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Friday, February 26, 2016

London's Historic Pubs, Part II

©Cheryl Bolen

The five London pubs described in this blog have all been sampled by my family, and all can be found within a two-mile radius.

Ye Olde Mitre Tavern

The bottom photo shows the entrance to the pedestrian alley that leads to Ye Olde Mitre Tavern. We took that photo at night. The next photo, Google, is how the pub entrance looks in daylight.
The Bolen boys at Ye Olde Mitre
Ye Olde Mitre Tavern is said to be the most difficult pub to find in London. According to legend, one man worked around the corner for six years without finding it. Nowadays, it's easy to find with the GPS on your smart phone. It's located close to the Holburn Circus, not far from the Chancery Lane tube stop on High Holburn. Still, the guys in my family walked right by its entrance, but I was looking for a little alleyway. And do I mean little!

My husband and I near the fire at Christmas time at Ye Olde Mitre Tavern. (Sons opted to drink outside.)
We're so glad we found it! It's one of the most memorable of all the London pubs we've patronized. You enter through a narrow pedestrian way that has likely been unchanged in centuries. The pub's interior is comprised of tiny, low-ceilinged rooms. It's very popular with the locals who can drink a pint near the fire on a winter's night. Those desiring to imbibe outdoors gather around tall upside-down barrels that serve as bar tables.

Ye Olde Mitre Tavern has been on this site since 1546, but the current building was constructed in 1772. It's said Queen Elizabeth I visited here and danced around a cherry tree that is still there. Ye Olde Mitre was originally a tavern for the servants of the Palace of the Bishops of Ely, which was once based here.

Red Lion in Westminster

Because of its prime location between Number 10 Downing Street and Parliament, The Red Lion is your best chance of seeing a real M.P. (Member of Parliament). Until Edward Heath (British Prime Minister from 1970-1974) every prime minister had visited the Red Lion.

A tavern has been at this location since 1434. A young Charles Dickens visited the Red Lion regularly. The current structure was built in 1890.

The inside is more upscale traditional with dark woods and higher ceilings. Its corner location has become popular for those who take their pints outside. You'll see lots of people in suits grabbing an after-work pint.

The Cross Keys

Those with OCD may go a little crazy in the interior of The Cross Keys, opened in 1848. Its small interior is crammed with all manner of memorabilia—and clutter. Among the bric-a-brac there's said to be a napkin signed by Elvis.

One of my sons in front of The Cross Keys.
This Covent Garden pub's claim to fame is attributed to the aforementioned plethora of memorabilia and to its unique facade which is a jumble of lovely greenery and flowers. It's probably Coven Garden's most distinctive building.

The Lamb and Flag

The Bolen guys in front of The Lamb and Flag
Also in Covent Garden, The Lamb and Flag claims to be Covent Garden's most historic watering hole. It's located on an L-shaped alleyway (not nearly as narrow as the alleyway to Ye Olde Mitre Tavern) that used to be famous for its bare-knuckled fighting.

Charles Dickens (That guy really liked his beer!) was a regular here, and a couple of centuries earlier the poet John Dryden hung out here. Up a very narrow, steep stairway is another room—this one named for Dryden, who was almost murdered nearby.

The Old Bell Tavern
The bar at The Old Bell Tavern (You'll never see the place this empty!)

Just down Fleet Street from St. Paul's in The City, The Old Bell Tavern was built by St. Paul's architect, Sir Christopher Wren, for his stonemason's who were building St. Bride's church after the Great Fire.


Inside, it's cozy with a small fireplace, an attractive curved-wood bar, and great pub grub.—Cheryl Bolen, whose third Brazen Brides book, Oh What a Wedding Night, releases in April.

Friday, February 19, 2016

London Bridge, Then and Now

Old London Bridge [Credit: Reproduced by permission of the British Library; photograph, J.R. Freeman & Co. Ltd.]
circa 1500
by Donna Hatch

London Bridge has been an icon of England for centuries. But did you know that the London Bridge of today is not the same bridge of ancient construction? The Roman Empire built the original London Bridge which spanned the Thames River, constructed of wood and built on piers. The timber construction had to be repaired and replaced periodically.

Between 1176 and 1209, Peter of Colechurch replaced the timber bridge with a stone arched bridge. It stood for over 600 years. It provided a major thoroughfare, a business center, and even a source of amusement for thrill-seekers.

