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My past several posts have looked at the liturgy and Communion from the early days of the Church through to the Reformation.

So far, we have read about early Christian liturgy, that of the East, changes during the Dark Ages, Mass during the Middle Ages, Martin Luther’s liturgy, Zwingli’s rite in Zurich, the German liturgy in Strasbourg and Calvin’s rites in Strasbourg for the Huguenots and later in Geneva.

Today’s post takes a brief look at John Knox’s Reformed rites for the English speakers in Frankfurt, Geneva and, later, the Scots.

Unless otherwise indicated, source material is taken from W.D. Maxwell’s 1937 book A History of Christian Worship: An Outline of Its Development and Form, available to read in full online (H/T: Revd P. Aasman). Page references are given below.

John Knox in brief

Space prohibits a full account of John Knox’s turbulent life and times.

A few descriptive terms about the man come to mind which I shall suppress.

Knox supporters in North America find it inexplicable why those of us who are not Presbyterians could not admire him. Yet, the facts show that he was contentious and disagreeable from the start. No doubt he was very nice to his family, friends and followers.

However, for the English, he goes against what they appreciate as moderation in spirit and personality.

Even Calvin advised him in Frankfurt to

avoid contention.

Calvin carefully chose his battles — principally about Communion frequency — even if he fell foul of the Geneva city council. However, Geneva invited him to return from Strasbourg in 1541.

Knox, on the other hand, was a firebrand at every opportunity. Sadly, a few lay Presbyterians and their supporters have adopted Knox’s unfortunate manner in their online discourse. Look to Calvin, friends. He was much more measured in his speech and relationships.

Knox’s litany of self-imposed trouble included many episodes.

His first sermon to the garrison at St Andrews pronounced the Pope as the Antichrist.

Two months later in June 1547, Mary of Guise (Queen Mother and Regent to Mary, Queen of Scots) asked the French to intervene at St Andrews. The French took as prisoners a group of Protestants, including Scottish nobles and Knox. They all became galley slaves. Knox was freed in February 1549.

Knox settled in England where he became a chaplain to Edward VI in 1550. Prior to that, as a licensed minister in the Church of England, he was sent to Berwick upon Tweed, where he promptly modified the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) to make it a more Protestant rite. He met his first wife Margery Bowes at this time and, although he married her, he did so without her family’s consent.

Knox’s fiery preaching was highly popular among influential English Protestants. His clerical star continued to rise in subsequent parish appointments in England. When Mary Tudor succeeded Edward VI, Knox’s allies told him to flee the country.

In 1554, he sailed for France and continued his travels until he reached Calvin’s Geneva. Calvin gave non-committal replies to his contentious questions about female and ‘idolatrous’ rulers, referring him to Heinrich Bullinger in Zurich. Bullinger gave him no quarter. Undeterred, Knox published a diatribe in July of that year verbally attacking Mary Tudor, her bishops and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

In September 1554, a group of English exiles invited Knox to Frankfurt to be their minister. Calvin encouraged him to go. Knox found a congregation torn between using the BCP and those who favoured a more Protestant version of it. It was about this controversy that Calvin advised Knox and his colleague William Whittingham to avoid contention. A new group of refugees arrived, including Richard Cox, who had substantial input to the BCP. Cox informed Frankfurt’s authorities of Knox’s pamphlet attacking Charles V. The authorities told Knox to leave the city, which he did on March 26, 1555.

Knox returned to Geneva, where he was put in charge of a new church.

Meanwhile, his mother-in-law wrote him asking him to return to his wife, who was living in Scotland. He went home in August 1555.

Knox’s warm welcome home by Scottish Protestant nobles saw off opposition from the Scottish bishops who found him deeply worrying and arranged a hearing with him in Edinburgh. Accompanied by his powerful allies, he appeared in front of them on May 15, 1556. The bishops cancelled the hearing and granted Knox the freedom to preach in Edinburgh. Knox’s friends among the nobility persuaded him to write to Mary of Guise, the Regent for Mary, Queen of Scots. Knox wrote a letter calling for her support of the Reformation and deposing her bishops. Mary of Guise ignored it.

Meanwhile, his new congregation in Geneva called. They had elected him their pastor on November 1, 1555. He returned to the city in September 1556. This time, he took his wife and mother-in-law with him.

The next two years were blissful for Knox. He felt at home in Geneva. Life and spirituality were unsurpassed.

But that wasn’t good enough.

In the summer of 1558, unbeknownst to Calvin, Knox anonymously published a diatribe called The first blast of the trumpet against the monstruous regiment of women. Even given the general misogyny of the time, Knox went way over the top in attacking women rulers to the point where he could have been charged with sedition. He took strong issue with Mary I of England and Mary of Guise. Wikipedia says:

In calling the “regiment” or rule of women “monstruous”, he meant that it was “unnatural”. The pamphlet has been called a classic of misogyny. Knox states that his purpose was to demonstrate “how abominable before God is the Empire or Rule of a wicked woman, yea, of a traiteresse and bastard”.[55]

A royal proclamation banned the pamphlet in England.

The pamphlet came back to bite him when Elizabeth I ascended to the English throne. Geneva’s English speakers felt comfortable returning home now that they had a Protestant Queen. Knox left Geneva in January 1559 for Scotland. He should have arrived long before May 2 of that year, but Elizabeth I, aware of the pamphlet and deeply offended, refused to give him a passport to travel through England!

Not long afterward, Scottish authorities under Mary of Guise pronounced Knox an outlaw. He and a large group of Protestants travelled to Perth because it was a walled city they could defend in case of a siege. Once there, Knox preached an inflammatory sermon in the Church of St John the Baptist during which a small incident sparked a riot. The result was a gutted church. Not only that, but the mob went on to loot and vandalise two nearby friaries.

Later, safe in St Andrews, Knox preached there. Another riot broke out which resulted in more vandalism and looting.

Knox cannot be personally blamed for the Protestant uprisings occurring all over Scotland that year, but did he ever appeal for calm and godliness? Hmm.

On October 24, 1559, the Scottish nobility deposed Mary of Guise of the Regency. She died in Edinburgh Castle on June 10, 1560. The Treaty of Edinburgh was signed, which resulted in French and English troops returning home.

During the rest of that year the Scottish Parliament, Knox and a handful of fellow clergymen devised the Book of Discipline for the new Protestant church. Knox’s wife Margery died in December 1560. He was left to care for their two little boys.

Mary Queen of Scots returned from exile on August 19, 1561. She and Knox had several personal confrontations over his inciting rebellion, her right to rule as a woman and her impending marriage. He told her he owed her no allegiance. He continued his fiery sermons in the pulpit of St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh.

On March 26, 1564, Knox married a 17-year old member of the nobility, Margaret Stewart. He was 50 years old. She bore him three daughters.

Near the end of the decade a complex civil war broke out involving nobles from both sides of the religious question. Knox moved around Scotland during this time, although he returned to Edinburgh as and when he could. He wrote his History of the Reformation in Scotland during these years.

In July 1572, he was able to freely preach once again at St Giles. However, he had grown progressively weaker. He died on November 24, 1572, surrounded by his family and friends.

Knox is the founder of Presbyterianism.

Knox’s liturgy

The following is taken from Maxwell’s book and describes a typical Knox liturgy from his book The Forme of Prayers (p. 123, 124).

Knox largely borrowed from Calvin but Maxwell notes a BCP influence as well. As with Calvin’s liturgy, there is no Peace.

