Oliver Cromwell; 1945 soccer with the Russians; St Catherine’s Day; a Hurricane; Quiet music and a Golden Egg; the Royal Society and Prince Albert’s surgeon’s early days.

Thursday 23rd November 1658 saw the state funeral of Oliver Cromwell in Westminster Abbey, nearly two months after his death. The hugely expensive funeral was based on that of King James I 33 years previous and the procession took over seven hours to move the mile to the Abbey. British History Online gives us a comprehensive, descriptive, report of:
‘The Death, Funeral Order, and Procession, of His Highness the most Serene and most Illustrious Oliver Cromwell, late Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and the Dominions and Territories thereunto belonging. The whole of this faithfully copied from the MS. of the Rev. John Prestwich, Fellow of All Soul’s College, Oxford.’
The report goes to nearly 4,500 words – the following is the first part:
‘A great funeral performed with very great majesty, in this manner following. All things being in readiness, the waxen effigies of the Protector, with a crown on his head, a sword by his side, a globe and sceptre in his hands, was taken down from his standings, and laid in an open chariot, covered all over with black velvet. The streets, from Somerset-House to Westminster-Abbey, were guarded by soldiers, placed without a railing, and clad in new red coats, with black buttons, with their ensigns wrapped in cypress. These made a lane, to keep off spectators from crowding the procession.
The Proceeding to the Funeral of the most noble and puissant Oliver, Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and the dominions and territories thereunto belonging, from Somerset-house in the Strand, unto the Abbey Church of Westminster, on Thursday, the 23d of November, 1658. Colonel Biscoe, Knight Marshall, on horseback, with his black truncheon, tipped at both ends with gold. Richard Gerald, Deputy Marshall, on horseback, with his black truncheon, tipped with silver. Marshall’s men, 13, on horseback, with the Knight Marshall; Two conductors of the poor men of Westminster, with black staves; Poor men of Westminster, two and two, in mourning gowns and hoods….’
The rest of the description, over 4,000 words, can be seen on the British History website.
After the Restoration of the Monarchy Cromwell’s remains were exhumed, hanged and decapitated with his head being placed on a pole on the roof of Westminster Hall.

Saturday 24th November 1945 – Simon Garfield’s ‘Our Hidden Lives – the everyday diaries of a forgotten Britain 1945/8’ does just what it sets out to do. In visiting this days’ entry I want first to take you back to Wednesday 14th November when Edie Rutherford – described as a South African housewife and Socialist, now living in Sheffield – records: ‘I hope the Russian footballers are pleased with their reception. I should think every Communist in the country was there, though they could not ALL have had a grandmother to bury (as their excuse for a day off work I presume). I had to laugh at the description in the Daily Express today of the bus clippies after the match yesterday trying to enforce this new ‘no standing’ law on 85,000 football fans…
We can now come forward to this day – 24th November when Edie notes: ‘I think the Moscow Dynamos had better go home. Far from fostering friendship I can foresee worse relations as a result of their visit. Already there are recriminations about assault during the game … our men are bound to get madder with each lost game and I don’t kid myself that our lads are above a dirty blow if they see a chance”. Her comment stems from the fact that, while the Dynamo had top quality players with them, the British players were of a lower level of skill and fitness and/or much older and less athletic.
In the Western Morning News of Friday 23rd November I found the following small piece:
‘TO FACE DYNAMOS: Devonport M.P.’s Humorous Plea: “Demob Full-Backs.” ‘The lighter side of Mr Michael Foot (Lab. Devonport) was greatly enjoyed in the House of Commons yesterday, when he asked a supplementary question to one that had just been answered by the Prime Minister, who had rejected the idea of appointing a separate Minister to deal with demobilisation. “Would it not be possible,” said Mr Foot, “for a separate Minister to be appointed to arrange, in conjunction with the Service Minister, the demobilization of two good full-backs who could stand up to the attack of the Moscow Dynamos?’

