The vajra (Tibetan: Dorjie) and bell (Sanskrit: ghanta; Tibetan: drilbu) are the most important ritual objects of Tibetan Buddhism. Most every lama has a pair and knows how to use them. They represent “method” (vajra) and “wisdom” (bell). Combined together they symbolize enlightenment as they embody the union of all dualities: bliss and emptiness, compassion and wisdom, appearance and reality, conventional truth and ultimate truth, and male and female, etc.
What is meant by method and wisdom?
Method indicates the compassionate activities of the bodhisattva that relieve living beings of their miseries. It is the skillful means that brings about the elimination of ignorance, greed, cruelty, etc. in living beings and causes them to follow the path to enlightenment. Wisdom is the direct insight into ultimate reality; it is the wisdom that realizes emptiness. By combining method and wisdom, the bodhisattva accumulates merit and insight and eventually attains Buddhahood.
What is the symbolism of the Vajra and bell?
Most vajras have five prongs that symbolize the five wisdoms that are attained through the transcendance of five kleshas (greed, anger, delusion, pride and envy). The hub between them signifies emptiness. This one has eight prongs plus the central hub. Vajra is a Sanskrit word, in Tibetan it is called a dorje. It is related to the word for diamond, and appears to be similar to the thunderbolt weapon carried by the Vedic god Indra, and the Olympian Zeus. As a thunderbolt weapon it destroys both internal and external enemies. As a diamond it symbolizes the indestructible and all-penetrating mind of enlightenment.
The sound of the bell calls to mind the empty nature of all things. That is, according to the Buddha, nothing whatsoever can exist independently, all phenomena are empty of true or inherent existence. By being profoundly aware of the empty nature of all things, we become free of attachment and aversion, and are liberated from the painful cycle of birth and death (samsara). The bell is also a musical instrument Its sound, together with other sacred instruments such as the hand-drum (damaru), are played in rituals as musical offerings to the Buddhas and other gods.
How are they used?
The vajra and bell are often seen represented in the hands of deities in art, and in practice are held in the hands of the monks during rituals, the vajra in the right hand, the bell in the left. They are moved in prescribed movements. When the arms are crossed this symbolizes that the two are united—representing enlightenment. The sound of the bell is considered by Tibetan Buddhists as the most beautiful music. This music is presented as one of eight offerings to the deity that is invoked during the ritual.
What are the eight offerings presented in rituals?
When Tibetans Buddhist begin meditation, they will invoke the presence of the deity, bow, and make offerings. For peaceful deities, the offerings are as follows:
pure water for the deity to drink
water for the deity to wash with
scented oil for the deity to be anointed with
music, played on the ghanta (bell) and the damaru, a small two-faced drum with clappers attached by string, played by twisting back and forth in the hand
This thunderbolt and bell were cast for the Chinese Emperor Yongle (1403–1424) as a gift for a distinguished lama of Tibet. The Emperor possibly wished to gain merit for the commission. This and other gifts like it show the relationship between the Tibetan lamas and the emperors of China. Known as the priest-patron relationship, this was one way that ideas and artistic styles spread between China and Tibet. Artists working in China in imperial workshops were ordered to make Tibetan style objects for either the personal use of the emperor or to send to important lamas in Tibet, who were often considered to be their spiritual teachers.
Tibetan Drum (Damaru)
The Tibetan drum, or Damaru, might seem a little familiar. That’s probably because of the way in which you play this instrument. You take the drum and roll it from side to side, whilst small beads on the end of strings will ‘bang’ the leather drum heads. Estimates guess that this instrument reached the Himalayas in around the 8th century, and this wood and leather object has been a staple in the Buddhist faith ever since. Within Buddhism, these Tibetan ritual items hold immense significance during tantric practices.
There are actually three different types of Damaru, each one holding its own properties and purpose. The most widely used is the Chöd Damaru. This tends to be made from wood and covered with leather skins for the drum surface. Usually, they are 8 to 12 inches in diameter, although in rare cases this has been known to vary. The purpose of the Chöd Damaru is to be used during the tantric practice of Chöd, where a believer tries to ‘cut through’ the problems that face them and hinder their quest for enlightenment.
A slightly more grotesque Damaru is that of the Skull Damaru. This is certainly one of the more unusual Tibetan ritual items, and takes the form of a human skull, shaped into that of a drum. This version tends to be used in temples and large festivals, so keep an eye out when visiting Tibetan religious festivals. It’s a unique sight and usually coated in rare and precious stones
Tibetan Buddhist right-turning conch shell (Shankha)
The Shankha looks like an ornate snail shell. The outside is usually decorated with patterns regarding the Buddhist faith, and is usually painted in light, white colors. The shell is one of the eight auspicious symbols of Buddhism (the Ashtamangala), and represents water and Buddhism’s pervasiveness.
If you want to see one of the conches in person, it tends to be used to bring together and call on followers to meet. During rituals, it is sometimes used as a musical instrument, but can also be used to carry holy water from one place to another.
Tibetan prayer beads (malas)
The Malas is probably one of the most well know Tibetan ritual items. These Tibetan prayer beads are composed of 108 beads, each of which signifies the mortal sins of humanity. The beads themselves tend to be made from the wood of a special tree, known as the Ficus religiosa. Sometimes, bodhi seeds are also used, or rattan seeds. The different materials generally signify different uses, with the wooden beads being seen as generally ‘all-purpose’.
A visit to any Buddhist temple will usually allow you to see the Tibetan prayer beads both on sale, and being used by the monks themselves. Monks will usually count the beads whilst praying.
The Gawu box is an amulet usually made from silver, which is used to hold an image of the Buddha made from metal or clay. The outside is usually decorated with expensive and rare stone, with ornate designs and patterns you’ll find on other Tibetan ritual items as well. Usually, the Gawu is used during prayer to ward off evil spirits and bring about the Buddha’s blessing.
Whilst travelling to Tibetan temples, keep an eye out for the differences you’ll see. One of the most striking is that males tend to wear a square shaped amulet, whilst women will adorn a more rounded one.
Tibetan prayer wheel
The Tibetan prayer wheel is a cylindrical wheel which comes in many different shapes, sizes, and materials. Whilst small, personal ones can be found, there are also those which are much larger and must be held up by (usually) wooden structures. One thing they tend to have in common, though, is that they usually come in gold. The Prayer wheels also tend to be decorated with the 8 auspicious symbols of Ashtamangala.
Larger, stationary prayer wheels tend to be located in most monasteries. Visitors can usually move the wheels themselves by running their hands over them as they walk past.
Tibetan butter lamp
The Tibetan Butter Lamp is found in almost all Tibetan temples and sanctuaries. The (usually) golden cup tends to burn Yak Butter, which represents the illumination of Wisdom. If you head to the temples early in the morning, you’ll find monks taking part in their morning ritual, which consists of an offering of the Tibetan butter lamp, along with seven other bowls containing other symbolic offerings. Pilgrims, whilst travelling between temples, tend to supply oil for these lamps to gain favor.
The different Buddhist schools of thought, still operating in the present day, developed after the death of the Buddha (l. c. 563 – c. 483 BCE) in an effort to perpetuate his teachings and honor his example. Each of the schools claimed to represent Buddha’s original vision and still do so in the modern era.
Although Buddha himself is said to have requested that, following his death, no leader was to be chosen to lead anything like a school, this was ignored and his disciples seem to have fairly quickly institutionalized Buddhist thought with rules, regulations, and a hierarchy.
At first, there may have been a unified vision of what Buddha had taught but, in time, disagreements over what constituted the “true teaching” resulted in fragmentation and the establishment of three main schools:
Theravada Buddhism claims to be the oldest school and to maintain Buddha’s original vision and teachings. Mahayana Buddhism is said to have split off from Theravada in the belief that it was too self-centered and had lost the true vision; this school also claims it holds to the Buddha’s original teaching. Actually, however, the two schools may have been established around the same time, just with different focus, and probably emerged from two earlier schools: the Sthaviravada (possible precursor to Theravada) and the Mahasanghika (also given as Mahasamghika, considered by some the earlier Mahayana). The connection between these earlier schools and the later ones, however, has been challenged. Vajrayana Buddhism developed, largely in Tibet, in response to what were perceived as too many rules in Mahayana Buddhism and emphasized living the Buddhist walk naturally without regard to ideas of what one was “supposed” to do and so it, too, claims to be the most authentic.
All three schools maintain a belief in the Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path as preached by the Buddha but differ – sometimes significantly – in how they choose to follow that path. Objectively, none are considered any more legitimate than the others, nor are the many minor schools which have developed, although adherents of each believe otherwise while, at the same time, recognizing they are all part of Ekayana(“One Vehicle” or “One Path”) in that all embrace Buddha’s central vision and seek to promote harmony and compassion in the world.
ALL BUDDHIST SCHOOLS MAINTAIN A BELIEF IN THE FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS & EIGHTFOLD PATH AS PREACHED BY THE BUDDHA BUT DIFFER IN HOW THEY CHOOSE TO FOLLOW THAT PATH.
Although Buddhism is often perceived by non-adherents as a uniform belief system, it is as varied as any other in practice but, theoretically at least, a modern-day secular Buddhist can participate in rituals with a religious Buddhist without concern or conflict and all work toward the same essential goals.
Buddha & Buddhism
According to the foundational account of Buddha’s life, he was born Siddhartha Gautama, a Hindu prince, and his father, hoping to prevent him from following a spiritual path instead of succeeding him as king, kept him from any experiences which might have made him aware of suffering and death. The king’s plan succeeded for 29 years until Siddhartha witnessed the famous Four Signs while out riding one day – an aged man, a sick man, a dead man, and a spiritual ascetic – and became aware of the reality of sickness, old age, and death.
He renounced his wealth and position and followed the example of the spiritual ascetic, eventually attaining enlightenment upon recognizing the inherent impermanence of all aspects of life and realizing how one could live without suffering. He developed the concept of the Four Noble Truths, which state that suffering in life is caused by attachment to the things of life, and the Eightfold Path, the spiritual discipline one should follow to achieve release from attachment and the pain of craving and loss. Scholar John M. Koller comments:
The Buddha’s teaching of [the Four Noble Truths] was based on his insight into interdependent arising (pratitya samutpada) as the nature of existence. Interdependent arising means that everything is constantly changing, that nothing is permanent. It also means that all existence is selfless, that nothing exists separately, by itself. And beyond the impermanence and selflessness of existence, interdependent arising means that whatever arises or ceases does so dependent upon conditions. This is why understanding the conditions that give rise to [suffering] is crucial to the process of eliminating [suffering]. (64)
Buddha illustrated these conditions through the Wheel of Becoming which has in its hub the triad of ignorance, craving, and aversion, between the hub and rim the six types of suffering existence, and on the rim the conditions which give rise to duhkha (translated as “suffering”). Ignorance of the true nature of life encourages craving for those things one believes are desirable and aversion to things one fears and rejects. Caught on this wheel, the soul is blinded to the true nature of life and so condemns itself to samsara, the endless repetition of rebirth and death.
Spread & Fragmentation
Buddha preached his vision from the time of his enlightenment until his death at 80 years of age, at which point he requested that his disciples should not choose a leader but that each should lead themselves. He also requested that his remains be placed in a stupaat a crossroads. Neither of these requests was honored as his disciples fairly quickly organized themselves as a group with a leader and divided his remains among themselves, each choosing to place them in a stupa in a location of their choice.