The format is as follows for a Communion service, still divided into the Liturgies of the Word and the Upper Room:

– Confession of sins;

– Prayer for pardon;

– Psalm in metre;

– Prayer for illumination;

– Scripture reading (only one, although there were sometimes separate Scottish Readers Services before the Liturgy of the Word which included more Psalms as well as Old and New Testament readings [p. 124]);

– Sermon (lengthy, as was the Scripture reading; together, they could last over an hour [p. 124);

– Collection of alms;

– Thanksgiving and intercessions;

– Lord’s Prayer;

– Apostles’ Creed, spoken;

– Offertory, including presentation and preparation of elements and a sung Psalm;

– Words of Institution;

– Exhortation;

– Prayer of Consecration which included adoration, thanksgiving, anamnesis and Doxology;

– Fraction;

– Ministers’ Communion;

– People’s Communion, apparently given by assistant ministers because the celebrant read the account of the Passion of Christ during this time;

– Post-Communion thanksgiving;

– Psalm 103 in metre;

– Aaronic or Apostolic blessing.

The readings appear to have been through one book of the Bible at a time until concluded — ‘in course’. The sermons were always about the readings given (p. 124).

The Forme of Prayers was never intended to be used as uniformly as England’s BCP was. Knox allowed for local variations on prayers and parts of the rite.

Although Knox sought to abolish kneeling and feasts of the Church calendar, these seem to have continued in some Scottish churches.

Communion policy

Communicants walked to the Lord’s Table where a separate Communion Table with chairs was installed (p. 126).

The people took their places and sat down to receive the Sacrament.

An Act passed by Scotland’s General Assembly in 1562 indicated that the Sacrament was received quarterly in the large towns and less frequently in the countryside (p. 125). Clergy were fewer outside of the former. Furthermore, people at that time were still used to infrequent Communion, perhaps only annually.

This custom of the Communion Table disappeared in the early part of the 19th century, when English Nonconformist procedure was adopted. This is reminiscent of the Zwinglian practice of receiving Communion in the pews, although people remained standing for this in Britain.

Long-lasting liturgy

Introduced to Scotland in 1560, Knox’s The Forme of Prayers — or Book of Common Order — was used for over 80 years, despite attempts to revise it (p. 127). It was replaced in 1645 by the Westminster Directory.

Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThis is the final instalment of verses from Luke’s Gospel which have been excluded from the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

Many churchgoers do not notice the truncation of the Scripture readings for Sundays and weekdays. Anytime we see an ellipsis in our church bulletins listing the readings for the day — … — we would do well to go back to the Bible and note carefully what has been omitted. Often, these are difficult verses, pointing to our own weaknesses in character and faith.

Today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry.

Luke 24:11-12

11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.


It was nearly two years ago to the day — March 16, 2013 — that I began going through the passages from Luke which do not appear in the three-year Lectionary. As with my similar studies of Mark’s and John’s Gospels, they are a revelation. You can read them all on my Essential Bible Verses page in canonical order.

These last two verses pertain to our Lord’s resurrection. The empty tomb is confusing and puzzling. His female disciples among the 72 went to the tomb to find it empty. They told the Apostles, likely to have been in their own homes and not together. Luke 24:10:

10 Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles,

The Apostles immediately dismissed their testimony. Why? Were they associating it with the notional female hysteria, emotion and fantasy? No doubt.

Yet, who was at the Crucifixion? Only one Apostle — John. The others were women.

Who denied Him, as our Lord had foreseen only hours earlier? Peter.

Who stayed away a week after the Resurrection before daring to show himself and, even then, in doubt? Thomas.

Yet, these eleven promised they would always be with Jesus. Matthew Henry wrote:

One cannot but be amazed at the stupidity of these disciples …

This is one reason why egalitarians in terms of marriage have a difficult time accepting male supremacy in all things where women and children are concerned. Men do not have all the answers. They need women — and not just for cooking, cleaning and childbearing.

Jesus’s female followers were there throughout in dangerous circumstances. The men were afraid, fearing imprisonment, torture or death. The women powered on regardless.

Verse 12 tells us that Peter had visited the tomb — but only after Mary Magdalene told him it was empty. The coast was clear. Henry chides the Apostle’s cowardice (emphases mine):

Peter hastened to the sepulchre upon the report, perhaps ashamed of himself, to think that Mary Magdalene should have been there before him and yet, perhaps, he had not been so ready to go thither now if the women had not told him, among other things, that the watch was fled. Many that are swift-footed enough when there is no danger are but cow-hearted when there is. Peter now ran to the sepulchre, who but the other day ran from his Master. 

Not only that, but Peter was every bit as sceptical as Thomas was eight days later. He entered the tomb to verify that it was empty and to see the linen cloths for himself. Henry:

He was very particular in making his observations, as if he would rather credit his own eyes than the testimony of the angels.

Students of the Bible must wonder why, with all of Jesus’s many words regarding death and resurrection, the Apostles did not grasp what had happened. Even when they encountered Him on the road to Emmaus later in Luke 24, they still didn’t understand fully. We see that temporal glory was still at the forefront of their minds:

21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

One cannot say any of us would be better. We focus on incidental or non-essentials instead of the essentials, then wonder why our churches are empty and why young people find Christianity irrelevant. Henry reminds us:

Note, A seasonable remembrance of the words of Christ will help us to a right understanding of his providence.


There is many a thing puzzling and perplexing to us which would be both plain and profitable if we did but rightly understand the words of Christ, and had them ready to us.

Something to ponder in the approach to Easter.

Next time: Matthew 1:1-17

Yesterday’s post looked at the life of Major Denis Arnold who served valiantly during the Second World War.

He, along with Baroness Platt of Writtle, today’s profile, and many others are what Britons refer to with regret as ‘a vanishing breed’. The Telegraph carries their obituaries, beautifully written and a pleasure to read.

Whilst Major Arnold was stationed in India and Burma, Beryl Catherine Myatt had just begun working for the male-dominated Hawker Aircraft.

Young Beryl’s father was an accountant. The family lived in Southend, Essex. Beryl became a Girl Guide and said that the Guide Promise was a principal mainstay in her life:

To do my best, to do my duty to God and the King and to help other people at all times.

Beryl was an exceptional student, the type meant to attend university. However, parents at the time — especially fathers — felt that higher education would be wasted on future mothers and homemakers. (The same was true for my late mother-in-law who deeply regretted not having been allowed this opportunity.)

One of Beryl’s teachers, the mathematics mistress, persuaded her mother that the girl should apply to Cambridge. Beryl later read that the university was looking for engineering students to help with the war effort. She attended Girton College and was one of five women reading Mechanical Sciences.

She graduated in 1943. Hawker Aircraft took her on as an aeronautical engineer:

preparing flight reports for Typhoon, Tempest and Fury fighter bombers. She often took control when her boss was away — “People would ring up and say ‘I want to know the cylinder head temperature of the Centaurus engine’. I’d rattle them off. There would be a deathly hush at the other end of the line and then they’d say, ‘How do you know?’ They assumed that if you were a woman you couldn’t be an engineer.”

Her obituary page has a Hawker employee photograph; she looks to be the only woman in a sea of men!

After the war, she left Hawker to work at British European Airways. She married Stewart Platt, a textile manufacturer, in 1949, to concentrate on marriage, home and family.

When her children were of school age, Mrs Platt devoted her spare time to volunteer activities in Essex. She started a young wives group in Writtle, Essex, where she and her family lived.

During this time, she began thinking of ways women could work outside the home without sacrificing family life. However, she would have to wait another quarter of a century before she could help to influence government policy in this regard.

In 1959, the local Conservative Party association asked her to stand as a candidate for the local council. She was duly elected and served in local government for several years. Between 1965 and 1985, she served on the Essex County Council.

