of the beach where the Austens ice skated in the winter. A short drive takes you to the site of the Lances estate at “Chiswell,” now known as Chessel, which is part of Bitterne, a suburb of Southampton. The gate house and the two pillars marking the entrance to the Lance estate are still remaining. Two roads are named after the Lances, Lances Hill and Little Lances Hill. A short trip outside of Southampton to the beautiful setting of the  ancient ruins of Netley Abbey would be an ideal spot for a picnic. Jane and her family had picnics at Netley. Near The Dolphin is Southampton pier where the ferry goes to the Isle of Wight. The Austens often took boat trips to the Island. You can visit Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s Summer residence near Cowes on the island.
Southampton is within short drives of Winchester, Chawton, Steventon and Porstmouth with its Historic dockyard which features Nelsons flag ship, The Victory. Bath and Lyme are each a day trip away. London can be reached within an hour on the main line train from Southampton Central Station.

Jane's grave in Winchester Cathedral.

Southampton has many other attractions. There are numerous Titanic memorials and buildings connected with the White Star Line and places people, who journeyed on the Titanic, visited. An elegant Victorian pub called The Bunch of Grapes near the docks is where many of the boiler men drank before boarding the Titanic. South Western House was the grand railway hotel many of the wealthy, including the aristocracy, stayed the night before going on board the Titanic. You can stand outside the building in Canute Road that was formerly  the White Star offices. It was here that crowds gathered to receive news of their family members.

Netley Abbey, south transept.

Southampton itself is an ancient city going back to Roman times. It has  impressive medieval walls and a  medieval gateway called, The Bargate, leading into the High Street. There is also a memorial to The Mayflower. Some Southampton people went on-board the Mayflower to America and were amongst the founding fathers. In Shakespeare’s Henry V, before Henry’s army departs for France, two traitors are tried and hung in Southampton. This was a real historical event. The court room still exists where they were tried. It is a lovely timber frame pub called The Red Lion. It is within thirty or fourty metres of The Dolphin Hotel.
The city has close relations with America. It was the main port for the trans-Atlantic liners, The Queen Mary and The Queen Elizabeth and it still hosts the largest cruise ships in the world. More than two million American troops passed through Southampton and the docks on their way to help liberate Europe after D Day.

 Southampton has some wonderful museums including The Maritime Museum, Tudor House Museum, which relates the history of Southampton, Southampton Art Gallery and Gods House Tower, situated in one of the ancient gateways into Southampton.It is an archaeological museum with artefacts going back to neolithic times. It has an extensive collection of Roman artefacts.

The Tudor House Museum, Southampton.

Monday, 6 January 2014


The Somerset countryside seen from the top of Glastonbury Tor. Dairy farming is prevalent.

Cheddar Cheese is one of those staples on the shopping list of nearly every household, not just here in Britain but in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the USA; the English speaking countries and probably far beyond. It is made throughout the world. There are a variety of Cheddar Cheeses in my local supermarket. I can buy, Cathedral City, Cave Aged Cheddar, Davidstow Cornish Mature Cheddar, Taw Valley, Maryland Farmhouse Vintage Cheddar, Pilgrims Choice Mature Cheddar, Seriously Strong Cheddar White, Canadian Vintage Cheddar, Mature British Cheddar and also a variety of medium and mild strength versions of these. Other supermarkets have some other varieties.
 Cheddar Cheese can be used in a cheddar bake with grated cheddar cheese melted into a dish of pasta. “Welsh Rare Bit,” which is sometimes called cheese on toast is very popular. A glass of wine to go with Cheddar adds to the pleasurable sensory experience. Cheddar Cheese is connected with caves and witches, subterfuge and fraud, travel and adventure and of course with the county of Somerset and the village of Cheddar where it all began.

In 1714 Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe, went on a tour of Britain and wrote about his adventures describing the places he visited in a book called,

Defoes journey through the British Isles.

