More extracts from my forthcoming book

Hi Folks,
Another belated update to the ongoing blog, tapped out just days after yet another of my fleeting appearances at the Portobello Film Festival. For those of you who I’ve spoken to in connection with some of the more ‘controversial’ developments on the latter day folk scene at present, the stuff about Seth Lakeman (and others) will be making its way up onto the server as soon as I’ve finished the voice overs to my new pretty much fully edited film projects ‘Voices of Albion: Levellers, Luddites, Diggers and Dongas in Traditional and Contemporary Folklore’, and ‘Strange Myths of Kings Cross’; which are due for a screening in December if the Portfest Crew don’t have their budget permanently slashed in the run up to the 2012 Olympics. In the meantime, without further ado, here’s the latest installment in my series of free downloads from my forthcoming book on ‘Legendary London’. 
Cheers!
The Swarm.   
 
 

During the course of this book we shall dwell much upon the origins of the Tudor and Stuart claims to the English Throne through the legacy of John of Gaunt. In view of the fact that the Tudors were, to all intents and purposes, the fifteenth century "mass media" revivers of the Ancient Arthurian Tradition, it is perhaps significant that John Earl of Somerset is represented as having had a younger brother, Thomas (d.1417), who is on record as having left a book called "Tristram" to his sister Joanne, Countess of Westmorland; who married as her first husband Sir Robert Ferrers; 2nd Lord Ferrers of Wemme. From the point of view of our own particular line of enquiry, this fact is significant on account of the key role that the character of Sir Tristram plays in the traditions repackaged by Malory; in that Malory’s narrative likewise includes, as we have already seen, a number of references to a character who appears to be an Arthurian aspect of St. Blaize or St. Blaise; something which we ourselves will focus upon in more detail again very shortly.

 

The point of relevance here, to the particular London legend with which we are presently dealing, involves the setting of another of Manley’s plays, "Lucius, the First Christian King of Britain", a work which we shall focus on in depth in Chapter Six and which has a direct connection with the Christian aspect of Bran the Blessed; who, in addition to being the Grail Keeper of "The Mabinogion", is also represented as a giant in some of the legends with which he has come to be associated. Again, we see another parallel here with his more ancient counterpart the Dagdha. Legend has it that the Dagdha possessed a magical harp that could play three airs, described by Chadwick as "the sleep strain, the laughter strain and the grief strain." It is therefore also significant then that another of Bran’s divine aspects is that of "Ogyrvran", a Druidic patron of music. In Beroul’s early French version of "The Romance of Tristan", which may well have a connection with the Countess of Westmorland’s now vanished manuscript, this same aspect of Bran’s persona is re-invoked in the character of  "Ogrin the Hermit". Thus, we find Manley utilizing the same quasi-bardic Mediaeval pseudo-histories that Shakespeare and others had done before her, in her transportation of yet another of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s semi-historical "Legendary London" characters onto the well trodden boards of the contemporary London stage.

 

As has already been noted, following his death in battle, after being wounded in the foot by a poison spear, Bran instructs his companions to cut off his head and take it to "the White Hill in London" where it is to be buried "with the face turned towards France". On the way they are to spend seven years feasting at Bran’s former court at Harlech, overlooking the Menai Straits with the Druidic Island of Anglessey in the distance and with "the birds of Rhiannon singing to" them. As we have already noted, in connection with the ballad of "The Twa’ Corbies", the link to Rhiannon’s birds almost certainly connects this legend with the Ravens of London’s White Tower. Although most versions of the Bran legends refer directly to Bran’s Head having been buried, there is evidence to suggest that it may have been set up on a pole in some sort of underground shrine directly beneath where the White Tower itself presently stands. A guarded reference to how Bran’s Head will be "as good a companion as ever it was", during the course of his companions’ journey east, may well identify it as an oracular head akin to the type which was doubtless previously associated with Coventina’s Well on Hadrian’s Wall; where, as has previously been noted, human skulls were previously counted among the votive gifts cast into the well itself.