In 1978, she was appointed a CBE — Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire and in 1981 was created a life peer, Baroness Platt of Writtle. (For my overseas readers: this put her in the House of Lords, the other parliamentary house.)

In 1983 — when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister — she was appointed chairman of Britain’s Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) and began earning a salary for the first time in decades.

Platt’s idea of feminism differed dramatically to the flavour of that time and ours. She saw women’s opportunities through the lens of someone who had to fight her way up in a male-dominated atmosphere. (Many years ago I saw a television interview of a woman in New York who did the same in the 1950s on Wall Street. She abhorred what passed for feminism.)

The Telegraph describes Platt’s job in the EOC as follows:

Brisk, kindly and bursting with good intentions, as chairman of one of Westminster’s least-loved quangos Lady Platt found herself cast as piggy-in-the-middle in the equality debate. “There are male chauvinists on one side, militant feminists on the other and me on a high wire in the middle,” she said. She was “passionately interested” in job-sharing, flexi-time and helping married woman to get back into the mainstream, but felt that this was better achieved voluntarily by employers than imposed by government.

So while she was lukewarm on some issues dear to the feminist heart, such as state-funded nurseries, and dismissed the EOC-backed case of two women against the Fleet Street hostelry El Vino [infamous haunt for male journalists] as “rather frivolous”, she was delighted when, for example, a woman crane driver won damages for victimisation at work: “That’s the sort of thing that will make employers think twice. It’s that, and not more legislation, that will bring about real equality in the end.”

Baroness Platt retired in 1988. Her great disappointment was that more young women were not enrolling in engineering courses at university. She blamed this on a cultural and educational bias towards feminine subjects for girls.

She lived and died a faithful Anglican, suggesting:

if people took to heart God’s commandment to love Him and love thy neighbour, “we should all be living in a very much happier and better community”.

How true. Would that we had more women like Baroness Platt today. A vanishing breed, indeed.

Last month I told one of my readers I would chronicle women in Islam from the mid-20th century to the present.

It is deplorable that people under the age of 35 will not have known anything other than the Muslim women’s attire we see today.

For them and for readers who have forgotten the swift trajectory from the modern to the mediaeval, below are links to illuminating photographs from several Muslim countries.

It is painful to read that an increasing number of American Christians are moving in the same direction — backward — with regard to women’s opportunities and attire. I read of arranged marriages, daughters deprived of university, veiled women at church and wives who buy burkinis. These people — not sect members, by the way — isolate themselves and associate only with their own kind because the rest of us, frankly, just aren’t good enough!

Stop the madness!

Now without further ado: Muslim women not so long ago. I have not reproduced most of the pictures because I do not know how long it took those who published them to locate them. Therefore, please click on the links to see how life has changed within a short space of time.


Afghanistan Online has a concise but excellent history of governments from the late 1880s to the present.

Briefly, by the end of the 19th century, women were allowed to inherit property. The first school for girls, which included an English curriculum, opened by 1919. In the 1920s, the government discouraged women from wearing a veil. King Amanullah Khan stated publicly, much to the consternation of fundamentalist tribal leaders:

Religion does not require women to veil their hands, feet and faces or enjoin any special type of veil. Tribal custom must not impose itself on the free will of the individual.

The next king, Mohammad Nadir Shah, acquiesced to these tribal leaders. However, by 1933, Mohammad Zahir Shah began a 40-year reign and brought in many reforms for women: Western attire adopted by the ruling family, the opportunity to work in professions and the right to vote. Various restrictions were also enacted against child brides and dowries. The first Miss Afghanistan was crowned in 1972; although there was no swimsuit competition, there was an evening gown pageant.

The following links show how women dressed during Mohammad Zahir Shah’s rule. MessyNessy’s ‘Lost in Time: Groovy Afghanistan’ features a selection of photos. Note in particular the first one of Afghan women in the 1940s. They are all in Western dress and only one wears a veil. The next picture features women from Kabul representative of the 1960s and 1970s. Again, only one has a gauzy headscarf. The rest, in mid-knee length skirts, could fit in anywhere. These photographs come from a Facebook page, publicly available, called ‘Once Upon A Time In Afghanistan’. I encourage — exhort — everyone reading this to view it. See how contemporary everything was in Afghan society.

Afghanistan was also open to tourists. Bill Podlich has a selection of photographs from his visit, with family, to the country in the late 1960s. Photo 7 shows secondary school girls; whilst they wear loose veils, except for one, the caption states they were not allowed to wear full chador when attending school. They were also encouraged to attend university. Photo 26 shows a mixed class of men and women — only one of whom wears a scarf — at the Higher Teachers College in Kabul. The next photo shows primary school pupils and their teachers in the playground. All are wearing Western attire.


The American journalist and author Phyllis Chesler has a fascinating collection of photographs of Cairo University graduates through the decades. The Class of 1959 were all in Western attire. The same was true in 1978. However, in 1995, one-third of the women of that graduating class wore veils. By 2004, most of the women covered their heads.

During the Arab Spring of 2011, Chesler examined the photos coming from Egypt (emphases mine):

Yes, there are some female faces in the Cairo mob scenes, but understandably, they are in the minority.

While there are some—very few—female faces that are bare-faced and bareheaded, most women are wearing serious hijab: Pulled low and tight on their foreheads, tied under their chins, covering their necks, draping down to their shoulders.

Oh for the days of Anwar Sadat, whose wife Jihan and daughters Jihan and Lobna wore Western attire. Scroll to the bottom of his biography to see the family photo.

In the 1960s, a few Egyptian women from well-placed families were allowed to participate in foreign-exchange programmes. One of them was Nazek Fahmy, who spent time in Moline, Illinois, with the Parsons family before touring the United States with other foreign students. My thanks to cyberfriend Dr Gregory Jackson who has documented his schooldays and class reunions in the marvellous Moline Memories, a must-read for anyone interested in life in the 1960s.

Miss Fahmy’s 1965 visit appeared in the local paper. She is on the far left in this photo — note the shorts!

She told the newspaper reporter that she had graduated from the American College for Girls in Egypt. Her younger brother was attending a French school there. Things were very cosmopolitan then.

As for women’s attire, she said that those who lived in town wore Western fashions (emphasis in the original):

Only the peasants wear native costume.

And now, sadly, nearly every woman does.


Page F30 has an excellent collection of photographs of Iran in the 1970s, prior to the Revolution in 1979.

The much-vilified Shah of Iran was the country’s ruler at the time these snapshots were taken. None of the women covered their heads. They wore miniskirts, hot pants and open-toed shoes.

The comments are well worth reading. Some evoke fond memories of that era (emphases mine):

Anonymous: … this is not just pics of elites. My parents’ photo albums were filled with pictures exactly like this and they were barely considered middle class. Third, keep in mind that this was the 1960s and although Iran had not fully developed into a democracy it was well on its way….by separating government from religious ties. The revolution took away all of the country’s advancements in the 2oth century and reduced them to a theocracy.

Anonymous (another, perhaps): I am a proud American and a previously proud Iranian. The madness that started with the so called Islamic revolution uprooted me and thank god I am living in the heaven that we call USA.

Whatever happened in Iran of the Pahlavi regime was far superior to the tyr[ran]ny and injustice that is happening now and since the so called revolution.

Looking at these beautiful pictures of Iran, reminds me of a dream of the past. The Community School in Tehran and the annual Garden parties that w[ere] very similar to the School Fairs that you see in the U.S. There is nothing wrong with being westernized and believe in western ideals. Somehow the religious f[a]natics that hijacked Islam and rule the country turned that dream into a nightmare.