BUDDHIST SCHOOLS HAD TO CONTEND WITH THE WELL-ESTABLISHED BELIEF SYSTEMS &, IN AN EFFORT TO LEVEL THE PLAYING FIELD, DEVELOPED AN ILLUSTRIOUS FOUNDATION STORY
Around 400 BCE, they held the First Council at which they established accepted Buddhist doctrine based on the Buddha’s teachings and, in 383 BCE, they held a Second Council at which, according to the standard account of the meeting, the Sthaviravada school insisted on the observance of ten proscriptions in the monastic discipline which the majority rejected.
At this point, either the Sthaviravada school left the community (known as the sangha) or the majority distanced themselves from the Sthaviravada and called themselves Mahasanghika (“Great Congregation”). All the later schools then developed from this first schism.
These schools had to contend with the more well-established belief systems of Hinduism and Jainism and, in an effort to level the playing field, developed an illustrious foundation story for their founder and attributed to him a number of miracles. Still, Buddhism remained a small sect in India, one among many, until it was championed by the Mauryan king Ashoka the Great (r. 268-232 BCE) who embraced the faith and initiated its spread. He sent missionaries to other nations such as Sri Lanka, China, Korea, Thailand, and Buddhism was accepted in these places far more quickly than in its home country.
Doctrinal differences, however, led to further divisions within the community of adherents. As the belief system became more institutionalized, these differences became more significant. Different canons of scripture developed which were held by some as true while rejected by others and different practices arose in response to the scripture. For example, the Pali canon, which emerged from Sri Lanka, maintained that Buddha was a human being who, although endowed with great spiritual power, still attained enlightenment through his own efforts and, when he died, he was set free from samsara and achieved total liberation from human affairs.
As Buddhism spread, however, the founder was deified as a transcendent being who had always existed and would always exist. Buddha’s death was still understood as his nirvana, a “blowing out” of all attachment and craving, but some adherents no longer saw this as simply an escape from samsara but an elevation to an eternally abiding state; freed from samsara, but still present in spirit. The Mahasanghika school held to this belief as well as many others (such as the claim that the Buddha had never existed physically, only as a kind of holy apparition) which stood in direct contrast to the Sthaviravada and, later, the Theravada schools. Although the central vision of the Buddha was retained by adherents, doctrinal differences like this one led to the establishment of the different schools of Buddhist thought.
Although there were actually many schisms before the establishment of Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana (the Mahasanghika school alone produced three different sects by c. 283 BCE), the division of these schools from the original sangha is said to have been predicted by the Buddha himself in what is known as The Three Turnings. This concept is based on that of the Dharmachakra(wheel of eight spokes, a familiar Buddhist symbol) which represents the Eightfold Path, informed by dharma which, in Buddhism, is understood as “cosmic law”. The Dharmachakra has always been in motion and always will be but, as far as human recognition of it goes, it was set in motion when Buddha gave his first sermon, would then make the first turn with the establishment of Theravada Buddhism, a second with Mahayana, and a third with Vajrayana.
Theravada Buddhism is said to be the oldest form of the belief system, but this is challenged by modern scholars. Robert E. Buswell, Jr. and Donald S. Lopez, Jr. explain:
Despite the way in which scholars have portrayed the tradition, Theravada is neither synonymous with early Buddhism nor a more pristine form of the religion prior to the rise of the Mahayana. Such a claim suggests a state of sectarian inertia that belies the diversity over time of doctrine and practice within what comes to be called the Theravada tradition. (904)
Even so, many of those who self-identify as Theravada Buddhists do still make the claim that it is the oldest version of Buddhism and the closest to the founder’s vision. It is known as the “Teaching of the Elders” which derives from the same name held by the earlier school of Sthaviravada, and this is sometimes interpreted to mean that its founders were those closest to the Buddha but, actually, the term was commonly used in India to denote any monastic sect, and this applies directly to Theravada.
Adherents focus on the Three Trainings (trisksa):
Sila (moral conduct)
This discipline is observed as part of the Eightfold Path and is inspired by the central figure of the school, the sage Buddhaghosa (5th century CE) whose name means “Voice of the Buddha” for his ability to interpret and comment upon Buddhist doctrine. They hold the Pali canon to be the most authentic and focus on a monastic interpretation of the Buddhist path in which the individual seeks to become an arhat (saint) and has no obligation to teach others the way toward enlightenment. One may certainly do so if one chooses but, unlike Mahayana Buddhism, the goal is not to become a spiritual guide to others but to free one’s self from samsara.
Theravada Buddhism is divided between a clergy of monks and a congregation of laypeople and it is understood that the monks are more spiritually advanced than the common folk. Women are considered inferior to men and are not thought capable of attaining enlightenment until they are reincarnated as a male. The Theravada school is sometimes referred to as Hinayana (“little vehicle”) by Mahayana Buddhists, but it should be noted that this is considered an insult by Theravada Buddhists in that it suggests their school is not as important as Mahayana.
MAHAYANA IS THE MOST WIDESPREAD & POPULAR FORM OF BUDDHISM IN THE WORLD TODAY.
Mahayana Buddhists named themselves the “Great Vehicle” either because they felt they retained the true teachings and could carry the most people to enlightenment (as has been claimed) or because they developed from the early “Great Congregation” Mahasanghika school and wished to distance themselves from it, however slightly. It was founded 400 years after Buddha’s death, probably inspired by the early Mahasanghika ideology, and was streamlined and codified by the sage Nagarjuna (c. 2nd century CE), the central figure of the school. It may have initially been a minor school before interacting with Mahasanghika or, according to some scholars, developed on its own without that school’s influence but, either way, Mahayana is the most widespread and popular form of Buddhism in the world today, spreading from its initial acceptance in China, Korea, Mongolia, Japan, Sri Lanka, and Tibet to points all around the world.
MAHAYANA IS THE MOST WIDESPREAD & POPULAR FORM OF BUDDHISM IN THE WORLD TODAY.
The Mahayana school believes that all human beings possess a Buddha nature and can attain transcendent awareness, becoming a Bodhisattva (“essence of enlightenment”), who can then guide others on the same path. Adherents seek to attain the state of sunyata – the realization that all things are devoid of intrinsic existence, nature, and lasting meaning – a clearing of the mind that enables one to recognize the true nature of life. Having attained this higher state, just as Buddha did, one becomes a buddha. This transcendental state is similar to how gods and spirits were viewed by the Buddha himself – as existing but incapable of rendering any service to the individual – but, as a Bodhisattva, both women and men who have awakened are able to help others to help themselves.
As with Theravada and every other school of Buddhism, the focus is on the self – self-perfection and self-redemption – and no other can do the spiritual work which one needs to do to release one’s self from suffering. Although Buddha is sometimes seen as a deified being by Mahayana Buddhists, the tenets do not encourage one to call on him for help. Following Buddha’s own vision, a belief in a creator god who is attentive to one’s prayers is discouraged because it attaches one to a power outside of one’s self and sets one up for disappointment and frustration when prayers go unanswered.
This is not to say that no Mahayana Buddhists pray directly to the Buddha; the tradition of representing Buddha in statuary and art, of praying to these objects, and considering them holy – observed in Mahayana Buddhism – was initiated by the Mahasanghika school and is among the many compelling reasons to believe the younger school emerged from the older one.
Vajrayana Buddhism (“Diamond Vehicle”) is so-called because of its association of enlightenment with an unbreakable substance. Its name is also given as “Thunderbolt Vehicle”, especially in reference to Tantric or Zen Buddhism, in that enlightenment falls like a thunderbolt after one has put in the required effort at perfecting the self. It is often considered an offshoot of Mahayana Buddhism – is even referenced as a sect of that school – but actually borrows tenets from both Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism while adding an innovation of its own.
In both Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism, one decides to follow the path, accepts the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path as legitimate, and commits to a spiritual discipline which will lead to enlightenment by renouncing unprofitable habits. In Vajrayana Buddhism, it is understood that one already has a Buddha nature – everyone does, just as Mahayana believes – but, in Vajrayana, one only has to realize this in order to fully awaken. An adherent, therefore, does not have to give up bad habits such as drinking alcohol or smoking right away in order to begin one’s work on the path; one only has to commit to following the path and the desire to engage in unhealthy and damaging behaviors will steadily lose their allure. Instead of distancing one’s self from desire, one steps toward and through it, shedding one’s attachment as one proceeds in the discipline.
As with Mahayana Buddhism, the Vajrayana school focuses one on becoming a Bodhisattva who will then guide others. It was systematized by the sage Atisha (l. 982-1054 CE) in Tibet and so is sometimes referred to as Tibetan Buddhism. The Dalai Lama, often referenced as the spiritual leader of all Buddhists, is technically only the spiritual head of the Vajrayana School, and his views are most directly in line with this school of thought.
There are many other Buddhist schools which have developed from these three all around the world. In the West, the most popular of these is Zen Buddhism which traveled from China to Japan and was most fully developed there before arriving in the West. As Zen Masters are fond of saying, “What you call Zen is not Zen; What you do not call Zen is not Zen” meaning that the state of being one wishes to attain cannot be defined; it can only be experienced. One arrives at this state through deep meditation and mental concentration on koans – usually translated as “riddles” – which have no answer, such as the famous “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” – in order to clear the mind, rid the self of attachment, and attain the state of samadhi, a state of psychological and spiritual vision similar to sunyata. Students of Zen Buddhism frequently study with a master who might slap them, shout, or suddenly hit them with a stout stick in order to awaken them from the illusion of who they think they are and what they think they are doing. These sudden attacks without warning are engaged in, like the koans, to snap an adherent out of rational, linear thinking into a higher state of awareness.
Pure Land Buddhism is another which developed from Mahayana Buddhism and its goal is rebirth in a “pure land” of a Buddha Realm which exists on a higher plane. The belief comes from a story in the text known as the Infinite Life Sutra in which the Buddha tells a story of a past buddha named Amitabha who became a Bodhisattva and to whom were revealed the Buddha Realms available to the enlightened. Amitabha’s efforts to save all sentient creatures from suffering resulted in the creation of the realm of Sukhavati, the greatest of all, in which one experiences complete bliss after leaving the body at death. Although Pure Land is its own school, some Mahayana Buddhists observe the same tenets.
An increasingly popular school in the West is Secular Buddhism which rejects all metaphysical aspects of the belief system to focus on self-improvement for its own sake. Secular Buddhism recognizes the Four Noble Truths and Eight-Fold Path but on purely practical and psychological levels. There are no saints, no Bodhisattvas, no Buddha Realms, no concept of reincarnation to be considered. One engages in the discipline as set down by the Buddha in order to become a better version of one’s self and, when one dies, one no longer exists. There is no concept of a reward after death; one’s efforts in being the best person one can be in life is considered its own reward.
It is actually impossible to tell which, if any, of these schools is closest to the original vision of the Buddha. Siddhartha Gautama, himself, wrote nothing down but instead – like many great spiritual figures throughout history whose followers then founded a religion in their name – lived his beliefs and tried to help others in their struggles. Since the earliest Buddhist texts were written centuries after the Buddha lived, and in an era when the events of a famous person’s life were regularly embellished upon, it is unknown whether his so-called “biography” is accurate nor even the dates between which he is said to have lived.