 

In Chapter Five we will examine the traditions connected with a mysterious cache of skulls previously thought to have been associated with the massacres carried out during the course of the Boudiccan Revolt; excavated from the Walbrook and originally believed to have belonged to the unfortunate inhabitants of London slain by the Britons during the Icenian Rebellion. As we shall see then, it is equally feasible that both the skulls themselves and the White Hill alike had some kind of connection with the well documented Celtic Cult of the Sacred Head. If so, it is possible that human skulls were brought there from far and wide and left as votive offerings like those previously referred to in the preceeding paragraph. In many ancient cultures, particularly those of the Steppe Nomads of Central Asia,  human skulls were often used as drinking vessels in a manner akin to the Grail Cup of the Western Mystery Tradition of later times. The unfortunate Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus (fl. 802-811), for example, was destined to have his head made into a drinking cup by the Bulgar Chieftain Krum; following his death in battle during an unsuccessful attempt to recover some former East Roman Black Sea possessions.

 

The facts recorded by H.V. Morton in connection with the ancient origins of a traditional boundary walking ceremony, conducted for centuries in and around the Tower of London, would appear to indicate that some kind of sacred site existed there long before the present Mediaeval structures on the White Hill came into existence. The ceremony, traditionally carried out on Ascension Day once every three years, appears to trace the bounds of what may have been a prehistoric sanctuary of some kind. In a procession traditionally led by the Chief Yoeman Warder of the Tower, a series of thirty-one boundary stones, beaten in succession with willow wands, mark the old bounds of the Tower Liberty. The route of the boundary walking ritual of which this ceremony has always been a part traces an irregular line around Tower Hill, the Royal Mint and Tower Bridge; where a mark stone just above high tide level marks the riverside extremity of this archaic traditional custom.

 

Elsewhere on offshore and mainland Britain some sort of raven cult appears to have been prevalent at a number of key sites all quite possibly linked to the ancient prehistoric cult of Druidism, a fact explored in some depth during the course of a B.B.C. Radio 4 documentary broadcast on the evening of 27th September 2004. At Danebury Hill Fort in Hampshire, just outside the old West Saxon capital at Winchester, itself the legendary Camelot of Sir Thomas Malory and the counterpart of Somerset’s Cadbury Castle, which, like Kingston-upon-Thames in Surrey, is itself located on another terrestrial zodiac of truly gargantuan proportions, an ancient pagan sanctuary by no means dissimilar to that formerly extant on Tower Hill may well have existed before the arrival of the Romans. Close at hand is the celebrated "Win Ton" or "Wyn Ton", now called St. Katherine’s Hill, which, in addition to having provided the nearby city of Winchester with its name, is also the site of an ancient Troy Town; as well as having a possible link with the White Mound on Tower Hill owing to its own former name having been derived from the old Welsh word for white (17).

 

In many ways the legendary head beneath the White Hill was to be the forerunner of the heads of criminals and traitors exhibited in later times on Old London Bridge, the Tower itself and Temple Bar. In the "Welsh Triads", the subsequent fall of Britain to the invading Anglo-Saxons is attributed to King Arthur’s supposed excavation of Bran’s Head from its resting place beneath the White Hill. In reality, London, as a centre of commerce and population at least, appears to have been abandoned several decades before the historical reign of King Arthur himself; owing to the fact that its lengthy curtain walls could not be sufficiently well garrisoned once the surrounding rural districts had slipped into a general anarchy following the abandonment of Britain by the Imperial Legions at the beginning of the Fifth Century. This development in London’s Dark Age history is discussed fully by Merrifield, who nevertheless notes the existence of what may have been a small surviving Romano-British enclave, previously alluded to by Morris (18), and located somewhere along the eastern seaboard of Essex or around the Thames Estuary. One hypothesis that has been put forward is that Tower Hill itself may have been turned into a small, well defended, stronghold by a tiny marine garrison who used the site, together with its old Roman wharves, as a power base from which to police the English Channel. The garrison itself may well have previously had a connection with the old Saxon Shore fort of  Branodurum or Brancaster, a location where Bran himself may likewise have been revered in his Christianized aspect of "Brendan the Navigator". The "Mabingion" legend is full of references to Bran’s sea borne invasion of Ireland in which the British fleet is so vast that its masts appear as "a forest upon the sea".

