Wednesday, 13 May 2020

EDUCATING THE EAST END a Channel 4 series

Mr Bispham in the first episode of EDUCATING THE EAST END at," Frederick Bremer School," in Walthamstow.

Among the myriad of ,”real life,” documentary drama series such as ,”Made In Chelsea,” “Made in Essex,” “Footballers Wives,” and other semi glamorous life portrayals, are a set of documentary dramas that are a sub-genre within this set of ,”real lives.” It concerns schools. “Educating The East End,” an eight part series of programmes follows  a head teacher, the teachers, the pupils,  lessons and  staff meetings that take place at the, Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow.
The focus of the first episode, are the trials and tribulations of Mr Bispham, a trainee teacher learning his craft on the ,Schools Direct programme. Schools Direct is one approach to becoming a qualified teacher. The school  pays you a salary on an unqualified teacher rate while you are supported in learning classroom skills. You previously have had to work for at least two years in another career and also have a good degree.  Schools Direct has some advantages over the usual one year PGCE route. More time is spent in the classroom and you are attached to just one school. There is some time allocated to University lectures where the theories of child psychology, child development and the philosophy of education are taught. At the time this programme was made Mr Bispham is the youngest member of staff in the school. He has been put in, at the proverbial,” deep end,” teaching English to a boisterous year 9 class.

We see Mr Bispham first of all waiting in a classroom as a rowdy group of 14 year old, year 9 pupils enter.He thinks of the girls in this class as ,”a force of nature.” He calls each pupil by their name and talks to each one asking them something about themselves. Later he tells the interviewer, out of the hearing of the children, that teaching is 50% ,”stand up,”and 50% motivational speaking. With a lot of ,”banter,”it takes a few minutes for him to get all of the class attending to him and one girl, Tawney, will not stop talking. Tawny, with a pierced tongue  and a big attitude, wants to be an actress and has applied to. “The Brit School.” She is certainly good at,” playing up,” in lessons. Mr Bispham is straining every fibre, alert to every incident and comment and interaction going on in the class. He contends with little arguments amongst some, cheeky comments about his name and his ethnicity, all challenges to his authority. He gets the class to focus on a line in Shakespeare’s, ”Much Ado About Nothing.” On the interactive whiteboard is a speech between,  Claudio and Leonato “ Give not this rotten orange to your friend/ She’s not the sign and semblance of her honour.” The class discusses the meaning of any words they are unfamiliar with and then discuss attitudes to women.  Those ,”strong,” girls in the class are engaged with the topic. It means something to them. After the lesson Mr Bispham leans against the door frame at the entrance to his classroom. He sighs and looks at the ceiling. Everything has been drained from him. He is exhausted.

I often stood at the back of the school hall, on  Friday afternoons, during the end of week assembly, leaning against the wall for support, looking and feeling just like Mr Bispham. I stood there, my face drained, the life sucked out of me. You need to be self reflective,  what can I do next? how do I get them to learn? how do I get them to progress? how can I do that better?  Mr Bispham would agree. I remember feeling every nerve in my body and  like Mr Bispham there were moments when I dug deep for strength and I too wondered if teaching was for me.  I watched Mr Bispham adapting, there, on the screen.

The look of worry and concern etched on Mr Bispham’s face in the corridor after Jenny Bishop , the head, informs him his end of year assessment is due, was my face too sometimes. She gave him a date for the observation. You could see he was anguishing over what she would think of him teaching that year 9 class. She asked if it was convenient. He said ,"of course," and made some comment about the class being difficult. But the head knew that. It was very interesting to watch Mr Bispham go from the despair he must have felt before the lesson to elation after his observation. He was given a GOOD assessment.  Jenny Bishop is evidently a perceptive, warm, strong person, (a great description of a good head). The deputy head praised him too and agreed with the GOOD assessment of his progress and his developing skills. An onlooker, somebody who does not work with children, might not have understood.

Mr Bispham was honest and straightforward. He joked  and the pupils in the class knew he cared about them no matter how awful they behaved. In his observation lesson he was well prepared. He had a focus and clear aim. He had his materials and resources ready, He had a child centred approach taking into account the needs of various pupils. He planned his lesson to fit their intellectual needs. He got them   working in twos, providing them with questions and tasks which challenged them. They were engaged and he questioned them bringing out their thinking processes. They were chatty and lippy and he confronted them with any unacceptable behaviour, pointing out what they were doing, the affect they had on others and the effect they had on himself and he demonstrated what they should do. These are good teaching skills and behaviour management.

The interviewer asked the children about Mr Bispham. They all said he was a great teacher. They liked him and  they all said that they  wanted to do their best for him in the observation lesson and not let him down. He had their trust because he believed in them and so they believed in him. Good teachers give their heart and soul to the kids they teach.

He deserved his, GOOD, assessment. He earned it with more than what can be described as hard work. We watched him lay himself on the line for that class.

This series is something we should all watch. It can’t show every aspect of a lesson and the teaching process, but it begins to delve deeper than most people would normally be able to experience. This series of programmes show us what heroes teachers are and what self-sacrifice  and talent and hard work they  put in. One thought that went through my mind was, what would a teacher from, Harrow, the great public school just 18miles west of Walthamstow, think about Frederick Bremer School and Mr Bispham? How would they teach year 9? Jenny Bishop, is asked at one point why she wanted to be the head of Frederick Bremer. She smiled and said she wanted the challenge and the opportunity to make her mark on children and a community that needed the best. She was fully aware of the,” mountain,” she had to climb. She is a very brave, courageous and hopeful person with a vision and she knows how she wants to achieve it. If she keeps finding the good in Mr Bispham and praising him ,Mr Bispham , will do very well.

Channel 4

Wednesday, 22 April 2020


Making my next cup of coffee.

My mother is 95 years old.  Mum remembers her youth and childhood more than she does  yesterday or today. One subject I  talk to her about  is her teenage years, which of course she lived through during the second world war. If the discussion turns to the recent queues at supermarkets and the shortage of toilet paper and the empty shelves that occurred at the onset of this pandemic my mother invariably says, “ we were better off when we had rationing.” I invariably say, “why mum?” And then she relates how she always had enough to eat and that her diet was varied and balanced which kept her fit and healthy. Then I ponder the idea of, “just what I need and no more,” and feel guilty. Of course , in “The War,” they were repelling bombs and armies which they could actually see.They could create defence systems which could work sometimes. 

The ,Coronovirus is something we cannot see and have no defence for. I have been Googling information about it. The virus is made up of unimaginably tiny spherical cells that have a corona of hammer headed spikes surrounding it which can attach them selves, like super glue, to  cells in our lungs.  This virus enters our lungs and respiratory system through fine vapour caused by coughs and sneezes and the exhalation of breath from  somebody infected. What can we do? Wash our hands, (soap removes the waxy surface of the corona cell and destroys it)  stay at a distance from people and stay home. That’s the advice.

So how are you spending your days?