It was printed in 1715 by W. Mears at the Lamb, just outside of Temple Bar, one of the gateways into the City of London. It was sold at The Lamb and also by J. Stagg in Westminster Hall, G. Strachan in Cornhill and R. Franklin under Tom’s Coffee House in Covent Garden and also by S. Chapman and J. Jackson in Pall Mall. It must have had a wide readership. Those places mentioned were where the writers and businessmen, bankers, politicians and aristocracy  lived and met. It obviously reached those in power and those with influence. Cheddar Cheese has a prominent place in Defoe’s description of Somerset. He clearly describes how it fits into the nation’s economy.
“.. every county furnishes something for the supply of London, and no county in England
(Somerset) furnishes more effectual provisions, nor, in proportion, a greater value than this. These supplies are in three articles.
1 Fat Oxen as large and good as any in England.
2. Large Cheddar Cheese, the greatest and best of the kind in England.
3. Colts bread in numbers in the moors……..”
Daniel Defoe’s book would have been useful to politicians, bankers and businessmen. He is describing the wealth and industry of the country. He is taking on the role of  an economic and political observer.

A cave under the Mendips. This one is called Wookey Hole.

Defoe  describes the surrounding countryside and  Cheddar Cheese within that context.  Its value to the manufacturer and the consumer and hence its value to the country. It is worth reading what he wrote. It is easy flowing prose with an important message for his time. He provides a feel for  a place. He is clear and succinct in his descriptions.
“In the low country, on the other side of the Mendip Hills lies Chedder, a village pleasantly situated under the very ridge of the mountains; before the village is a large green, or common, a piece of ground, in which the whole herd of cows, belonging to the town, do feed; the ground is exceeding rich, and as the whole village are cow keepers, they take care to keep up the good ness of the soil, by agreeing to lay on large quantities of dung for manuring and inriching the land.
The milke of the town cows, is brought together every day into a common room, where the persons appointed, or trusted for the management, measure every mans quantity and set it down in a book, when the quantities are adjusted, the milk is all put together and every meal’s makes one cheese, and no more so the cheese is bigger or less as the cows yield more milk, or less milk. By this method, the goodness of the cheese is preserved, and, without all dispute, it is the best cheese that England affords, if not, that the whole world affords.
As the cheeses are by this means very large for they often weigh a Hundred weight, sometimes much more, so the poor inhabitants, who have but few cows, are obliged to stay the longer for the return of their milk; for no man has any such return ‘till his share come to a whole cheese, and then he has it; and if the quantity of his milk delivered in, come s to above a cheese the overplus rests in account to his credit, ‘till another cheese come s to his share; and thus every man has equal justice, and though he should have but one cow, he shall, in time, have one whole cheese. This cheese is often sold for six pence to eight pence per pound, when the Cheshire cheese is sold but for two pence to two pence halfpenny. Here is a deep, frightful chasm in the mountains, in the hollow of which, the road goes, by which they travel towards Bristol.”

The road is still there, winding through the, “deep, frightful chasm.” I drove through Cheddar Gorge last summer on the way to Wells and Bath. And we stopped to explore some of the caves dripping with stalagmites and stalactites and we actually saw some large barrel like cheeses in some of the caves maturing.
Cheddar is still made in Cheddar and the fields in the surrounding countryside still have dairy cattle grazing in them. Their milk is used to make the local Cheddar Cheeses.

The side of Cheddar Gorge in Somerset. Limestone cliffs.