There are 20 year old kids in Iran now who never saw the beautiful dream that I am talking about. All that they have been witnessing is the dark cloud of this tyr[ran]ny and the Islamic revolution that has shrouded the country …

Of course, Iran’s back of beyond attire was very much tribal — the way it is today in the rest of the nation. Avax News has a post of photographs from 1955-1980 which shows the contrast of dress worn by the Shah and his wife and that of people living in the countryside.

As in Egypt and Afghanistan, women living in Iran have been legally and religiously obliged to dress like peasants since 1979.

This photo, courtesy of Pew Research, shows the mindset today regarding Muslim women’s attire in various countries:


It can only be hoped that, in decades to come, life returns to the way it once was throughout Muslim countries. Many hope for a ‘Reformation’, however, it seems that perhaps that is what petro-dollar financed Wahhabism has wrought. Unlike Christianity, the reforms went into reverse, rather than forward, gear.

Ethel Lang of Barnsley, South Yorkshire, died on January 16, 2015.

She was the last Briton to have been born during the reign of Queen Victoria.

Born on May 27, 1900, she lived in Barnsley all her life. Her 91-year old daughter Margaret Walker survives her.

BBC News tells us that Mrs Lang lived through:

– six monarchs, 22 prime ministers and two world wars.

– the invention of the radio, the television, the computer and the internet.

Mrs Lang began working at the age of 13 in a local shirt factory. She married her husband William in 1922; he died in 1988.

Her daughter Margaret told the BBC that she was ‘very lucky’ to have had such a ‘lovely mother’.

Although we do not know the secret of her longevity, Mrs Walker said that she had an aunt who lived to be 104. Good genes run in the family.

Mrs Lang loved watching snooker. After she lost her eyesight, she still listened to the matches.

She gave an interview to the BBC on her 108th birthday, saying that she remembered wartime most vividly:

On a Sunday evening we used to have friends come over. We would black everything out and get around the piano and have a sing-song.

The BBC says that, as of 2013, the UK had 13,780 centenarians, of whom 710 are at least 105 years old.

The Queen sends her personal greetings to everyone celebrating their 100th birthday. She does the same for those who reach 105 and continues sending them every year afterward.

Gladys Hooper is now the oldest Briton. She turned 112 on Sunday, January 18.

The world’s oldest person is Misao Okawa, a Japanese lady who is 116 years old.

On Monday, November 24, 2014, a three-part fly-on-the-wall documentary about Tatler magazine began on BBC2.

Originally a men’s publication — in a nice way — when it was founded in 1709, it was popular in London’s coffeehouses where wealthy, well-connected patrons could read insider scoops on politics, society and news. It was published thrice weekly until January 1711.

Although a number of bloggers dislike pseudonyms, the Irish politician and writer Richard Steele, founder of the original Tatler, wrote under the name Isaac Bickerstaff, Esquire. He is thought to have been the first to popularise writing under an assumed name. This genre was known at the time as ‘characters’. Lord Shaftesbury’s Characteristics of 1711 expanded on the genre.

Pseudonymns helped Steele and his friends gather exclusives from the various coffeehouses where the great and the good met:

Steele’s idea was to publish the news and gossip heard in London coffeehouses, hence the title, and seemingly, from the opening paragraph, to leave the subject of politics to the newspapers,[2] while presenting Whiggish views and correcting middle-class manners, while instructing “these Gentlemen, for the most part being Persons of strong Zeal, and weak Intellects…what to think.” To assure complete coverage of local gossip, a reporter was placed in each of the city’s popular coffeehouses, or at least such were the datelines: accounts of manners and mores were datelined from White’s; literary notes from Will’s; notes of antiquarian interest were dated from the Grecian Coffee House; and news items from St. James’s Coffee House.

Jonathan Swift and Joseph Addison also wrote articles for the journal. Addison and Steele co-founded the first incarnation of The Spectator after Tatler folded in 1711. The Spectator was in print until 1714. It would not be resurrected by another publisher until 1818. It is still in publication today.

Several equally short-lived imitations also took the name Tatler in the early 18th century.

In 1830, the English writer Leigh Hunt revived Tatler but ceased publication that same year.

In July 1901 publisher Clement Shorter relaunched Tatler. It has remained in continuous publication ever since. Initially, it was more of a social chronicle which appealed to men as well as women. Although it is certainly considered a woman’s magazine today, and only published monthly, it features at least one investigative article each issue involving well-known captains of industry or old families. It also covers a variety of social trends, such as the popularity of drugs, specifically, the damage ketamine can inflict on the bladder.

The rest of this post contains adult content.

The June 2014 issue of Tatler, featured in the BBC2 documentary, has an article about ‘flexisexuality’. Sophia Money-Coutts described the phenomenon in her article, ‘Feeling greedy? Now you can have it all’ (pp. 126-129).

The article explains that we have moved on from the 1960s sexual revolution into a new phase where sexual activity has become open and includes same-sex and ambisexual encounters (p. 128).

In one sense, this reads to me as if it were describing the swingers phenomenon of the early 1970s. Each generation thinks it has invented sex. And let’s remember that the youngsters who were letting it all hang out in the late 60s and early 70s are grandparents today. However, their grandchildren are taking what happened then one step further by normalising blurred sexual boundaries.

One 26-year old partygoer told Tatler‘s journalist that she has

had sex with three or four women … 

One encounter, she said, took place after a society wedding (p. 128). The other woman made an overture and

the sex was amazing because, you know, women understand what they’re doing with other women.

We learn why girl-on-girl flings have become popular among under-30s, including adolescents (p. 128-129):

– The personal hygiene is better.

– Women have better manners.

– Party drugs such as ketamine put one in the mood.

– Women enjoy sleeping with a beautiful woman.

– Certain supermodels are at the forefront of this trend.

– Girls at private schools have posters of supermodels on their walls and experiment with their peers.

Men are also welcome to join in now and then. One woman revealed (p. 129):

my husband’s watched both times.

For the most part, the interviewees said that they viewed their ‘sapphosexual’ encounters as a phase one goes through in one’s youth. They get married, have children and resume a normal family life by the time they reach the age of 30.

That said, Tatler found that women friends have stronger bonds than before; it’s not unusual for them to go on holiday together (p. 129).

Tatler also discovered that ‘most men’ did not object to their girlfriends or wives having a same sex fling or relationship (p. 129).

As one 22-year old said of a young bride who had an encounter with her best female friend after the wedding reception whilst the groom looked on (p. 128):

It’s not so a big deal … It’s really not a ‘thing’ if you’re our age and seeing someone [of] the same sex.

I mention this because it is a trend to watch for among young people, probably as young as secondary school age.

Parents, clergy and teachers would do well to ensure that our children understand God’s plan for us as men and women. This is given in the creation story in Genesis.

It is reinforced in the New Testament through Paul’s and Jude‘s letters. Emphases mine below.

Romans 1:18-32:

God’s Wrath on Unrighteousness

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,[a] in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

1 Corinthians 5:9-11:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.


7 The people of Sodom and Gomorrah and the towns around them also did evil things. They gave themselves over to sexual sins. They committed sins of the worst possible kind. They are an example of those who are punished with fire. The fire never goes out.   (Jude 7)

24 Give praise to the One who is able to keep you from falling into sin. He will bring you into his heavenly glory without any fault. He will bring you there with great joy. (Jude 24)

One cannot help but wonder if children better understood the divine plan for humanity whether so much same-sex experimentation would be taking place today.

