Tag Archives: Greenwich

Whales and whaling in London (John Evelyn, 1658)

2 - Skeleton of North Atlantic Right Whale believed to be that described by Evelyn, discovered at Bay Wharf in Greenwich in 2010

On this day in 1658 John Evelyn wrote in his diary:

“A large whale has been taken betwixt my land butting on the Thames and Greenwich, which drew an infinite concourse to see it … .  … [A]fter  a long conflict it was killed with a harping yron, struck in the head, out of which it spouted blood … by two tunnels, and after a horrid grone it ran quite on shore and died.  Its length was fifty-eight foote, height sixteen, black skin’d like coach-leather, very small eyes, great taile, and onely two small finns, a picked snout, and a mouth so wide that divers men might have stood upright in it; no teeth, but suck’d the slime onely as thro’ a grate of … whale-bone, the throate yet so narrow as would not have admitted the least of fishes … ”.

Throughout history, whales have not infrequently ended up accidentally stranded in London  as Evelyn describes, the most recent case being in 2006.

From the turn of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries onwards, whales were also deliberately hunted out at sea, and brought back to ports such as London, Yarmouth, Hull and York   to be sold, their oil for lighting and for  lubrication (and their bones for the manufacture of corsets).  The London whaling industry was dominated initially by the Muscovy Company, and subsequently  by its semi-independent subsidiary, the Greenland Company.  By the turn of the  seventeenth and  eighteenth centuries, its fortunes had begun to decline as it found itself for the most part out-competed by a Dutch whaling industry better equipped with specially strengthened ships capable not only of “bay whaling” but also of  “ice whaling” far out at sea, on the edge of the Arctic ice fields.  Nonetheless, whaling expeditions continued to be conducted out of London until the early nineteenth century.  The last was  in 1835.

May 1st – May Day Entertainments (1515)

henry_and_catherine-by-Tim-300x212

According to Hall’s “Annals”, on this day in 1515:

“The King [Henry VIII] and the Queen [Catherine of Aragon] accompanied with many lords and ladies rode [from the Palace of Placentia in Greenwich] to the high ground of Shooters Hill to take the open air, and as they passed by the way, they espied a company of tall yeomen, clothed all in green with green hoods and bows and arrows, to the number of two hundred.  Then one of them which called himself Robin Hood came to the King desiring him to see his men shoot, and the King was content.  Then he whistled, and all the 200 archers shot and loosed at once, and then he whistled again, and they likewise shot again; their arrows whistled by craft of the head, so that the noise was strange and great and much pleased the King, the Queen and all the company.

Then Robin Hood desired the King and Queen to come into the greenwood and see how the outlaws lived.  The King demanded of the Queen and her ladies, if they durst adventure to go into the wood with so many outlaws.  Then the Queen said that if it pleased him she was content.  Then the horns blew till they came to the wood under Shooters Hill [Oxleas Wood], and there was an arber made of boughs with a hall and a great chamber and an inner chamber very well made and covered with flowers and sweet herbs, which the King much praised.  Then said Robin Hood: ‘Sir, outlaws’ breakfast is venison, and thereafter you must be content with such fare as we use’.  Then the King and Queen sat down and were served with venison and wine by Robin Hood and his men, to their great contentation”.

The murder  of  Elfeah, Saxon Archbishop of Canterbury (1012)

alphege

On this day in 1012, Elfeah, the Saxon Archbishop of Canterbury, was murdered by Vikings, who had held him hostage for some time and not received the ransom that they had demanded for his release. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, “they overwhelmed him with bones of horns of oxen; and one of them smote him with an axe-iron on the head; so that he sunk downwards with the blow; and his holy blood fell on the earth, whilst his sacred soul was sent to the realm of God”.  His last words were “the gold I give you is the Word of God”.  Elfeah’s body was laid to rest in St Paul’s Cathedral in London, and later, in 1023, moved by the then-Viking King, Cnut, to Canterbury Cathedral.  He was canonised in 1078.

St Alfege Greenwich.jpg

A church dedicated to him – St Alfege – stands on the spot where he was killed in Greenwich.

St Alphage London Wall.JPG

Another church dedicated to him – St Alphage – stands on London Wall.