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The torturing  of a Jesuit priest in the Tower of London  (Father John Gerard, 1597)

Detail of a Hunted PriestAnother in the occasional series on contemporary accounts of events in the history of London, this one written by the Jesuit priest Father John Gerard in 1597

“[T]he warder came to my room … .  Looking sorry for himself, he said the Lords Commissioners had arrived with the Queen’s Attorney-General and that I had to go down to them at once.

‘I am ready’, I said, ‘but just let me say an Our Father and Hail Mary downstairs.’

He let me go, and then we went off together to the Lieutenant’s lodgings … .  Five men were there waiting for me, none of whom, except Wade, had examined me before.  He was there to direct the charges against me … .

Father Garnet (the Great Equivocator)

Father Garnet (the Great Equivocator), sought by the torturers

‘You say’, said the Attorney-General, ‘you have no wish to obstruct the Government.  Tell us then, where Father Garnet is.  He is an enemy of the state, and you are bound to report on all such men.’

‘He isn’t an enemy of the state’, I said, ‘but I don’t know where he lives, and if I did, I would not tell you.’

‘Then we’ll see to it that you tell us before we leave this place.’

‘Please God you won’t’, I answered.

They  then  produced a warrant for putting me to torture … .

We went to the torture-room in a kind of solemn procession, the attendants walking ahead with lighted candles.

The chamber was underground and dark … .   [E]very device and instrument of human torture was there.  They pointed out some of them to me and said I would try them all.  Then they asked me again whether I would confess.

‘I cannot’, I said”.

Autobiography of a Hunted Priest

Autobiography of a Hunted Priest

And so they tortured him, until he thought he was going to die.  And with that thought,  that grace of resignation, the conflict in his soul ceased, and the pain in his body eased, or at least appeared to.  His faith had held firm, and he did not “confess”.   A little later they let him loose.

Lost City of London found in the Ether!

Unbeknownst to us, (don’t publishers tell authors such things?) the book that started all this was released as a Kindle edition back in March!
We’ve recently had a look at it on both a tablet and an old-style kindle and are very pleased with the electronic edition. It seems very good value at just £6.76, and is easy to use, particularly when viewed on a tablet (the colour plates are zoomable).

Here is a link to the Kindle edition page on


Parallel Worlds (Part 2 – Roman)

While in Florence last week, we took the opportunity to travel by bus to Fiesole, a hilltop town just 5 miles to the North East of Florence itself. In particular we wanted to see the Roman Amphitheatre and other Roman ruins there. As mentioned in our previous blog post (about the Ponte Vecchio), we couldn’t help but notice parallels between the features we were discovering in Italy and aspects of The Lost City of London – in this case Roman Londinium.

The Amphitheatre in Fiesole has been extensively restored over the years and is very well preserved. Built into the natural rock of a hill, it dates from the first century BC and is situated where the ‘Cardo’ – one of the Roman town’s main streets – once led to the forum. It had a capacity of about three thousand people. 

By comparison the Roman Amphitheatre in London  – situated where the Guildhall Yard is today – was about twice as big, with seating all the way round. Built first in timber around 70AD, and upgraded to stone (with timber seating) in about 120AD, it had a capacity of six to seven thousand spectators, in a Roman city with a total population, at that time, of about twenty to thirty thousand. The seating would have been tiered around the performance arena. The Amphitheatre was abandoned in the 4th century AD, and all knowledge of its existence had pretty much vanished until the twentieth century

This significant Roman site was in fact only discovered in the 1980s during excavations prior to the building of the Guildhall Art Gallery. Today a dark circle in the Yard marks the line of the Amphitheatre’s circumference, giving a good sense of its great size. 

 The basement of the Guildhall Art Gallery (which is normally accessible during the Art Gallery’s opening hours)  houses an atmospheric exhibition space where you can see:

* The remains of the stone walls of the eastern entranceway which led into the arena. 
* Part of the wooden drainage system – a rare survival, thanks to the wet burial conditions.
* Remnants of the walls of two antechambers




Parallel Worlds (Part 1 – Medieval)

Even when away on holiday we can’t help noticing connections to the Lost City of London! We’ve just come back from a wonderful week in Florence and thought we’d show you a couple of interesting parallels between what we saw in today’s Florence and the London of Medieval and Roman times. This blog post looks at a key Medieval parallel; part 2 will cover a Roman one.

The only bridge in Florence to survive the second World War is the Ponte Vecchio – ‘Old Bridge’ in Italian. It dates from 1345 (although there had been previous bridges in that location since at least 996). It was a real thrill to see (albeit in minature) something very similar to what (Old) London Bridge – demolished in 1831 – would have looked like in the Medieval period, with rows of buildings on either side.

The Ponte Vecchio, Florence (April 2013)
File:London Bridge (1616) by Claes Van Visscher.jpg

London Bridge (1616) by Claes Van Visscher

Ponte Vecchio, from ‘Golden View’  on the South Bank
Early morning on the Ponte Vecchio
Jewellry shops on the Ponte Vecchio

In the case of the Ponte Vecchio, the buildings on either side of the narrow thoroughfare – thronging with tourists except for first thing in the morning – are today exclusively gold jewellery shops; when built the shops on the bridge had at first been occupied by butchers – who made use of the river below to dispose of their more unpleasant waste products. The butchers were eventually ousted by the powerful Medicis who disliked the smell.

The Medici family also  built a ‘secret’ walkway across the upper part of the bridge for their own private use, known as the Vasari Corridor (the upper storey is visible in the photograph below), connecting the Uffizi on the north bank to the Pitti Palace on the south bank.

The Vasari Corridor

Ponte Vecchio is a small bridge with only three arches, whereas London Bridge had nineteen! The Thames back then was a lot wider than either the present day Thames, or the Arno River in Florence. The buildings on London Bridge – 138 shops by 1358 – were a mixture of all sorts, and there were public latrines discharging into the river below, and heads on spikes on the south end.

The Ponte Vecchio was built just before the major outbreak of The Plague – known as the Black Death, which killed between a third and a half of Florence’s total population in 1348, a similar proportion to the death toll when the Plague reached London later the same year. Many of the plague burials in London were in the Charter House – the site of which forms part of the Cross Rail archaeological excavation by the Museum of London.