However that may be, and whoever he was, the Buddha established a belief system which attracts over 500 million adherents in the present day and has, for centuries, offered people a path toward peace of mind and inspiration to help others. The Buddhist belief in the sanctity of all life – no matter which school one attaches one’s self to – promotes care for other human beings, animals, and the earth in an effort to end suffering and offer transformative possibilities. In this respect, each school works toward goals that Buddha himself would approve of and differences in how those goals are reached are ultimately irrelevant
I am currently reading Edward Rutherfurd’s “China” and the Yuanmingyuan plays an integral part in much of the story in the 1860s. I find this fascinating
Located in the northern part of the Haidian District of Beijing, Yuanmingyuan (Garden of Perfect Brightness), aka Old Summer Palace, was one of the most important imperial gardens of the Qing Dynasty. Its other nickname, King of Gardens, offers a clue to the totality of its physical setting, its splendid – and splendidly laid out – architecture, which included richly adorned halls, temples and pavilions, and its magnificent gardens, both in the narrow and in the broad sense, the latter being in the sense of a park, since some of the Old Summer Palace’s gardens were in fact replicas of entire parks from other localities round about the country, in much the same way that modern-day Chinese theme parks now incorporate reduced-size replicas of famous international landmarks such as Niagra Falls (in USA), the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids, and the Eiffel Tower.
The park’s many ponds and lakes are dotted with small islets, and countless bridges span the park’s streams, while charming walkways, some tree-lined, connect this vast expanse of grass, trees, water, rockeries, and buildings. Water is in fact the central theme of the Old Summer Palace. Parks are of course synonymous with trees and green grass; the Old Summer Palace has both in abundance, as well as ponds, lakes, and streams. No wonder then, that the original Old Summer Palace park complex was five times larger than the Forbidden City (the official “reception” palace of Chinese emperors) and eight times larger than Rome’s Vatican City.
History of Yuanmingyuan
The park was first built by Emperor Kangxi as a gift to his fourth son Prince Yinzhen, who later succeeded his father as Emperor Yongzheng. After the death of Emperor Yongzheng, his son, Emperor Qianlong, who, it must be said, was an even more ardent lover of gardens, continued to invest heavily in the Summer Palace gardens. Thus the combined effort of three generations of emperors, beginning with Emperor Kangxi and ending with this grandson, Emperor Qianlong, made of Yuanmingyuan an incomparable gem among royal gardens the world over. As the French writer and humanist, Victor Hugo, speaking of the treasure trove of artworks amassed at the Summer Palace once wrote: “All the treasures of our [European] cathedrals could not equal this fabulous and magnificent oriental museum… “.
In its heyday, Yuanmingyuan consisted of three different gardens: Yuanmingyuan, or the Garden of Perfect Brightness proper (the entire imperial garden complex was itself known as the Garden of Perfect Brightness); Qichunyuan, or the Elegant Spring Garden; and Changchunyuan, or the Garden of Eternal Spring. Five Chinese emperors – Emperors Yongzheng, Qianlong, Jiaqing, Daoguang and Xianfeng – spent prodigious amounts not only of money here, but also of their time, receiving guests, discussing the business of state, or simply relaxing with friends and family. In this regard, the Summer Palace served as an extension of the Forbidden City.
However, as feudal China drew to an end, the Qing Dynasty government’s crises multiplied as well as deepened. Yet, amidst these woes, including a reduced income stream that forced the Qing Dynasty emperor to curtail some of his private hunting and holiday activities, the emperor never ceased to lavish money on Yuanmingyuan, so devoted was he to this national treasure. For example, inside the park’s temples are numerous statues of the Buddha and Boddhisatvas in a variety of poses – and in a variety of materials, such as gold, silver, bronze and jade. Alas, most of the treasures of this once glorious summer palace are gone, having been burned or looted during repeated foreign raids, first in 1860 as part of the second Opium War, and again in 1900 as part of the effort to crush the Boxer Rebellion.
In fact, the debacle over the February 25, 2009 auction, staged by Christie’s in Paris, of two bronze fountainheads nominally belonging to the estate of the late fashion designer, Yves Saint Laurent, is directly related to the 1860 looting of the Summer Palace (there was only one imperial summer palace in those days), since the rightful owner of the two fountainheads, one depicting a rabbit, the other a rat, is China. The auction itself was controversial, sparking official protests from the Chinese government, but the outcome of the auction was even more controversial: the winning bidder – a Chinese patriot, it turns out – refused to pay, claiming that the artworks belong to the Chinese people.
In China today there is considerable controversy over whether the Old Summer Palace should be restored to its original glory or not. The Chinese people seem to be divided into two mutually exclusive camps on the issue, with one group wishing to keep the park as it is, i.e., as a reminder of past national humiliations, while the other group wishes to draw a line under the past and move forward. The latter group argues that it serves no constructive purpose to hold Beijing’s once glorious Summer Palace hostage to events that occurred over a century ago, and that more could be achieved in returning the park to its original splendor, albeit, sadly lacking in the treasures of which it was looted.
It is an argument that is perhaps echoed in the current American debate over whether “Ground Zero”, the site of the 9/11 attacks that demolished the Twin Towers of New York City, should remain a graveyard-like memorial to the past, or should be rebuilt into something even more spectacular in order to draw a line under the past. A neutral economist might take the view that the best way to avenge the looting of the Summer Palace would be to return the palace to its former glory, thereby making it a first-class tourist destination that could reclaim at least some of the wealth that it lost. It might also strengthen the argument for someday returning the original artworks that this sumptuous palace once housed.
The British and French at their worst? The burning of China’s magnificent Summer Palace
n 1860 Western forces burned the Summer Palace, a wonderful and magnificent building to the northwest of Beijing, China. British and French troops pillaged the palace, and then burned it to the ground in a terrifying act during the Second Opium War. Here, Scarlett Zhu explains what happened and responses to the attack.
“We call ourselves civilized and them barbarians,” wrote the outraged author, Victor Hugo. “Here is what Civilization has done to Barbarity.”
One of the deepest, unhealed and entrenched historical wounds of China stems from the destruction of the country’s most beautiful palace in 1860 – the burning of the Old Summer Palace by the British and French armies. As Charles George Gordon, a soldier of the force, wrote about his experience, one can “scarcely imagine the beauty and magnificence of the places being burnt.”
The palace that once boasted of possessing the most extensive and invaluable art collection of China, became a site of ruins within 3 days in the face of some 3,500 screaming soldiers and burning torches. Dense smoke and ashes eclipsed the sky, marble arches crumbled, and sacred texts were torn apart. At the heart of this merciless act stood Lord Elgin, the British High Commissioner to China, a man who preferred revenge and retaliation to peace talks and compromise. He was also a man highly sensitive to any injustices or humiliation suffered by his own country. Thus, the act was a response to the imprisonment and torture of the delegates sent for a negotiation on the Qing dynasty’s surrender. However, as modern Chinese historians would argue, this was a far-from-satisfactory excuse to justify this performance of wickedness, as before the imprisonment took place, there had already been extensive looting by the French and British soldiers and the burning was only “the final blow”.
The treasures of the Imperial Palace were irresistible and within the reach of the British and French. Officers and men seemed to have been seized with temporary insanity, said one witness; in body and soul they were absorbed in one pursuit: plunder. The British and the French helped themselves to all the porcelain, the silk and the ancient books – there were an estimated 1.5 million ancient Chinese relics taken away. The extent of this rampant abuse was highlighted even more by the burning of the Emperor’s courtiers, eunuch servants and maids – many estimates place the death toll in the hundreds. This atrocious indifference towards human life inflamed international opposition, notably illustrated by Hugo’s radiant criticisms.
The response to the attack
But there was no significant resistance to the looting, even though many Qing soldiers were in the vicinity – perhaps they had already anticipated the reality of colonial oppression or did not bother themselves with the painful loss of the often-distant imperial family. But the Emperor, XianFeng, was not an unreceptive spectator; in fact, he was said to have vomited blood upon hearing the news.
However, there was evidence to suggest that some soldiers did feel that this was “a wretchedly demoralizing work for an army”. As James M’Ghee, chaplain to the British forces, writes in his narrative, he shall “ever regret the stern but just necessity which laid them in ashes”. He later acknowledged that it was “a sacrifice of all that was most ancient and most beautiful”, yet he could not tear himself away from the palace’s vanished glory. Historian Greg M. Thomas went so far as to argue that the French Ambassador and generals refused to participate this destruction as it “exceeded the military aims of their mission”, and would be an irreparable damage to an important cultural monument.
Nowadays, what is left of the palace are the gigantic marble and stone blocks, which used to be backdrops of the European-style fountains situated in the distant corner of the Imperial gardens for entertaining the Emperor, since those made out of timber and tile did not survive the fires. The remains acted as a somber reminder of the West’s ransack and the East’s “century of humiliation”.
This is more than a story of patriotism, nationalism and universal discontent. History used to teach us that patriotism isn’t history, but rather propaganda in disguise. Yet how could one ignore and omit a historical event so demoralizing and compelling on its own, that it is no longer a matter of morality and dignity, but a matter of seeking the truth, tracing the past and its inseparable link with the present? When considering the savage and blatant destruction of the Old Summer Palace, along with the unspoken hatred of the humiliated and the suppressed, it seems therefore appropriate to end with the cries of the enraged Chinese commoners as they witnessed the worst of mankind’s atrocities: “Kill the foreign devils! Kill the foreign devils!”
First published in the Sydney Morning Herald on September 5, 1979
Compound painkillers which were banned from sale from July 1 are still freely sold across the counter in Sydney.
Chemists as well as other retailers were found breaking the law yesterday.
The banned compounds have a mixture of two or more of the substances aspirin, paracetamol, salicylamide and caffeine.
In place of the compound analgesics, drug manufacturers are distributing for open sale single analgesics in similar packets.
But yesterday I bought compound analgesics at four of 14 city shops without difficulty.
At a cafe in George Street, Vincent’s powders made of aspirin, caffeine, citrate and salicylamide were in a plastic cup behind the counter. I was told I could buy only one sachet.
Another George Street cafe kept compound Vincent’s powders on view. Two assistants asked how many I would like.
Two of 10 pharmacies sold me compound analgesics.
A pharmacy in Liverpool Street displayed the new, single-analgesic Bex, but a white-coated man needed no prompting to offer for sale a box of compound-formula Bex. He said it was his last.
He collected the Bex from a back room and said he had been trying to “sell all the old stock” because of the new restrictions.
When I asked for a packet of Bex powders at a George Street pharmacy the sales assistant said only the new formula Bex was in stock, but would I like some of the old kind of Vincent’s?
When I answered yes, the assistant spoke to a whitecoated man. This man asked how many powders I wanted, collected a box of 24 from a back room, handed them over surreptitiously and whispered the price.
Peter Kennedy, State Political Correspondent, was able to buy a four-sachet-pack of Vincent’s compound powders in Macquarie Street yesterday. He writes:
The regulations on compound analgesics were tightened because substantial evidence of a direct link between overuse of the analgesics and kidney failure.
Retailers who illegally sell them face a maximum penalty of an $800 fine or six months jail.
The executive Officer of the NSW Drug and Alcohol Authority, Mr Brian Stewart, said that retailers of the compound analgesics were clearly breaking the law.
“Ample warning has been given,” he said. “It means the retailers are liable to the stiff penalties and are acting contrary to the interests of public health.”
Bitter pills: a quick fix, and a long road to recovery
The silent generation – those who came before the baby boomers – were a stoic bunch who resisted taking drugs to treat even the worst ailments. Migraines, muscle pain and insomnia were treated through a cup of tea, a warm bath, a lie down or fresh air.
But with the 1960s, a new, medical element was added to that mix when a marketing phrase entered the vernacular: ”Have a cup of tea, a Bex and a good lie down.”
Bex, the analgesic made up of aspirin, phenacetin and caffeine, became an Australian icon. It was recommended to treat headaches, colds, flu, fevers, rheumatism, nerve pain and for ”calming down”.
Dissolving some Bex powder in a cup of tea became particularly common among housewives, widely available and sometimes taken up to three times a day.
