Monday, June 25, 2007

400 Year Anniversary

Many people consider the Pilgrims’ landing at Massachusetts as the most important event in our history, but thirteen years earlier, a group of 104 men and boys left Blackwell docks in London and made the torturous four and a half month journey to the New World. They sailed up a river they would later call The James after James I of England, their monarch.

I have had the privilege of standing in the docks of London near where the three small ships, the Susan Constant, Discovery and the Godspeed departed on that December day in 1607, and also visiting the Jamestown Settlement where those ships landed. There was something special about standing on the actual place where those doomed men landed and built their fort. Most were ill equipped to cope with the environment, Native Indians and mosquitoes. A few returned to their homeland but most perished. It is here that Pocahontas visited the settlers and later married John Rolfe. Ironic to think that after being presented to King James in London, she succumbed to smallpox and is buried at Gravesend, Kent, England.

Excavations of the site at Jamestown have produced wonderful artifacts that are displayed in the museum. Whole skeletal remains (replicas) show how an individual died because of a musket ball embedded in the lower leg. A deeply dug well on the site was excavated and produced a whole suit of armor, shoes, tankards, and other domestic objects. The site, museum and grounds are well worth a visit as are the towns of Williamsburg, Yorktown and Norfolk. I highly recommend visitors stay in the Colonial Williamsburg area rather than Norfolk because although the journey from Norfolk to Jamestown, Yorktown and Williamsburg looks relatively short, the traffic on Interstate 64 over the Hampton Roads Bridge - Tunnel can be horrendous at times.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

W.I.S.E. Event

The WISE Family History Society (Wales, Ireland, Scotland, England) meet on the 4th Saturdays of January through June, September, October and the 1st Saturday of December at the Gates Conference Room at the Denver Public Library.

I was invited to speak at one of the meetings about my book Extraordinary Places…Close to London. The presentation included excerpts from the book including information on Reverend Lawrence Washington, great, great grandfather to our first president. Washington was ousted from the church in 1643 because of his royalist leanings. His sons, John and Lawrence left England after their father’s harsh treatment and began their lives in the New World.

Also presented and discussed was the home of the Sherman family, six members of whom helped with the building of America and Christopher Martin from Billericay who sailed on the Mayflower.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

An Ancient Custom

(An excerpt from Extraordinary Places…Close to London)

Little Dunmow lies about eight miles south of Thaxted. It is an ancient village rich in history. Domesday Book records of 1086 show Ralph Baynard as Lord of Little Dunmow. In 1104, either Baynard’s wife or sister built a priory and started a custom that is still in effect today: giving a flitch (side) of bacon to any couple who can swear to marital harmony for twelve months and a day.

The custom began with the idea of promoting marital harmony to a couple by offering them a prize and jubilant praise from the village folk. To qualify for the prize, the couple had to swear by means of reciting a rhyme while kneeling on two pointed stones in the churchyard. If the couple could convince the congregation of their commitment to each other, they were awarded the flitch of bacon and carried through the village seated on a chair. The custom has been revived and one can still witness this event.

The following Ancient Rhyme describes the ceremony:

You shall swear by custom and confession,
That you ne'er made nuptial transgression,
Nor since you were married man and wife,
By household brawls, or contentious strife
Or otherwise, at bed or board,
Offend each other in deed or word:
Or, since the Parish Clerk said, Amen,
Wished yourselves unmarried again;
Or in a twelvemonth and a day,
Repented, even in thought, any way;
But continued true, in thought and desire,
As when you joined hands in holy quire.
If to these conditions, without any fear,
Of your own accord, you freely swear,
A whole flitch of bacon you shall receive,
And bear it hence with love and good leave:
For this is our custom at Dunmow well known,
Tho' the pleasure be ours, the bacon's your own.

The church in Little Dunmow is quite small and narrow. It was formed from the south aisle and several arches from the nave of the original priory church. There is a chair in the church, which is said to have carried the winners of the Flitch of Bacon, although this has yet to be validated.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

An Ancient Craft

Where else would one find an authentic mask maker but Venice? Brothers Sergio and Massimo Boldrin continue this ancient and creative art at one of their shops La Bottega dei Mascareri located at the foot of the Rialto Bridge. The brothers have been at this location for over 20 years. Here one can find a fantastic assortment of authentic Venetian papier mache masks, such as the “Bauta” the classic mask worn by Ventian nobility, or the “Moretta” a small oval mask worn by women of all social classes. Unable to contain myself as I entered their shop on the Rialto, I purchased four masks and carefully transported them back home.

The brothers opened a second shop located at S. Polo 2720 that has an even larger selection of masks, costumes and capes. At both locations one can see the masters continuing a profession that originated in 1268. I highly recommend a visit to either location