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31st December 1539. The Old Order Changeth.

Today in 1539 was a poignant time for the monasteries in general and for Durham in particular when the last Office was sung before its dissolution.

However Durham was one of those religious foundations to survive with its penumbra of outbuildings which served the monastic community as it served as one of the ‘New Foundation’ with its freshly founded posts of dean, prebendaries and ancillary staff, created out of the cathedral priory, in 1540.

Interior of Durham. Note Norman pillars.

The oddity of many medieval churches was the doubling of cathedrals with a monastic role having a bishop as the nominal abbot with the real head being the Prior.

These monastic houses were ‘cathedral priories’ which Henry VIII dissolved then refounded apart from Coventry which was spare to requirement in the diocese of Coventry/Lichfield, and so demolished.

This see was first at Lichfield then transferred to Chester in 1075 and to Coventry 1102, but the continued claim of Lichfield to be a diocese was recognised in 1228, in title ‘Coventry-Lichfield’; the bishopric of Chester was founded in 1189 and again in 1327.

Chester Cathedral from the east.

Bath cathedral priory, nominally a cathedral, became a large parish church, but many former monasteries were elevated by the King to cathedrals including Westminster Abbey, Gloucester, Peterborough, Oxford, Bristol and Chester so as a result retain many of the  cloisters and buildings of the once monasteries.


The Last Office 1539 and the Dissolution of a Monastery: Geoffrey Moorhouse.


30th December 1859. The Stereotype.

Today in 1859 saw the birth of Henrietta Rae one of the few women painters who tackled large-scale classical and allegorical works of art.

One of her better known works was the 1891 painting of Florence Nightingale a stereotype of the nurse as the ‘Lady with the Lamp’, contrasting with the Dickensian slatternly, enebriated ‘Sairy Gamps’ of the nursing fraternity. (1)

Lithograph of Henrietta Rae’s Florence Nightingale.

Stereotyping has had a commanding influence on the human psyche, particularly in advertising, important in human generalisations and ‘stock’ characters. (2)

Children from an early age are exposed to the stereotyping of nursery rhymes, the Commedia dell ‘arte as developed in Punch and Judy, in Pantomime and situation comedy.

Henrietta Rae died in 1928 in Upper Norwood, London at a time when nursing was still regarded as a vocation and underpaid as a result.

(1) Miss Nightingale at Scutari (1854) in the Crimea War and frequently reproduced as the ’Lady with the Lamp’. Florence had arrived at Scutari, a suburb of Constinople, on November 4th.

(2) Stereotyping was an aspect of Mediaeval Mystery Play where the notion of ‘Vice’ developed into the Villain in later Renaissance plays right up to the era of Pantomime. It was also inherent in Bunyan’s, allegorical Pilgrim’s Progress.


26th December 1818. Doles.

It was a long standing tradition in Britain of giving aid to the poor at Christmas 200 years ago as reported in the Leicester Chronicle Today in 1818 when a wealthy landowners distributed a, ‘fat beast, four sheep and 2008 yards of linen cloth to neighbours’.

Another example of seasonal benevolence was when Sir Thomas and Lady Stanley of Hooton, ‘with accustomed liberality, ordered to be distributed to the poor of Hooton and Eastham useful articles for the season of the year, and certain quantities of coal to all deserving poor of the same by their morals and good conduct-And to children of the Vicar’s school at Eastham established for the education on the national plan…her ladyship on Monday last, presented to each boy a new hat and to each girl a new bonnet…the benevolent Baronet had 2 bullocks slaughtered to distribute to his poor work-people on Christmas Eve’.

Paddington Church 1750 and 1805. Old and New London History Vol. 5.

The practice of throwing bread and cheese from the church tower to the poor at Paddington, London, starting in the 17th century was recorded by the Morning Post on 22nd December 1818, a tradition which continued until 1834.

Many similar accounts are recorded and country church notice boards still recall the ‘Doles’ of bread (carrying on from the monastic tradition), which were the lot of the needy poor of the parishes, and which were only to cease when a greater awareness of the poor in society saw the social welfare reforms of the 19th century.


Throwing Cheese and Bread from the Belfry. Windows into History. Roger Pocock. Dec.2018.

Chelsea Chronicle. 25.12.1813.

24th December 1861. The Colour of Mortality.

‘Call no man happy until he is Dead’: the philosopher Solon to the wealthy Croesus: ‘Are not the days of my life few‘: (Book of Job). Sackcloth and Ashes in classicaltimes and in the Bible are symbols of mourning and penance.

If one had bought the Guardian newspaper Today, a Tuesday December 24th, 1861 it was still showing its mourning borders for the death of Prince Albert on the 14th.

After Albert’s death Queen Victoria set the standard for mourning even to the extent of sending ungrammatical scrawls conveying messages to her Ministers even thirty years after Prince Albert’s death, on black-edged writing paper.(1)

Black borders were a widespread practice, as seen when Archibald Primrose who became 5th earl of Roseberry in 1868 who on the death of his Jewish wife Hannah de Rothschild had black borders on all his stationery.

Befitting the age, outward displays were key; grief was represented on many levels, from the use of black-lined stationery and jet-black jewellery, to elaborate funeral arrangements and periods of self-imposed social exile.

Jet was the fossilized remains of the monkey-puzzle tree the best being found in abundance in the cliffs at Whitby and was much in vogue in Victorian times. Foreign jet is not so hard and can be identified by the brown mark shown when scratched onto paper.

The period of mourning was decided not by personal sentiments but by a socially understood timetable, for the death of a husband it was 2-3 years; a wife 3 months; parent or child 6 months, down to first cousins 4-6 weeks.