25th November is St Catherine’s Day. The Christian writer Eusebius claims that the Roman Emperor Maximinus was consumed by avarice and superstition. He also, allegedly, lived a highly dissolute lifestyle: ‘And he went to such an excess of folly and drunkenness that his mind was deranged and crazed in his carousals; and he gave commands when intoxicated of which he repented afterward when sober. He suffered no one to surpass him in debauchery and profligacy, but made himself an instructor in wickedness to those about him, both rulers and subjects.’
According to Eusebius, only Christians resisted him and he refers to one high-born woman who rejected the Emperor’s advances and was exiled while he seized all of her wealth and assets. Eusebius does not give the woman a name, but another writer calls her “Dorothea,” and writes that she fled to Arabia. However Caesar Baronius identified the woman in Eusebius’ account with Catherine of Alexandria. In due time she became referred to as St Catherine of Alexandria, the patron saint of unmarried women, wheelwrights, millers, lacemakers, philosophers, preachers and librarians. She is described as an eloquent and intelligent young noblewoman who astonished and angered Maximinius so much so that he condemned her to death. She was put on a spiked wheel – ‘Catherine’s Wheel’ – and, when the wheel broke, she was beheaded. Many scholars dismiss the “legend” of St. Catherine, citing the lack of any “positive evidence that she ever existed outside the mind of some Greek writer who first composed what he intended to be simply an edifying romance.”
The earliest surviving account of her life comes over 500 years after the traditional date of her martyrdom. However, the development of her medieval cult was spurred by the reported rediscovery of her body around the year 800 at Mount Sinai, with ‘hair still growing and a constant stream of healing oil issuing from her body’. St. Catharine’s College, Cambridge was founded on St Catharine’s Day 1473 by Robert Woodlark, the then provost of King’s College Cambridge, who sought to create a small community of scholars who would study exclusively theology and philosophy.                                       Watching her wheel spin round on Bonfire night may now take on a whole new meaning.

By Friday 26th November 1703 a hurricane that had struck the south of England and the English Channel on the 24th was still raging, and was beyond anything in living memory. By the end of the month it had caused the death of more than 8,000 people and damage of £2 million in money of the time. Using 2013 figures as a basis that £2 million would be somewhere around £350 million now! John Evelyn described it in his diary as ‘not to be paralleled with anything happening in our age or in any history almost … every moment, like Job’s messengers, brings the sad tidings of this universal judgement.’ Winds are recorded as tearing across the country, sending the roofs of houses flying, levelling barns and knocking flat thousands of trees, which ‘lay prostrate in rows like regiments fallen in battle’. It was reported that 4,000 oaks perished in the New Forest and an attempt to count the toll of trees in Kent gave up at 17,000. Evelyn himself lost more than 2,000 on his Surrey estate. The chimneys of Wells Palace fell in, killing the Bishop and his wife in their bed.
At sea the Eddystone Lighthouse with its 120ft tower was swept away and the six people in it were killed. Ships overtaken by the gale were wrecked and sunk. Off the Kent coast shipwrecked seamen managed to find a foothold on the Goodwin Sands, but they knew the rising sea would drown them if they were not taken off. A man named Thomas Powell of Deal organised the rescue of some 200 of them, but it was said that many citizens of Deal were too busy looting the wrecked ships to help the sailors.
In London, Daniel Defoe had a narrow escape in the street when part of a nearby house fell down. On this Friday the wind began to blow even harder and when Defoe checked his barometer, he ‘found the mercury sunk lower than he had ever seen it’. After midnight the gale increased to such a force that it was almost impossible to sleep. The noise of the chimneys of neighbouring houses coming down made the family fear that their own solid brick house might collapse on their heads. When they opened the door to escape into the garden, they saw ‘tiles hurtling through the air, some travelling thirty or forty yards and then driven eight inches deep into the ground.’ The Defoe family decided to stay inside and ‘trust in God’s providence’. The storm did not calm down until December 2nd. On the following day Defoe went to the Pool of London, where he ‘saw some 700 ships all piled up into heaps together’. He advertised in the London Gazette for witnesses to send in their accounts of the gale and published The Storm the following year.