It wasn’t until the 1970s that clinicians realised Bex and other similar formulations were responsible for kidney disease and addiction, and was carcinogenic. Phenacetin was pulled from the market by 1983.
But the damage had been done, says the director of the National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction at Adelaide’s Flinders University.
Professor Ann Roche says taking drugs for even mild illness or stress became a ”common Australian tradition” and has remained so.
Aggressive marketing from drug companies meant it was even common to pop an analgesic in children’s lunch boxes. ”Generally we don’t think twice about taking certain medications,” Professor Roche says.
‘We see it as fairly common and benign and something that has been used for decades and there is now this tradition of using drugs for pain relief, sleeping issues or anxiety.”
But this attitude has now extended to stronger, prescription drugs being commonly requested from doctors as a first line of treatment.
The 2013 Global Drug Survey found almost half of all respondents had used prescription drugs in the past year, with up to 10 per cent experiencing signs of dependency. Of 2700 prescription drug users, 12 per cent said they had shared them, while 12 per cent mixed them with alcohol to enhance the effects. People also reported using the drugs, particularly opiates, to induce positive emotional and behavioural states.
Opiates, such as oxycodone, continue to be prescribed for chronic pain, even though scientists have shown in recent years they may not be very effective for long-term use. While they are effective for cancer pain and short-term pain, many doctors and patients have failed to realise there are better first-line treatments.
Benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, Serepax and Valium, are being used for short-term stress and anxiety.
”But the big shift we’ve seen in the last few years is towards oxycodone and the other one is fentanyl, mistakenly seen as innocuous as it enters the blood through a skin patch,” Professor Roche says.
Not only are people using them but they are sharing drugs including sleeping pills and pain relievers with family and friends.
There is no ”typical” drug abuser, Professor Roche says, with varying groups trying to get hold of the drugs. Professionals are using them to cope with the stresses of life, while illicit drug users are turning to prescription drugs as cheaper, easier-to-obtain and perceived ”safer” options.
More people are surviving severe trauma, Professor Roche says, such as car accidents or disabilities, often requiring long-term medication and opening the potential for addiction. People are getting older and fatter and suffering from joint pain, she says, overwhelming doctors who sometimes prescribe drugs as a first-line treatment. ”Another contributing factor to growing use is shortened hospital stays thanks to keyhole surgery and other medical advances,” she says.
”This facilitates a faster discharge, where patients are often given quite a lot of pain medication with repeat scripts that people just keep filling even if they no longer really need them.”
A former prescription drug abuser, Charlotte*, would use anxiety drugs every day, taking up to 35 Valium mixed with 10 to 12 Xanax. They were sometimes mixed with heroin.
That kind of intake saw her overdose and come close to death three times. Because of her schizophrenia, she could tolerate higher doses of the drugs, combined with the fact she had built up a tolerance to prescriptions from the age of 14.
About 20 of her friends have died, either through prescription overdose or from illicit drugs combined with prescription medication. She is 23.
”I started on prescription drugs at about 13 and I guess they were my gateway drug into illicit substances,” she says. ”Xanax was my main problem, followed with Valium and Serapax and then I went on to heroin and ice.
”I used to get it from friends and then I started doctor shopping.”
At 17, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia. And while her psychiatrist refused to prescribe benzodiazepines, Charlotte says it was much easier to use her diagnosis to get the drugs from general practitioners.
She went back to the same doctors again and again.
”My friends and I had a list and all the drug users would see the same people,” she says. ”And they knew we were abusing them. Unless they were really stupid, they knew.”
She has been clean for 14 months, but says weaning off the prescription drugs was harder than stopping heroin.
She went to a rehabilitation clinic in Thailand, taking three months to get off the pills.
”I have seen heaps of bad things from prescription drugs; I think they’re worse than heroin,” she says. ”You’d think meth and heroin would be the worst but the thing is every time my friends or I overdosed on heroin, its always because [it was] mixed with drugs like Xanax and Valium.”
While she acknowledges she was an extreme user, Charlotte says people in general are too often turning to prescription drugs for minor ailments. She would like to see Valium banned.
Alex Wodak was the director of the alcohol and drug service at Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital until last July, a position he held for more than 30 years. He has seen first-hand the shift towards people seeking fast comfort.
”People work seven days a week and are always available because of computers and phones, working around the clock,” he says.
”Family life is sacrificed and I think we’re paying the price.
”We have to look at what kind of community we want and we need politicians to implement family-oriented policies.
”We are living in an era where a lot of people are seeking comfort and solace from chemicals; it is a trend that is very supported in our culture.”
Dr Wodak is now working in the area of drug reform. He believes tackling prescription drug abuse is achievable.
”If we stay calm and base policy on evidence I believe we can come out of this,” he says. ”What’s so difficult is the power of the pharmaceutical industry.
”But what we have seen in the cases of tobacco and increasingly with alcohol is that community resentment about a lack of action to fix the problem builds and sooner or later, they will vote for a politician willing to take a stand.”
*Not her real name.
Bex Powders were a compound analgesic that comprised aspirin (420mg), phenacetin (420 mg) and caffeine (160mg), also known as APC. It was the first APC product marketed in Australia and the most popular. Bex Powders were produced from the 1920s in South Australia by Beckers Pty Ltd. Beckers moved to Sydney in the 1960s and in 1964 was based at the corner of Campbell and Crown Streets, Sydney.  Bex Powders were commonly taken by dissolving the powder in water or a cup of tea. The packaging claimed a Bex would relieve ‘Headache, Neuralgia, Rheumatism, Sciatica, Lumbago…Influenza and Cold in early stages’. 
Bex were promoted particularly to women with the advertising slogan ‘Stressful day? What you need is a cup of tea, a Bex and a good lie down’.  The line has become part of the Australian vernacular and can be used to suggest that someone should relax and ease up. The Bex slogan was immortalised in 1965 when the Phillip Street Theatrestaged a long-running satirical review A Cup of Tea, a Bex and a Good Lie Down, written by John McKellar and starring Reg Livermore and Ruth Cracknell. Over forty years later, in September 2011, Kevin Rudd, addressing suggestions he might challenge the incumbent Prime Minister Julia Gillard, told journalists ‘I just think it would be a good thing if everyone seriously had a cup of tea and a Bex and a long lie down, OK?’ 
The problem with Bex
The recommended daily dose of caffeine is 250mg per day and yet Bex packaging advised taking at least two powders, containing 320mg of caffeine. It has been recorded that many women took up to 30-40 doses a day, sometimes washed down with Coca-Cola, adding to the caffeine intake and strengthening the addiction. A further complication was that many of these women were also prescribed Valium, another addictive substance.
In the 1960s Dr. Priscilla Kincaid-Smith discovered that Bex Powders were addictive and that the large doses of phenacetin consumed by habitual users caused kidney disease.
One woman, Norma O’Hara took Bex Powders sometimes twice a day every day for up to eight years from when she was 20. She used to work at Rosebery Wrigley’s factory and said ‘most of the girls took Bex… it was to keep you going. Working the machines, you thought you needed them.’  O’Hara was subsequently diagnosed with kidney failure which was linked to compound analgesic abuse. It was common practice for factory managers to provide Bex Powders free of charge to their workers.
APC compounds were banned in 1977 and painkillers containing them were removed from the Australian market. Over time, this led to a dramatic decline in kidney disease. 
Hardly any person in America can hear the name “Hatfield” without thinking “McCoy.” This most infamous feud in American folklore happened right in the Tri-State’s back yard.
The 2012 release of the History channel’s “Hatfields & McCoys” miniseries, starring Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton, has sparked a renewed interest in the saga. You can find in the pages of the Tri-State Visitors’ Guide several feud-related attractions, activities and festivals. But before you go exploring, here’s a tutorial on what really happened in the hills of southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky.
The feud between the Hatfields of West Virginia and the McCoys of Kentucky had its roots in the Civil War and continued through 1981. The feud was led by patriarchs William “Devil Anse” Hatfield and Randolph McCoy. Here are some key events in the feud:
THE CIVIL WAR
Both William “Devil Anse” Hatfield and Randolph McCoy were Confederates and were both along in a raid that killed Union Gen. Bill France in the fall of 1863. That raid sparked into action the Kentucky homeguards, who were sent to take Devil Anse and his men. One of France’s men, Asa Harmon McCoy (Randall’s brother), came after Anse in revenge.
He camped out in a rock house near his home. Anse found out and sent his Uncle Jim Vance and Jim Wheeler Wilson, a fellow soldier, to confront McCoy.
It is believed that one of those men shot and killed Asa McCoy.
A couple of court decisions helped to fuel the feud. In the late 1870s, Devil Anse Hatfield got into a land dispute with McCoy’s cousin Perry Cline. Anse won the land dispute and was granted Cline’s entire 5,000-acre plot of land. A few months after the verdict, Randolph McCoy stopped to visit Floyd Hatfield, a cousin of Devil Anse. While visiting, McCoy saw a hog that he said bore the McCoy marking on its ear. Hatfield denied the accusation and the two were hauled into court with Preacher Anderson Hatfield (a Baptist preacher and justice of the peace) to settle the suit.
Both Hatfields and McCoys served as jurors. Randolph’s nephew Bill Staton, also a brother-in-law of Ellison Hatfield, swore that Floyd Hatfield owned the hog.
Floyd won the case. On June 18, 1880, Staton was killed in a shootout with Paris and Sam McCoy, who were sent to prison for their crime.
Ellison Hatfield testified at that trial.
ROMEO AND JULIET
Two months after the killing of Staton, Devil Anse’s son, Johnse met Roseanna McCoy, the daughter of Randolph McCoy, at an 1880 Election Day event.
They became lovers, but Randolph did not approve.
When she went to be with Johnse in West Virginia, a posse of McCoys rode to the cabin, took Johnse prisoner and set out for the Pikeville jail. Roseanna told Devil Anse, who gathered his own crew to cut off the McCoys and rescue his son. After that, the couple remained apart. Roseanna would give birth to their daughter, Sarah Elizabeth McCoy, in the spring of 1881. The baby died of measles later that year. Johnse Hatfield, who would be married four times in his life, met Nancy McCoy (the daughter of Asa Harmon McCoy, who had been killed by the Hatfields) and they were married on May 14, 1881.
TROUBLE AT THE POLLS
On Aug. 5, 1882, it was Election Day and at the polls on Blackberry Creek, Ellison Hatfield got into a fight with Tolbert McCoy (Randolph’s son). Tolbert’s two younger brothers, Pharmer and Randolph Jr., jumped in the fight with knives, and Pharmer McCoy shot Ellison.
HATFIELDS BURN WITH REVENGE
Preacher Anse Hatfield ordered constables to take the McCoy brothers to the Pikeville jail to face charges. They stopped at Floyd McCoy’s house for food and decided to spend the night further up Blackberry Creek. Devil Anse Hatfield found out and the next morning arrived on the scene, and a posse of nearly 20 family and friends took charge of the McCoy boys. When Ellison died, Devil Anse crossed into Kentucky, tied the boys to paw paw trees and the group of men executed the boys who had killed Ellison.
GOVERNORS GET INVOLVED
Hoping to leave no witnesses, the Hatfields raided the McCoy cabin in the dark of morning on New Year’s Day 1888. A firefight ensued, killing Randolph McCoy’s daughter Alifair and son Calvin. The raiders burned Randolph’s cabin to the ground. Randolph, his wife Sarah and the remaining children escaped.
