Friday, March 19, 2010

Why I Love Writing About the 17th Century - Anita Davison

Our special theme week with the authors from Hoydens and Firebrands continues, this time featuring Anita Davison


I've never asked myself this question, and had to think hard about my response. I think it goes back to those school trips to London landmarks. We lived within ten miles of the centre so it wasn't too much of an effort for the teachers to gather us into a coach and head for the Tower of London, St Pauls Cathedral, Hatfield House, Hampton Court, and all those vast tracts of parkland over which the Saxon kings used to hunt deer and still exist on a smaller scale.

That first view of St Pauls at the end of Ludgate Hill is an abiding memory I can conjur whenever I wish. I find it easy to visualise sedan chairs and men in petticoat breeches and longcoats with curly wigs strutting across the cobbles of Paternoster Row, where once rosary beads were sold. The river too holds it own magic, and I can imagine when in 1661, King Charles II raced his brother the Duke of York to a yacht race from Greenwich to Gravesend and back. The king won.

Even where modern architecture and paving slabs have replaced the old city, you can still turn a corner and find a section of ancient wall, or a picturesque Medieval church in a tiny graveyard where worn and pitted headstones lean drunkenly, their names long worn away by the rain and snow of centuries. Like St Olave's in Hart Street where Pepys is buried.

Some of the narrow, crooked streets are still there, many cobbled and linked by alleyways only wide enough for two people walking side by side, with evocative names like Seething Lane, Pudding Lane, where the fire of 1666 began Lime Street where the making and selling of lime went on. Lincolns Inn, Holborn where the palace of Henry de Lacy one stood. Marylebone, derived from St. Mary-on-the-Bourne, bourne being the Saxon name for a river. Moorfields, where in Charles II's time, the area were recreation grounds for wrestling-matches, foot-races, football, boxing and archery.

Every street carries it's own history, and although there is still a Regency, Georgian, and Victorian flavour to the city too, what I see is those square wooden carriages with leather flaps for windows, the coffee houses rammed with men in wigs and rouged cheeks smoking long clay pipes and discussing the latest shipping news. Ladies in vizards being handed into sedan chairs, the lids shut and curtains drawn to protect their privacy as they travel to, or from a lover. Housemaids in pattens stepping gingerly across slick cobbles strewn with refuse and dung, baskets on their arms with the day's produce from the street market.

Superimposed on the red buses and black taxis on tarmac and people chattering on mobiles is a parallel universe in my head that is still set firmly in the 1600's. Why do I love writing about the 17th Century? Because it still exists for me, and I love to revisit those old places in my writing and recapture the look, smell and feel of what life was once like.

Anita Davison

1 comment:

  1. I loved living in the UK precisely for the fact that there was so much history accessible. There's history here too, but we only go back to the 19th century so it isn't the same!

    Anita, thanks so much for taking the time to write this post for us!