Yes, repentance is possible for past transgressions, however, better not to get involved with sin in the first place.

pencilsAt the weekend, I read two comprehensive schools guides concerning the UK.

It astounded me to see how much term fees were for both prep (infant/primary) and secondary independent (including some top-end ‘public’ schools such as Eton and Harrow).  Most were upwards of £5,000 per term. One sixth-form school (last two years of secondary school) charges £13,000 per term. With three terms per school year, parents are paying from £15,000 to £39,000 per annum.

And that’s not taking into account school trips abroad. I don’t mean a ferry trip to Ireland or France. These pupils and students go to Asia, Africa and the United States.

Then there are summer holidays, which, in order to meet with the rather recent British propensity for Jonesing (from the post-Second World War American envy of matching up to ‘the Joneses next door’), a man has to make an incredible amount of money and manage it wisely every year. More importantly, he must be able to keep his job, come what may — takeovers, reorganisations, redundancies and so forth.

I’ll talk more about schools in another post, because my jaw fell open in disbelief at several points when reading these guides. Thank goodness that I don’t have to worry; I just enjoy reading most objectively-written articles and books about school in general.

My point here — with apologies in advance to female readers — is that in my area, blessed enough to seriously consider the schools which these guides include, we have a number of middle-aged mothers who are not working outside the home yet they dislike their husbands.

Many of these men, executives or self-employed, are putting themselves through temporal hell in paying for their wives’ and children’s upkeep, school fees, the mortgage, dinners out, children’s birthday parties (very expensive and competitive here), holidays and so much more. One wonders how they can afford it all.

One mother I know — there are no doubt many more — has said that she doesn’t really enjoy her husband’s company. They barely meet up during the week. If he isn’t working late nights, he’s away on business, which entails flying overseas to distant continents for days at a time. Meanwhile, he has put no demands upon her and happily pays for their teenaged children to attend private schools.

Seriously, if he decided to leave — and I can name four offline husbands who have left their wives once their children become teenagers — she would be left in a huge financial abyss, despite whatever financial support he could arrange for her and the children. After all, he would have to get another mortgage for his own residence and be able to pay for all the expenses that home would require.

Even worse, suppose he died suddenly? The kiddos would have to go to state school like many others, and the widow would find it difficult to find a job paying enough to fill all the financial gaps.

It’s time that more well-heeled women were more grateful for the blessing of not having to earn their own keep yet get away with doing a minimum around the house, escape the ‘oppression’ of cooking a proper meal and expect to be taken out to dinner on Saturdays and Sundays — while their children are attending good private schools.

It’s time to be thankful for what we have, because things can always be a lot worse. Life isn’t fair; many have been dealt better hands (to borrow a card-playing expression) than others.

Finally, I would ask these women to consider what their husbands are thinking when alone on a plane for several hours. It could be they are wondering why their wives have not gone out to seek employment or at least be more productive at home.

By no means am I asking or telling women to become housewives or go and find gainful employment, but some of those who are at home with no demands from their husbands really should think their lives through a bit more and be grateful they have married such good, responsible, undemanding providers.

As some of us know, vulnerability — principally because of age or loss — can create a vacuum to be filled by an unscrupulous, manipulative fraudster.

This has been the case throughout history, although there was a time when the most serious menace a widow in my mother’s city could face was a series of obscene phone calls in the middle of the night. Her other widowed friends warned her that a local man read the obituaries in the local newspaper and looked up the telephone numbers of households where men had recently died, specifically those death notices which mentioned surviving widows. Yes, my mother, as did her friends in their time, received several of these calls over a period of a few weeks.

That is distressing enough, particularly as, when the phone rang at 2 or 3 a.m., she thought I had been seriously injured or died in an accident. It really isn’t big, clever or funny. Nobody knows what happened to that heavy breather on the other end of the phone. He might have died by now or moved away.

Some years earlier, my late grandmother recalled the pigeon drop. It was rampant in her urban neighbourhood — a different city — in the 1970s. Two confidence tricksters — a thirtysomething man and woman — preyed on elderly widows to part with their savings in order to somehow magically get more money. The man presented the money angle; the woman the emotional ‘we really want you to have the cash, you’re so adorable’ gambit.

Anyone with half an ounce of common sense could see where that was going to end, right? Not necessarily. Some of Grandma’s friends were even taken in by the scam, despite the fact that all the senior citizens clubs in her area warned against even talking to these grifters.

Today, I heard an hour-long programme on French radio station RTL about how lone confidence tricksters can prey on married couples and split them apart.

I’ve written about Flavie Flament’s afternoon show on RTL once before, with regard to etiquette.  Her show on May 13, 2014 focussed on the true story of a manipulative man who one day began communicating with a married woman —  Ghislaine (pron. ‘Ghee-len’) de Védrines — and managed to defraud the couple of a serious sum of money. He is now serving a prison term. The woman and her husband, Jean Marchand, have since written a book about their decade-long ordeal. A psychiatrist was also on the show to explain how this occurs.

The psychiatrist, Marie-France Hirigoyen, said that manipulative grifters can sense vulnerability and gradually — my words, not hers — go in for the kill, if you’ll pardon the expression. She said that loss triggers vulnerability in most cases: death, divorce or, perhaps, a job.

Strangely, in Ghislaine (pron. ‘Ghee-len’) de Védrines and Jean Marchand’s case, they were married and living together with their children. Unfortunately, I missed the first part of the show which explained exactly how Ghislaine was ensnared in this man’s universe. Although Jean explained that he tried to tell her time and time again that the man was no good, she refused to believe him.

Amazingly (to my mind, anyway), this disagreement filtered down to their children, who began taking sides with Mom or Dad.

The weird thing is that Ghislaine never actually met this man until later on. However, he contacted her by telephone and he emailed, targeting her mind first and then her wallet.

Therefore, this scenario could happen to anyone, including a married couple who are parents of younger children living at home.

The danger was that once Ghislaine was trapped, she couldn’t get out because the conman had such a psychological hold on her. I watched the show as it took place live in the studio. Ghislaine and her husband look completely normal and middle class. You would not think that one of them would fall prey to such a scam, particularly one that stretched over ten years.

They — along with the psychiatrist — ran through characteristics that these con artists have in common: persuasive communication, drawing the ‘mark’ (targeted person) away from their family and friends, encouraging the mark to trust no one but the con artist himself and ensuring that they have secret communications.

Jean remained by his wife’s side throughout the ordeal, even though — because of the con artist’s manipulative persuasion — Ghislaine couldn’t bear to be with him. She ended up going through psychotherapy and fully regrets that she was taken in by a man who threatened every aspect of the stable family life and financial security she once knew.

It’s interesting that the title of the couple’s book is Diabolique, which needs no translation.

I’m still surprised thinking about it now, hours later. However, it just goes to show us that evil can work under a series of subtle disguises, seemingly good, so ‘good’ that it can seriously damage people, their relationships and their future.

If we’re going through trauma, the best advice we can follow is not to be drawn in by chance acquaintances, whether in real life or online.

This story is proof that a con artist can penetrate even a marriage and active family life.

At least, in this case, the husband persevered. He never gave up reclaiming his wife’s affections and putting his family back together.

As for Ghislaine, she said that the most important thing a mark can do is to apologise to their loved ones by admitting they made a serious mistake.

Some family members would not take a sincere apology well and possibly reject that person.

Fortunately for Ghislaine, her family has forgiven her, although both she and Jean admit that things are no longer what they once were.

We as Christians are called to be kind to strangers. Yet, we can bear in mind Jesus’s words to the Apostles when he sent them out to preach and heal (Matthew 10:16):

16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

Let us pray to the Holy Spirit for wisdom and guidance in our daily dealings with the world.