On Saturday 27th November 1869 Arthur Munby wrote in his diary: ‘In the afternoon, I went to the ‘Saturday Popular’ Concert at St. James’s Hall; chiefly to hear the new female violinist, Madame Norman-Neruda. The day being wet, I was able to walk quietly to a good seat in the orchestra, and so for once to enjoy the gracious blissfull music fully: hearing, for instance, a Frenchman, a Hungarian, and Italian, all of them together playing out the thoughts of a German, to an English audience, who understood it all. An admirable audience, this: cultivated folk, studying the music from score.
Friday 27th November 1964 saw Barbara Pym writing in her diary: ‘Lunched at the Golden Egg. Oh, the horror – the cold stuffiness, claustrophobic place of tables, garish lights and mass produced food in steel dishes. And the egg-shaped menu! But perhaps one could get something out of it for a novel; the setting for a breaking-off, or some terrible news, or an unwanted declaration of love.’   I remember the ‘Golden Eggs’ and I think Ms Pym has got it dead right.

Sunday 28th November 1660 saw the announcement of the formation of a “College for the Promoting of Physico-Mathematical Experimental Learning”, which would meet weekly to discuss science and run experiments. At the second meeting, Sir Robert Moray announced that the King approved of the gatherings. A Royal Charter was signed on 15 July 1662 formally creating the “Royal Society of London”. A second Royal Charter was signed on 23 April 1663, with the King noted as ‘the Founder’ and with the name of “the Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge”; Robert Hooke was appointed as Curator of Experiments. This initial royal favour has continued, and since then every monarch has been the patron of the Society.
The Society had started from groups of physicians and philosophers meeting at variety of locations in London. They were, it is said, influenced by the “new science”, as promoted by Francis Bacon from approximately 1645 onwards. A group known as The Philosophical Society of Oxford ran under a set of rules still retained by the Bodleian Library. After the Restoration of the Monarchy, there were regular meetings at Gresham College and these are widely held to be the inspiration for the foundation of the Royal Society.
However – another view of the founding was that it was due to the influence of French scientists and the Montmor Academy in 1657, reports of which were sent back to England by English scientists attending. There may be some truth in this in that Henry Oldenburg, the Royal Society’s first Secretary, had attended that Montmor Academy meeting.
Just to take this a little further, Robert Hooke – the Society’s ‘Curator of Experiments’ – disputed this, writing that: ‘I will not say that Mr Oldenburg did rather inspire the French to follow the English, or, at least, did help them, and hinder us. But ’tis well known who were the principal men that began and promoted that design, both in this city and in Oxford; and that was a long while before Mr Oldenburg came into England. And not only these Philosophic Meetings were before Mr Oldenburg came from Paris; but the Society itself was begun before he came hither; and those who then knew Mr Oldenburg, understood well enough how little he himself knew of philosophic matter’.
I think that we can take it as read that there was a little conflict between these individuals.

During the night of Thursday 29th November 1827 two men delivered a sack to number 10, Surgeon’s Square, Edinburgh; the base of Dr Robert Knox’s Anatomy School. That sack contained a body for dissection and, over the following 12 months, William Burke and William Hare delivered 15 more sacks to the school. The freshness of the bodies aroused no suspicion, even when one of them happened to be that of a prostitute with whom one of Knox’s students, William Fergusson – an assiduous pupil who, at the age of 20, was made demonstrator to his class of four hundred pupils – had consorted only a few nights previously. The rest, as they say, is ‘body-snatching’ history.
And talking of history:- in 1849 the same William Fergusson was appointed ‘surgeon in ordinary’ to the Prince Consort, raised in 1855 to ‘ surgeon extraordinary’, and in 1867 ‘sergeant-surgeon’ to Queen Victoria.

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