According to Encyclopedia Brittanica:  As a result of obstructions encountered during pile driving, the span of the constructed arches actually varied from 15 to 34 feet (5 to 10 metres). In addition, the width of the protective starlings was so great that the total waterway was reduced to a quarter of its original width, and the tide roared through the narrow archways like a millrace. “Shooting the bridge” in a small boat became one of the thrills of Londoners.

circa 1860
It was also on this bridge that a gruesome display of severed heads of traitors served as warning of punishment for treason. One of these included the famous rebel, William Wallace. Thankfully, this ghastly practice of heads on spikes along London Bridge ended in 1660 during the reign of King Charles II.

Since the bridge, the only one spanning the river at that time, was a bustling roadway, the new stone bridge soon became a coveted site of businesses and homes. Shops lined both sides of the street, and a number of passageways leading from one building to the next created a tunnel-like shopping and residential district.

However, this heyday would not last. In fact, it almost seems as though the bridge was cursed, suffering a massive fire, a collapse, the removal of the homes and business, erosion, and sinking. (No wonder children sing a song about "London Bridge is falling down.") Each time, the intrepid British rebuilt the bridge.

In 1971 the new, box girder bridge of concrete and steel took its place. Oddly enough, rather than simply destroying the bridge, the Common Council of the City of London found a buyer. American entrepreneur Robert P. McCulloch purchased the stone arch bridge in 1968 for a staggering $2,460,000!

Each block was numbered before dismantling and then shipped to Lake Havasu City, Arizona in the U.S., over 5400 miles from London. There it was painstakingly reassembled. Lake Havasu City rededicated London Bridge in a ceremony on October 10, 1971. The New London Bridge spans Lake Havasu behind Parker Dam on the Colorado River.

Next to the Grand Canyon, London Bridge is Arizona's largest tourist attraction, and a charming tourist community sprang up around the historic structure. As a history geek, I, for one, am happy the 600 year-old bridge has a new home where it is preserved and appreciated.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Valentine's Day, the History

By sweet historical romance author, Donna Hatch

A re-post, but this is as timely today as it was 6 years ago :-)

As a romance author and hopeless romantic, I cannot possibly ignore Valentine’s Day. I admit, until I started researching the topic, I really didn't know the real history behind Valentine’s day except it was to honor a Christian named Valentine who was martyred for marrying people in secret. Which really didn't make sense to me. Was he martyred because he was Christian? Or because he was marrying people? To my surprise, I found the answer to be a bit of both. Maybe. Although no one really sure who, exactly the famous Valentine actually was. And much is couched in myth and speculation. However, here's some fun history, sprinkled liberally with legend.

This much appears to be factual: In Rome 270 C.E. the Emperor Claudius II put out an edict saying no man could marry. Ever.


Talk about a stupid law!!!! No marriage? At all? And sex outside of marriage was considered to "prostitution" which was illegal. Talk about a bunch of unhappy people. And how were children to be brought into the world? Did he think it was okay for his entire country to become extinct in a single generation? Clearly, this brainless emperor didn’t think that one through.

But he apparently did have a reason for it. He felt that marriage made men "soft" and therefore unreliable soldiers. Men wouldn’t want to leave his wife and child AND die for his country, and because Emperor Claudius needed a massive army to maintain his vast empire. So, he outlawed marriage. Clearly he wasn't worried about becoming unpopular with his crazy law nor having a country peopled with soldiers for his posterity.

Into this confusing chaos steps Valentine, the Bishop of Interamna, who invited all young lovers to come secretly marry and, in turn, converted quite a few people to Christianity. Clearly this man was intelligent – much smarter than the Emperor because while getting his way of converting people to Christianity, he also saw to the needs of disgruntled lovers. Aw, isn’t that sweet?

Or it might have been a ploy to convert heathens. Either way, the Emperor inevitably found out, and had Valentine arrested.

The odd thing is, Valentine may not have been condemned for going against the Emperor's edict. Some accounts suggest it was because he refused to renounce Christianity and convert to Roman ways AND even attempted to convert the Emperor to Christianity. Talk about pluck! According to legend, while Valentine was awaiting execution, he befriended a girl who was the blind daughter of the jailer. While in jail, Valentine restored her eyesight through his faith. Some people believe he fell in love with her. Then he supposedly wrote her a farewell letter on the day that he was stoned (or beaten, according to some sources) and then beheaded. Another account reports he simply died in prison, probably of typhus, or gaol (jail) fever. At any rate, Valentine reportedly signed his love letter, "FROM YOUR VALENTINE."

We have been using his name, and even that phrase, ever since.

