30th November is Saint Andrew’s Day – the patron saint of Scotland.
Andrew and the brother Simon Peter were two of the original 12 apostles of Christ. Very little is known about Andrew’s life. He is said to have travelled to Greece to preach Christianity, and that he was crucified at Patras on an X-shaped cross. This is represented by the diagonal cross, or ‘saltire’, on Scotland’s flag.
Andrew’s connection with Scotland relates to the legend that in AD345 the Emperor Constantine decided to translate Andrew’s bones from Patras to Constantinople but we are told that the ‘carrier’, St Regulus, was instructed by an angel to take many of these relics to the far northwest. He was eventually told to stop on the Fife coast of Scotland, where he founded the settlement of Saint Andrew.
In the 7th century St Wilfrid of York brought some of the saint’s relics with him after a pilgrimage to Rome and that the Scots King, Angus MacFergus, installed them at Saint Andrew’s to enhance the prestige of the new diocese. Later, when Angus faced a large invading Pictish army, he prayed for guidance and a white cloud in the form of a saltire cross floated across the blue sky above him. Angus won a decisive victory, and decreed that Andrew would be the patron saint of his country. Following Robert Bruce’s victory at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath officially named Saint Andrew the patron saint of Scotland. The Saltire became Scotland’s national flag in 1385.
There are other slants on this origination – one being that the relics were originally in the collection of Acca, Bishop of Hexham, who took them into Pictish country when he was driven from Hexham around AD732, and that he founded a see on the site of St Andrews.
We shall never know the ‘real’ story, but today numerous parish churches in the Church of Scotland and congregations of other Christian churches in Scotland are named after Andrew.
A local superstition uses the cross of Saint Andrew as a ‘hex’ sign on the fireplaces in northern England and Scotland to prevent witches from flying down the chimney and entering the house to do mischief. By placing St Andrew’s cross on one of the fireplace posts or lintels, witches are prevented from entering through that opening.
Saturday 1st December 1990 saw the final breakthrough on the Channel Tunnel between England and France. The first breakthrough had been a two-inch (50-mm) diameter pilot hole that had been drilled through without any ceremony on 30th October 1990. It was on this 1st December that Englishman Graham Fagg and Frenchman Phillippe Cozette broke through the service tunnel with the world’s media watching. There was still a lot of work to be done but the Eurotunnel was completed on time. However it was not officially opened until one year later when a ceremony by Queen Elizabeth and François Mitterrand the French president was held in Calais on 6 May 1994. The Queen had travelled through the tunnel to Calais on a Eurostar train, which stopped nose to nose with the train that carried President Mitterrand from Paris. The project had taken six years [1988-1994] to complete and had cost £4.65 billion – something like £12 billion today – 80 per cent more than planned.
Thursday 2nd December 1697 saw the first service in the re-built St Pauls’ Cathedral when the Choir opened for worship while building work continued around it. One onlooker commented: “I went to Paules to see the Choire now finished… The pulling out of the Formes [benches], like drawers from under the stalles, is very ingenious.” The first service was a thanksgiving for peace, following the end of a war between England and France. Bishop Henry Compton’s sermon included the apt words: “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the House of the Lord.” Pictures of this and later services show the congregation sitting high up in the Choir stalls facing the pulpit, which was on wheels so that it could be moved to suit different services and sizes of congregation.
In 1668, fed up with conducting services among the patched up ruins of the burnt-out St Paul’s, the Dean had written to Sir Christopher Wren in Oxford begging ‘We most earnestly desire your Presence and Assistance with all Speed’. Wren responded with plans and models for a new cathedral, including a bizarre spire-a-top-dome design that achieved the king’s approval, and which Wren, safely in possession of the royal warrant, subsequently laid aside.
The Cathedral itself was the product of the single greatest setback in the city’s history – the Great Fire of 1666. Wren had gathered leading artists and craftsmen to work on the building while taking an active role, hiring and supervising workers, scrutinising accounts and visiting the site weekly. Even so, some felt that progress was too slow so in 1697 the commissioning committee put pressure on Wren by persuading Parliament to withhold half his salary until the building was finished! The cathedral was declared officially complete by Parliament on Christmas Day 1711. However, construction was to continue for several years after that – the statues on the roof not being put into place until the 1720s.
Saturday 3rd December 1838 was the day Octavia Hill was born in Wisbech. Through her life she would actively campaign for improved housing for working people and the retention of urban open spaces. In 1895 she became one of the founders of the National Trust. I first became really aware of Octavia Hill some 15 years ago when I was working on an Open University module about ‘Charles Booth and the Poor of London’. Up until then she was, to me, just someone to do with the National Trust. That course opened my eyes on many elements of Victorian London. I shall explore Charles Booth, Henry Mayhew, Beatrice Potter/Webb and her husband and the Poor of London in some pieces planned for 2015.
Here we’ll look, very briefly, at Octavia Hill – an English social reformer whose main concern was the welfare of the inhabitants of cities, especially London, in the second half of the nineteenth century. She was born into a family with a strong commitment to alleviating poverty, something very pertinent to the family as a whole because of the financial failure suffered by her father when his investments went sour. With no formal schooling, Octavia worked from the age of 14 for the welfare of working people.