 

An interesting clue as to what these sailors and marines may have been doing operating from a Thameside base, somewhere in the vicinity of London itself, is provided by a Byzantine silver plate recovered from the remains of the Sutton Hoo ship; which may well have been looted from trading vessels in the English Channel, plying trade routes that had previously serviced the Port of London: although Branston, in his "Lost Gods of England" concedes that no one "can say for certain how this "decorated treasure from a far off land" found its way from what the Vikings were to call Micklegarth, the Great City of the World, to the banks of the tiny English River Deben." The burial is seventh century in origin and dates from a hundred years or more after the British abandonment of London and its subsequent seizure by the Saxon King Erchenwine in 527; leaving one to wonder as to how it was that a magnificent piece of Mediterranean silverware could have come into the possession of an East Anglian nobleman.

 

One such piece of evidence which may provide us with a number of clues as to how a Byzantine artifact came to have been buried in the funeral barque of an English pirate from eastern England to begin with comes, strangely enough, from Tintagel in Cornwall; where a brush fire, on the very island where the Mediaeval castle that would later inspire Malory once stood, was destined to break out in the summer of 1983. The subsequent wholesale destruction of the island’s vegetation revealed traces of undiscovered foundations, which, when excavated by Professor Charles Thomas of Exeter University, who has spent a total in excess of thirty years studying the site, were found to be associated with a number of shards of post-Roman ceramic. The source of much of this material, which included the remains of Byzantine oil jars, Rhodian wine amphorae and other items from along the North African Coast, appears to have been connected with Dark Age trading links with the Mediterranean. These materials enabled Professor Thomas to positively date the site to the period 450-650 A.D. His discovery of Roman milestones at Tintagel appeared to indicate the presence of a Roman trackway along the coast running up in the direction of Padstow, down which metals such as tin would originally have been transported, for export, under Imperial license, to the far flung corners of the Empire.

 

This evidence led Thomas to hypothesize a connection with the documented, but so far unidentified, Roman settlement of Durocornovium. The fact that these archaeological remains did not appear to point to any extensive settled habitation on the site seemed a most perplexing question, until the chance discovery of a rock, close to the island’s summit, on which a natural depression had been improved by human design to create the impression of a human left foot. We know from sources such as "The Mabinogion" that the Celts indulged in a form of ritual enthronement in which the newly elected King was made to stand in such an artificial footprint during the course of his Coronation. At Dunadd in Argyll, the ancient sacral ritual centre of the primordial Scottish Monarchy, a similar footprint has been found close to a Pictish symbol stone depicting a wild boar: the traditional totem animal connected with Arthur of the Britons.

 

Professor Thomas’s research has led him to conclude that the site was occupied only at certain times; and never inhabited. Most of the activity appears to have been connected with Royal gatherings, such as those traditionally associated with Princely funerals and Coronations. All of the pottery fragments are specifically connected with the storage of luxury food items which would have been connected with such activity, as well as the feasting which inevitably followed. Could the Byzantine silverware unearthed at Sutton Hoo have been plundered from shipping ultimately destined for this very port of call? It is a tempting hypothesis indeed. The first surviving reference to Tintagel is in the "Romans de Tristan" of  Beroul which dates from the middle of the Twelfth century. In it, the place is referred to as the residence of King Mark of Cornwall. The earliest texts likewise refer to a mysterious and as yet unidentified location referred to as "Lidan". Could this be a half corrupted reference to London? As we shall now see, a reference to both Durham and "Lidan" in the same sentence in Beroul’s "Tristan" may well provide us with the key to our possible Byzantine and North African links with the Dark Age Tintagel of Arthur’s Britons.

