Saint Thomas Becket at the British Museum

August 11, 2021
Saint Thomas Becket at the British Museum

The British Museum’s exhibition ‘Thomas Becket murder and the making of a saint’ is into its last days now and will close on 22 August. It is being held to mark the 850th year of his death (or the 900th of his birth), with the slight discrepancy of it now being 2021 (he lived 1120 to 1170) being explained by a postponement from last year due to lock-down.


The main drawback of exhibitions is usually the other people there, preventing you seeing what you want to see when you want to see it. There is good and bad news here. The exhibition as you might anticipate is dominated by small objects and documents displayed in their glass cases and you are at the mercy of the speed of other visitors in getting to see them. The good news is that there is still a reticence on the part of many to use public transport and numbers are well down on what might normally be expected, making for a relatively comfortable visitor experience (not such good news of the organisers obviously).


Becket was born in a house on Cheapside where the Mercers’s Hall stands today and the early part of his career was spent in London. He evidently took some pride in his origins in the capital. The exhibition includes the only surviving wax impression of his seal which, though it dates from when he was archbishop, describes it as ‘SIGILLUM TOME LUND’ (the seal of Thomas of London).


Becket after his death came to dominate the market in the veneration of saints in England, including in London. The chapel in the middle of London Bridge was, for example, dedicated to him. Saint Alban, England’s proto-martyr, and Saint Erkenwald, whose shrine was in St Pauls, among others, came to play secondary roles alongside the new Saint Thomas. 


The exhibition includes a series of stained glass windows from Canterbury which show some of the miracles associated with him, and with his relics. The image is of a panel illustrating Ralph de Longville visiting Becket’s tomb and having his leprous leg washed with St Thomas’s Water, which he is also offered to drink.


Other treasures on show are various enamelled caskets to house his relics and manuscripts with illuminations illustrating his life and its background. These include the Eadwine Psalter with an intricate plan of the system of water pipes at Canterbury Cathedral, bringing in fresh water illustrated in green, and expelling the wastewater coloured red.

 

A Scientist in Mayfair

August 6, 2021

Albemarle Street is one of Mayfair’s quieter streets, but it has not always been so. It is home to the Royal Institution and with its imposing classical columns it is one of the most notable buildings on the street. But it is also the reason Albemarle Street became Britain’s first one- way street.


The Royal Institution (RI for short) is one of the UK’s leading scientific institutions, founded in 1799. It has always had an emphasis not only on research but also teaching and you may have s...


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Suspect Montague John Druitt

July 29, 2021

Montague John Druitt was 31 years of age at the time of the Jack the Ripper murders. He had been born into a reasonably well-off family from Wimborne Dorset, and went to New College Oxford in 1876. He graduated three years later with a third-class honours degree in classics, thereafter taking up a post as a teacher at Blackheath Boys School, a boy’s preparatory school. It was a successful school, run by George Valentine who was widely respected as a headmaster.


Druitt played cricket at the M...


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Newton's Darker History

July 28, 2021

On fashionable Jermyn Street, close to Piccadilly, is a plaque marking where Sir Isaac Newton lived in London. While living here Sir Isaac Newton was responsible for the hanging of at least 19 people. Newton is of course the famous physicist, mathematician and astronomer and his ideas are taught today even at primary school. Born in 1642 he grew up knowing the troubles of the English Civil War and ended up with the Stuarts as his patrons while President of the Royal Society.


Newton started wor...


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Jimmy Hendrix, Rock Icon, Who Lived

July 26, 2021

Jimmy Hendrix, rock icon, lived in Brook Street, Mayfair in the 1960s. It served a few purposes for him at the time in that it was a fairly commercial place, there were a lot of shops. It wasn't a particularly residential area meaning he could play music as loud as he wanted at night as he had no neighbours to disrupt. 

It was all happening in swinging sixties London. Carnaby Street was really hitting its mark and Brook Street isn't too far away from Carnaby Street at all. Brook Street was a g...


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When is a Hospital not a Hospital?

July 22, 2021

When it’s a school founded by a Tudor king. In the Middle Ages a hospital was not what we think of today. The word has the same origins as hospitality or hotel, coming from the Latin hospes meaning both guest/visitor and host. A medieval hospital could be almhouses for the poor, a hostel for pilgrims or a school for the poor.


The sculpture by Andrew Brown commemorates the founding of Christ’s Hospital in 1552 by King Edward VI on part of the site of Greyfriars, a Franciscan monastery in th...


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