This ,”staying at home,” has given me the opportunity to indulge in reading novels even more. I read sitting under a sun shade on the patio, lying on my bed at night, lieing prostrate on a sofa in the living room, lieing prostrate on a sofa in our kitchen, sitting at the dining room table. Reading takes you places. I have turned to Charles Dickens in this time of plight. Nicholas Nickleby is a chunky novel. My Penguin version is 777 pages. I am just over 600 pages in and slowly making my way through it. I am a slow reader.  In some ways Nicholas Nickleby reminds me of The Lord of The Rings. The powers of evil ranged against the powers of good. A bit like the coronavirus pandemic, I suppose. Chapter 41, by the way, is the weirdest few paragraphs I have ever read. I got to the end of that chapter and just mumbled to myself, “that’s weird, that’s weird.” Chapter 41 haunts me. Well we need to have something to take our minds off things. Dickens is always quirky to say the least and his powerful imagery is an antidote for our times.

I am a running addict; always have, always will, as long as arthritis doesn’t get to me. The weather has been brilliant. Most days have been sunny. I start my day by taking the pills. Who is not on statins at our age? I eat a piece of toast and thick cut marmalade. Once I have had a chance to walk about a bit, my leg muscles loosen up and I feel up for a good jog. I  walk to my local park, The Sir Joseph Hood Playing Fields, every morning. I then proceed to run four laps of the park. I was getting a little bored with that so I started adding a lap of the local cemetery, which doubles up as a nature reserve, until they padlocked the gates. Why? I enjoyed jogging past gravestones and reading people’s names and wondering about them.So I have invented creative ways of running round the park. I do an OXO route some days. OK that is running round the perimeter, that makes the, O. Then I cross the park diagonally and run across the top of the park ending this lap by then running across the other diagonal. That makes the  X. Finally, I run one more lap around the perimeter. That’s the second O. I have also mixed it up a bit doing an XOX and an XXO. Life is interesting.

 I often see the same people each day in the park, dad’s with sons and daughters having a kick about, couples walking, single joggers, cyclists and those who like to meditate cross legged in the middle of the field.  One family were walking towards me and their dog ran at me barking excitedly. Apparently the dog was attracted to the large red tongue on my Rolling Stones tee shirt. A mother who scoots   round the park followed by her young son and daughter also on scooters, has taken to saying ,"hello," to me. I have no idea who they are.

My hair  has almost turned entirely white. I am thinning out on top but , on the whole, I still have a reasonable head of hair and to say the obvious it grows. Recently I was thinking, and Marilyn, Emily and Abigail were telling me, that my hair needed a cut. Kamis, my local hairdressers in Motspur Park is closed. As far as I know all hairdressers are closed. I started looking online to see if I could buy some electric hair clippers. Emily was keen to have a go at my head.Many of the clippers Amazon sell are suddenly out of stock. My hairdressing plans were obviously not a unique idea.  I eventually bought some from Argos. I drove over to Argos in South Wimbledon after I received  an email from them telling me they were ready for collection. The queue was long. I stood within my two meter zone of course wearing my plastic gloves and white face mask sounding like Darth Vador every time I breathed. It took me twenty minutes to get into the shop, located in the Sainsburys Store, one minute to pick up the hair clippers  and a further ten minutes to queue to get out of the shop. Emily indeed, enthusiastically cut  my hair off, using a number 4 height level. Not as drastic as it sounds.  The hair cutting made a mess all over the kitchen floor. I was convinced my hair wasn’t evenly cut and my immediate reaction was never to meet anybody for the next month. Oh, that was already organised of course. Since washing my hair I have decided it looks fine.  The clippers cost £30. A haircut at Kamis  costs £10. Two more cuts and I will have broken even. With practice, Emily might get really good at it and I might never have to go to a hairdresser again. So, I have had a,”lockdown haircut,” and I am proud.

Until I have been kept indoors by  this pandemic, I had never heard of ,”ZOOM.” The onomatopoeic  word of course but not the conferencing site ZOOM. Up to 100 people  at a time, can appear on the screen and  talk to each other. It would be mayhem of course if that really happened. Some sort of rules have to be agreed on first. I have taken part in four ZOOM meetings so far and I must say they have been amazing. Not as good as being with people in the flesh but almost. The first two ZOOM meetings I attended were with people I used to go to school with, from over fifty years ago. A reunion no less.Of course some of them are friends I see nowadays  but the connecting factor between us were those distant school years.I have had a meeting with two other fellow Janeites who live in Virginia in the US.  I have also attended a ZOOM  talk about Jane Austen’s life in Southampton given by Dr Carol Butler a historian and academic. October Books, an independent bookshop in Portswood Southampton, organised and advertised the talk.. Seventy people attended this ZOOM meeting. We had to mute our microphones and only post questions by writing them in a text box at the bottom of the screen. It worked really well. There were people from European countries and many from the US too. The only thing you have to coordinate are the world time differences but everybody can easily work that out for themselves. Just as long as the meeting is not arranged for the middle of somebodies night.

So, what other changes have been happening to me and mine? Every Thursday evening at 8pm Marilyn and I have walked out of our front door and with all our neighbours clapped and cheered for the National Health Service and all the  key workers who underpin our lives and keep us going. Most importantly there is the process of buying food. Emily, one of my daughter’s volunteers for that. She stands in a long queue outside of our local TESCO once a week, keeping her social distancing and wearing a mask. I have begun to notice the   sounds of birds in the morning. There are no cars about. I have painted our garden fence, demolished an old shed, cut the grass three times; so far, trimmed hedges and lain down on the lawn looking at an empty blue sky. There are very few planes flying out of Heathrow now. Marilyn and I,” WhatsApped,”  our granddaughter, Emma in Berlin on her first birthday and waved  and chatted to her. Marilyn and I lay awake one night listening to the most awful inhuman screaming coming from the gardens near us at the back of our house. Emily told us, in the morning, that it was foxes mating. Really?

And then, of course, we watch the news everyday on the television.

So what got me writing my Lockdown Diary? I read the following article in The Guardian by Margaret Attwood and was inspired. I need something to fill my time. A bit of self reflection is good for the soul.

Margaret Atwood’s lockdown diary: life as an eccentric self-isolationist

Sunday, 29 March 2020

LEITH HILL WALK with Tony Brown and John Lodge.

The Ordnance Survey Map showing  Leith Hill in Surrey.

Friday 13th March, the Coronavirus is now causing us to “social distance.” We are still wondering what,  ”social distancing,” actually means in practice. Toilet rolls are disappearing like,” hot cakes,” off TESCOS supermarket shelves. Is that a good analogy? The sudden need for toilet rolls is leaving many of us bemused. We are beginning to feel cautious about  meeting people and we have decided that going to the local pub or restaurant is not a good idea at this time. John, Tony and myself still, however, felt confident about driving to, Leith Hill,  within our cars. Walking up steep inclines and along the muddy tracks dissecting dense woodland, didn't bring us into contact with anybody. Boris Johnson and  the chief medical officer for England, have assured us that taking daily exercise in ones and twos is a beneficial thing to do at this time. Very few people were about and those we encountered could easily be kept at a distance.

The way to the top of Leith Hill from Landslip Car Park.

