Della and myself have been having a comparatively easy day today; literally just lounging around doing virtually nothing. Well, not really ‘virtually nothing’, there is always something to do, even if its only answering emails or the phone. Its been very cold in London lately, which probably excuses the fact that I am wearing my dressing gown on top of my pullover (please note, dressing gown as opposed to my ceremonial robe or smoking jacket!). But seriously, we have still been kept fairly busy, albeit only on the computer in the moderate warmth of the flat. There’s always things to do! Queries to be answered, books to be packaged up and friends overseas to stay up to date with which is where we find Skype quite invaluable these days.
On the subject of phone calls, had rather an interesting one earlier from my friend Kev. He was phoning from Kuwait on transit back to Dubai, as he has got a busy couple of weeks ahead organising another triathlon event. So he will be virtually out the ‘online picture’ for a least a few days when he gets started on that. The good news is, he informed me that he has just finished his new Blog, which he hopes to get posted before he takes his plane flight. You’ll have to wait and see what it is, but I gather its all going to form a part (at least the facts are) of his new autobiography due out later in the year. All I will say is at this stage is it deals with a rather ‘sp(l)iffing’ individual from North Wales, and his dedicated travels to the South Coast whenever he gets the opportunity. Just waiting for Kev to post it really, so have to read it for myself before commenting any further.
Della has also been kept very busy with her research into the legends and folklore of quaint old Highgate. She’s been doing a lot of work in this direction, by actually getting around and photographing some of the areas and old dwellings and other buildings and sites that have been brought to her attention. Highgate, as anyone but the unenlightened would know, is a quaint old village on the outskirts of North London. She is sometimes loathe to release things before publication, but I persuaded her to publish some of her working notes together with her latest findings as I think these would be of interest to some people. She has already given a small synopsis on her own personal blog (see link below), but I thought I would mention this on my own blog here as well as I know it captures the attention of many dedicated people.
Anyway, enough of my ‘waffling’ as she is just about to make me a cup of tea and then I’ll let her take up the story …
I have been doing a lot of local history research lately, both on foot and at home on these dark winter nights. Some of this has involved researching the secretion of a hoard of objects in a hidden compartment at Lauderdale House, a mansion dating from 1582 which is situate in Waterlow Park, Highgate, north London, a short distance from the cemetery.
It seems that the discovery of these artefacts took place between 1961 and 1963. It is certain that the house was badly damaged by fire in 1963, but I am unclear at present if the fire occurred after the removal of the objects (which were conceivably in part intended to protect the house as much as its occupants) or if they were found during the restoration process after the fire.
What we do know is that a collection of objects was found during renovation work in a recess of the chimney breast in what is now the long Tudor gallery on the first floor of Lauderdale House. I understand that these artefacts included 4 chickens (2 strangled and 2 possibly bricked up alive), a candlestick, a drinking vessel and plate, a pair of unmatching shoes and a braided cord of rush matting (and an egg – possibly laid by one of the chickens in its death throes). One of the shoes has been dated to 1650 and the other objects appear to be of later date. Of particular interest is the combination of objects; to a casual observer they may appear to be typical examples of domestic practical magic. But upon closer analysis they could represent the remains of some kind of ritual magic, especially considering the plaited rush which seems to resemble a kind of knot magic, and the apparent presence of a chalice.
Chris Laoutaris in Shakespearean Maternities (2008) notes that ‘a witchcraft case involving the maleficium of Anne Kerke against a child was presided over by one Sir Richard Martin, who had himself indulged in […] ritual countermagic […] ordering the cutting of the witch’s hair which he attempted to burn …Could this be the same Richard Martin who originally built Lauderdale House? Martin was Lord Mayor in 1589 and in 1594, just five years before this incident, and his position of influence may well have led to him serving as a ‘justice’ in important trials. This, if confirmed, along with the findings presented in this study, would suggest that ritual acts, like that reflected by the Lauderdale hoard, constitute more than a ‘builder’s sacrifice’, representing a richer and more complicated social and legal dynamic between victim and witch than has hitherto been understood’
The dating of the objects seems slightly out of step with the idea that they were placed in the house at the time of its construction, but Laourtaris’ comments certainly merit further research about the subsequent owners of the house and their connections.
I have been in contact with the Museum of London about these finds, which are in storage, and intend to visit and view them in the Spring with Patsy. I have also been in touch with the Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle and a researcher called Brian Hoggard who is involved in conducting an exhaustive survey of folk magic findings in England.
I shall publish more on this subject as when my research is concluded.
Relevant publications which mention the finds include:
London and the Civil War by Steven Porter, Macmillan 1996
The Archaeology of Ritual and Magic by Ralph Merrifield, New Amsterdam 1988
Shakespearean Maternities by Chris Laoutaris, Edinburgh University Press, 2008
London archaeologist – Volume 1 – Page 101, 1967
Man, myth & magic: an illustrated encyclopedia of the supernatural – Volume 3 – Page 361 Richard Cavendish – 1970
Diet and crafts in towns: the evidence of animal remains from the Roman to the post-medieval periods by Dale Serjeantson, Tony Waldron B.A.R., 1989
Chimneys and Chimney Sweeps by Benita Cullingford, Shire Publications Ltd (1 April 2003).
Hope you enjoyed it everyone, and I am sure she will keep you updated on her latest research into this matter which is far from over.
I have been invited to give another Talk in May (thank God it will be warmer then) but I’ll keep everyone up to date on the details once I receive them.