The murders of the McCoys caused Kentucky’s governor Simon Buckner to unleash special officer Frank Phillips and 38 men to arrest the nearly 20 men and put out a special reward which brought a slew of bounty hunters to come after the Hatfields. Phillips captured several of those men, and Phillips shot and killed Uncle Jim Vance on Jan. 10, 1888.
On Jan. 19, a large firefight between Phillips and his men and Devil Anse Hatfield and his men happened, since known as the Battle of Grapevine Creek. Although no one was killed in the fight, it prompted Devil Anse to order 25 new Winchester repeating rifles to prepare for future attacks.
The raids brought the ire of West Virginia Gov. E. Willis Wilson, and many thought there might be another Civil War break out along the Tug Fork between factions in the two states. Both states ordered their National Guard units to prepare to defend their borders.
West Virginia’s governor sued Kentucky for the unlawful arrest of nine prisoners and unsuccessfully appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court in April 1888. The court ruled the Hatfields would have to stand trial in Kentucky whether or not the original arrests by Phillips were legal. Elison Mounts was hanged on Feb. 18, 1890, for the shooting of Alifair and Calvin McCoy, and the rest were given life sentences for their roles in killing the three McCoy brothers.
7 Things You Didn’t Know About the Hatfields and McCoys
1. Hollywood has always loved the Hatfields and McCoys. The Hatfields and McCoys saga has been reflected in various forms of entertainment, including books, songs and Hollywood films. Some of the most memorable portrayals of the feud include a 1952 Abbot and Costello feature; a Hatfield- and McCoy-themed episode of the animated series “Scooby-Doo”; and Warner Bros.’ 1950 “Merrie Melodies” cartoon “Hillbilly Hare,” in which Bugs Bunny finds himself ensnared in a dispute between the rival Martin and Coy families.
2. The Hatfields and McCoys inspired a famous game show. The conflict is believed to have been the primary inspiration for the popular game show “Family Feud,” which premiered in 1976. In 1979 members of both families appeared on the show during a special Hatfields and McCoys theme week to battle it out for the usual cash rewards—with one unique twist. Also included in the prize package was a pig, symbolizing the origins of the feud. (It was the rumored theft of a valuable pig by a Hatfield ancestor that had served as a catalyst for the eruption of hostilities more than 100 years earlier.) The Hatfields won the contest.
3. The formerly feuding families were featured in Life magazine in the 1940s. In May 1944, an issue of Life magazine revisited the Hatfields and McCoys nearly 50 years after violence among them rocked the Tug Valley area between Kentucky and West Virginia. The article was meant to show how the two “famous families now live together in peace,” and interviewed a number of descendants about the rivalry and relations between the two families five decades after the conflict. Among the photographs was a shot of two young women, Shirley Hatfield and Frankie McCoy, working together in a local factory that produced military uniforms. It was meant to symbolize the unifying effect of America’s war efforts at the height of World War II.
4. The feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1888 several Hatfields were arrested and stood trial for the murder of two of Randall McCoy’s children. West Virginia sued for the men’s release, arguing that they had been illegally extradited across state lines. The Supreme Court eventually became involved in the case, known as Mahon v. Justice. In its 7-2 decision, the court ruled in favor of Kentucky, allowing for the trials and subsequent convictions of all the Hatfield men. Seven of them received life sentences, and one, Ellison “Cotton Top” Mounts, was executed for his crimes.
5. A rare medical condition may be partly to blame for the violence of the notorious clash of clans. In a 2007 study, a team of doctors and geneticists who had studied dozens of McCoy descendants noted an unusually high rate of Von Hippel-Lindau disease, a rare, inherited condition that produces tumors of the eyes, ears, pancreas and adrenal glands as well as high blood pressure, a racing heartbeat and increased “fight or flight” stress hormones. The researchers also collected numerous oral histories from family members detailing the combative and often violent nature of the McCoy family dating back to the feud’s roots.
6. The Tug Valley witnessed another violent clash nearly 30 years after the Hatfields and McCoys feud. On May 19, 1920, detectives working for the anti-union Baldwin-Felts Agency evicted the families of workers who had attempted to unionize the Stone Mountain Coal Company mines outside Matewan, West Virginia. After Sid Hatfield, the Matewan chief of police and a Hatfield descendant, intervened on the miners’ behalf, a violent clash broke out that left seven detectives and four locals dead. The Matewan Massacre became a rallying cry for union activists across the country, with Sid Hatfield garnering fame for his defense of the miners. A year later, however, Hatfield was assassinated, purportedly by Baldwin-Felts agents. The events surrounding the Matewan Massacre and Sid Hatfield’s murder were depicted in the acclaimed 1987 film “Matewan.”
7. There are thousands of Hatfield and McCoy descendants—but not all of them are real. Sid Hatfield is just one of many notable Hatfield and McCoy descendants. Others include Henry D. Hatfield, nephew of family patriarch Devil Anse, who served as a senator and governor of West Virginia; 1930s jazz musician Clyde McCoy; and basketball coach Mike D’Antoni. There have even been fictional descendants, including Leonard “Bones” McCoy from the television and film series “Star Trek,” who was supposedly dozens of generations removed from his McCoy family roots.
From archaic toilet paper to moats made of feces, using the bathroom in the Middle Ages was no picnic.
For those familiar with an outhouse, the medieval toilet is its massive stone-built predecessor. Relegated to the private alcoves of a fort, medieval toilets were nothing but openings that led into a latrine or castle moat below.
Designed mainly with function in mind, the medieval toilet was otherwise known as a garderobe or privy chamber and was often located on several floors of most castles and no bigger than the restroom of a modern-day coffee shop.
The medieval toilet was a product of its time, before the advent of indoor plumbing refined the bathroom experience. How it came to be and meet its end, however, is worth a gander.
The History Of The Medieval Toilet
Despite the name, the Middle Ages were no mere intermediary between eras. This long and strenuous period in European history began with the fall of the Roman Empire in 467 A.D. and charged through the 14th-century Renaissance.
With the fall of the Roman Empire, Europe largely became feudal. Disbanded nations and a general scarcity of resources saw wealthy lords take power and war with one another from the lofty castles they built for themselves.
Most average people were just lucky to eat and survive, but this time saw some luxuries were created as well, including the medieval toilet.
Building castles was a lofty endeavor and could take up to 10 years, not to mention constructing them was rather expensive. At the tail-end of the Middle Ages, King Edward I nearly bankrupted the crown’s treasuries by using 100,000 pounds on his Walsh fortifications, with toilets being a major design priority.
There were a couple of different designs for these commodes. The waste shafts of some medieval toilets ran down the exterior of a fort into moats or rivers, while others were designed with internal castle channels that funneled waste into a courtyard or cesspit.
Other privy chambers, meanwhile, protruded out from the castle wall. Openings hung above open-air, allowing gravity to do the rest. Usually, a wooden bench separated the stone-carved hole from a user’s rear.
Building toilets within the palace walls, however, wasn’t just for convenience. Indeed, they also served as a hindrance to potential enemies.
By building toilets with shafts that emptied into courtyards or cesspits around the palace, invaders could be kept relatively at bay.
However, these shafts had to be built high enough off the ground that enemies couldn’t sneak in through the hole in the privy chamber. This is exactly what happened in 1203, when King Richard I’s French palace, Château Gaillard, was sieged.
Ideally, of course, waste would simply fall into a river where no one had to deal with it, and so some castle toilets were built jutting out over a steep cliff.
Without that luxury, there had to be someone tending to the excrement, removing it, or making sure it was properly mixed with the surrounding moat. In Tudor England, this job was known as a gong farmer, and these unfortunate souls had to work only at night so others couldn’t be put off by their grisly job.
Though they were forced to live in isolated homes, they reportedly received decent pay per ton of excrement that they removed.
Why Garderobes Met Their End
The largest downside to the medieval toilet was the fact that there was almost no practical way to avoid the stench. It was unfortunately not always the case that medieval toilets were situated in privy chambers containing a window, in which case aromatization through herbs was relied on.
Some garderobes were also made without privacy, with no doors or dividers
Additionally, washing a medieval toilet was burdensome. Those unfortunate enough to be tasked with the duty threw buckets of water down the toilet shaft or rerouted rain from the gutters.
As for the waste being collected down below, local farmers would often amass this human fecal matter as fertilizer.
Meanwhile, medieval toilet paper consisted of a bunch of hay. This was rarely an issue when it came to clogging or cleanliness, though 12th-century monk Jocelin de Brakelond recounted that this once nearly caused a fire.
While it would take until the advent of indoor plumbing in the mid-1800s to standardize the marvelous innovation of toilets, the medieval toilet was certainly an ingenious — and necessary — step toward that historic invention.
The idea was to show the royal family in their day-to-day lives. The results were mixed.
A well-groomed, staid British family sit around the breakfast table. Two young adult children and their middle-aged parents are dressed formally, without a hair out of place. In a high-pitched voice, the mother tells a funny story about her great-great grandmother, while everyone listens with their backs remarkably straight.
But this is no ordinary English family. The storyteller is Queen Elizabeth II, and the subject of her tale is Queen Victoria. The scene was one part of a 105-minute color documentary named simply, “Royal Family,” that was broadcast across England on June 21, 1969.
The concept behind the documentary was to soften and modernize the royal image. But members of the royal family, including the Queen, were reportedly dubious about the idea from the start. After its premiere, Buckingham Palace greatly limited the film’s circulation, at least in its entire form.
Lord Mountbatten’s Son-in-Law Suggests TV Special
It was Lord Brabourne, the son-in-law of the royal cousin Lord Mountbatten, who suggested using the medium of television to provide the Queen’s subjects a sense of her personality. By the 1960s, the times were rapidly changing, and the shy, dutiful Queen and her young family were seen as increasingly irrelevant. A TV special, Brabourne suggested, could also introduce British subjects to 21-year-old Prince Charles, ahead of his investiture as Prince of Wales.
At the urging of Palace press officer William Heseltine, who was convinced that offering a humanized view of the royal family would strengthen the monarchy, Prince Philip agreed. The Queen cautiously gave her consent, while other family members were decidedly not on board.
“I never liked the idea of ‘Royal Family,’ I thought it was a rotten idea,” Princess Anne later recalled, according to an account in the 2015 book, Queen Elizabeth II and the Royal Family. “The attention which had been brought upon one ever since one was a child, you just didn’t need any more.”
But the Mountbatten camp won the day and filming began in 1968. Richard Cawston, the chief of the BBC Documentary unit, was put in charge of shooting the royals at work and play. For months, he shot 43 hours of unscripted material at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, on the royal yacht, the royal train, and even at the Queen’s beloved Balmoral Castle in Scotland.
Understandably, the royal family had a difficult time adjusting to the presence of the crew in their personal space. Peter Conradi writes in his 2012 book, Great Survivors: How Monarchy Made it into the Twenty-First Century, that during a film day at Balmoral, Philip snapped at the crew, “Get away from the Queen with your bloody cameras!”
While the documentary was meant to show the human side of the monarchy, its narration carried an official tone. The voice-over, read by English actor and broadcaster Michael Flanders, ruminated on the importance of the Crown to the country in florid terms like, “Monarchy does not lie in the power it gives to the sovereign, but in the power it denies to anyone else.”
The finished documentary claimed to show a year in the life of the royal family. Queen Elizabeth was featured tirelessly working and making small talk with world leaders like U.S. President Richard Nixon. During his state visit, she asked him, “World problems are so complex, aren’t they, now?” To which Nixon replied, “I was thinking how really much more complex they are than when we last met in 1957.”
There were also sweet scenes, like one where the Queen takes her youngest son, Edward, to a candy store, paying for his treats herself even though the monarch is technically never supposed to carry money.
