Jane Lane and Charles II

Jane Lane and Charles II

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Grey's Inn, Wilton's Music Hall, Bonfire Night

Grey's Inn Hall

On Friday my friend Clare, who is a barrister, took me to lunch at Grey's Inn Hall . Grey's Inn, Lincoln's Inn, The Middle Temple, and the Inner Temple are the centuries-old law schools of England, where many barristers still have their chambers. Grey's Inn Hall is beautiful - hammer beam roof, dark and elaborately carved wood paneling, stained glass windows, etc. And rich with history. Besides its legal history, it was the site of early performances of some of Shakespeare's plays. No pictures were permitted, but you can see a photo of the interior at http://www.greysinn.info/ and learn more about Grey's Inn at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greys_Inn.

Wilton's Music Hall

Friday night I met some friends at Wilton's Music Hall (wiltons.org.uk and wiltonsthevenue.co.uk), an 1858 music hall that fell into disrepair and was long closed, used for non-performance purposes, and on the brink of destruction before it was recently saved and restored, and is once again presenting occasional performances. It's near Cable Street in Shadwell, an area of the East End of London near the river that was long associated with sailors and maritime life in general.

Music hall, if you don't know, was the English precursor to American vaudeville, with variety acts, singers and dancers - the working classes' entertainment that thrived during the Victorian era and even into the about the first quarter of the 20th century (http://en.wikipedia/wiki/music_hall)

Friday was a free film night, with screenings of some rather silly Rank Organization special short features from the 1960s on Piccadilly, London's clubs, London's markets, etc. Amazing to see the changes in many areas of London since then. And a big laugh at the chipper line "The London of the future will have no traffic jams!"

The Wilton's building is fantastic, with history oozing from every pore, as my friend Alice says. We sat in the balcony, which runs around three sides of the house, with a narrow rectangular stalls section below, and a proscenium stage with two levels. Beautiful twisting columns, ornate plaster work, all in a state of arrested decay and semi-restoration.

Part of the pleasure of the evening was just being in the place. Before the films we had some snacks and drinks in the Mahogany Bar, which according to the Wilton's web site has been a bar as far back as 1725. Afterwards, we sat upstairs in an area with brick walls and a fireplace that I think must have been some kind of public area, or maybe office or something, as it's on the wrong side of the building to be dressing rooms.

"Remember, remember the Fifth of November, Gunpower, Treason and Plot!"

Thursday night was Bonfire Night - the annual commemoration of Guy Fawkes's failed 1605 plot to blow up the King and Houses of Parliament (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guy_Fawkes_Night). Since then, the Fifth of November has been celebrated with bonfires, fireworks, and burning "Guys," or effigies of Guy Fawkes. Our commonly used term "guy" to refer to a man derives from this custom, incidentally. The guy came to mean not just the effigies that were burned, but any ragged-looking man, and then just any guy.

Since Bonfire Night fell on Thursday, most of the big public fireworks displays were on the weekend instead, so on Saturday night I walked with my friends Clare and Alex up to Blackheath to see the fireworks. Blackheath is a large open area just south of Greenwich, that has long been used as a gathering place and staging area before advancing on London. Wat Tyler's rebels gathered there in 1381 , Henry V arrived there on his way home from Agincourt in 1415, and in the 18th century, the old retired sailors housed in Greenwich played cricket on the heath. One of my favorite tales is of a game of the one-legs against the one-arms, with a naval carpenter standing by to make repairs and replacements. For more, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackheath,_England.

The fireworks were great - a 20 minute display to music, and a big crowd was gathered. It really is pretty much exactly like the Fourth of July celebrations in the U.S. I didn't take into account exactly how the crowds would impact our getting around, and afterward we made our way, slowy, slowly to Donna's house in Lewisham. The streets and busses were packed, so we walked from Blackheath to Lewisham Station (quite a ways) and then got a bus to Donna's, not arriving until 10 p.m.

We missed the burning of the guy but got there in time for Tim setting off some fireworks that came perilously close to the house and throwing a couple of old Christmas trees on the embers of the bonfire and creating a raging inferno, as well as having mulled wine, hot soup, sausages, and pies.

Yesterday and today the Docklands Light Rail and several lines of the underground were closed for repairs (a regular and annoying feature of London life these days, as the city spruces itself up for the 2012 Olympics). This complicated transportation a lot, so over the weekend I mostly stayed around Greenwich and did research work and following up various inquiries on line, but this afternoon I went to see my friend Bucky in town, taking the Thames Clipper, referred to as the river bus, a much more enjoyable means of transportation than the underground, anyway.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The National Portrait Gallery and the Old Vic

Today I met my friend Laura for a lecture at the National Portrait Gallery (npg.org.uk) and then spent a while in the gallery looking at portraits of people relevant to Jane Lane's story as well as Nell Gwynn's. They have a nice service on which you can search for portraits and then either print free black and white copies or pay for really good quality color prints, so I got color prints of Jane's post-Restoration portrait and the Isaac Fuller portrait of her and Charles on horseback.

I tried to arrange to see the pictures in person while I'm here and the lady who helped me did her best to make it happen, but unfortunately it wasn't possible in the time that I have left here - a casualty of this trip being so hastily arranged! Next time...

This evening I went to the Old Vic (oldvictheatre.com) and saw the really fantastic production of "Inherit the Wind" directed by Trevor Nunn, with Kevin Spacey as Henry Drummond and David Traughton as Matthew Harrison Brady.