 

As has previously been noted twice already, Sir Thomas Malory, himself perhaps the greatest of all Arthurian narrators, refers to an individual called "Bleise" as being a contemporary "Chronicler of Arthur’s Reign", thus providing us with an important Arthurian link with an individual previously associated with the Eastern Church. Not only that, but Bleise himself supposedly had a connection with what is now the North of England, which leads the present author to suspect that he may have a link with an individual named "Belisarius", who not only has an association with Billingham in County Durham, but also with a site known as "Belsar’s Hill" near Willingham in the Cambridgeshire Fens. Mary Caine points out, in her own very asute assessment of his attributes, that Bleise is accredited with being the chronicler not only of Arthur’s reign, but also of his battles. In view of the fact that the backbone of Arthur’s Romano-British army appears to have been a heavily armoured mailed cavalry based on the East Roman model, it is by no means impossible that, as I have just hinted, the name Bleise may likewise be a corruption of the Byzantine "Belisarius"; who may have been the author of a late Roman military manual, now lost, used by Arthur and his Britons for the purpose of advanced military instruction in weapons and tactics.           

 

Bona fide historical sources attest to an East Roman general named Belisarius (505-565) who served the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in his wars against the Vandals in Africa and the Ostrogoths in Italy. His early victories over the Persians were at the root of his military success. And, although we have no provable written sources linking this younger contemporary of Arthur’s with the fifth and sixth century Romano-British resistance to Anglo-Saxon rule, it is by no means impossible that Byzantine military technology and expertise travelled westwards along the very same trading routes as the luxury goods previously referred to in connection with the sites at Tintagel and Sutton Hoo. Whatever the truth, the Iron Age site at "Belsar’s Hill", which may well have been re-fortified at this time, as were so many similar sites in the wake of the Roman withdrawal from Britain, holds much in common with a number of locations fortified by King Alfred the Great in his wars with the Danes; more than three centuries after those of the historical King Arthur with his own West Saxon predecessors. In Asser’s "Life" of King Alfred the Great we find a direct reference to his re-fortification of a site surrounded by "swampy, impassable and extensive marshland and groundwater on every side…."; at a key location which could not "be reached in any way except by punts or by a causeway which has been built by protracted labour between two fortresses……"   

 

"In that….year (878 A.D.), after Easter (23 March), King Alfred, with a few men, made a fortress at a place called Athelney, and from it with the thegns of Somerset he struck out relentlessly and tirelessly against the Vikings….."

 

Alfred’s principal stronghold was Burrow Mump, located at Burrowbridge on the River Parrett, a short distance downstream from Langport, where the Arthurian hero Geraint ap Erbin is recorded as having fought a decisive battle with the invading Saxons. The River Carey, which draws the Virgo Effigy on the artist and sculptress Katherine Maltwood’s map of "The Glastonbury Zodiac" rises from its source about Castle Cary in Somerset; where local legends represent her as "Old Mother Carey"; an incarnation of the Celtic Goddess Ceridwen, herself likewise worshipped as Ceres in post-conquest Roman times. Close to the effigy’s head is Annis Hill, and nearby Ansford gives us another link to St. Anne’s Hill on Mary Caine’s "Kingston Zodiac"; another ancient hill fort with ramparts enclosing an ancient Roman well. At Kingston, Chertsey’s St. Anne’s Hill is located on the enigmatic Zodiacal Dog or Wolf; itself linked to the Astronomical "Dog Star", Sirius. At Glastonbury too the Zodiac likewise has a Dog of its own, this time located at Langport. And, like London’s ethereal Star Temple alluded to in "The Prophecies of Nostradamus", Glastonbury’s Zodiac seems to have its own unique folk songs into the bargain; most notably "The Somerset Wassail Song", which, as well as featuring in the "Oxford Book of Carols", also tells the listener of how:

 

"The Girt Dog of Langport has burnt his long tail

     And this is the night we go singing wassail…." (19)  

 