The royal family’s genuine sportiness was also highlighted—Prince Charles was shown waterskiing and fishing, Prince Philip flew an airplane and the Queen drove her own car surprisingly fast.
But there were also strained moments, according to detractors. At one point Prince Philip describes an instance when King George VI the Queen Mother’s late husband, took out his rage with a pruning knife on a rhododendron bush, screaming curse words while hacking it to bits. “He had very odd habits,” Philip deadpanned. “’Sometimes I thought he was mad.”
Then there was when Queen Elizabeth jokes: “How do you keep a regally straight face when a footman tells you: “‘Your Majesty, your next audience is with a gorilla?… It was an official visitor, but he looked just like a gorilla.”
Millions Tuned in for 1969 Premiere
Cawston let Philip see a rough cut of the documentary before showing it to the Queen. “We were all a little bit nervous of showing it to the Queen because we had no idea what she would make of it,” the film’s editor Michael Bradsell told the Smithsonian channel in a 2017 special. “She was a little critical of the film in the sense she thought it was too long, but Dick Cawston, the director, persuaded her that two hours was not a minute too long.”
The public was, in fact, intrigued—more than 30 million viewers in Britain alone viewed the premiere. It was said that during an intermission, toilets flushed all over London, causing a water shortage.
Less than a month later, on July 1, Prince Charles was invested at Caernarvon Castle in a carefully filmed spectacle organized by the photographer Lord Snowdon, Princess Margaret’s soon to be ex-husband.
This double-whammy of royal TV was seen by some as a rousing success. “It redefined the nation’s view of the Queen,” Paul Moorhouse, former curator of the National Portrait Gallery, told Daily Telegraph in 2011. “The audience were amazed to be able to hear the Queen speaking spontaneously, and to see her in a domestic setting.”
Lifting the Veil on the Royal Family
But to many, the royal family had opened Pandora’s box, lifting the veil and making them easy targets for criticism and intrusive paparazzi activity.
“They were criticized for being stuffy, and not letting anybody know what they were doing, and my brother-in-law helped do up a film, and now people say, ‘Ah, of course, the rot set in when the film was made,’”royal cousin Lady Pamela Hicks and daughter of Lord Mountbatten told an interviewer. “You can’t do right; it’s catch-22.”
“Royal Family” was shown only once more in full, in 1977. And in 2011, Buckingham Palace gave the National Portrait Gallery a 90-second clip of the breakfast scene during the Diamond Jubilee celebration. The palace allowed a few more brief clips to be included in the 2011 documentary “The Dukeat 90.”
If you venture down Redcross Way, a quiet backstreet in SE1 running parallel to the busy Borough High Street, you’ll undoubtedly come across a large vacant plot of land. This is Cross Bones Graveyard, an unconsecrated memorial to the thousands of prostitutes who lived, worked and died in this once lawless corner of London.
This is, at least, how it started out in the late medieval period. During this time, the local prostitutes were known as “Winchester Geese”. These prostitutes were not licensed by the City of London or Surrey authorities, but by the Bishop of Winchester who owned the surrounding lands, hence their namesake. The earliest known reference to the Graveyard was by John Stow in his Survey of London in 1598:
“I have heard ancient men of good credit report, that these single women were forbidden the rights of the Church, so long as they continued that sinful life, and were excluded from Christian burial, if they were not reconciled before their death. And therefore there was a plot of ground, called the single woman’s churchyard, appointed for them, far from the parish church.” Over time, Cross Brones Graveyard started to accommodate other members of society who were also denied a Christian burial, including paupers and criminals. With Southwark’s long and sordid past as “the pleasure-garden of London”, with legalised bear-baiting, bull fighting and theatres, the graveyard filled up extremely quickly.
By the early 1850’s the graveyard was at bursting point, with one commentator writing that it was “completely overcharged with dead”. Due to health and safety concerns the graveyard was abandoned, and subsequent redevelopment plans (including one to turn it into a fairground!) were all fought off by local residents.In 1992, the Museum of London carried out an excavation on Cross Bones Graveyard, in collaboration with the ongoing construction of the Jubilee Line Extension. Out of the 148 graves they excavated, all dating from between 1800 to 1853, they found 66.2% of the bodies in the graveyard were aged 5 years or younger indicating a very high infant mortality rate (although the sampling strategy used may have overindexed this age group). It was also reported that the graveyard was extremely overcrowded, with bodies piled one on top of each other. In terms of the causes for death, these included common diseases of the time including smallpox, scurvy, rickets and tuberculosis.
John of Gaddesden, an English doctor writing in the early 14th century, had some advice for women on how to protect themselves against venereal disease. Immediately after sex with any suspect man, he said, the woman should jump up and down, run backwards down the stairs and inhale some pepper to make herself sneeze. Next, she should tickle her vagina with a feather dipped in vinegar to flush infected sperm out of her body, then wash her genitals thoroughly in a concoction of roses and herbs boiled in vinegar. (45) It’s hard to imagine anyone actually following this advice – let alone one of the girls in Southwark’s stews. It would have puzzled the customer she’d just serviced for one thing, and running backwards downstairs sounds an excellent way to break your neck. Other doctors writing at about the same time as Gaddesden had equally eccentric remedies of their own, but at least everyone now recognised that diseases such as gonorrhoea were spread by sexual intercourse and that in itself was a big step forward. (46) In 1321, King Edward II founded the Lock Hospital in Southwark as a treatment centre for “lepers”, the name then used for anyone with an eruption of sores. It was located at what’s now the junction of Tabard Street and Great Dover Street, less than a mile from the stews of Bankside and this proximity meant it soon started to specialise in VD cases. “Lock Hospital” can still be found in slang dictionaries today as a generic term for any VD clinic. The filthy state of Southwark in those days ensured other disease was quick to spread there too. The Borough’s streets were still unpaved and there were no sewers. Residents who were out and about relieved their bladder (and bowels) in any quiet alleyway, while stay-at-homes emptied their brimming chamber pots at the nearest window. Once again, the informal street names coined by the locals give us a clue to what their lives were like. The area’s sex trade gave it place names like Codpiece Lane, Cuckold Court and Sluts’ Hole, while the sheer amount of filth in its streets christened Dirty Lane, Foul Lane and Pissing Lane. (47, 48) All this made Southwark an ideal breeding ground for the bubonic plague which hit London in 1348. “Historians estimate that the Black Death killed half the population of 14th century England,” Stephen Smith says in his 2004 book Underground London. “If anything, the devastation in London was even worse. The transmission of the disease was encouraged by the narrow, busy and filthy streets, crowded houses and noisome sanitary conditions. The toll among Londoners has been variously put at between 50,000 and 100,000.” (4) A year into the plague, Edward III urged London’s borough authorities to combat the infection by cleaning up their streets, but was told all the street cleaners were already dead. The more people died, the fewer were left to dispose of their remains and the faster the plague spread. “London burial grounds were soon full to overflowing and new ones were hastily dug,” Smith says. “The biggest was in Southwark, where some 200 corpses were interred every day.” One of these new grounds, opened just across the river from Southwark in East Smithfield, managed to stuff 2,400 bodies into its small plot by placing them five deep in long trenches rather than using individual graves. Measures like this were the only way to get each new wave of corpses buried before the next consignment arrived. One man who lived through the plague said the stews had been busier than ever in those years
Older bodies were dug up again with indecent despatch to make more space in the ground. All over London, disinterred bones were thrown into the graveyard’s charnel house. This was either a vault beneath the church itself or a small building on the grounds, where “clean” bones – those from which all the flesh had rotted away – could be consigned. In calmer times, these bones would be treated with great reverence, perhaps even prayed over by the priest, but when the pressure on graveyards hit these heights, speed was all that mattered. (49) “Burial arrangements could break down during epidemics,” writes Reading University’s Professor Ralph Houlbrooke. “The Black Death compelled urban communities in particular to find new burial space quickly.” There’s no evidence that Cross Bones itself was used for burials this early, but it may well have been a later outbreak of plague in London which forced St Saviour’s parish to requisition the site. (50) In 1349, Edward III suspended Parliament to let MPs escape London for the relative safety of the British countryside. Anyone else rich enough to flee the capital got out too. Southwark’s brothels seem to have remained open throughout the plague years, however, despite official warnings that casual copulation with multiple partners increased the risk of infection. Henry Knighton, a 14th century historian who lived through the Black Death, says the stews were actually busier than ever during the plague years. Many Londoners adopted an attitude of fatalistic abandon, thinking it was all but certain they’d catch the plague anyway, so why not do so in the arms of their favourite Bankside whore? At least that guaranteed you a little pleasure before you died. In the spring of 1350, the death toll in London started to abate at last and Edward turned his attention to the anarchy that now prevailed in Southwark. Many of the Bishop’s officials had fled during the plague years, leaving the Bankside brothels and their surrounding taverns more lawless than ever. Anyone committing a crime inside the city walls knew they had only to get across London Bridge to claim sanctuary and the welcome they now found there was warmer than ever. “Those who have committed manslaughter, robberies and diverse other felonies are privily departing into the town of Southwark, where they cannot be attached by the ministers of the City and there are openly received, ” said the King in an address to London’s people. “And so, for default of due punishment [they] are emboldened to commit more such felonies.” If those felonies had been limited to Southwark alone, Edward might have found them easier to bear. By now, though, Southwark’s thugs had grown so bold that gangs of 200 or more youths would periodically burst over the bridge into London, rob the passers-by there, loot the shops and then dash back across the river to safety. Only London had the men and resources needed to restore law and order in Southwark, but no-one who lived there was willing to call them in if it meant surrendering their borough’s treasured independence. The result was an uneasy stand-off. As far as London itself was concerned, the authorities concentrated on preventing prostitution within the city walls and on ensuring that the girls working designated areas like Cock Lane wore the proper clothing. This takes us back to the 1161 rules’ requirement that whores must clearly identify themselves by wearing some agreed garment. In 1351, the City of London passed an ordinance saying “lewd or common women” must wear a striped hood to identify themselves as such and refrain from beautifying their clothes with any fur trim or fancy lining. Any woman not of noble birth could be described as “common” in that sense and this sloppy wording made the ordinance such a wide one that it seemed to cover almost every female in the city. London’s proud womenfolk weren’t going to have men dictating what they could wear, so most simply ignored the ordinance and challenged any constable to arrest them if he dared. When Edward III put his own authority behind this law three years later, he was careful to specify it applied only to London’s “common whores”. The striped hoods and lack of decorative trim, his proclamation declared, would “set a deformed mark on foulness to make it appear more odious”. Some working girls continued to live inside the city walls but commuted to Cock Lane or the Liberty to earn their daily crust – perhaps finding somewhere to change on the way. But wasn’t long before they were banned from even lodging in the city and subject to very heavy penalties for doing so. A 1383 ordinance required whores caught in London to have their heads shaved and then be carted through the streets in a special wagon while minstrels played all around them to attract a crowd. The girl herself would have to wear that trademark hood as the cart carried her through town to the nearest prison, where she’d be placed in a pillory and publicly whipped. “The ineffectuality of all this punishment is evident in the ordinances themselves, which provide for repeated offences and increased penalties,” Burford says. Offenders caught a second time, for example, would serve ten days in jail on top of all the other penalties, while a third offence got you ten days’ prison and permanent expulsion from London. A girl in this final category would be taken to one of the city gates, where she’d be roughly thrown outside. If the authorities had been able to trace her origins to Bankside – as was often the case – she’d be escorted back there and warned to stay put. In 1393, these rules were tightened once again, saying no prostitute must “go about or lodge” in London or its suburbs, but “keep themselves in the places thereto assigned, that is to say, the stews on the other side of the Thames and in Cock Lane”. Offenders could face all the penalties detailed above and have their identifying hood confiscated too. Replacing this garment would presumably have been an expensive business, but the girl would be unable to resume her trade till she’d done so. We know there were at least two murders in the stews at around this time, because both are mentioned in the Bishop of Winchester’s court rolls for 1378. One was carried out by William Chepington of Northamptonshire, who killed a Scarborough man called John Drenge at The Cardinal’s Hat, one of the biggest brothels on Bankside. In the same year, a Flemish man was hanged for another murder in the stews. (51) Dutch people – then known as Flemings – had first come to Southwark as mercenaries in William the Conqueror’s army, but their relationship with the surrounding English population was sometimes thorny. Many Flemings were talented entrepreneurs and the stews they ran on Bankside operated with an efficiency and cleanliness that put their homegrown competitors to shame. We can judge their popularity by the fact that so many English whores chose to work under the Dutch name Petronella to indicate they were both fashionable and expert in their craft. The Dutch whorehouses may have been popular with punters, but their success did not go down well with English competitors. When Wat Tyler’s tax rebels arrived in Southwark in June 1381, one of their first targets was The Rose, a Dutch-operated whorehouse owned by William Walworth, the Lord Mayor of London. Until then, Tyler’s men had attacked only formal symbols of the King’s authority, such as prisons and the Inns of Court, so you have to wonder if it was Southwark’s resentful English brothel-keepers who suggested they burn The Rose. “It’s likely that the rebels destroyed the brothel not from outraged morality, but from hostility to the foreigners, specifically the Flemish,” says Derek Brewer in his 1978 book Chaucer and his World. Having sacked these premises, which stood near London Bridge, the rioters then went on a day-long rampage, killing as many as 160 Flemish people as they moved west through the Liberty. No doubt, a good number of Southwark folk joined in the mayhem just for a chance to kill their Flemish competitors or to eliminate a rival business. (52)