Cheddar Cheese is first recorded as being made in the town of Cheddar in the 12 th century.The cheese was named after the town. Cheddar is situated on the edge of The Mendip Hills which are mostly formed from limestone rocks. Cave formations have been formed from the action of springs and rainfall creating underground streams and rivers through the limestone. These underground passages and caves have a constant temperature and humidity that helps with the maturing of a good cheeses. Cheeses are stored in these caves for this reason.
Cheddar Cheese is first mentioned in The Pipe Rolls of 1170. Pipe Rolls were a series of financial records kept by the treasury from the 12th century right up to 1833. They got their name, Pipe Rolls, because the paper or parchments they were written on were rolled up into tubes and stacked on shelves in this pipe like form. In 1170 the pipe rolls record that Henry II (1154-1189) purchased 10,240 pounds (4.6 tonnes) of cheddar cheese costing a farthing per pound. Prince John, his son, who became king in 1199 , kept up this cheese tradition. He bought Cheddar Cheese for royal banquets.
The rolls during Charles I (1625 – 1649) reign, show that he bought Cheddar Cheeses even before they were made and gathered up all the available stocks. Cheddar Cheese it appears was only available at court during the Stuart period. ( Another excuse for a Civil War, perhaps.)

An example of a pipe roll.

Cheddar Cheese today is made all over the world. However the European Parliament has passed a law and given certain local versions of Cheddar Cheese , Protected Designation of Origin. Certain Cheddars can only be called “West Country Farmhouse Cheddar,” by law. There are only fourteen farmhouses in the West Country of England that are allowed to make this unique form of Cheddar. To qualify, the farmhouses making, “West Country Farmhouse Cheddar,” must be located in Devon, Cornwall, Dorset or Somerset. They can only use milk from local cows and dairies and they must use the traditional methods to make the cheese. The minimum age for a cheese must be nine months. This makes it a mature cheese. Cheeses made elsewhere make mild and medium cheeses which take from three months for mild to six months for a medium cheddar. Extra Mature takes about fifteen months and Vintage takes eighteen months or more to mature.
Some of the farmhouse cheese makers use unpasteurised milk which tends to have rather more complex and stronger flavours. Others use pasteurised milk. Cheddar Cheese flavours vary also depending on the time of the year they are made and also it depends on the diet of the cows.
A river going underground in The Mendips.

Some of the creamery or industrially made cheddars around the world are increasingly being sold at older and older ages because peoples tastes are developing.
Cheddar Cheese is unique, not only for its maturing process in caves but also because of a special cheese making process called, “cheddaring,” named after the cheese. Once made the cheeses are turned on a regular basis which allows the curd to be turned. They are also piled on top of each other which helps drain the whey. This process also stretches the curd which creates a hard firm cheese. As Cheddar matures its taste develops from creamy to more and more complex and sometimes nutty flavours which linger after eating.
Cheddar Cheeses maturing in limestone caves beneath Cheddar Gorge.

Apparently there was a controversy over the quality of cheese making in the 17th century. There may have been what we might term, fraud, going on. The University of Vermont has a cheese specialist. Yes, I will leave you to consider that academic headline for a moment or two….. right…. lets continue. Paul Kindstedt, cheese expert of The University of Vermont says that in the 17th century many English cheese makers realized that if they skimmed the cream off the milk before making the cheese they could make butter with the cream and add to their income and profits. However by skimming the cream off the milk before making the cheese the colour of the cheese was lost. They tried to trick their customers by adding colouring such as saffron, marigold and carrot juices. This returned the colour to the cheeses. They had in fact invented a low fat version of their cheeses which nowadays would sell perfectly well as a low fat cheese. But they didn’t know that then. The devious scoundrels.

As part of my research into Cheddar I thought I should eat some. The cheese I have in front of me at this moment comes from my local ASDA supermarket. Many people will immediately react to that and think, well, not a promising start. I should imagine a few critics will say, that can’t be very good then. The packet label says, “EXTRA MATURE, Strong and Punchy, English Cheddar.”( love the use of the word, punchy, by the way. Somebody must have thought hard and long.) It is actually quite a pleasant sensory experience. It is has a pale creamy colour. It is dry and crumbly. It has quite a strong tangy smell. The taste is creamy with some strong tangy overtones. There are some sharp flavoured crystals within the chees which give some pleasant explosions of flavour and the taste is lasting, yes, for quite some time, while I continue to type this. I am not sure what my wife paid for it but it is markedly better than some supposedly strong cheddars I have bought in other supermarkets. Yes, not a bad experience at all. I will be eating more of that.