Description de l'image  Bouvard.jpg.Last week on April 4, 2014, French journalist, editor, author and broadcaster Philippe Bouvard (left), 84, celebrated his 37th year presenting RTL radio’s Les Grosses Têtes (The Big Heads), France’s most popular afternoon programme on what we in Britain call ‘the wireless’.

I watched a podcast of his anniversary show and was moved when RTL’s much younger station director walked into the studio with a huge Opéra cake (seven slim chocolate-based layers, each one of which is unctuous), glasses of fizz for Bouvard and his panellists as well as a bottle of something special for Bouvard himself. Bouvard promised to share the cake with his sizable live studio audience.

Bouvard is a French institution and has even played cameo roles as himself in three films between the 1950s and the 1970s. I first became aware of him when he was editor-in-chief of France-Soir, now sadly defunct. That wasn’t his fault, by the way. It went downhill when he left, although it was still a good read for a tabloid. The racing and puzzle pages were excellent, too.

Over the past few years, I have listened to Les Grosses Têtes off and on during the afternoon. That is my busiest time of day, so I tune in and tune out. Bouvard will be leaving the programme at the end of the summer to return to RTL in the autumn with a new show, yet to be determined.

Bouvard’s programme is much like him: varied, stimulating and never boring. I cannot imagine how he manages to do it nearly every day, week in and week out. Each show is different and demands quite a lot to maintain its audience share, even if Bouvard himself probably does not do all the research or book the guests. Listeners learn something new every day, whether it is about showbiz, politics, history, literature, science, classical education or philosophy. It is recorded in the morning and broadcast in the afternoon, interspersed with news bulletins and a bit of music.

Incidentally, Bouvard was born to a Catholic father whom he never knew and to a Jewish mother. Born in 1929, he was obliged to lie low during the Second World War as an ethnic Jew. When his mother remarried, he took his stepfather’s surname. He has a French Legion of Honour medal, is a Knight of French Arts and Letters and is a member of the Grand Croix de l’Ordre d’Isabelle la Catholique. He has been married for 61 years and has two children.

It occurred to me how pleasant it was for RTL’s much younger director to present him with an anniversary celebration and a short but genuine speech of thanks.

MurrayWalkerAutosportInternational2009.jpgHere in the UK, Bouvard would have been turfed out by the time he reached his 80th birthday, just on principle. The closest British icon we have of roughly the same age group is Murray Walker OBE, who, for many years, was the most remembered commentator for Formula 1 racing on the BBC and ITV.

Walker, now 90, made the decision to leave F1 commentary in 2000. His final race was the American Grand Prix in 2001. Since then, he has featured in retrospectives not only on motor racing but about his own life.

He started his career as an ad man after serving in the Second World War. Odd though it might seem today, advertising was the natural civvie street career choice for British officers in that war.

One Briton who did not fare so well with media management was the veteran BBC Radio 2 announcer Jimmy Young OBE, who left the station in a storm of controversy and public outcry in 2002 at the age of 81. Listeners past and present were outraged at his treatment by the BBC. They deemed Auntie Beeb ageist. Young had made it publicly clear he had had no intentions of retiring; his hand had been forced. Just under a decade later, in 2011, Radio 2 did a retrospective of his life with his participation at age 90. Today, he is still going strong, writing a weekly column for the Sunday Express. Among other subjects, Young has taken issue with the aggressive tone of today’s television interviewers.

Sadly, Britain’s female broadcasters and presenters have fared the worst where ageism is concerned. Two capable — and beautiful women — Moira Stewart OBE (left) and Anna Ford (right) — were turfed out of news presenting well before their time. Stewart was given the heave-ho at the tender age of 57 in 2007 after 34 years in both television and radio with the BBC. Ford stayed on as BBC One’s afternoon news presenter until she was 62. That was in 2006. By then, she had had nearly 20 years continuous broadcasting experience between ITV and the BBC.

In Stewart’s case, young(ish) DJ Chris Evans vowed he would bring her back to broadcasting. She is currently his newsreader for his drive-time Breakfast Show on Radio 2.

Ford has moved on to serve as a non-executive director of J Sainsbury plc and chairs their Corporate Responsibility Committee.

Mary Berry BBC Good Food 2011.jpgA better outcome for British women in media, perhaps, is the career trajectory of Mary Berry CBE, who overcame polio as a young girl and went on to study at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, write food columns for magazines, author cookbooks, star as a Women’s Institutes (WI) television cook on various programmes to go on to co-present the Great British Bake-off  (BBC2) with Paul Hollywood.

You can’t get much better than that in your sunset years, can you?

Her Mary Berry Cooks (BBC2) has just finished and is a well-presented six-part series on traditional and modern English dishes which are sure to please friends and family. Berry takes the fear out of cooking for the kitchen novice. Her manner is friendly, open and helpful.

I quite like the way Berry is a non-feminist feminist, much like our Queen. Neither talks about feminism. Each has had a longstanding career. (At this point, Berry would quite rightly decry my comparing her to our monarch, which I would accept.) Both are feminine and gracious. Both cherish their husbands and families. Both are well respected women in their fields. Neither went in for ‘feminism’ per se with all its strident events and elements. Both are kind to others, even when things go awry. Both their mothers lived to a great age. The Queen Mother died at the age of 102. Berry’s mother lived to be 105 or 107, I cannot recall exactly.

Some of our elders in the mainstream media meet with more fortune than others. Why that is remains a mystery. However, I do enjoy watching, listening to and reading about them. They all have much to teach us.

Would that there were more seniors in mainstream media now. May we find a more generous younger generation when we meet that age. Our Boomers and Gen-X-ers are perhaps not the best respecters of age.

The other night we saw the first in a three-part series on BBC4, Britain’s Oldest Businesses.

The first in the programme profiled R J Balson and Son from Bridport, Dorset. Richard Balson is the current proprietor. He works together with his brother-in-law Rudi Boulay. The programme revealed that Richard Balson understood the business to date from 1535. However, a subsequent discovery, shown in the programme, dates back to 1515.

A year away from half a millenium of meat sales

The Balson website includes old family photographs of the shop and their first ‘modern’ 20th century delivery vehicle. It’s a short but fascinating read and, if the show is rerun (let’s hope it airs on PBS), it’s worthwhile recording for later viewing at home.

We learned that the first two documents dating the business referred to those Balson men being granted a stall at Bridport’s shambles, where butchery was done live in the main thoroughfare. More about shambles later in the post.

We also learned that market days — the only time butchery was allowed — were Wednesday and Saturday. Therefore, if you wished to make a living by selling meat, you often had to have another job.

One of Balson’s more recent ancestors from the 19th century ran a pub. He was able to sell  more meat through the pub. (These days, outsiders go in to pubs to sell meat of unknown provenance, possibly stolen, at very low prices. Caveat emptor — buyer beware.) However, this proves that selling meat in the pub is an old tradition. It would be interesting to find out how many butchers ran pubs before they were allowed to open a shop throughout the week.

Another detail viewers learned was that the abundance of carcasses on display was generally photographed in the run-up to Christmas as a retail incentive.

Currently, a Balson relative living in the US sells meat from the family firm online. He still has the old date of 1535 in the banner heading.

The Telegraph has a good article — albeit with a misspelling of Thomas More’s name — about the Balson family business:

Although he’s interested in his business’s claim to fame, Richard Balson has never had the time to think about starting a history project. A butcher’s life is busy from cradle to grave. He grew up above the shop and remembers his father warning him from an early age that the Balson butchers never earned enough for a retirement …

Next year he will own a business that has been in the same family for half a millennium. Still, it’s not all good news: “Nothing exciting happened that year [1515], except the birth of Anne of Cleves,” he says despondently.