Each period had its own code down to the shade of black types of cloth worn and width of hatbands. The black clothing and heavy veils were known as ‘widows weeds’ (OE waed: garment) and could be supplied by Jays of Regent Street opened in 1841. Triangles of black on garments or armbands were token uses of mourning.



22nd December 1737. Quacks and Bone-Setters.

Manipulation of joint problems and fractures has been the concern of bone-setters going back to antiquity.

The dissolution of the monasteries in the 16thc released into the community many nuns and monks versed in the primitive medicine of the time notable among these being the bone-setters.

Later the art and mystery of bone-setting became associated with certain families such as the Matthews of the Midlands and Taylors of Whitworth who passed on their skills to offspring as with Mrs (‘Crazy-Sal’) Mapp the celebrated bone-setter who learned her craft from her father, becoming in the process well renowned in 18th London and nearby.

However later according to a description of the day, ‘she became so miserably poor that the parish was obliged to bury her’, according to the London Daily Post dated 22nd December 1737. ‘She was the subject of a melancholy obituary notice and who for a time had been the object of popular wonder and enthusiasm’.(1)

Thus the death of a country bone setter who had settled at Epsom, Surrey received widespread coverage after a wonder-working career, ‘noted more for her boldness and strength than skill’.

She had married, according to the Grub Street Journal, a mercer’s servant on the 19th April 1736 who ran away from her ‘taking 100 guineas upwards’.

Working from the Grecian Coffee House, where a number of physicians and quacks operated,  when coming in from Epsom, she travelled in style in coach and four and was once mistaken as a mistress of George II.

A shield showing a group of physicians with Mapp at the top portrayed as ugly to discredit her. It is described as a Company of Undertakers.

Her fame was sealed when she was supposedly cured Sir Hans Sloane’s niece and a play in her honour was presented at the Lincoln Inn Field’s Theatre called The Husband’s Relief or The Female Bone-Setter.

Mapp was present on the first night accompanied by two quacks: Ward the Worm Doctor and Taylor the Oculist and her presence at the theatre had the effect of boosting attendance.

She later removed to Pall Mall but didn’t forget her country friends and gave a 10 guineas for a plate at Epsom Races.

Mapp was cheaper than the licensed physicians and their status was enhanced by the Apothecaries Act of 1815 which enabled them to take courses as the physicians which enabled bone-setters to increase their standing thus increasing their medical proficiency and competence and an interest in joint and bone surgery, instruments and tools.

However as the 18thc progressed there was a increasing campaign against the quacks which adversely affected Sally Mapp’s business and with falling income she fell  from public favour and died in penury.

In the modern world bone-setting operates under various names as osteopaths, chiropractors whose skills were acknowledged in 1993 in professional status.

It was rightly said that the main difference, as medical science progressed, was that the quacks manipulated all deformity, but physicians were to learn that many deformities especially in the spine resulted from for example, tuberculosis which caused humps on the spine which bone-setting techniques would have been injurious.

(1) Chambers Book of Days. c1880.


19th December 1851. J.M.W.Turner.

Today in 1851 Joseph Mallord William Turner, romantic painter died aged 76 later to be buried at St. Paul’s Cathedral, London.

Turner-self-portrait c 1799.


Turner was born in Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London and was to make his name for imaginative landscapes and turbulent, violent marine paintings.

He was an intensively private, eccentric and later reclusive person who in his life produced 550 oils and 2000 water colours.

House where Turner was born. c1850.

Raby Castle, seat of the earl of Darlington. 1817. Oil on Canvas.

Rain, Steam and Speed. Great Western 1844.
Oil on canvas. National Gallery.

Turner was championed by the leading art critic John Ruskin from 1840 and was regarded as elevating landscape painting to an eminence which has never been surpassed.

References in public domain including wikipedia. org.

Ingleborough from Chapel le Dale. c1810-15. Water colour on paper. Yale Center for British Art.

Clare Hall and west  end of Kings College, Cambridge and Chapel 1793 . Water colour on paper.




18th December 2012. Fall of a Comet.

Today in 2012 Comet Retail supplier of white goods, telecommunications and home entertainment became dufunct; the company had been founded January 1933 in Hull.

Comet was acquired by private equity company OpCapita earlier in 2012 along with other failing companies: Game (videos) and furniture retailer (MFI) in 2006.

Another significant ‘investment’ for OpCapita was the acquisition from Sportech, of their football division, which in 2000 had acquired Littlewood’s Pools and eventually the other major ‘Pools’ players Zetters and Vernons, all of which had suffered from the competition of the National Lottery.

The collapse of Comet raised serious questions about Henry Jackson the ex-banker who had founded OpCapita and who proved skilful in pinpointing companies which offereded returns even if they didn’t survive.

At the time private equity company said it would ensure Comet was to be run as a going concern for at least 18 months: it never happened, and so was responsible for sending another business into Administration.

It was in 2006 when OpCapita, in a debut move, saw failing MFI acquired for £1, backed by the US Hedge Fund Cerberus and Goldman Sachs; in 2 years MFI had crashed with debts of £145m which Jackson described as, ‘a success story for investers’.

In fact insolvency documents showed Jackson and his investors were ‘secured lenders’ who received preferential treatment in the collapse; Goldman Sachs came away with the biggest cheque in the placing into Administration, whilst Jackson (ex-Merchant Equity Partners) received £3.2m.

MFI had left Jackson with a dowry of £60.6m and with £51.9m of customers’ deposits. Then MFI saw part of its vital Customer Credit Insurance withdrawn. Jackson off-loaded the Company to management, in months it was in Administration. Capitalism par-excellence.


References: 1.11.2012. Helia Ebrahime. Comet: Another OpCapital Kiss of Death.