Leith Hill  is the second highest point in the south east of England at 294 metres in height above sea level. It is an SSI site (a site of special scientific interest). The area around the hill supports rare moths, many examples of fungi, all three types of British woodpecker and a large and varied invertebrate community. It is part of the Greensand Ridge which, in turn, is part of the Artois Anticline which covers South East England and Northern France. This geological stratum was laid down in the Cretaceous period 145 to 66 million years ago. Greensand is a sandstone escarpment consisting of ironstone and Bargate Stone, an extremely hard stone.  The sandstone is overlain by chalk and clay deposits. This diverse substratum attracts many species of trees and wild flowers.

Leith Hill Tower on the summit of Leith Hill.

On the summit of Leith Hill is an 18th century tower built in the Gothic style. It was built between 1765 and 1766 by Richard Hill who lived in nearby Leith Hill Place. It was at first called Prospect House, but this later changed to Leith Hill Tower. It is 19.5 meters high. In the 18th century visitors to the tower were provided with, “prospect glasses,” similar to binoculars. Nowadays there is a telescope for visitors to view the scenery. The south coast can be seen from the top on clear days.
Leith Hill Place, seen nearby from the tower was originally owned by Richard Hill who had the tower built. When he died in 1772 he was buried underneath the tower. It fell into ruin after his death. It was later reopened in 1864 by a Mr Evelyn of Wotton House situated to the north of Leith Hill. On the parapet of the tower there is a viewpoint indicator that commemorates Edmund Seyfang Taylor, an early pioneer rambler. Leith Hill Place was later owned, in 1847, by Josiah Wedgewood III and Caroline, his wife. Josiah and Caroline were the grandparents of Vaughn Williams, the composer. Vaughn Williams spent much of his childhood years at the house and later inherited it and eventually left it to The National Trust. There is an exhibition about his life at the house. Caroline Wedgewood was a member of the Darwin family and Charles Darwin often visited Leith Hill Place and conducted experiments in the grounds.

The Ordnance Survey triangulation point at the top of Leith Hill.

At the top of Leith Hill next to the tower is an Ordnance Survey triangulation pillar. It is the position where the 6 inch and 1:2500 Ordnance Survey maps for Surrey originated from.

 Tony and I parked in Landslip Car Park in a wooded area below the summit. John,  parked on the other side of Leith Hill. We arranged to meet next to the tower. When Tony and I arrived at the top there was no sign of John at first. Then we noticed a vigorously waving person calling down to us from the top of the tower. My first thought was of the Monty Python film, The Holy Grail when a French knight in armour shouted insults in a bad French accent at the attacking English force. No insults, in bad French  came our way. We climbed the narrow steep spiral staircase to the top and joined John. The view was breath-taking. It was a  clear day  and we could see to the horizon. Some riders on horseback emerged from woodland near the base of the tower as we looked down.

Horse riders at the base of the tower.

A lady serving tea in the National Trust cafĂ© in the base of the tower assured me that the area of grass just outside the tower was where the recent Jane Austen film adaptation of the Box Hill picnic scene from the novel EMMA was filmed. The 2020 version of Emma, directed by Autumn de Wilde and starring Anya Taylor Joy and Johnny Flynn in the starring roles is worth seeing. It is a version of Emma for today. Some Janeites disapprove of it. The real Box Hill is only a few miles away from Leith Hill on the other side of Dorking. Nowadays it is a great attraction for cyclists, walkers and family picnics, so perhaps it is too busy for filming purposes. The elevation of  Leith Hill and the panoramic views form the top are virtually identical to the height and views from Box Hill. Nobody would know.

The site used for the picnic party on ,"Box Hill," in the latest film adaptation of Jane Austen's novel EMMA. 

From here we  used an Ordnance Survey Explorer map (Dorking, Boxhill and Reigate 1:25000 scale) to work out a route, walking north west to begin with, taking us from the summit of Leith Hill. A group of  scots pines stand majestically at the top of Leith Hill and we started our walk underneath their spreading canopies. Descending the slope of Highashes Hill, to one side of Leith Hill. we made our way down a steep muddy slope through mixed deciduous and coniferous woods. Silver birches, pine, larch, interspersed with a few large oaks constituted the woods.  Walking has a number of advantages. You tend go at a slower pace, especially when the going gets difficult. You have time to look and listen and take in the natural world around you.  We approached High Ashes Farm. The farm house, barns and sheds were grouped in an open space.

High Ashes Farm.

From High Ashes Farm we walked on into woodland again, passing through Burnthouse Copse, Great Foxmore Wood and Rosiers Wood. As we  slid and stumbled along one very muddy path we came across a car, smashed and dented, hidden within the trees and undergrowth. It appeared somebody had driven it there along the muddy track. It had off road tyres and the exhaust pipe was positioned like a mast sticking up above the car bonnet.  We checked nobody was inside. It didn’t look as though it had been their long.

Wrecked and abandoned car in the woods.

Further on we passed Hopedene Farm.  The three of us emerged onto the Horsham Road with a few houses hidden behind tall hedgerows and trees here and there. This was the outskirts of Holmbury St Mary. The village is situated on the sides of a steep ravine cut into the Greensand ridge within the Hurtwood Forest which is reputedly the largest area of common land in Surrey. It is unusual because its geographical location places it in two different borough councils. Most of the village is in the borough of Guildford within the Shere civil parish. The east side of the village street however is within the Mole Valley District within the Abinger civil parish. People in Holmbury St Mary pay their local council taxes to two authorities.

Holmbury St Mary, seen from the churchyard of St Marys.

As we entered the village we were passing St Marys church and decided to look inside. We walked through the graveyard to the church entrance. From here, because the church is situated on the hill side, we got a clear view of the main part of the village and the hills surrounding us. The interior of St Marys is in the gothic style, much copied by the Victorians.  Stained glass windows streamed coloured light into the interior.  A calm, meditative place.

The interior of St Mary's Church Holmbury St Mary.

Originally the village was called Felday.  St Mary’s, was built there in 1879, paid for by George Edmund Street who also built himself a large house in the village called Holmdale. He had the village renamed after Holmbury Hill, which overlooks the village and the name of the church, put together. The village has two styles of architecture, the Woodhouse copse style, an arts and crafts style designed by Oliver Hill in 1926 and Jolwynds, a modernist house, also designed by Oliver Hill in 1926.

An arts and crafts style of house in Holmbury St Mary.

There is a well in the middle of the village where Tony, John and myself took photographs of ourselves posing with the winding mechanism under the oak supported tiled roof shading the well. After asking a passing local the way to the pub we retired to The Royal Oak where we were welcomed by a cheery barmaid. We found a corner table near a window overlooking the front of the pub and settled down. The pub has its own microbrewery and so we ordered the house beer, three pints of,” Felday Special.” Always the sight of fish and chips on the menu is an attractive prospect so we also ordered three fish and chips too. The beer took a while to arrive because the landlord needed to put on a new barrel. After putting the new barrel on tap he came to talk to us and we learned that the fish we were about to eat came fresh from Cornwall every day. He also told us about his beer brewing exploits. The fish and chips were superb. I haven’t eaten such well-made chips in a pub for a long time. The beer went down well too and if we were not moving on I could have stayed and drunk another pint. What we only noticed when we got outside the pub and were walking away was that the receipt I was given for our beer and food was rather cheap. Tony realised, that because we had had to wait for the beer to be served, the barmaid hadn’t charged us for the beer. I for one am going back to the Royal Oak in Holmbury St Mary. How good is that?