More disturbing information is in store for Balson, whom we follow in the first part of the series. He becomes increasingly hooked as the story unravels: the shop has, quite miraculously it seems, survived a rather bloody history. One of the Balson butchers lived with a married woman and “had his head blown off” by her 10-year-old son [an accident]; another was sent to a Victorian asylum for electric shock treatment before cutting his own throat [in a wash house, the precursor to a launderette]. What makes these stories close to the bone, as it were, is that they all lived and worked in the same space – as indeed did Balson with his own father.

The Shambles — first butchery sites

‘The Shambles’ was the name for mediaeval and subsequent butchers’ stalls until the 18th or 19th century, depending on the town or city.

A few places by that name still exist today in England — York has The Shambles and Little Shambles thoroughfares. Manchester has Shambles Square.

As the documentary on the Balsons showed us, shambles were set up in the main shopping — high — street in a central location. They were often roofed structures but might have been held up only by columns in some cases to allow freer passage of livestock to slaughter.

Farmers brought in their beasts to be slaughtered and butchered on market days. In principle, the documentary told us, the animals could be cut to order. Any meat not sold on that day could be salted — similar to corned beef — or sent to the local lepers, which was undoubtedly seen as an act of Christian charity; otherwise they might have starved.

However, the shambles represented a hygiene problem over the centuries. Whilst the blood and faecal waste from the animals could flow off into the recesses of the street, in time, cholera and other diseases were rife in these districts. Yet, it would not be until the 18th century when the ‘Godless’ Enlightenment (as many 21st century American fundamentalists perceive it as a whole) would enable town planning and some degree of cleanliness. At that point, Bath being one example, the shambles were removed from the public square and placed indoors with separate slaughter or butchery facilities at the rear of the shops. Some animals were killed offsite and brought into town. In the late 19th century, butchers were among the first to be able to purchase and benefit from refrigerated cold stores to keep meat fresh throughout the week. From that point on, many meat shops were open five or six days a week.

Shambles — etymology and current meaning

The American Heritage Dictionary traces the word ‘shambles’ as follows (emphases in bold mine below):

A place or situation referred to as a shambles is usually a mess, but it is no longer always the bloody mess it once was. The history of the word begins innocently enough with the Latin word scamnum, “a stool or bench serving as a seat, step, or support for the feet, for example.” The diminutive scamillum, “low stool,” was borrowed by speakers of Old English as sceamol, “stool, bench, table.” Old English sceamol became Middle English shamel, which developed the specific sense in the singular and plural of “a place where meat is butchered and sold.” The Middle English compound shamelhouse meant “slaughterhouse,” a sense that the plural shambles developed (first recorded in 1548) along with the figurative sense “a place or scene of bloodshed” (first recorded in 1593). Our current, more generalized meaning, “a scene or condition of disorder,” is first recorded in 1926.

A webpage on the history of York adds that ‘shamel’ also referred to:

Flesshammel, which means to do with flesh – it was the street of the butchers. In 1872 the number of butchers was recorded as 26. This figure dwindled over the years until the last butcher standing was Dewhurst at number 27 the Shambles.

Unfortunately, the nationwide Dewhurst chain disappeared in 1995. I remember seeing them in many towns and London boroughs when I first moved to England. However, the Vestey Group which, although British, branched out into large-scale South American food ventures instead of investing in the UK. They:

developed the country-wide Dewhurst the Butchers chain of butchers shops, which was eventually disbanded in 1995 in the face of increasing competition from the supermarket chains. Dewhurst were the first to introduce the innovation of glass windows on butcher’s shops – previously meat had been exposed to the elements and pollution.

Picture of the Shambles York England

Since 2011, a few Dewhurst shops have made their way back onto the high street thanks to another company stepping into the breach.

I was in York’s Shambles on a visit 20 years ago. I remember we all laughed at the street sign which read:

The Shambles

We didn’t know what it meant, even though we were all steeped to an extent in English history.

However, as the York website explains:

It is said that in certain points you can reach out of the top window and shake hands with a person doing the same daft thing in the house opposite! But if you had walked the length of this street, say, 300 years ago, it would have been a very different experience! Livestock would have been kept behind the shops and slaughtered on site.

Later, when York had the cattle market it meant that cattle no longer lived behind the shops, but the slaughterhouses remained and the cattle were driven in on foot from the market. The middle of street would have been an open gutter and the waste from the butchers was washed out of the shops and into the street. Number 31 has a sloping floor for this reason.


There was also another hazard — human waste from the bedpans and chamberpots. Younger readers should realise there were no toilets at the time. Sorry, but this has to be said. We don’t know how fortunate we are to be living in our times.

In Edinburgh at the same time, there was a common saying among the locals living in similarly crowded conditions, where disease was also rife. Housekeepers and housewifes would empty the chamberpots and bedpans, quickly calling out, ‘Gardy-loo!’ I have heard several historical explanations of this, but the most likely seems to be a corruption of the French, ‘Gardez l’eau!’ or ‘Mind — pay attention to — the water’, not unlike the ancient fencing expression, ‘En garde!’

York’s website says much the same thing:

domestic waste would have been thrown down from the windows above to either drain into open ditches, or stagnate in the road. Manure was collected at night, but no great effort was made to take it very far away. The terribly unhygienic conditions led to several outbreaks of cholera, and yet it was not until the 20th century that changes were made.

It was not until the 20th century that ‘changes were made’ because Bazalgette’s modern sewage and sanitation system of its many u-bends was perfected in the 19th century in London. It made a near-immediate change for the better in the hygiene of London’s residents and was no doubt sent across the country as the way forward.

Never laugh when people talk about the benefits of modern toilet, drainage and water sanitation systems. You would not be reading this if they were not in place.

York: St Margaret Clitherow, butcher’s wife — and priest holes

Whilst in York, strolling along The Shambles, I don’t know if I knew there was a slaugherhouse (abbatoir) behind Nos. 37 and 38.

However, I did see the overhang of upper storeys of the centuries-old buildings:

There remain examples of late medieval buildings in the Shambles, which represents a good example of how houses – topped by overhanging “solars” through which it was hoped that sunlight might be brought through the windows into burgesses’ living quarters – were sometimes within arms’ reach of each other.

Margaret Clitherow.pngTo the dismay of my Anglican companions, I — a fellow Anglican — did visit St Margaret Clitherow’s shrine at Nos. 35 and 36:

Margaret Middleton married John Clitherow, a widowed butcher who had his business at number 35. After her marriage Margaret converted to Catholicism. These were turbulent times for religion, with the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII and the continued religious warring throughout the reigns of his children. Margaret gave shelter to travelling Priests, and conducted Mass for local Catholics in her home. Warned and imprisoned for her continual refusal to conform to the protestant way of life, she continued with her activities.

The inspectors would count the windows outside the houses and compare them to the count inside, to see if an area had been concealed to hide a priest. On the evidence of a frightened child they arrested Margaret and charged her with providing cover for the Priests and with practicing Catholicism. She was offered a trial, but she insisted she had no crime to answer to, and so was sentenced to death. To be crushed to death in the prison under Ouse bridge.

Rather than be naked, she made herself a shift of white linen. She lay with a large stone placed in the small of her back and a door was laid upon her body. Stones were piled upon the door until she was dead. She was canonized on October 25th 1970, and her right hand can still be seen in the Bar Convent museum.