The Old Vic is one of London's oldest and most distinguished and history-laden theatres. It was built in the early 19th century, and has been the scene of performances by many, many theatrical luminaries including Edmund Kean, Edith Evans, Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, John Gielgud, Flora Robson, Charles Laughton, Alec Guinness, Richard Burton, Peter O'Toole, Anthony Hopkins, Albert Finney, Joan Plowright, Maggie Smith, Glenda Jackson, and Judi Dench. When Olivier was appointed first director of the National Theatre, the Old Vic served as its first home from 1962-1967. Olivier gave his last stage performance at the Old Vic in 1973, and if his ghost walks anywhere, it must surely be there.

The theatre has been saved when on the brink of destruction many times. In 1998 it was for sale and in danger of becoming a pub or lap dancing club. Kevin Spacey is the theatre's most recent savior. He became Artistic Director in 2003 and the Old Vic once more became a producing house. I've seen three of the six shows in which he has starred here since then("National Anthems" and "Richard II" as well as the current production) and also the outrageous Christmas pantomime with Sir Ian McKellan as Mother Goose and last year's wonderful "Pygmalion," and Mr. Spacey has really done a phenomenal job of producing really good theatre and packing the house. Not easy!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Meanwhile, back in London...

I WILL get caught up on the "Thelma and Louise Tour England" portion of my trip, but meanwhile, I'll chronicle my last couple of days. Yesterday I went to the British Library and secured a reader card, which allows me into the various specialized reading rooms (there is no general library). They don't give them out just for the asking, apparently - you have to convince them you have a reason to be there! So I was glad to get that settled and begin my digging.

I'd done a little looking through the catalogue in advance and found a few things I knew I wanted to see, but also had general areas of inquiry for which I didn't quite know how to begin or what I'd find. Among these - I had learned that the library had Charles II's copy of the Second Folio of Shakespeare's plays. Access to it is restricted, so I filled out the paperwork to ask to see it. Meanwhile, what I could get access to was an archival facsimile of Charles I's copy of the Second Folio, which is held in the Windsor Castle Library. I got that today -- he made a few notes but nothing astonishing. Still, interesting to see the version of the plays that the young Charles II would have seen -- and which Jane Lane's father might well have owned.

Had a look at a 1912 book called "The Royal Miracle" (the contemporary description of Charles's complete adventure) which included various contemporary accounts and other useful miscellany, including an almanac of the phases of the moon in September and October, 1651!

Also found the book that the Salt Library had recommended to me - Lane of Bently Hall by Henry Murray Lane, published in 1898. Quite interesting information about the history of Jane's family, who had been in Staffordshire for more than 700 years as of 1898, and had apparently come to England with William the Conqueror. They were quite well-connected -- had had a coat of arms since Lancastrian times, and I was suprised to learn that one of Jane's maternal great-great-grandmothers was the aunt of the Countess of Oxford (her brother's daughter married the Earl, that is) and one of Jane's paternal great-grandmothers was the sister of William, Lord Burleigh!

Another area of my research was to find out where and when Jane might have had the opportunity to see a Shakespeare play before the theatres were closed, so I followed some trails involving the King's Men, The Prince's Men, their repertories and provincial touring, closures of the London theatres due to plague, and itineraries of various royal progresses, working my way through G.E. Bentley's The Jacobite and Caroline Stage (in five volumes), Edmund Chambers's The Elizabethan Stage (two volumes), and the Calendar of State Papers for various years in the reign of Charles I.

Reading through the minutiae of petitions, grievances, naval promotions, political skirmishes, complaints by the Bristol soapmakers that the London soapmakers are stepping on their territory, etc., certainly brings home what a lot of people there have been doing quite a lot of things that were important to them since the world began, even if we've never heard of them. It's like someone ploughing through the White House emails of 2009 a few hundred years from now.

Meanwhile, today, Alice gave me a huge amount of help in my research by making some calls and emails looking into the issue of riding pillion -- the sidesaddle behind a rider astride fashion in which Jane travelled with Charles. During our jaunt she referred to herself as the Watson to my Holmes, and like Holmes, I've been lucky to have an intelligent and dogged sidekick for the past week or so!

Last night I had an enjoyable break from all hard work! - met up with some of my old gang -- Alice, Alison, Tim, Clare, Alex -- for the pub quiz at the Lord Nelson Pub on the Isle of Dogs, across the street from where I lived while here in 2005-2006. Actually, this circle of friends (including others who were absent last night) developed around our participation in the Nelson's pub quiz, in the golden days of yore, when Spencer and John ran the quiz, then weekly, and we won quite frequently, using our prize (the 1 pound collected from each player) to pay for our food and drinks the next week. Unfortunately, last night Donna, our ace in the hole of obscure knowledge, was at her Gunmaker's Dinner, and without her we were not at our best.

And finally - the burning question I'm sure you all want to know - what are the girls in London wearing now? Black opaque tights, mostly. With long skirts, short skirts, shorts (!), boots of many lengths and heel heights. Add a jacket, a big scarf, a really big bag, and a cell phone, and you're there!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Can't keep up!

It's been a whirlwind few days on the trail of Jane Lane. Alice and I got back to London late last night and today I just rested, in the WONDERFUL little bed and breakfast in Greenwich where I'm staying. I'll try to catch the blog up to the adventure over the next couple of days, but will just post a few photos. Alice took the ones of me.