The Royal Oak pub.

We made our way through the village looking at some of the  cottages and a small field laid out as allotments where people are growing their own fruit and vegetables. We passed Felday Chapel on the rise of ground to our left, as we walked on. It is a 19th Century Congregational Chapel. The Congregational Churches are independent religious groups that hark back to the Puritan tradition. They are non conformists . This tradition is much simpler and less elaborate than the Church of England services held at St Marys on the other side of the village.

Felday, Congregational chapel.

 The village is reputed to be a template for the Surrey village portrayed in E. M Forster’s ,”A Room With A View.” E. M. Forster was brought up in Abinger Hammer nearby and knew the Surrey Hills well.
 A path took us off to the right in a north easterly direction up a  steep hill. We plodded up this high slope through a wood of tall.slender  larch trees. A young deer hurried through the trees near us and disappeared into another part of the wood. We eventually reached the top of the hill and came out onto a plateau with an area of felled trees and a wide woodland path. We began to lose our position on the map but Tony decided that with the sun in the sky on our right, our final destination, back at Leith Hill Tower was south of us. We carried on eastwards through the woodland covering  the crest of the hill and came across some converted farm buildings. They appeared to be wealthy homes with Range Rovers and Porche sports cars parked in their drives. 

John and Tony walking onward and upwards.

We walked on through ,”Pasture Wood,” and crossed Pasture Wood Road into a lane which we thought took us in the correct direction. In front of us was a magnificent arts and crafts, Mock Tudor, mansion. Manicured sports fields spread out in front of it. Some teenagers were being taught football skills by a sports teacher. We stopped for a moment to work out our route once more.I later found this school on my OS map. It is called Hurtwood House School.
This is a statement on the school website.
“ Hurtwood combines the best elements of the traditional boarding school system with the best elements of the modern sixth form college to create a wholly unique and individual establishment.
While breaking new ground educationally, it has retained traditional values and has created an inspirational but safe stepping-stone between school and university.”
I read on about its educational philosophy and I must admit I was impressed. It’s teaching methods are creative and child centred. It is a fee paying, private school.
The building, Hurtwood House School is based in, has an interesting history. It was built originally for Beatrice Webb and became the centre,between 1947 and 1986, for the, ”Webb memorial Trust for Rethinking Poverty.“ Beatrice Webb  helped her cousin Charles Booth in creating his poverty map of London in the  late 1890s and early 1900s and she contributed new ideas to political and economic thinking. Along with her husband, Sydney Webb and George Bernard Shaw she helped found the London School of Economics. She supported the cooperative societies.

Larch woods.

Tony, John and I walked on uphill now, keeping Leyland Farm and Leylands Road to our left until we branched south and, as we hoped, made our way back up to the summit of Leith Hill. We got back to Leith Hill Tower, rested for a while looking out over the Surrey countryside and then said our farewells. 
Tony and John resting, back at the top of Leith Hill after our walk.

We have another walk planned for when this virus eventually disappears. John and I have begun a Shakespeare walk in London which we have half completed. Tony will join us for the final section, when we can continue.

 Tony Brown and myself on the top of Leith Hill Tower.


Saturday, 29 February 2020

EMMA. a review: Directed by Autumn de Wilde

Callum Turner (Frank Churchill) Anya Taylor Joy (Emma) Johnny Flynn (Mr Knightley)

 Cast: Anya Taylor Joy as Emma, Johnny Flynn as Mr Knightly, Mia Goth as Harriet, Callum Turner as Frank Churchill, Amber Anderson as Jane Fairfax, Miranda Hart as Miss Bates, Bill Nighy as Mr Woodhouse, Tanya Reynolds as Mrs Elton, Josh O’Connor as Mr Elton, Rupert Graves as Mr Weston, Gemma Whelan as Mrs Weston nee Taylor, Connor Swindells as Mr Martin and Chloe Pirrie as Isabella Knightly nee Woodhouse.

Wimbledon Odeon,  Wednesday 26th February,  Marilyn and myself arrived for the 11.10 performance of the new, Emma. showing in  theatre number 6. We had seats at the back. There were two people in the row infront of us and two more further down the theatre, closer to the screen and that was it. Theatre number 6 has a capacity of 175, the smallest of the screening theatres. Was this an omen? Six people sitting in a space for 175? I  read Mark Kermode’s review in the Guardian. He gave it three out of five stars. Not bad but could do better.

My thoughts were, will Autumn de Wilde’s Emma get Austen’s subtleties concerning the different  relationships right? Will the actors be any good? All is lost if they can’t cut the mustard. What might we get out of this Emma that speaks to us in 2020? Will the film  tell Jane Austen’s story well?

The film begins, focusing in from an expansive bucolic scene of green pastures and wooded areas to an iconic 18thcentury mansion, Hartfield. We hone down to a gothic styled greenhouse and enter to a scene of peace and calm and meditative background music as Emma, played by Anya Taylor Joy, slowly, carefully  moves, almost like floating in a dream, examining her blooming red roses while servant girls hover , secateurs poised ready to snip the stem of any flower Emma thinks fit. Anya Taylor’s eyes look and roam and pierce us to our souls. Oh! those eyes. She pauses, she considers, she moves on and decides, “That one.” And the flower is cut. This opening scene is very clever and says in this silent dreamlike ballet  all that Austen says in the opening words of her novel.

“ Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.”

The film is lit  brightly and the colours, not just of the costumes, but of the scenery too has a pale pastel sheen, which can only be achieved through the cinematography. The colours have a childish quality. It reminded me of the sherbet flavoured,” love hearts,” we used to buy from our local sweet shop when we were children, handing these pastel coloured sweets to each other with such embarrassing phrases as , “All Mine,” “Love Bug,” “Find Me,” “Only You,” and “ Kiss Me,” embossed on them. It occurred to me, that that analogy does indeed  embody Emma Woodhouse’s emotional level exactly, at the beginning of the film.

Sherbet flavoured ,"Love Hearts." Childish fancies.

 Anya Taylor Joy, when I saw the  adverts for Emma emblazoned on the sides of  some London buses as they drove, past didn’t fit my imagined idea of Emma. She looked too modern, too 2020 and with eyes that you can sink into and get lost in forever. I didn’t imagine Emma as being seductive. I imagined her as pompous, controlling and  distant, a whole ,”class,” above the other characters in the story, certainly not seductive. Anya is very good in the part though. She has just the right amount of intelligence, naivety and controlling confidence and a powerful self-belief, at first.

As advertised by London Transport.

We tend to expect beautiful actors and actresses , the men always being compared to Colin Firth and I am sure there will be those who want to make such comparisons with this film between Colin Firth and Johnny Flynn. However, the actors in this adaptation go against the usual trend I think. Frank Churchill, played by Callum Turner has big ears that stick out. All the better to listen with of course and he does listen to conversations, carefully avoiding any close emotional engagement with anybody. Thus he keeps a distance , keeping his true intentions secret. Johnny Flynn, who plays Mr Knightley has a battered look about him, a feint white scar on one cheek and eyes that are not quite even sized or level on his face. A rugged handsomeness, a face of experience, let’s say, which  aids  the fact that his character, Mr Knightley, is 37 or 38 years of age to ,Emma’s 21 years. The women characters tend to have no makeup on their faces adding a plainness to their general look. Although having said that Anya Taylor Joy does have her face made up, blush pink cheeks and red lips, which makes her stand out.