“[They] beheaded without judgement or trial all the Flemings they found,” one contemporary report tells us. “Mounds of corpses were to be seen in the streets and various spots were littered with the headless bodies of the slain. In this way, they passed the entire day, bent only on the massacre of the Flemings.” (53) A few months later, all the whorehouses destroyed were back in business again and the poll tax Tyler had objected to was sending out its demands for the year. That year’s returns from Southwark show seven men listed as stewholders in the Borough, all with addresses in the Bishop’s Liberty. “They evidently represent the proprietors of the Bankside stewhouses,” says Martha Carlin in her 1996 book Medieval Southwark. “All were married men, with both male and female servants; none had children aged 15 or older living at home.” (54) The seven stewholding couples listed, together with the tax assessed as due from each pair, are: StewholdersJoint assessmentWalter Shirborn & wife Christian Six shillings & eightpenceRobert Power & wife Agnes Four shillingsYevan Wallchman & wife Isabella Four shillingsJohn David & wife Isabella Four shillings & eightpenceRobert [illegible] and wife Isabella Four shillings & sixpenceRichard Bailif & wife Margery Four shillings & sixpenceWilliam Brounes & wife Joan [Figure missing]
The average tax payable per individual householder in Southwark that year was just one shilling, against an average of over five shillings for the stewholding couples above. That means the stewholders were being taxed at two-and-a-half times the rate of their neighbours and presumably that their earnings were that much higher too. But how much of that money actually found its way to the girls themselves? Of the 137 unmarried woman identified in the Southwark return, Carlin’s found a dozen who she believes worked as prostitutes. These were not the girls who worked in the Bankside stews, who’d be lumped in as “servants” with the families above, but freelance whores operating from the precinct of St Thomas’s Hospital and therefore outside the Liberty’s rule. “These women probably were independent or ‘private’ prostitutes, working from lodgings rather than from public brothels,” Carlin writes. “Their residence within the hospital precinct presumably shielded them from any interference by the officers.” Even among this relatively privileged group, only three of the twelve women paid assessments above the Southwark-wide average of one shilling and seven paid well under that. Their average assessment was only ninepence halfpenny – just over third of what even the poorest stewholder paid – and the richest girl of them all paid just one shilling and fourpence. Once again, it’s reasonable to assume that a much lower tax bill means a much lower income too. Whoever else was getting rich from the Bankside stews, then, it sure wasn’t the girls who worked there. The eminent men who owned brothels like The Cardinal’s Hat, the Boar’s Head and the rebuilt Rose did very nicely from renting them out to stewholders, some of whom were able to start building family dynasties on the trade. These families certainly weren’t in their landlords’ class, either for income or status, but they still managed to rake in a great deal more income than most other businesses in Southwark could provide. The girls’ whose sheer bloody resilience kept the whole trade going had to make do with its scraps. (55) Prostitution in Southwark was still officially licensed only in the Liberty’s designated Bankside area, but the seven whorehouses there couldn’t hope to satisfy total demand. At some point in the 1380s, local businessmen made a concerted effort to establish a new red light district in Southwark’s St Olave’s Parish, which lies west along the river from Bankside. The site they chose was not in the Liberty, but part of a manor still owned by the King himself, so opening unsanctioned brothels there was a risky business. Many Southwark folk joined in the mayhem just for a chance to kill their competitors
The men who owned the five new St Olave whorehouses included John Mokkyng, shown in the 1381 tax return as one of Southwark’s richest men and Robert Power, the Bankside stewholder mentioned above, who now hoped to make his own step up into the landlord class. We know this, because both men are named in a 1390 petition from the people of Southwark complaining the St Olave stews had turned their neighbourhood into a war zone and urging King Richard II to shut them down. There had always been violence and disorder on Bankside too but, with neither the 1161 rules nor the Bishop’s enforcers to keep a lid on things, St Olave’s became a hellhole. “The petitioners charged that the place had become notorious, a breeder of quarrels and homicides and a resort of thieves, to the peril of local residents,” Carlin writes. (56) The petitioners added that the new brothels’ customers included not only married men – who were hardly a novelty on Bankside either – but also “all manner of persons of religion, namely monks, canons, friars, parsons, vicars, priests”. Married women and female servants, they said, were being kidnapped, imprisoned at St Olaves and forced to work as whores there. The alternative was a slit throat. The King responded by demanding that all the landlords and stewholders responsible for the five new brothels appear before him and his court at Westminster on July 4, 1390. One of the landlords, John Brenchesle, who seems to have run his own St Olave stew personally, was sent to the Tower of London, as was John Osteler, his servant. Four others, all of whom were either stewholder tenant-managers or their staff, went to the Fleet Prison for ten days. (57) Efforts to police the stews at Southwark continued as the 15th Century got underway and it’s this period which gives us our earliest surviving records of real cases passing through the Liberty’s courts. Many of these involved the sort of minor offences which keep an English magistrates’ court busy today, like breaching the licensing laws, public drunkenness or fighting in the street. Other charges were far more serious, such as forcing a girl into whoredom against her will or officials developing selective blindness whenever a bribe was offered. The Bishop’s court convened every four to six weeks and kept its records on parchments called pipe rolls. Eight examples from the 15th Century have survived – all from the period 1446 to 1459 – and these show a steady tightening of the screw against corruption. By 1455, constables and bailiffs caught eating or drinking with the whores they policed faced a massive fine of £2.
Meanwhile, at the national level, three successive Kings – Henry IV, V and VI – each passed their own ordinances aimed at cleaning up the stews. First up to bat was Henry IV, who extended the Lord Mayor of London’s powers in 1406. For the first time, the City of London’s own police could now arrest criminals in Southwark – an area previously beyond their jurisdiction – and drag them back across the river to Newgate for trial. All this achieved was to stoke the good folk of Southwark’s customary resentment at interference from London. Any City constable brave enough to try and exercise his new powers in the Borough risked sparking a full-scale riot, as we can see from an incident that followed just a few years later. This involved a Frenchman who murdered a Southwark widow in her own bed, then fled to St George Martyr’s church in Borough High Street to claim sanctuary. London’s authorities agreed not to arrest him on the condition that he leave England immediately and sent a constable to St George’s to escort him down to the south coast and make sure he caught the next boat out. But the outraged women of Southwark had other ideas. When the constable and his deputies came out of the church with their prisoner, they found a huge crowd waiting. “The women of that same parish where he had done the cursed deed came out with stones and canal dung,” one contemporary report tells us. “And they made an end of him in the High Street, notwithstanding the constable and the other men too. There was a great company of them and they had no mercy, no pity.” With the streets full of people like that, you can see why a lone constable might think twice before deciding to throw his weight about in Southwark. The new law was quietly shelved as a result. (58) Henry V followed up with his own ordinance in 1417. He began by directing the Lord Mayor’s attention to “the many grievances and abominations, damages and disturbances, murders and larcenies” carried out by “lewd men and women of evil life” in the Bankside stews. Quite what the Mayor was supposed to do about it Henry didn’t say – beyond a peremptory command to sort it out. The King’s own contribution was to ban London’s City aldermen and other respectable citizens from letting out any building they owned to tenants “charged or indicted of an evil and vicious life”. This was clearly aimed at the many churchmen, noblemen, City officials and wealthy merchants who happily rented out their property to known stewholders. There were only so many houses to be had in the Bankside’s licensed area, so anyone lucky enough to own a building there could command premium rents if he let it be turned into a brothel. Outside the licensed area – in Borough High Street, say – landlords could argue they were accepting more risk by taking an illegal stewholder on and insist the rent must be set higher to reflect this. Few other businesses in Southwark pulled in enough cash to match the rent stewholders could offer. All this added up to a powerful financial incentive for landlords to accept stewholders as their tenants and that’s what the King’s ordinance was up against. It must have been simple enough to arrange your affairs to circumvent the new law – perhaps by renting your building out through a middleman – and like Henry IV’s measures before it, the ban had little effect in practice.Bankside jurors happily took cash to deliver whatever verdict the local gangsters required
It was Parliament’s turn to step in next and it decided to concentrate on a different problem. By the time Henry VI came to the throne in 1422, the Bankside stews were at the peak of their profitability and the money flooding in allowed many stewholders to buy themselves freehold property elsewhere in Southwark. Some used these additional properties to open inns or taverns which doubled as illegal brothels in Borough High Street, but that was only the beginning of the trouble their new riches brought. In order to serve on a 15th Century jury, you had to be a property-owner, which was taken as evidence you had a stake in society and so could be trusted to treat your responsibilities in court seriously. This gave the newly propertied stewholders a whole new opportunity for corruption. By hiring out their services to the highest bidder, stewholders on the jury could deliver whatever verdict their paymasters required. The stews at this time were dominated by a handful of powerful families, creating a network of useful connections which every stewholder could draw on when he needed to fix a court case. The Gardiners, for example, were involved in running three of the Bankside’s 18 brothels: The Lion, The Hart’s Horn and The Boar’s Head. John Sandes’ name is found linked to both The Castle and The Unicorn, while jobbing managers like John Gray and Robert à Murray moved regularly from one establishment to the next. “The Gardiner family is so prominent that the conclusion is inevitable that they were a gang of brothleers, as also the brothers David and Robert à Murray,” Burford writes. “All seem to have been people of some substance and some of them seem to have been elected constables on occasion.” Most the time, bent jurors were engaged to ensure a guilty man walked free, but sometimes it worked the other way round. Among the examples Carlin quotes is that of Henry Saunder, who had been taken to the Bishop’s court by a stewholder called Thomas Dyconson. Saunder asked that his case be transferred to the higher court of Chancery because the Bishop’s jury he faced was packed with stewholders who were determined to falsely condemn him. Another petitioner, Agnes Johnson, complained that she’d been falsely accused in the Bishop’s court. Her accuser, she said, was both rich and the court bailiff’s brother-in-law, which meant no juror would dare cross him and so ensured she’d never get a fair trail. A third prisoner dragged before the court described the jurors there as “bawds and watermen, the which regard neither God nor their conscience”. Only with these people in your corner, he complained, was there any hope of victory. Parliament’s answer to this was to pass a 1433 law barring Southwark stewholders from serving on juries or accepting any other official post in the Borough. Three years later, MPs heard an urgent petition from a group of Southwark citizens complaining that illegal brothels were still operating along the length of Borough High Street. “Many women have been ravished and brought to evil living,” the petition said. “Neighbours and strangers are oft-time robbed and murdered.” Parliament responded by declaring once again that stewhouses must be restricted to the licensed area provided – but gave no clue as to how this might be achieved. In 1460, Henry VI set up a commission of 20 respectable citizens from both Southwark and London to consider the Borough problem. Violence and thieving in Southwark had now reached such heights that its own people looked ready to accept some help from London at last. For their own part, the City authorities realised that shovelling wrongdoers across the river and hoping the Bishop’s courts could keep order there was no answer at all. Once, the fear of damnation had been enough to dampen some of the worst behaviour on Bankside, but now this ecclesiastical sanction was losing its power. “The impotence of the ministers and officers of the church was scarcely surprising,” Burford writes. “The corruption and sexual licence of that body had bred such scepticism and contempt that even the constant threats of Hell no longer deterred those who sought some little sexual pleasure in this world.” Henry VI’s commission recommended that the City of London send men into Southwark to remove any prostitutes or stewholders found operating away from Bankside and if necessary imprison them. The King seemed sincere enough in his desire to clean up the Borough, but the War of the Roses deposed him just a few months after the commission’s report, so he had little chance to act. The new King, Edward IV, took a more relaxed view of the stews – perhaps because his own sexual habits left him little room to criticise what went on in Southwark. The only significant measure he took to regulate them was a 1479 royal proclamation that all the licensed Bankside stews should clearly identify themselves by painting their riverside walls entirely white. Each house had its own symbol painted like a pub sign on the same wall and – as often as not – a couple of bare-breasted whores shouting from a riverside window to attract boat-bound customers. (59) By the end of the 1400s, there was an unbroken line of 18 white-faced buildings like these lining the Thames’ south bank all the way from London Bridge to what’s now Tate Modern. Just five years later, every one of them was forcibly closed down in a 1505 crackdown launched by Henry VII. His action was prompted not by any desire to fight crime in Southwark, but by an unwelcome new guest which all the Bankside stews were now hosting. Syphilis had come to London.