Again, we have a direct reference in a West Country folk song to Glastonbury’s circle of giants, affirming that the Kingstonian Zodiacal ballad transcribed above may well have been based upon an original bardic fragment, the origins of which have been lost in the mists of time. Curiously, Alfred’s legendary cake burning episode, perhaps the most famous of all of his mythical adventures, is said to have taken place at Athelney. In view of this then it is perhaps unsurprising that Michael Dames notes the pagan origins of the burning of barley cakes in eighteenth century Scotland; where they were ceremoniously fed to fearsome dogs as part of an ancient indiginous "Sop to Cerberus". Is the reference to Langport’s "Girt Dog" and his singed back end a fragmentary reminder of such ancient rituals having previously been conducted on this site? And, if so, are "The Glastonbury Giants" the real giants with which Brutus did battle on his arrival here in Britain? We shall never know for sure. But, whilst John Michell and Mary Caine doubtless stand firm in their belief in Katherine Maltwood’s previously alluded to assertions, Billy Bragg and Catherine Hills will doubtless prefer to indulge in a healthy, scientifically based, scepticism. Who is right? Who is wrong? Who am I to ask?  

 

Asser was a Welshman from St. David’s in the Kingdom of Demetia, now the modern county of Dyfed. Did he initiate Alfred into the ancient mysteries of his own forefathers in his role as the West Saxon King’s principal spiritual counsellor? London’s "Mabinogion" legend appears to have been preserved in Wales for many centuries after the abandonment of the city to invading Germanic tribes. Were the nonsensical verses of Kingston’s Zodiacal ballad preserved orally from some similarly ancient time? We cannot say for sure. However, it is perhaps significant, in view of what have seen already in connection with a number of other nursery rhymes, that the lines of another piece of versified childhood nonsense, known to so many of us, may well contain a smattering of hidden Astrological wisdom:   

 

"Hey diddle diddle,

The Cat and the Fiddle,

The Cow jumped over the Moon,

The Little Dog laughed to see such fun,

And the Dish ran away with the Spoon……"

 

In this, one of the best known nursery rhymes ever to have been composed, the Cat corresponds to the Astrological sign of Leo; the Fiddle, with its shapely feminine curves, to Virgo; the Cow is Taurus; the Moon, which rules Cancer, corresponds to that sign; whilst the Little Dog is the constellation of Canis Minor; mapped out in the form of a dog’s head on the landscape of Mary Caine’s Kingston Zodiac; immediately adjacent to the effigy of Taurus; of which it is the neighbour in the heavenly firmament above us; whilst the Dish and the Spoon are clearly symbolic of the Gemini Twins. Coincidence? In view of the fact that on Mrs. Caine’s Zodiacal Map of Kingston and the surrounding area, the Cancer effigy consists of a moon shaped dish over which the Taurean Bull appears to be jumping, some of us would think not. And, strange as it may seem, in another version of our Kingstonian Zodiacal ballad, itself entitled "As I set off to Turkey", we appear to have a direct reference to the Astrological Sign of Taurus and its rulership of the Second House of Money:

 

 "As I set off to Turkey, I travelled like an ox,

And in my breeches pocket I carried my little box.

My box was four foot high, my box was four foot square,

All for to put my money in when guineas are so rare."

  

At an earlier juncture I posed the question as to whether or not Thomas Gresham and his fellow financiers were in on some ancient secret connected with the apparent existence of Kingston’s Zodiacal Circle. Whatever the truth, the eighteenth century "Turkey Merchants", or "The Society of London Merchants Trading into the Levant Seas", as they were more formally referred to, possessed "Letters Patent" licensing their activities which dated from the reign of "Good Queen Bess". This considered then, does this verse contain a hidden reference to the activities of  Queen Elizabeth’s "Turkey Merchants"?  If so, there really could be another strange connection with the legacy of Whyttington’s Cat. For, as one might expect, the original merchantile activities which "The Turkey Merchants" appear to have espoused seem to have involved the export of English woollen cloth to the Levant, in return for cotton and silks which had travelled along routes through what was at one time the old Persian Empire. And, as those of us who have seen some of the more traditional pantomime versions of the Whyttington legend acted out on stage will themselves doubtless recall, the storyline appears to contain direct references to what would seem to be merchantile interaction with the East. Like the first of the two apparent nonsense ballads that we have looked at during the course of this chapter, there are a number of references to sheep and lambs in this ballad too; indicating that, once again, we may be engaged in traversing St. Blaise’s Kingstonian Zodiacal Circle; when the singer of the song goes on to inform us of his own fabulous canine adventures:

 

"Then I bought me a little dog, his collar was undone,

I learned him to sing and dance, to wrestle and to run;

His legs were four feet high and his ears were four feet wide,

And round the world in half a day all on my dog I’d ride….."      