Emma standing on  Leith Hill,the hill used as Box Hill.

The scene I always look out for in any Emma film is the Box Hill picnic. This one doesn’t disappoint. Leith Hill is used for the film set and not the real Box Hill, but I can forgive that.Actually both hills are part of the same range of hills, The North Downs, in Surrey.  Leith Hill has less roads and buildings in the panoramic view from the top. Leith Hill however,I always associate with the composer, Vaughn Williams and not Jane Austen’s novel, but anyway, I am nit-picking. I hope you can all one day visit Leith Hill as well as Box Hill. I will continue. In this Autumn de Wilde re-imagining of this iconic scene she portrays an important example of how this Emma is relevant to today. She doesn’t deflect from Austen’s plot and action in anyway  but emphasised are things that address the concerns of our modern age. The superficial prattle of Frank Churchill announcing, “I am ordered by Miss Woodhouse, who (wherever she is presides), to say that she desires to know what you are all thinking,” of course has to be included, but those inconsequential speeches are kept to a low key compared to the emphasise on the insult Emma gives Miss Bates. That scene is heightened. Mr Knightley’s reprimand of Emma and Miss Bates's obvious hurt becomes the main thing. We live in an age of online trolling and abuse and as a society we are struggling to know how to deal with this dangerous and damaging practice. This Box Hill scene demonstrates the hurt we can cause other people.

This is the Burford Spur on the side of the ,"real," Box Hill, the probable site of Jane Austen's picnic party in, Emma.

With Jane Austen film adaptations, we have come to expect beautiful settings and rich architecturally magnificent houses set within Capability Brown or Humphrey Repton landscapes and this film certainly does not disappoint. The settings are magnificent. The houses used in this film  are, in our real world, open to the public and probably have very nice cafes and shops. I have visited some of the houses featured over the years. Hartfield, the home of Emma and Mr Woodhouse is Firle Place in East Sussex. The small town of Highbury is the picturesque village of Lower Slaughter near Cheltenham in the Cotswolds. Donwell Abbey is Wilton House near Salisbury. Mr Weston’s house is Chevenage House near Tetbury in Gloucetsreshire. The Goddards school house is Kingston Bagpuize House, south west of Oxford.   However, I do wonder that these magnificent examples of the 18th century British architecture and landscaping are used by fillm companies.They were originally owned by the super-rich, the billionaires of the 18th century and the characters in Jane Austen’s novels would never have lived in such great luxury and splendour. Mostly they would have been second league landowners. What a film like this and I suppose all the other film versions and television versions of Austen’s novels become, are  tourist shop windows. “Come and visit me.”
The ball at the Crown Inn in Highbury is more than one sort of dance. In Jane Austen’s novel much of the action is seen through Emmas eyes. She  wills interactions between people and suffers because they don’t happen the way she would like.  Autum de Wilde creates a floating world in the mind of Emma. Emma sees people as characters  that can be moved about like sailing boats on a pond, a puff of wind here, a puff of wind there. She would like to manoeuvre  this person here or to that person there,  and keep everybody within her control; Harriet to Mr Elton, possibly herself to Frank Churchill. But all goes wrong. “Breezes,” blow in other directions. Harriet thinks, because Mr Knightley has asked her to dance she is in love with him and he her. After the ball in a carriage with Mr Elton he professes his love for Emma. This is not what should be. The pitfalls of internet dating comes to mind. As for TV shows such as Blind Date and Naked Attraction, perish the thought.

By the way,the music written by Isobel Waller Bridge for the ball at The Crown Inn and as background music throughout the film fits this Emma superbly. It has a country feel to it sometimes. When required Waller Bridge has composed music that fits completely an 18th century dance. At the same time the music feels fresh and up to date, very enjoyable. An amazing achievement.

If Emma is about nothing else it is about the development and growth of relationships, and is an exploration of what love is. The tensions and problems along the way just make for good drama and emotional engagement. Autumn de Wilde is  making this Emma relevant to today in her treatment of , love.

One love affair  at the start of the story has Emma  heartbroken and bereft. Her surrogate mother,  teacher and eventually soul mate, Miss Taylor marries Mr Weston. A scene in the film shows the two of them either side of a door (powerful symbolism) heads touching the opposite sides, centimetres apart and speaking from their heartfelt emotions about what each means to the other.The new Mrs Weston will only be half a mile away but a universe as far as their changed relationship.

Emma also has a relationship with Harriet, played by Mia Goth, who brilliantly portrays innocence, wonder and bewilderment in equal measures, an orphan from Mrs Goddard’s School. This relationship too grows ever more intimate.  Emma tries to control who Harriet marries against Harriet’s own feelings.  Harriet’s fleeting fancies for Mr Elton and then Mr Knightley are not where her true heart is of course. It is with Mr Martin. Mr Martin portrayed  steadfastly by Connor Swindells, shows admirable patience in love. This is another relationship Emma has to contend with or perhaps struggle against. Harriet really loves Mr Martin and Emma  finally does accept this situation once she has gone through her own Damascene revelations.

Another relationship that comes to fruition eventually is that of Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax. Frank goes through a lot for his love for Jane Fairfax and although this is not approved off by many, that relationship is accepted by all in the end including of course Emma. All these relationships other people have are also steps along the way towards Emma’s  own emotional maturity. The relationships and how they are portrayed in this film and how they develop make it a very modern story.

A further development for  Emma  occurs after her atrocious  treatment of Miss Bates on Box Hill. She, in atonement for her awful behaviour, visits Miss Bates. Few words are spoken but Emma shows her sorrow and Miss Bates shows her unwavering love of Emma. Visiting those she has slighted and showing her awareness of what she has done are markers in the development of Emma's emotional intelligence and Autumn de Wilde continues to highlight these moments.

Miranda Hart as Miss Bates surprised me. Miranda is an excellent comedic actress and has created her own comedy sitcom. On TV we laugh out loud at her because she is hilarious. Her Miss Bates is a funny character  in the sense of being quirky but really she manages to portray somebody who  requires our sympathy. Miranda Hart who has a genius for making us laugh played the part extremely well without resorting to slapstick. She created a sense of the ridiculous but not in a laugh out loud way. She achieves pathos and emotional hurt. Miranda makes us feel for her Miss Bates. The only thing I cannot overcome is the fact, I have always thought of  Miss Bates as short and squat, ( Jane Austen does not describe her as such) Miranda Hart is tall and gangly. Not everything can be perfect.

By the end of de Wildes, Emma, Mr Knightly and Emma develop a powerful love for each other which they both become aware of ,suddenly, and it seems almost as a surprise.  Their deep connection was there all along, of course. Both Austen and de Wilde provide the clues, from the start of the novel, in the case of Austen and from the start of the  film  in de Wildes case.  Although the main crux of the  film is of course about Emma  passing through  a time of self-refection and change to become Mr Knightleys equal in love.  Mr Knightley does not merely hang around waiting for Emma to grow emotionally; he too has had to change. His  awakened perception of Emma has taken much understanding, patience. empathy and emotional intelligence on his part. Emotional intelligence is what  the film, is about after all.  