She became a moving force behind the development of social housing and an early friendship with John Ruskin enabled her to put her theories into practice with the aid of his initial investment. She believed in self-reliance, and made it a key part of her housing system that she and her assistants knew their tenants personally and encouraged them to better themselves. She was opposed to the municipal provision of housing, believing it to be bureaucratic and impersonal. She was also concerned about the availability of open spaces for poor people. In that front she campaigned against development on existing suburban woodlands such as London’s Hampstead Heath and Parliament Hill Fields. In 1895 she was one of the three founders of the National Trust, set up to preserve places of historic interest or natural beauty for the enjoyment of the British public. The museum established by the Octavia Hill Society at her Wisbech birthplace is well worth a visit to really appreciate her place in the history of 19th century England and beyond.
Sunday 4th December 1791 saw the launch of the ‘Observer’ newspaper – the first Sunday newspaper to be published in Britain. Its publisher W.S.Bourne believed that the paper would be a means of wealth. Unfortunately for him, three years later he found himself facing debts of nearly £1,600 [£90,000 plus now]. Though early editions purported editorial independence, Bourne attempted to cut his losses and sell the title to the government. When this failed, Bourne’s brother (a wealthy businessman) made another offer to the government. That was a little more successful. The Government still refused to buy the paper but agreed to subsidise it in return for influence over its editorial content. As a result, the paper took a strong line against radicals such as Thomas Paine, Francis and Joseph Priestley. In 1814 the brothers sold The Observer to William Innell Clement, a newspaper proprietor who owned a number of publications. The paper continued to receive government subsidies and, in 1819, it is quoted that of the some 23,000 copies distributed weekly, around 10,000 were given away as “specimen copies”, distributed by postmen who were paid to deliver them to “lawyers, doctors, and gentlemen of the town”.
Saturday 4th December 1937 saw the birth of a very different publication – the Dandy comic. That ran non-stop through the war years and beyond. In the 1950s it was selling two million copies every week. However, times change and, as a new century moved on, sales declined. 2012 saw sales down to some 8,000 copies a week and the final printed edition of ‘The Dandy’ was published on 4th December 2012, the comic’s 75th anniversary. On that same day it was re-launched as an online comic – ‘The Digital Dandy’. That wasn’t as successful as hoped and ended just six months later. The Dandy, complete with Korky the Cat and Desperate Dan was no more.
Thursday 5th December 1839 was the day a Uniform Four-penny Post was introduced in Britain. This was the first component of a comprehensive reform to the Royal Mail postal service that took place in the 19th century – and it lasted for just 36 days from this Thursday 5th December 1839 until Wednesday 9th January 1840.
The Postage Act had been passed on 17 August 1839 and gave the Treasury until October 1840 to introduce the system. Public reaction to the interim rate of 4d was unfavourable to say the least: they felt cheated that the agreed reduction to the uniform rate of 1d had not taken place. This resulted in the prompt abolition of the Four-penny Post and the debut of the Uniform Penny Post on 10 January 1840 when 1d was charged for pre-paid one ounce letters.
The quantity of letters carried increased significantly; for the week ending 29 November 1839, the London post office carried 1,585,973 letters; for the week ending 22 December, the quantity was 2,008,687 and by the week ending 23 February 1840, with the Penny Post in place, they carried 3,199,637.
Mail posted during the Four-penny post period was marked with a figure 4 applied either in manuscript, or with a hand-stamp that were issued to a limited number of cities in Great Britain and Ireland. No hand-stamp has been recorded for London, even though Dublin, Glasgow and Edinburgh were issued with them. Some towns, though, appear to have obtained their hand-stamps from unofficial sources.
6th December is St Nicholas’ day. In many great churches across Medieval England a ‘Boy Bishop’ was elected on this day, the feast day of Saint Nicholas, the patron of children. The Boy Bishop’s authority would last until Holy Innocents’ Day – the 28th December. The real Bishop would symbolically step down at the ‘deposuit potentes de sede’ of the Magnificat (“he hath put down the mighty from their seat”), and the boy would take his seat at ‘et exaltavit humiles’ (“and hath exalted the humble and meek”).
After the election, the boy was dressed in full bishop’s robes with mitre and crozier and, attended by comrades dressed as priests, would make a circuit of the town blessing the people. Technically the chosen boy and his colleagues took possession of the cathedral and performed all the ceremonies and offices, except Mass. Originally the event was confined to the cathedrals but the custom spread into many parish places of worship as well. There were intervention by various Church authorities of the time but the popularity of the custom made it resistant across Europe. In England it was abolished by Henry VIII in 1542, then revived by Mary I in 1552 and finally abolished by Queen Elizabeth when she came to the throne. For some time now there has been a revival of the ceremony. It happens in Hereford, Salisbury and Westminster Cathedrals among many others.
I’ve also been involved in selecting a Boy Bishop – as a medieval re-enactor at Longthorpe Tower in Peterborough. As a ‘Benedictine Monk’ I have plucked a young man from the audience and, for a short while, turned him into a Boy Bishop.
If you want to explore a full story of the Boy Bishops further I can recommend Neil Mackenzie’s 2012 book ‘The Medieval Boy Bishops’ which is available on Amazon.