 

Whatever the truth, by the time of the Restoration, the City of London’s "Turkey Merchants" were so prosperous that a group of them, led by one Alderman George Dashwood, possessed sufficient funds to be able to guarantee enough money in Government loans for them to be awarded the right to collect all taxes and excise duties due in the Kingdom of Ireland on behalf of King Charles II. Dashwood, whose fiscal achievements eventually led to him being awarded a Baronetcy and becoming ancestor to the infamous eighteenth century Chancellor of the Exchequer Sir Francis Dashwood, then proceeded to set up a similar syndicate wholly devoted to collecting the Excise Duty of England. Similarly, two more of Dashwood’s descendants, Sir Francis Dashwood of West Wycombe and his brother Samuel, financed late seventeenth century trading voyages to China, where English export goods were traded for tea, silks and porcelain. Their investment in the East India Company at this time was to amount to some £10,000 and by 1691 Samuel Dashwood was so succesful a merchant that he was appointed Commissioner of the Revenue by the newly established King William of Orange.

 

Having already been invested with the Order of Knighthood by 1684, he sat as Member of Parliament for the City of London the following year and would eventually rise to Mayoral Office in the year 1702. Similarly, his brother Francis was likewise elected an Alderman of the City before being selected as Member of Parliament for the Borough of Winchelsea on the Sussex Coast. Amazing as it may seem in our own present century, the Parliamentary seat of Winchelsea at this time was what was referred to as a "Treasury Borough", in that its political representative was not elected by the local populace, but by the Borough Mayor and Freemen; themselves numbering no more than half a dozen souls; all of whom were on the Government payroll as Customs Officials. Thus, in view of the Dashwood Family’s longstanding association with the collection of Excise Duties, both in England and in Ireland, it should come as little surprise that Sir Francis Dashwood Bt. should have found himself so readily accepted as the new Member of Parliament for Winchelsea by the tiny Electorate of this decidedly "Rotten Borough" without even having to campaign for his position; a fact previously alluded to in equally amusing tones by the biographer of  his son and namesake. (20)      

 

So, what do these traditions signify in terms of London’s legendary history? Well, if Mary Caine’s "Kingston Zodiac" really does exist, and is not in reality a figment of her imagination, the western suburbs of the present day Metropolis could well be built over south east England’s equivalent of Glastonbury in Somerset. If this is the case, it could well have some mysterious link with the decidedly "Fortean", and previously unexplained, hidden force which was to induce in the visionary poet William Blake his mystical revelation of the Biblical "New Jerusalem"; in the fields adjoining Marylebone and St. John’s Wood; on the outermost urban fringes of the London of his day. (21) Similarly, if the "Mabinogion" legend of the installation at London of Bran the Blessed in the High Kingship of Britain  has any basis in historical reality at all, it could well confirm the hypothesis previously set out in Chapter One: that the Roman merchantile City of London was built directly over an ancient ritual centre connected with the enthronement of indiginous Sacral Kings.

 

 

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About tartantombraider

A lineal descendant of Captain Robert Ferguson (1719-1799) the older brother of the great Scottish Enlightenment Philosopher and historian Adam Ferguson (1723-1816); the friend of Hume, Gibbon and Adam Smith. Also related to the great feminist author and playwright Rachel Ferguson. Have written extensively on a vast range of subjects, published in print as book author and in various journals and magazines into the bargain. Early work as an underground film maker on the early Goa Trance and radical anti-CJB political scene in the 1990s has since become more refined and ambitious and I am now a regular contributor to such high profile events as the Portobello Film Festival Annual Film Maker's Convention.....:
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