Emma is often described as a comedy, perhaps a comedy of errors. Bill Nighy who plays Mr Woodhouse, uses his usual repertoire of looks, pauses , tics, gasps, twitches and physical comedy to portray a neurotic but loveable Mr Woodhouse. His overarching concern with moving fire screens to shield the heat emanating from his blazing fire or sometimes, on the other hand, to concentrate the fires heat to certain places in the room illustrates Mr Woodhouses hypochondria to excellent effect. His servants are forever trying to discover the source of a draft that only Mr Woodhouse can feel. Mr Elton’s big animated grin, which is a little disturbing, enhanced by his wearing of high white winged collars, is quite surreal. The eventual Mrs Weston, played by Gemma Whelan, is continually on the verge of disapproval, not quite reaching a level of anger, and has a ludicrous essence about her. Do you laugh or frown at somebody like that? Gemma Whelan does it very well anyway. As I suggested earlier Miss Bates, played by the consummate comedy actress Miranda Hart is not the clown you would suspect in this Emma. She plays the part at a much deeper emotional, subtle level. I was very impressed with her performance. “Miranda” of the sitcom would be so excited and ecstatic at that analysis. She would whoop about the room, prancing like a horse. I kid you not.

This Emma is really worth seeing. It is an Emma for our time highlighting issues about love  that are relevant to us now. Autum de Wilde in an interview was asked how she thought her, Emma, compared to other, Emmas. She replied that she considered that one film was not better than another. Each brought something different to our understanding. I think I would agree. This Emma is very good. Emma, with a full stop? I’ll leave you to think about that one. Nudity? Pah! Nicely rounded buttocks and elegant thighs for mere fleeting moments. Surely nobody could possibly complain? We see more on the beach or at an athletics event.

Wednesday, 8 January 2020

THE MARTYRS WALK- Tower Hill to Tyburn

The execution site on Tower Hill.
Monday 18th November,  11am, emerging from the tube station on Tower Hill, a few hundred metres north of The Tower of London. John Lodge and I crossed the road towards the Merchant Seamen’s War Memorial, an area of pale cream Portland stone walls, benches and statues covered in darkened bronze plaques with  thousands of names of seamen, their ships and the ports they originated from. It is a surprising multitude of names , ships and ports across the British Isles. The memorial completely surrounds and engulfs you as you walk through its sombre precinct. It makes you wonder at its enormity and its meaning.
Just to one side of this vast  edifice is a small garden with a cobbled square surrounded by looping chains. Within this  area are bronze plaques with the names of famous Lords, bishops, courtiers and ministers  with the dates that each individual was beheaded on this spot. Thomas Cromwell, Thomas More, John Fisher, Thomas Wyatt, Thomas Laud and many more. This representative list of names are just some of the 125 who met their end here. Each one paid the price for treason.
Half starved, week and in rags the person to be executed would be carried from the Tower to this spot. Some would bravely give a speech, often humble and pleading their allegiance to the monarch. Crowds of thousands would gather to see them die. 20, 000 spectators on Tower hill has been estimated at any one time. What did the crowds of onlookers feel and think?

John and I had begun, The London Martyrs Walk, the British Pilgrimage Trust provide on their website with maps and information. A martyr is somebody who has suffered and sometimes died for a cause they believe in.  The walk includes execution sites where criminals were executed too. You could argue that the taking of any life is a sort of martyrdom. What is the morality of taking a person’s life for whatever reason?

Some of the people executed on Tower Hill, in particular Thomas More and John Fisher were later created saints by the Catholic Church. Is making somebody a saint akin to advertising the church and a set of beliefs through celebrity? They were turned into high profile people.  A bit like a You Tube influencer today.  Saints ,”sell,” Catholicism.

John looking at the statue of Samuel Pepys in Seething Lane.

We walked a short distance from Tower Hill to Seething Lane. Samuel Pepys worked at the Navy Board from 1660, located in Seething Lane, as Clerk of the acts. He lived on the site of his office and attended church at St Olave’s Church, across the road. He is buried in St Olave’s.

 The churchyard and entrance to St Olaves Church in Seething Lane.

 Samuel Pepys cannot be described as a Saint, more a likeable rogue. He was an ordinary man, with strengths, as well as faults and failings. He was greedy, lecherous, kind, thoughtful, critical of others, mocking, friendly and liked his food and drink and loved a good party. He was also secretive in his attempts to protect himself from his King discovering his personally held views. He wrote his famous diary in a sort of shorthand  so very few people could  read it, and of course he didn’t want his wife to know about some of his nefarious activities. He was apparently religious, probably because he had to be, to avoid censure from the authorities.

 Just on the corner of Seething Lane, next to Pepys Navy Office was located, in Elizabeth I’s  time the town house of one of her most loyal and powerful courtiers, Francis Walsingham. From 1570 onwards he was the spymaster, torturer and sent many to their deaths.
 Saints and sinners, you wonder what makes them what they are? What sort of person will die for their beliefs? What sort of person will destroy another because of their beliefs? What sort of person remains merely ordinary?

The ,"Gift of Cane," memorial to 18th century slaves.


In amongst shiny glass and steel office blocks we came across a modernist set of sculptures, the memorial to slavery.  Long slender pillars represent sugar cane. The words of a poem by Lemn Sissay, entitled, “Gift of Cain,” is  carved into a stone pulpit beside the slender pillars and extend onto the  pillars themselves.  The theme of the poem is the power of money and the power of brotherhood. It also commemorates William Wilberforce, the  18th century emancipator. It reminds us of how human beings can be sacrificed, for, not just beliefs but for money and wealth. The monument was unveiled by Bishop Desmond Tutu, in 2007, in commemoration of the bicentenary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade.

The Gilt of Cain
By Lemn Sissay, 2007
Here is the ask price on the closed position,
history is no inherent acquisition
for here the Technical Correction upon the act,
a merger of truth and in actual fact
on the spot, on the money – the spread........................

Our journey, was paced out over three consecutive Mondays. It could have taken  less time, however  we came across  galleries and museums, coffee shops and lunchtime pubs which captured our time, and, anyway, we took it easy and enjoyed the mere act of walking, talking and taking in the world around us.,
 Amongst the places we saw and visited were twenty-four churches and one Chinese Buddhist temple. Many of the churches were Roman Catholic. The penal laws which had come about in Henry VIII’s time and had brought about the execution of Thomas More and John Fisher, John Houghton, the Abbot of Charterhouse and other priests and nuns, were started to be repealed in 1766. The most important of the penal laws were removed by the Catholic Relief Act of 1829. We went into churches that were able to be built because of this act.