Also, there appears to have been anywhere from three to seven men who bore that name and were martyred, or died while in service to the church. Apparently one helped a number of Christians escape prison where they were being beaten and tortured. This Valentine was caught and executed. Another Valentine was a missionary in Africa, but little is known about him. Or, it’s possible, they were all the same men, but accounts of his death have been muddied. However, we do know that Valentinus, or Valentine, was a very common Roman name.

Though the marrying Valentine was executed on February 24, (according to some sources, anyway) 270, the Christian church chose to honor him and all the Valentines – who all supposedly died on or near February 14 – on February 14th because they wanted to replace a Roman rite of passage to the God of Lupercus. Part of the festival included men running around and slapping young women with a strap dipped in blood with the idea it was supposed to make them fertile. Another practice in that festival involved putting the names of virgins in a box (I wonder if they were willing or unwilling?) and drawn by not so virginal men (ARE there any virginal men?) in a lottery. Whichever girl was drawn was then assigned to "pleasure" the lucky man until the next lottery, which was a year later. (poor girl!!!) Sounds like a premise for a book, doesn’t it?

Anyway, the church was appalled by this pagan holiday (I don't blame them) so they chose to substitute it with a close second. Well, okay, maybe by the men’s standards it wasn’t such a close substitute. But Valentine’s Day appealed to the love aspect of the ritual instead of sex. I’m sorta surprised the men went for it, men being what they are. But I guess pleasing his wife, or the girl whom he hopes will be his wife someday, in the hopes he’ll get lucky (ahem) was the best substitute a good Christian man could hope for.

So, happy Valentine's day! And be grateful we aren't Roman!!!

Friday, February 12, 2016

A Few Favorites

I've found that almost any Regency writer--or reader--is fascinated by the Regency. This means all things to do with the early 1800's. These are a few of my favorite refrences:

Titles and Forms of Address, A&C Black Ltd. -- Because a small, handy guide is very handy.

The English Year, Roy Strong and Julia Trevelyan Oman -- A terrific book to sort out the seasons.

London-World City 1800-1810, Celina Fox -- tThis one is expensive but the images are great.

The Prince of Pleasure, J.B. Priestley - Not only a great boo but wonderful writing.

The Best Circles: Society, Etiquette and the Season, Leonore Davidoff -- An underrated gem.

London’s Pleasures: From Restoration to Regency, David Kerr Cameron -- It really does help to know where Regency pleasures came from.
Shops & Shopping, Allison Aldberg -- Because I love shopping.

The A to Z of Regency London, Harry Margary -- You can't have too many maps.

A Country House Companion, Mark Girouard -- Great photos and information.

Miss Weeton, Journal of A Governess, 1811-1835 -- Source material is always the best.

The Family, Sex and Marriage: In England 1500 - 1900, Lawrence Stone -- Stone makes it all clear.

Road to Divorce, Lawrence Stone
Marriage, Debt, and the Estates System, English Landownership, 1650-1950, Sir John Habakkuk -- It really does help to know this stuff.

The History of Underclothes, Willet and Cunnington -- Makes the undressing and dressing scenes easier to write.

A New System of Domestic Cookery for Private Families, by a Lady (Mrs. Rundell) -- It's not just about the cooking.

Food in History, Reay Tannahil -- A wonderful history of food, and oh, those meals!

Sporting Art: 1700 – 1900, Stella Walker -- Art books can be great sources of inspiration.
The Celebrated Captain Barclay: Sport, Gambling and Adventure in Regency Times, Peter Radford

The School of Fenching With a General Explanation, Henry Angelo -- This is probably more technical than most folks want, but if you're going to do a fencing scene, do it right.

Hell and Hazard, Henry Blyth -- Everything you need to know about gambling.

The Duel: A History, Robert Baldick -- Lots of great stories.

Fox Hunting, Jane Ridley -- Very well written.

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Firearms, Ian V. Hogg  -- I love illustrated books.

The Purchase System in the British Army, 1660-1871, Anthony Bruce -- Terrific information.

Horse and Carriage; The Pageant of Hyde Park, J.N.P. Watson -- Great images.
Side saddle Riding, Betty Skelton -- It's not as difficult as most folks seem to think.

Mind of the Horse, Henry Blake -- If you have horses in your books, read this book first.
Horse & Carriage, J.N.P. Watson -- An excellent resource for anyone who loves horses.

The Elegant Carriage, Marilyn Watney -- A charming, lovely little book.
A More Expeditious Conveyance; The Story of the Royal Mail Coaches, Bevan Rider -- Great information on coaches and the coaching roads.

Cary's New Itinerary Great Roads (yearly editions), John Cary -- Maps, details, and even traveling descriptions. A book beyond value!