I didn’t know about the Bar Convent museum, but visiting her former home was moving. I could feel a chill, which normally hasn’t happened to me in other such places, e.g. the Roman Catacombs. Perhaps this was because the martyrdom was more recent. I cannot say.

My Anglican friends must have felt something, too, because two stepped away quickly and the other suggested a quick exit. I stayed on to read what was written about her and was increasingly moved by her life.

By the way, there were such things as ‘priest holes’. Some were hidden by a heavy stone concealing door with a false appearance on one side. The priest, with some physical effort, could move the stone door, carefully find the staircase to a lower storey — i.e. cellar — and remain there indefinitely as long as someone brought him food, drink and candles. The stone door made the cellar soundproof and rendered the clergyman invisible for all intents and purposes.

Elizabeth I, the reigning Queen, was outraged that Margaret Clitherow had been sentenced to death. St Margaret Clitherow’s Wikipedia entry says:

She was born as Margaret Middleton,[3] the daughter of a wax-chandler, after Henry VIII of England had split the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church. She married John Clitherow, a butcher, in 1571 (at the age of 15) and bore him three children. She converted to Roman Catholicism at the age of 18, in 1574. Her husband John was supportive (he having a brother who was Roman Catholic clergy), though he remained Protestant.[4] She then became a friend of the persecuted Roman Catholic population in the north of England. Her son, Henry, went to Reims to train as a Roman Catholic priestA house in the Shambles once thought to have been her home, now called the Shrine of the Saint Margaret Clitherow, is open to the public (it is served by the nearby Church of St Wilfrid’s and is part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Middlesbrough); her actual house (10 and 11, the Shambles) is further down the street.

she was executed by being crushed to death – the standard punishment for refusal to plead – on Good Friday 1586. The two sergeants who should have killed her hired four desperate beggars to kill her. She was stripped and had a handkerchief tied across her face then laid out upon a sharp rock the size of a man’s fist, the door from her own house was put on top of her and slowly loaded with an immense weight of rocks and stones (the small sharp rock would break her back when the heavy rocks were laid on top of her). Her death occurred within fifteen minutes but her body was left for six hours before the weight was removed. After her death her hand was removed, and this relic is now housed in the chapel of the Bar Convent, York. Following her execution, Elizabeth I wrote to the citizens of York expressing her horror at the treatment of a fellow woman. Because of her sex, she argued, Clitherow should not have been executed.

From this, I gathered that St Margaret Clitherow would have been a patron saint of butchers. However, she is the patron saint of businesswomen, converts, martyrs and the Catholic Women’s League.

Patron saints of butchers include: St Adrian of Nicomedia, St George, St Peter (the Apostle) and  St Anthony the Abbot as well as St Luke, the Gospel writer.


There are some mysteriously and absolutely foul revisions of the word ‘burgess’ in the Urban Dictionary. Some are simply unkind and others are scatalogical. None of them has a link to history and the original meaning of the word. Therefore, I have not supplied a link to them.

Wikipedia has an international definition, encompassing Europe and the Middle East:

Burgess is a word in English that originally meant a freeman of a borough (England) or burgh (Scotland). It later came to mean an elected or unelected official of a municipality, or the representative of a borough in the English House of Commons.

It was derived in Middle English and Middle Scots from the Old French word burgeis, simply meaning “an inhabitant of a town” (cf. burgeis or burges respectively). The Old French word burgeis is derived from bourg, meaning a market town or medieval village, itself derived from Late Latin burgus, meaning “fortress[1] or “wall”. In effect, the reference was to the north-west European medieval and renaissance merchant class which tended to set up their storefronts along the outside of the city wall, where traffic through the gates was an advantage and safety in event of an attack was easily accessible. The right to seek shelter within a burg was known as the right of burgess.[2]

The term was close in meaning to the Germanic term burgher, a formally defined class in medieval German cities, (Middle Dutch burgher, Dutch burger and German Bürger). It is also linguistically close to the French term Bourgeois, which evolved from burgeis. An analogous term in Arabic, Persian, and Urdu is برج ‘burj’ or ‘borj’, which in itself variously means a high wall, a building, or a tower.

The term is also related to burglar, though this developed in the opposite direction in terms of social respectability.

From my reading of Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Young Stalin, the Russians also had a similar word, burgis.

The burgess’s status was underneath that of the alderman’s — alder, elder — who was his superior. However, the burgess was the precursor to the merchant class. As Wikipedia cites, the verses of the ancient song Greensleeves point out:

Thy purse and eke thy gay guilt knives, thy pincase gallant to the eye: No better wore the Burgesse wives, and yet thou wouldst not love me. gives a simpler definition:

A burgess was a landowner or householder in a town or borough. Burgesses paid their share of any communal dues and expenses and therefore shared in town privileges.

The term derives from the word borough (and its alternate pronunciations), as does burgher. Burghers and burgesses were different, however, in that burgesses had special privileges that derived from their support of the community.

Today, we still have boroughs (e.g. London and New York City) as well as aldermen (e.g. Chicago).

The Medieval English Urban History glossary defines burgesses as:

town residents contributory towards the customary payments due the king from boroughs, later in the Middle Ages its varied application does not suggest a precise, universally agreed, technical definition. Broadly, however, it referred to residents of a borough, usually those residents who were members of the borough community in terms of sharing in communal responsibilities and rights; hence we often find the term “comburgess” used, to emphasise that an individual was a fellow member of the enfranchised community (although the term also came to be used, on occasion, to refer to burgesses of higher status). At Lynn the poorest townsmen were clearly described as non-burgesses, “burgesses” evidently being equated with those residents who had become freemen; this appears also the case in Ipswich. Yet in Colchester the same class of poorer residents was described as being burgesses. Outsiders (“strangers” or “foreigners”) were sometimes allowed to acquire some of the same – notably commercial – privileges by entering the franchise under the special status of “foreign burgess”. Towards the end of the Middle Ages “burgess” was more likely to be used to distinguish one group of privileged townsmen from a less privileged group.

There was a fine line between ‘advantages of burgesses’ — a burgess was a freeman — and a ‘monopoly’ on trading. Burgesses became wealthy because they could share in the proceeds of market trade, as this example from old Norwich (Norfolk) municipal laws says, in modern English:

It was a fundamental right of freemen to be able to claim a share in any mercantile bargain made by one of their fellows, if they were present when the bargain was made. Only in special cases could they claim a share if not present. The use of multiple representatives undermined this equal shares principle, and favoured the urban upper class, which supplied most bailiffs – perhaps explaining the final clause of this chapter, suggesting that the bailiffs might be reluctant to investigate such abuses in absence of a specific complaint, and producing a statement of the source of political authority in towns.

Perhaps this is the source of European class conflict, which might well have started centuries ago. Let it further be emphasised that local lords or kings actually owned the land granted to the care of burgesses to rent — tenements (somewhat different to the early 20th century meaning) — on their behalf.

On a lighter note …

The city of Manchester’s website has a photographic history of their Shambles Square. If you scroll down one-quarter or one-third down the page, you will see Ye Olde Fyshing Tackle Shoppe.

The next photo shows that a Will Chambers owns it (look for the postcard reproduced with Jason Kennedy’s permission).

The following postcard or photo shows the same building at a slightly different angle. Could the writing on the card be from Will Chambers? It is certainly signed Will. It says — in as much as I can make out:

Dear Froggy cum [‘with’ — Latin] sausage cum roast beef, how the dickens are you, have your muscles grown any, are you quite well, anything fresh, if so let me know, you owe me a letter, you [are] usually so punctual, what do you think of your new nephew, both [mother and son] are doing well.

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