We came across many of London’s, Medieval,  Stuart and Georgian Churches. One of the key issues that emerged for me from visiting all these churches, were the various shades of Christianity they represented and the freedom this country provides people of all faiths.
St Etheldreda’s in Ely place, which is a medieval church and had been the chapel for the Bishops of Ely from 1250,  was bought by the Rossinian order in 1874 when the Bishop of Ely put the dilapidated church up for sale. The Rossinians were an order of Catholic Priests from Italy who came to England after the 1829 Catholic Relief Act to rejuvenate Catholicism in Britain.
We had some misconceptions as we went along. All Saints in Margaret Street is a point in question.
 All Saints is a very elaborate Victorian Gothic style church. As we entered, a funeral was taking place. The church was packed with a large congregation. One of the funeral directors asked us to stand quietly to one side. A youthful   choir in red cassocks and white surplices sang angelically. A priest dressed in a richly embroidered black Roman chasuble swung a thurible sending clouds of incense around the altar. The officiating priest with assistant priests was intoning the mass in Latin. We didn’t stay long because we thought we were intruding. The requiem mass took John and I back to our youth of Latin, High masses. We imagined whoever the dead person was had requested this Latin Requiem mass.It was only later that John and I discovered that this was not a Roman Catholic church at all. It is High Anglican.  Amusingly they appeared more catholic than the Catholics. When Henry VIII first took over the headship of the church, the changes to religious ceremonies were hardly noticeable. Everything appeared to carry on as before as far as everyday observance was concerned. The headship of the church in England had fundamentally changed from the Pope to Henry but outwardly, to the ordinary person, very little had changed. Here was evidence that a part of the Anglican community has kept Roman Catholic traditions.

All Saints Margaret Street with the entrance to London Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Temple on the left.

All Souls in Langham Place, just north of Oxford Circus and next door to the BBC Centre, is very different. Young enthusiastic parishioners, on ladders and stools were decking the church with Christmas decorations. Microphones and speakers were set up for a vibrant musical experience. This church appeared to be an evangelical young person’s church. A church of action. It too is Anglican. The Christmas decorations, the lack of religious icons, paintings and decorations made it look more like a cosy community hall than a church. I could see no crucifix or stations of the cross as displayed in All Saints Church.  This is a different approach to religion, a more vibrant youthful approach. Singing modern songs, rock groups, youth activities and prayer meetings are the order of the day here.  Comparing it to All Saints Church it demonstrates the breadth of approach to Christianity there is in this day and age.

All Souls, Langham Place.

We also on our walk came across the Freemasons Hall in Holborn. We went in to visit their museum displays. The Freemasons have formed their own set of secretive rituals and keep many of their work and beliefs secret. Only men can become freemasons. They generally hold to old testament principles.

  The people at, The London Fo Guang Shan Temple in Margaret Street near Oxford Circus welcolmed us in. It was located just opposite All Saints Anglican church. This was not part of The Martyrs Walk itinerary but John and I thought it would be an interesting experience if we went inside. A Chinese lady welcomed us into the temple and told us about the Buddha and Buddhism. It occurred to me the philosophy of the Buddha ,the complete personal rejection of material things, greed, hate and delusion is not far removed from  St Francis of Assissi, who also lived a life of frugality, leaving earthly things behind.

St Giles in the Fields.

St Giles in the Fields, is an interesting church. St Giles Church, focusses us back to The Martyrs Trail. The church is located just north of Oxford Street not far from Centre Point. The site was founded by Queen Mathilda in 1101 as a leper hospital. Over the centuries its lurid history developed. On the 20th September 1586 Lord Babington and his plotters who were Catholics trying to overthrow Elizabeth and put Mary Queen of Scots on the throne were executed outside the church. One of Francis Walsinghams great successes. In 1665 The Great Plague began in the parish. Twelve Roman Catholic martyrs including Oliver Punkett, who were betrayed by Titus Oates,  were buried in the churchyard.  John Lord Belasye, a friend of Charles Ist and later after the Restoration,  a friend of Charles II, is buried here. A large stone plaque relates the story of his military feats and leadership at the battles of Naseby, Edge Hill and Newbury.

A plaque, displayed inside St Giles describes the military campaigns John Lord Belasye took part in.

Later during the 1830’s  Dickens published Oliver Twist. It was this area, around St Giles,that was the location for Fagan’s pickpocketing exploits. By the 19th century the area was a ,”rookery,” where criminals and the destitute lived. Inside is a pulpit removed from The West Street Chapel from which John and Charles Wesley regularly preached from.

Thomas a Becket was born near this spot next to the Guildhall.

John and I passed the site where Thomas a Becket, the most famous martyr of the Middle Ages, was born, adjacent to the Guildhall.This brings to mind the cult of pilgrimage, perhaps not a bad thing in itself depending on the motivation but also that side of catholicism, in the Middle Ages, the selling of indulgences and the virtual buying a place in heaven that brought about, in 1517, Martin Luther's ninety five theses and eventually the Reformation which of course links back to the main reasons for the martyrs this walk celebrates.

We entered Guildhall art gallery and then descended to the basement  where the ruins of London’s, Roman Amphitheatre built in AD 70, was located. Gladiators fought to the death on this site in front of crowds of thirty thousand. Dying and killing as a spectacle for the entertainment of others, has a long history and does seem innate in the human make up.

The curved line of dark bricks marks part of the circumference of the Roman Amphitheater in the forecourt of The Guildhall.

On we walked to ,”Postman’s Park,” near the Barbican just north of St Pauls Cathedral. This park commemorates people who freely and consciously gave their lives for the lives of others. A different angle on dying. Some of the ceramic tiles erected on a wall in the park read:
 “ James Hewers, on September 24th 1878 was killed by a train at Richmond in an endeavour to save another man.”
“Thomas Simpson, died of exhaustion after saving many lives from the breaking ice at Highgate Ponds January 25th 1885.”

There are numerous plaques remembering acts of self-sacrifice like this in Postman’s Park. It is thought provoking that there are people who will sacrifice their own life in this way. Do we all have that capacity? Nobody can possibly know until the moment comes.

Ceramic plaques on a wall in Postman's Park commemorating those who have given their lives for others.

We moved on to, The Old Bailey, The Central Criminal Court of England and Wales. It is located on the site of what was Newgate Prison. From 1783, Newgate, took over from Tyburn as the public place of execution and was notorious for public hangings.  From 1868 to 1902  hangings  took place within the confines of the prison, because of the civil disturbances that could occur during public hangings. At St Sepulchre Church, nearby, there is displayed the bell rung outside a condemned persons cell the night before they were to be executed.

An entrance to The Old Bailey.

The statue of the Golden Boy of Pye Corner, just along from the Old Bailey, is reputed to be the site where the fire of London was finally extinguished. Nobody knows how many people died in that conflagration but surprisingly it was possibly quite a small number. Most people evacuated London for the fields around the city in plenty of time.

The Golden Boy at Pye Corner.

The Fortune of War pub near St Bartholomew’s Hospital is where the,” Resurrectionists,” laid out  freshly exhumed bodies from local burials so that surgeons from the hospital could examine them. The surgeons needed the bodies for their research. “Body Snatching,” was an illegal occupation.

On John and I walked towards Smithfield Square and the great Victorian meat market and where meat has been bought and sold since Medieval times. Here we visited St Bartholomew’s the Great, Church. The churchyard is the site of a plague pit. A statue of Henry VIII is positioned above the entrance arch to the precinct of this church. His reformation of the church in England and his taking on the role of the head of the church created a challenge for many high ranking Catholics in the country and brought about their deaths.

