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.’