Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The carriage passes what looks like Westminster Palace (minus Big Ben) and eventually turns into a narrow street

I used this quote before when I did my post on London Bridge. Today we will look at Westminster Palace. Or as you know it – The Houses of Parliament.

The Palace of Westminster began as a church, and was built in the eighth century - dedicated to St Peter. The name West Minster came from the phrase meaning west monastery. In the tenth century, after being converted into an abbey, it was adopted as a royal church. It was then that the idea of having a Palace of Westminster was born.

The Palace of Westminster was inherited by William the Conqueror after the great battles of 1066. In 1097, his son William II began to use Westminster Hall to hold grand banquets and it was becoming known as the “ceremonial centre of the Kingdom”. At this time the capital of England was actually Winchester, as this was where the Royals spent most of their time.

Over the next century, Westminster was gradually becoming the centre of the country. This was especially so under the rule of Henry II’s son, King John, when the Exchequer moved to Westminster.

It took 400 years, but finally, in 1512, the Palace of Westminster to become the permanent home of Parliament.

The Clock Tower
that we call Big Ben, on the other hand, wasn’t completed until 1859, but this wasn’t the first of its kind. In fact, during Amelia’s time England was up to its second clock, which was built in 1367 but by 1707 it had fallen into disrepair and was replaced with a sundial. After a fire in 1834, which burnt down most of the Palace of Westminster, building work began on a new palace.

Like all political centres, there have been some great historic moments in the Palace of Westminster. Let’s look at our favourite period – the 1600s:

In 1605 Guy Fawkes and 12 others tried to blow up the House of Lords in the infamous Gunpowder Plot. They were prosecuted in 1606.

In 1649, King Charles I was sentenced to death after the Civil Wars between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians. In 1653, Oliver Cromwell was instated as the Lord Protector, and England became a Republic. After his death in 1658, he was succeeded by his son, Richard. However the people of England called for Charles II to come back and England had a monarchy again in 1660. In autumn of that year, it was ordered that Cromwell and two others be exhumed (i.e. have their bodies dug up after death), and executed for regicide (or murder of royalty). On the 30th January 1661 (twelve years after the death of Charles I), they were hanged and then decapitated. Their heads were put on display on poles above Westminster Hall.

In 1688, seven bishops were tried because they objected to the Declaration of Indulgence, which stated that people did not have to declare their oath to the church in public and were free to worship as they wished in the privacy of their own homes. It was the first step towards religious freedom, but the objection from the bishops resulted in a trial for seditious libel. They were found not guilty.

Monday, 15 March 2010

‘Once we are at St James’s Square, Mama shall send Jones for the doctor at once. Try not to worry, darling Amelia.’

When writing this book I thought that it would be important to use places that had some historical significance during the time, and that included all the roads. Today let’s talk about the origins of St James’s Square.

St James’s Square may now be filled with embassies, company head offices and office blocks, but during Amelia’s time, the Square was the home to some of the most exclusive houses that money could buy. This was the intention from the beginning.

Building work began in 1662 after King Charles II extended a lease to Henry Jermyn, 1st Earl of St Albans, who had already developed the nearby St James Street. When the lease extension was granted, he believed that it was important that the area should be “built for the conveniency of the Nobility and Gentry who were to attend upon his Majestie's Person, and in Parliament; and for the better Ornament of the Place, Directed by his Officers, not only the said Buildings, but the form and Manner also”*. What this meant that St James’s Square was only meant to be built for the people who absolutely had to be in the area for business purposes. Therefore the only people who could live there would be from the highest classes.

He added: “ye beauty of this great Towne and ye convenience of your Court are defective in point of houses fitt for ye dwellings of Noble men and other Persons of quality, and that your Majesty hath thought fitt for some Remedy hereof to appoint [that the] Place in St. James Field should be built in great and good houses”*. In short, the richest folk would be and should be the only people that live in this exclusive part of London. By the 1720s seven earls and seven dukes lived in St James’s Square.

This is a rather interesting request from someone who had a gambling problem and was rumoured to marry the widow of King Charles I, Henrietta Maria, not long after the death of the King.

*From: 'St. James's Square: General', Survey of London: volumes 29 and 30: St James Westminster, Part 1 (1960), pp. 56-76. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=40545 Date accessed: 15 March 2010.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

“Oh, my dear, my darling Elizabeth has the smallpox.”

The Dresskeeper tries to highlight some of the problems people faced during the 17th century, and disease was an issue than affected everyone – rich or poor.

So what is smallpox? Well, it’s a virus, which according to the World Health Organisation, starts off with symptoms a lot like the flu, but is then followed by a rash and blisters (or pustules). These start on the face and quickly spread everywhere else. Smallpox still is one of the most dangerous and feared diseases in the world, but a few hundred years ago, the disease killed around 30% of those infected. If you didn’t die you would probably end up with scars - almost 80% who survived sported them. And if the scars weren’t enough, you might also be blinded.

In 1967 the World Health Organisation began a programme to eradicate Smallpox completely around the globe and by 1980, they had managed it.

However, during Amelia’s time, and in the case of her poor friend Elizabeth, smallpox was impossible to treat, and there were no vaccinations or preventative medicines. The worst part of it was that a person could be infected for many days and not even realise it. It was easy to see how it spread. That fever could last for around 10 days and by the time the worst of the symptoms would become visible – the pox – that person could have infected so many others. And in a crowded city like London, the virus spread like wildfire.

Finally, in the 1700s, medical professionals began to consider immunization after noticing that a person who had survived smallpox could not be re-infected.

Interestingly, the idea of immunisation was controversial. An article written in 1750 for Gentlemen’s Magazine highlights the arguments against inoculation. For example, it was supposedly against God, as he is the “sovereign of life, and he can preserve us”. A trust in God was considered enough in the fight against the disease. Another argument against immunisation was that giving a child a jab took away their free will in some way, because they were those “who cannot judge for themselves.” And yet another argument was that it was unlawful because “it may bring danger without their knowledge”. In other words, if a person was infected with smallpox for medical purposes, they couldn’t be sure if they carried the disease, and therefore it they might infect others.

Luckily, this article was written by a man named David Some, who was in favour of the jabs. In his view, there were two options – stay out of everyone’s way all the time (obviously impractical) or immunise. He successfully argued immunisation was the safest way to save lives.

Then, in the latter half of the 18th century Edward Jenner noticed that people like milkmaids did not seem to get smallpox - instead they were only infected by the much milder cow pox. He carried out an experiment on an eight-year-old boy named James Phippes. In a gross but necessary act, he took pus out of the pustule from a cowpox sufferer and rubbed it into a cut on the boy’s arm. The boy did not get smallpox.

Unfortunately, not everyone believed in his experiment and the claim that the boy would never get smallpox, so more proof was needed. Jenner continued to try his experiments on other children, which didn’t go down too well with 18th century ‘do-gooders’. Nevertheless, Jenner eventually convinced the powers that be in the benefits of his work, and a vaccine against smallpox was introduced.