Sunday, 17 February 2019

Bunhill Fields—3 September 1688

John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, died in August 1688, at the age of sixty. Drenched in a rainstorm on a rare visit to London for a preaching engagement, Bunyan fell ill while staying at the home in Snow Hill, Farringdon Without, of the grocer John Strudwick. His cold developed into a fever, though he still preached on 19 August to a London congregation, until illness claimed his life on 31 August 1688. He was buried at Bunhill Fields on 3 September.

Strudwick had already purchased a plot for a family vault in Bunhill Fields and it was his intention that Bunyan’s remains would be placed there too, though Bunyan was initially buried in the “Baptist Corner” at the back of the burial ground. John Strudwick survived another nine years, himself dying in 1697. There is no record of when Bunyan’s coffin was placed in the Strudwick vault although one might guess it was soon after Strudwick’s burial; the surviving burial ground registers only begin in 1713.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Bunhill Fields—the long continuities of London life and death

Drive your cart and your plow over the bones of the dead.—BLAKE
The Bunhill Fields Burial Ground and the adjacent Artillery Ground are the last large open spaces remaining of the three great fields (Bunhill Fields, Smithfield, and Moorfields) that constituted the Manor of Finsbury. The name Bunhill is a corruption of “Bone Hill”, perhaps implying the presence somewhere on the land of a Saxon burial mound. Another suggestion is that the marshy field was used as a refuse tip—a dumping ground for rags and bones, including animal bones from the Smithfield shambles, but I think the name predates the establishment of the livestock market. The manor was originally the prebend of Halliwell and Finsbury, established in 1104 to provide support for a canon of St Paul’s Cathedral.

In 1315, in the reign of Edward II, the prebendary manor was granted by Robert Baldock, the king’s secretary, to the Mayor and commonalty of London. This act enabled more general public access to a large area of fen or moor stretching from the City of London’s boundary (London Wall), to the village of Hoxton. Though ownership of Bunhill Fields reverted to the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul’s Cathedral from 1514 to 1867, it continued to be leased and managed by the Corporation of London. The Corporation in turn sublet the field. This pattern of lease and sub-lease (and often sub-sub lease) was customary with Corporation land and persists to this day.

Monday, 24 December 2018

The Artillery Ground and the long continuities of London life

The Bunhill Fields burial ground preserves the name of one of the three large fields (the others being Moorfields and Smithfield) that historically formed the Manor of Finsbury. The term field implies open land—land not used for the cultivation of crops but for the grazing of animals, the tenting of cloth (that is to say, the bleaching of linen in the sun), all kinds of sports and ball games, & so on—any activity that required space. I attribute to Peter Ackroyd the phrase “the long continuities of London life” though I can no longer trace the reference. It just may be that I heard him use the phrase in a lecture twenty or more years ago and it has resonated with me ever since.

The Finsbury fields were long a noted place for the practice of archery. A Child ballad (No 145B : “Robin Hood and Queen Katherine”), tells of an archery contest at Bunhill Fields :

          In summer time, when leaves grow green,
          It is a seemly sight to see
          How Robin Hood himself had drest,
          And all his yeomandry.

          He cloathed his men in Lincoln green,
          And himself in scarlet red,
          Black hats, white feathers, all alike ;
          Now bold Robin Hood is rid.

          And when he came at Londons court,
          Hee fell downe on his knee:
          ‘Thou art welcome, Locksly,’ said the queen,
          ‘And all thy good yeomendree.’

Thursday, 8 March 2018

A Fugs Discography

In this simple discography of The Fugs, Ed Sanders, and Tuli Kupferberg, I attempt to list each recording (LP, Single, CD, tape or cassette) that I have been able to trace, though omitting downloads and online content. Reissues are usually noted with the original publication, but I list separately reissued discs where there is variation of title or of content. There may well be inconsistencies in the coverage. With the ESP recordings in particular, there are numerous variations in the packaging and labelling of the album which I shall not attempt to enumerate here.

The Fugs themselves were formed in New York City in 1964 by Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg, with Ken Weaver on drums. Later that year they were joined by Peter Stampfel and Steve Weber of The Holy Modal Rounders. Sanders says the Fugs started out with an air of anything-goes possibility—what a show could be and how the band would progress were entirely up for grabs.
We started out in Greenwich Village, on the Lower East Side, and we were in the middle of a lot of music: the jazz clubs, the civil-rights songs, the folk movement, rock’n’roll. Everyone had guitars in their apartments, and we’d put beat poetry to music. It was a time when you could rent a store front, rent a smoke machine, have someone dancing in a bathtub full of grapes, play some songs, and you could charge admission.—SANDERS

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Blake set to music—Ed Sanders and The Fugs

The chronological sequence of musical settings of a poet provides an interesting measure of the reputation of that poet and the reception history of their oeuvre. Musicians, too, are influenced by literary fashion. The first known setting of Blake’s poetry (a setting of “The Chimney Sweeper”, in The Illustrated Book of Songs for Children) appeared in 1863 which, hardly coincidentally, was the year of publication of Gilchrist’s Life of Blake. There were a few more Blake songs in the 1870s, mostly single settings from the Songs of Innocence and of Experience, perhaps 80 or so for the rest of the nineteenth century, and then a flood of compositions from 1900 onwards that still shows no sign of stopping.

The nineteenth century established the various forms Blakean music would take: children’s songs, drawing-room ballads, art songs (the equivalent of the German Lied), and choral works. These classical forms persisted into the twentieth century, and to a lesser extent persist today. When it came to Blake, even a popular songwriter like Alec Wilder, who had worked with Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, and Tony Bennett, felt able only to compose songs for children. Not until William Bolcom completed his wildly eclectic setting of the complete Songs of Innocence and of Experience (in 1984 though not recorded until 2004) do we get, for example, “The Little Vagabond” as Broadway show-tune, or a bluegrass “Shepherd”.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

More about cricket and Blake

And what should they know of England who only England know?—KIPLING

What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?—JAMES
By the 1770s the game of cricket had reached a high level of development. It had recognized, accepted rules or—this being the eighteenth century—laws. It was played by teams sufficiently well known to attract large and enthusiastic crowds, and to arouse passionate local loyalties. In 1765 a crowd of 12,000 was reported to have attended a match of Dartford against Surrey at the Artillery Ground in Chiswell Street. The number of players was usually the same—eleven a side—though matches were sometimes played that involved fewer or more than that number. Bowling was underarm, and before the 1760s the ball came skimming at the batsman with only minimal bounce. Batting was no easy matter on the primitive, rough pitches that were the norm.

The bat was curved like a hockey stick, and it was only during the great days of the Hambledon club, in Hampshire, in the 1770s and 1780s that bowlers developed the knack of making the ball kick up at the batsman. This, as well as the addition of the third stump to the two widely spaced ones previously used, made it necessary to switch to the “straight” bat, more easily used with precision. The expression was later to become something like a metaphor for cricketing virtue.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

William Blake and fake news

William Blake has declared Jerusalem to be the capital of England and dismissed all other suggestions as fake news.