 Within the area of Smithfield  is located a plaque commemorating the execution of Robert The Bruce. The area was used for burning people at the stake during Mary Tudor’s reign and during Elizabeths reign people were hung drawn and quartered here too.
A statue in the middle of Smithfield .

These means of execution were incredibly barbaric. The levels of suffering must have been immense. Why were these methods of execution used? This was beyond just ending somebodies life but making every part of them suffer indescribable pain. The people to be executed had obviously become anathema. The Spanish Inquisition, for instance, were experts at eradicating a person’s very existence. This is hard to believe but religions do this. Even today ISIS execute people in the most barbaric ways. There is something in the essence of ,"belief ,"where people think they are so right and that others are so wrong the non believers  are damned.

I wondered about the people who carried out these forms of barbaric executions. Later the nun giving us the tour of the English martyrs relics kept  at Tyburn Convent enlightened me. It seems so obvious. Smithfield was a meat market. The butchery trade was carried on  there. A butcher is an expert at killing animals and dissecting them. They had the tools and the skills, so it was butchers from Smithfield who performed the process of hanging drawing and quartering and burning at the stake. These people thought it an honour.

The entrance to The Charterhouse.

We walked on to Charterhouse and stood at the gates where the abbot of the Carthusians, John Houghton in 1537 had his head displayed after being hung drawn and quartered because he would not sign Henry VIII’s Act of Supremacy. Ten other Carthusians were imprisoned in Newgate Prison at the time, nine of them starving to death and the last beheaded on Tower Hill.

It is here also in Charterhouse Square where a vast plague pit was constructed in 1348 by the Carthusians and where they buried the dead  of the most virulent plague that ever reached England. It has been discovered recently with what great respect and care the dead of the plague were treated. The construction of cross rail in the area disrupted the plague pit and archaeologists were able to examine plague skeletons.

By now on our walk John and I had encountered many sites of death and execution. How does a person face death? John Houghton, the abbot of Charterhouse knew he was going to be brutally killed involving a lengthy process of being hung drawn and quartered. People who caught the plague had hours or days to live. People rotting in prison had a long time to contemplate their fate. Some died because of disease as with the plague but many of the people who were executed were those who kept to their beliefs against the law of the land. Slaves, treated as commodities, not as human beings, died on the slave ships or because of  the harsh punishments given by masters.  I wonder how they  dealt with it? 

A triptych of The English Martyrs in  St James in Spanish Place.

St James in Spanish Place, Mayfair is a  Roman Catholic Church. It is  frequented by the Spanish ambassador and has connections to the Spanish monarchy. The present church is opposite the site of a smaller chapel that was used by the Spanish Embassy when it was located just round the corner in Manchester Square.  St James is connected to the English Martyrs who died at Tyburn. It has a triptych of the English Martyrs and an information board naming them all in a side chapel to the right of the high altar. The Spanish Embassy, during Elizabeth’s reign, supported, clandestinely, Catholics in England. Relics, parts of the martyrs bodies and blood stained clothing had been collected secretly after their executions and removed to the Spanish embassy and then taken to Spain for safe keeping.

JESUITS "They're behind you."
Nearing the end of our walk John and I visited the Jesuit Church in Farm Street, Mayfair. Jesuit priests made up a high proportion of the English Martyrs executed at Tyburn during the reign of Elizabeth I. They included, Edmond Campion and Robert Southwell amongst others. The Jesuits, many of whom were academics and theologians and philosophers were at the spearhead of Catholic Europe’s response to the Reformation and English Jesuits were at the forefront of trying to infiltrate and set up catholic resistance in Protestant England.

The the chancel and altar in the Jesuits Church, Farm Street.

From here we walked on towards Marble Arch passing the memorial to animals who have suffered and died in military campaigns around the world through the centuries. We walked past Marble Arch and made our way to Tyburn Convent. The Tyburn Convent close to the site of the Tyburn Tree, the place of execution, is run by an order of contemplative Benedictine nuns.  It was founded in 1901 by Mother Marie Adele Garnier and  follows the rule of St Benedict. The order fled to England in 1901 because of the French laws against religious orders. Mother Marie chose the site of Tyburn where many English martyrs had been executed during the Elizabethan age. This monastery is now the Mother House of her Congregation which has convents in England, Scotland, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Italy and France.  John contacted the Mother Superior before we made our final part of The Martyrs Walk to request a guided tour of the convent and to learn more about the English martyrs. We arrived at the convent early for our appointment and had time to visit the chapel and see the monstrance on the altar where the perpetual adoration of Christ goes on. We rang the doorbell to the convent and a nun appeared. We told her our request and within minutes another nun appeared and welcomed us. She took us to the crypt of the chapel to show us the altar with a reconstruction of Tyburn Gallows  erected above it. We saw relics of many of the martyrs, bones, pieces of skull and blood stained fragments of clothing. These were the relics of Jesuits and Catholics executed at Tyburn. Edmond Campion, John Houghton, Oliver Plunket and Margaret Ward and others are commemorated here.  The relics had been  kept in various churches in Spain. When the King of Spain heard that the Benedictine Nuns had set up a convent at Tyburn in 1901 he had them returned to England for the convent to keep.
Relics of the English Martyrs kept by the nuns at Tyburn Convent in their crypt.

The nun who gave the tour was very friendly, extrovert and full of fun. I was slightly disconcerted at the joy and glee she seemed to portray in describing the process of being hung drawn and quartered. She is a nun who leads a contemplative life of mediation and prayer, focussed on her, “bridegroom,” Jesus Christ. The death of the body is low on her scale of priorities. Death to her brings her to her desired destination, heaven and union with Christ of course.  I suppose the executions of the past, in her mind, were merely a step along the way to eternity no matter how painful a process.

TYBURN TREE  where the gallows were.
After leaving the convent we followed the nun’s directions and John and I found the actual site of Tyburn located on a traffic island at the junction of Edgeware Road, Bayswater Road and Marble Arch leading to Oxford Street. Three trees are planted in the shape of the gallows and a stone roundel is laid in the pavement in the centre of the three trees with the words, “The Site of Tyburn Tree,” etched into it. Traffic rushes past. People gather on the traffic island as they cross Edgeware Road and hurry on. Nobody stopped to look at the three trees or the roundel. Nobody was aware of the significance of the site they walked over.

A traffic island at the End of Edgware Road and Oxford Street. The three trees mark the shape of Tyburn gallows and the roundel in the pavement between the trees marks the spot.

When the highwayman Jack Shepherd was executed here in 1724 the audience reached 200,000 apparently. Huge crowds followed the condemned person from Newgate Prison to Tyburn. Hanging days were public holidays and crowds turned out. “Speakers Corner,” got its name because of the speeches many condemned people made before their execution.

The walk was rich in experiences for both John and myself. It provided us with a lot to think about;  the inevitability of death, the process of death, the experiences of the executioner, the law maker, the monarch who was the apex of this judicial and sovereign system and the executed.

The site of Tyburn Tree.

    The British Pilgrimages Trust:

"The Gift of Cane," by Lemn Sissey: