If yesterday, 23rd August, was one of those days where significant anniversaries don’t leap to mind, today (24th August) is the precise opposite.
Bits and pieces
For a start, it has a major saint to its name, named in three of the Gospels.
Locally, Emma of Normandy managed two successive marriages to kings: first to Æþelræd (he the poorly-advised, so unræd), then to Cnut Sveinsson. She presented Canterbury Cathedral with the sacred relic of St Bartholomew’s arm. She had, it seems, been flogged this limb by a passing monk from Benevento, which had a surplus of his bits. By one of the wonders that passeth all understanding, other bits are in the keeping of Rome’s Basilica di San Bartolomeo all’Isola, and his skull features under the main altar of Kaiserdom Sankt Bartholomäus, Frankfurt-am-Main.
I’m trying to suppress the one about the brothel in the leper-colony, which failed because business kept falling off. Ooops … sorry: that slipped out.]
Basilica di San Bartolomeo all’Isola is crucial to the English connection in a different way. That church is on the site of a temple of Aesculapius. Hence the healing and caring thing. Rahere was a canon of St Paul’s. He took a pilgrimage to Rome, fell ill, and had a visionary experience of St Bartholomew. He returned to duty in London, and in AD1123 established a priory at Smithfield, with a hospital on the side. When Henry VIII Tudor did down monastic establishment, the importance of Bart’s was recognised, and it became the House of the Poore in Farringdon in the suburbs of the City of London of Henry VIII’s Foundation. The first superintendent was the monarch’s own surgeon, Thomas Vicary.
Within a decade of the founding of Bart’s Hospital, Smithfield had became the site for the annual St Bartholomew’s Fair. Rahere (see previous paragraph) had wangled a Charter from Henri I Beauclerc (arguably one of the few kings of England with a requisite number of brain-cells). The Charter allowed the Fair: the Fair subsidised the hospital: the hospital was an essential resource for the festering slums of north London — prot0-NHS in action.
Although the Fair formally opened on St Bartholomew’s Eve (wish I spotted that for yesterday’s post), it ran for three days, which was later extended to a full fortnight. Like all such events, at first it was dedicated to the marketing of woollen cloth. Work it out: the sheep were shorn in high summer, by August the wool was ready for sale. Bartholomew Fair was a main trading post for the wool exports.
And so the Fair, like Topsy, just grow’d. It transcended mere wool and cloth, and became the mainstay of the London entertainment business. From which it is but a slight wiggle and twerk to debauchery. And that as the ground for the Fair’s suppression, as late as 1855.
The Fair was well down that road when Ben Jonson made it the subject of his 1614 comedy. Justice Overdo sets about investigating the baser happenings at the Fair, and ends up himself in the stocks. Various ladies get embroiled in devious doings, etc., etc. Somehow all this develops a bit better than farce — but remains pungent social satire.
Richard Brathwaite had come down from Westmoreland, via the University of Oxford, to satirise and lambaste soppy southerners. In 1631, he let fly at the Fair:
No season throughout all the yeere accounts hee more subject to abomination than Bartholomew faire: Their Drums, Hobbihorses, Rattles, Babies, Jewtrumps, nay Pigs and all, are wholly Judaicall. The very Booths are Brothells of iniquity, and distinguished by the stamp of the Beast.
This moral soul joined the Royalists in the Civil War; and set up a school by his second wife’s estate near Catterick, where he would be interred with honour in 1673, in his mid-80s.
Our Sammy is on the pull:
Up and all the morning at the office busy, and after dinner to the office again busy till about four, and then I abroad (my wife being gone to Hales’s about drawing her hand new in her picture) and I to see Betty Michell, which I did, but su mari was dentro, and no pleasure. So to the Fair, and there saw several sights; among others, the mare that tells money, and many things to admiration; and, among others, come to me, when she was bid to go to him of the company that most loved a pretty wench in a corner. And this did cost me 12d. to the horse, which I had flung him before, and did give me occasion to baiser a mighty belle fille that was in the house that was exceeding plain, but fort belle. At night going home I went to my bookseller’s in Duck Lane, and find her weeping in the shop, so as ego could not have any discourse con her nor ask the reason, so departed and took coach home, and taking coach was set on by a wench that was naught, and would have gone along with me to her lodging in Shoe Lane, but ego did donner her a shilling . . . and left her, and home, where after supper, W. Batelier with us, we to bed. This day Mrs. Martin come to see us, and dined with us.
Three days later, the Fair and our Sam are still in business:
Up, and met at the Office all the morning; and at noon my wife, and Deb., and Mercer, and W. Hewer and I to the Fair, and there, at the old house, did eat a pig, and was pretty merry, but saw no sights, my wife having a mind to see the play Bartholomew-Fayre, with puppets. Which we did, and it is an excellent play; the more I see it, the more I love the wit of it; only the business of abusing the Puritans begins to grow stale, and of no use, they being the people that, at last, will be found the wisest. And here Knepp come to us, and sat with us, and thence took coach in two coaches, and losing one another, my wife, and Knepp, and I to Hercules Pillars, and there supped, and I did take from her mouth the words and notes of her song of “the Larke,” which pleases me mightily. And so set her at home, and away we home, where our company come home before us. This night Knepp tells us that there is a Spanish woman lately come over, that pretends to sing as well as Mrs. Knight; both of which I must endeavour to hear. So, after supper, to bed.
1722: Daniel Defoe takes Moll Flanders to the Fair:
It was now a merry time of the year, and Bartholomew Fair was begun. I had never made any walks that way, nor was the common part of the fair of much advantage to me; but I took a turn this year into the cloisters, and among the rest I fell into one of the raffling shops. It was a thing of no great consequence to me, nor did I expect to make much of it; but there came a gentleman extremely well dressed and very rich, and as ’tis frequent to talk to everybody in those shops, he singled me out, and was very particular with me. First he told me he would put in for me to raffle, and did so; and some small matter coming to his lot, he presented it to me (I think it was a feather muff); then he continued to keep talking to me with a more than common appearance of respect, but still very civil, and much like a gentleman.
He held me in talk so long, till at last he drew me out of the raffling place to the shop-door, and then to a walk in the cloister, still talking of a thousand things cursorily without anything to the purpose. At last he told me that, without compliment, he was charmed with my company, and asked me if I durst trust myself in a coach with him; he told me he was a man of honour, and would not offer anything to me unbecoming him as such. I seemed to decline it a while, but suffered myself to be importuned a little, and then yielded.
Moll gets treated, and bedded: As for the bed, etc., I was not much concerned about that part. […] he did what he pleased with me; I need say no more. On the return, drink gets the better of the ‘gentleman’, so Moll took a gold watch, with a silk purse of gold, his fine full-bottom periwig and silver-fringed gloves, his sword and fine snuff-box, and made her escape from the carriage near Temple Bar.
1802 (or so): Wordsworth in London:
From these sights
Take one,— that ancient festival, the Fair,
Holden where martyrs suffered in past time,
And named of St. Bartholomew; there, see
A work completed to our hands, that lays,
If any spectacle on earth can do,
The whole creative powers of man asleep! …
What a shock
For eyes and ears! what anarchy and din,
Barbarian and infernal, — a phantasma,
Monstrous in colour, motion, shape, sight, sound!
Below, the open space, through every nook
Of the wide area, twinkles, is alive
With heads; the midway region, and above,
Is thronged with staring pictures and huge scrolls,
Dumb proclamations of the Prodigies;
With chattering monkeys dangling from their poles,
And children whirling in their roundabouts;
With those that stretch the neck and strain the eyes,
And crack the voice in rivalship, the crowd
Inviting; with buffoons against buffoons
Grimacing, writhing, screaming, — him who grinds
The hurdy-gurdy, at the fiddle weaves,
Rattles the salt-box, thumps the kettle-drum,
And him who at the trumpet puffs his cheeks,
The silver-collared Negro with his timbrel,
Equestrians, tumblers, women, girls, and boys,
Blue-breeched, pink-vested, with high-towering plumes. —
All moveables of wonder, from all parts, Are here —
Albinos, painted Indians, Dwarfs,
The Horse of knowledge, and the learned Pig,
The Stone-eater, the man that swallows fire,
Giants, Ventriloquists, the Invisible Girl,
The Bust that speaks and moves its goggling eyes,
The Wax-work, Clock-work, all the marvellous craft
Of modern Merlins, Wild Beasts, Puppet-shows,
All out-o’-the-way, far-fetched, perverted things,
All freaks of nature, all Promethean thoughts
Of man, his dulness, madness, and their feats
All jumbled up together, to compose
A Parliament of Monsters. Tents and Booths
Meanwhile, as if the whole were one vast mill,
Are vomiting, receiving on all sides,
Men, Women, three-years’ Children, Babes in arms.
By which we can assume a good time was had by almost all.
This weekend — the nearest to St Bartholomew and his Fair — something similar occurs in Notting Hill.