Bankside’s 18 brothels & their ruling families
Court records from the 16thCentury give us an intriguing glimpse of how the Bankside brothels were then run. Stewholders were fined pretty regularly for one offence or another and the fact that so many of the family names involved pop up again and again shows the web of connections between them. The list below shows the 18 legal Bankside brothels trading in 1500. Each stood in its own large grounds, stretching back as far as Maiden Lane on their southern boundaries. Burford estimates that they probably employed about 350 girls between them, or roughly a third of the 1,000-plus whores he believes were working Southwark at this time. The rest relied on the many illegal Borough whorehouses found in the High Street and beyond. (189) Between them, the 18 licensed brothels formed an unbroken line along the river all the way from London Bridge to what’s now Tate Modern and that’s the east-west order I’ve given them here. (190)
The Castle: One of the two largest properties on Bankside (the other being The Unicorn). John Sandes’ name is found linked to both establishments, suggesting he may well have been the stewholders’ leader. He was also a member of the City’s Guild of Coopers.
The Gun: One of the six brothels never re-licensed after the 1505 closures. The others were The Swan, The Bull’s Head, The Rose, The Bell and The Cardinal’s Hat.
The Antelope: Managers included both David Arnold and John Gray, who’s linked at other times to The Castle and The Elephant.
The Swan: Another of the six brothels refused a new licence after the 1505 closures (see The Gun, above). Not to be confused with the Swan Theatre in nearby Paris Gardens, which opened in 1595.
The Bull’s Head: Like the other five brothels refused a new licence, The Bull’s Head probably re-opened anyway. From that point on, they had to operate outside the law, with all the risk that implies.
The Hart: Run by Margery Curson, who was fined £1 in 1500 for “living without a husband”. It was an offence for a single woman to run a stewhouse, but Margery went right on and did it anyway. She rented The Hart from the churchwardens of St Margaret’s Parish.
The Elephant: Managed at various times by Edward Wharton and Robert à Murray, whose name is also found linked to The Barge and The Antelope. Robert’s brother David was also involved in running the Bankside stews.
The Lion: At various times, both Richard Gardiner and Joan Gardiner are mentioned as running The Lion. On another occasion, Joan Gardiner’s said to be managing The Hart’s Horn.
The Hart’s Horn:Represented at a 1505 hearing by Margaret Toogood. She’s thought to be either the widow or the daughter of the Thomas Toogood pilloried for enticing women into prostitution in 1494.
The Bear: Re-opened for legal trade on August 29, 1506, under the management of Eleanor Kent.
The Rose: This is the brothel once owned by London Mayor William Walworth. By 1552, it was owned by Henry Polsted, who leased it to a manager called John Davison, who also ran The Unicorn at that time. (191)
The Barge: Re-opened for legal trade in June 1506, with Robert à Murray as its manager.
The Bell: Nothing known.
The Unicorn: The second of Bankside’s two biggest establishments and again managed by John Sandes. See The Castle.
The Boar’s Head: Run by first Agnes Gardiner and then by Annian Gardiner. Both were presumably related to the Gardiners who ran The Lion and The Hart’s Horn. A manager called William Aldersley spoke for The Boar’s Head at a 1505 hearing.
The Cross Keys:Managed in 1505 by Anna Ratclyffe.
The Fleur de Lys: Managed in 1505 by Joan Freeman and in 1664 by Robert Younger.
The Cardinal’s Hat:Mentioned by Shakespeare in Henry VI pt 1. Gloucester uses this infamous brothel’s name to taunt the Bishop of Winchester in Act I, Scene III. See main article for details.
The Beauchamp Hotel in Darlinghurst is named after this former governor of NSW.
Built in 1540 to guard the English coast against foreign invasions, Walmer Castle is one of Kent’s most prominent landmarks. Since the 18th century it has been the official residence of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. During the 1920s Walmer was home to William Lygon, 7th Earl of Beauchamp, who held lavish homosexual parties at the castle. This led eventually to his dramatic fall from grace, the break-up of his family, and the inspiration for Evelyn Waugh’s most famous novel, Brideshead Revisited.
CABINET MINISTER AND FAMILY MAN
Born in 1872, William Lygon was a well-known public figure from a young age. Succeeding his father as Earl Beauchamp in 1891, he became mayor of Worcester at the age of 23, and was appointed governor of New South Wales, Australia, in 1899. A high-flying figure in the Liberal Party, he rose to become a senior cabinet minister in 1910. He was also appointed First Commissioner of the Office of Works (later English Heritage), in charge of works to royal residences and government buildings.
In 1913, Beauchamp was appointed Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. He enjoyed the pomp and ceremony that came with the role of Lord Warden: one of his duties was to welcome visiting foreign dignitaries at Dover on behalf of the king. Equally, however, he spent time at Walmer Castle with his family. In 1902, he had married Lettice Grosvenor, sister of Hugh Grosvenor, 2nd Duke of Westminster. Family photographs show Beauchamp, Lettice and their seven children enjoying their surroundings and each other’s company at Walmer.
Beauchamp’s family life appeared conventional. However, during the 1920s he is known to have thrown some rather racy parties at Walmer, to which he invited his high-class friends, along with local fishermen and youths. A hint of their nature is given in the memoirs of Lady Christabel Aberconway, who wrote that:
One Sunday, my host, Lord Jowitt, asked my husband if he and I would like to see one of the famous castles of the Cinque Ports. Delightedly we accepted. … We arrived [at Walmer] and were shown into a garden surrounding a grass tennis court. There was the actor Ernest Thesiger, a friend of mine, nude to the waist and covered with pearls.
In 1930 Beauchamp became embroiled in a scandal that would prove disastrous to his career and personal life. He had embarked on a round-the-world tour in August that year, spending two months in Sydney, Australia. He was accompanied by a young valet, who lived with him as his lover. This did not go unnoticed, and Beauchamp’s tastes were reported in the Australian Star newspaper:
The most striking feature of the vice-regal ménage is the youthfulness of its members … Rosy cheeked footmen, clad in liveries of fawn, heavily ornamented in silver and red brocade, with many lanyards of the same hanging in festoons from their broad shoulders, [who] stood in the doorway, and bowed as we passed in … Lord Beauchamp deserves great credit for his taste in footmen.
Following this report, Beauchamp’s brother-in-law, the Duke of Westminster, hired detectives and began to gather evidence of Beauchamp’s activities.
A RUINED REPUTATION
The Duke of Westminster was reported to be a bullying, womanising, angry man, once described as ‘nothing but a fatuous, spoilt, ageing playboy’. He had always disliked Beauchamp, jealous of his brother-in-law’s public office and apparent domestic happiness. In addition, the duke was a staunch Tory, whereas Beauchamp was the Liberal Party’s leader in the House of Lords. To ruin Beauchamp would not only satisfy Westminster’s personal vendetta, but would also be politically advantageous.
In 1931 Westminster publicly denounced Beauchamp as a homosexual to George V, who reportedly responded, ‘Why, I thought people like that always shot themselves’. Westminster insisted that Beauchamp be arrested, forcing him into exile.
Beauchamp fled first to Germany, where he contemplated suicide, but was dissuaded from it by his son Hugh. He later split his time between Paris, Venice, Sydney and San Francisco – four cities that were relatively tolerant of his sexual orientation.
Meanwhile, Westminster presented his evidence to his sister Lettice, who suffered a nervous breakdown at the news. She submitted a petition for divorce, moved to her brother’s Cheshire estate and took to her bed. The divorce petition described Beauchamp as:
A man of perverted sexual practices, [who] has committed acts of gross indecency with male servants and other male persons and has been guilty of sodomy … throughout the married life … the Respondent habitually committed acts of gross indecency with certain of his male servants.
Westminster ordered Beauchamp’s children to testify against their father, but they all refused. Though his wife had deserted him, his children’s support never wavered. They shunned their mother and never made peace with her (except the youngest son, Dickie). Westminster became their worst enemy and he let it be known that anyone dealing with the Lygons would be dropped from society. In an extraordinary display of spite, Westminster wrote Beauchamp a short letter, simply stating:
Dear Bugger-in-Law, You got what you deserved. Yours, Westminster.
Cut off from the rest of society, Beauchamp’s children took turns to visit their father abroad. According to Beauchamp’s daughter Sibell, he never grumbled, nor mentioned Westminster again, but grew resigned to his exile.
RETURN AND REPRIEVE
It was not until George VI came to the throne in 1936 that the warrant for Beauchamp’s arrest was lifted. Beauchamp returned to England in July 1937. He moved back to Madresfield, the family home, and wasted no time in painting out his wife’s image from a fresco in their personal chapel. The family threw her bust into the house’s moat.
Beauchamp died of cancer in 1938. His various misfortunes inspired Evelyn Waugh’s 1945 novel Brideshead Revisited – the character of Lord Marchmain was based on Beauchamp himself, while his son Hugh proved the inspiration for the ill-fated Sebastian Flyte.