The amount of tax a person in London paid during the Middle Ages was recorded on a tally stick. Notches were made on the stick for every payment and the stick was then split lengthways, in half. The one half was left with the government as a record – an early tax receipt. The government’s halves were kept in the Palace of Westminster, and as you can imagine they piled up over the centuries.
Finally, in 1834, someone suggested that maybe they get rid of them, so they were burnt in a furnace under the House of Lords…but the furnace was overloaded and the fire spread rapidly. Sadly the fire destroyed most of the Palace and some very valuable, historical documents (such as the warrant for the execution of Charles I).
Turner immortalised the event in his painting ‘The Burning of the Houses of Parliament’ and a stunned spectator described it as “Certainly the grandest thing we have ever witnessed”!
Earthquakes were recorded in London in 1247, 1275, 1382, 1439, 1626 and 1750. In 1580 the last significant quake struck, which originated in the Strait of Dover. This tremor was so large that people watched in fear as two men who were sitting on cannons at Tower Hill, were thrown to the ground. The church bells in the City were all set off, a pinnacle fell off Westminster Abbey, two children died when a chimney stack collapsed and Thomas Grey, a City cobbler was crushed by falling masonry in Newgate Street.
London is overdue a major earthquake and according to Dr Roger Musson, of the British Geological Survey, a quake measuring 6.0 on the Richter Scale could be caused by a slip in a fault line running from Dover to the Rhine region of Germany. Even though London is not on a fault line a quake can strike at any time. “All we can say is that something that has happened twice can, and probably will, happen three times.”
Now that the city is far more densely inhabited, fatalities would be higher and damage more extensive.
It is, in fact, illegal to hail a cab while it is in motion – you should go to a rank or a ‘place appointed’
A cabby is supposed to ask each passenger if they have a ‘notifiable disease such as smallpox or the plague’, as it is illegal to carry a sufferer.
It is also illegal for a cabby to carry a a rabid dog or a corpse, so it really is in the best interests of the cabby to ensure his passenger is not going to die in the cab.
It is also the cabby’s responsibility, not the passenger’s, to ensure nothing has been left in the vehicle.
The law required a cabby to carry a bale of hay on the roof of the cab to feed the horse. This law was only repealed in 1976. It is also no longer required to carry a bag of oats.
As a cabby was not allowed to leave his cab on the public highway, the driver was however allowed to urinate in public. He was required to urinate on the rear wheel of the vehicle, with his right hand placed on it. It is not clear how this law would’ve applied to women cabbies…..
Cleopatra’s needle, which stands on the banks of the River Thames is one of a pair that was erected in 1500BC, and stood in front of the temple of Heliopolis in Egypt, where Moses was born. It was offered by the Viceroy of Egypt to the British people in 1819 as ‘a worthy memorial of our distinguished countrymen Nelson and Abercromby’, after Nelson’s victory over the French in the Battle of the Nile in 1798. Due to an unfortunate chain of events, it took 70 years for it to finally arrive in London and sadly gained the distinction of being the first London monument to be hit in an air attack in World War I. A bomb exploded near the plinth and one of the lions suffered shrapnel damage (which you can still see today).
But this monument holds a historic secret …. in its plinth is a time capsule which holds items such as Imperial weights and measures, four Bibles in different languages, a railway guide with timetables of the day and copies of newspapers from 1879, which was the year it was erected on the Embankment. It is also said to contain cigars, a gentleman’s lounge suit, the complete outfit a fashionable lady of the day would’ve worn, magazines of the day, popular childrens’ toys, a razor, twelve photographs of the most beautiful famous women of the time and a complete set of currency used throughout the Commonwealth ranging from a farthing to five pounds.
I often wonder what we would put in a time capsule to tell future genrations what we were about….!
Images: The Daily Mail
For an audio version of this legend:
In 1534 Henry VIII passed the Act of Supremacy, giving him the position of supreme head of the Church of England. This gave him ‘permission’ to divorce Catherine of Aragon. The Act of Succession put Anne Boleyn by Henry’s side as his lawful queen and any children she produced would be heirs to his throne.
All English subjects were required to swear the oath to accept these legal and ecclesiastic changes, but many devout Catholics were prepared to defy the king. Any of the king’s Catholic enemies who refused to accept these new laws, were declared traitors.
Charterhouse Monastery, the flourishing Carthusian monastery in central London, was home to a group of monks who did refuse to accept these new changes to the country’s laws. Prior John Houghton was the head of the monastery. His monks bravely refused to swear the oath outlined by the throne, and thus paid the ultimate price for defying Henry.
In April 1535 ten of the monks at Charterhouse were taken to Newgate Prison nearby and then taken to the Tower of London. The legal process was speedy, and within three weeks they were tried, convicted and executed for treason. Eye witnesses reported that the monks were dragged out of the prison in their habits, and in front of a crowd of people at Tyburn they were hanged and cut down before they were dead. As their limp bodies lay on the ground, they were cut open, their hearts and bowels removed and burned. Their arms were torn off and their blood and flesh was smeared on the faces of the other victims. Their heads were finally cut off and their bodies quartered.
As Prior John Houghton was disemboweled, his dying words were uttered, “And what wilt thou do with my heart, O Christ?”. He was canonized in 1970 for being the first martyr of the Tudor persecutions. He is represented carrying a noose, or with a noose around his neck, carrying a heart.
Inside the walls of the court of Henry VIII, there was nothing but love and passion, but outside of the palaces there were horrific and tragic stories that remind us of the heartless acts committed in the soul pursuit of gaining a male heir for the Tudor dynasty.