“God must have been smiling on me” said JOHN CLARK, 51, “I shouldn’t be alive!” His neighbour listened to the good looking man from next door, but it wasn’t his story she wanted. It was his wife’s which intrigued her.
Mister Clarke, all round handy-man, salt of the Tower Hamlets earth, His father of same name, Master Carpenter like Joseph, but son, Master of no-one but his wife Thomasine. That’s what he said!
It would take two days to fix those floor boards to carry her weight and baggage of rags she collected for Rosemary Lane market. He bursts through the front door like a boy, with a prize grin. That Jewish woman from next door was back again. Never mind for now, Johnny had a clay pipe to show her, a gift for a quick unloading job down Wapping dock.
Thomasine Clark took the clay pipe and inspected it. She passed it to her neighbour, “I’d rather you pass me the coin you earned”. John’s silence made her turn her head and look at him. “So where’s the money, don’t tell me you did another favour?
“Fuckin’ hopeless idiot” she shouted, “What are we going to live on?”
“Trust Me” he said, taking the pipe back, seating himself at the head of the table and laying down a pouch, lifting the lid, to reveal a soft, rich,musty tobacco.
John puffed on his latest pipe, scratched his balls, watched his wife and the Jewish widow from next door at the small kitchen table, cutting up Dandelions. What were they babbling on about?
“Who would want to read about a poor ignorant, woman who played a drum for a cause which everybody would rather forget?”
Why would she let people know how few words she had in her empty skull.
“Most days I am at a loss for words!” the 50 year old ex-souldier insisted, can’t write,
wrong sex, a rebel, a sinner according to the Church, a witch to others.”
John went to the tea chest next to their mattress to retrieve a broadsheet of
“The Famous Woman Drummer” once sung in every tavern across the land! he almost sang with pride.
“We sung this in all the taverns when Billy was a titch. It was our Season of fame!”, he nudged at his Mrs. “we could earn a few coins doing it again!”
John spoke to the Jewess, “I played the tin whistle and Tomasine played the drum – we made a good team, didn’t we – we could again”.
from the pen and journal of God’s servant, 1642 was the year when everything changed for us, when I was twelve. We, including the residents all over the Tower Hamlets could not believe the King was really going to attack us any time of night or day. You can believe it and not believe it all at once can’t you?
The wars were all his fault, and he thought we’d all take it lying down!
I was a mere maiden of 12, when Charlie boy was preparing to send his Cavaliers into East London and slaughter us in our beds! Oh, my Mother and Father were mad as hell, having everything turned upside down in their lives, but it also meant more work – war was good for business.
She was really grumbling when our Landlord stepped in to our room and said if we didn’t turn our furniture out of the house to help build a barricade across the street those Cavaliers would ride in and torch the lot of us! That frightened us, and it also set our mum against my dad, and he wasn’t even there!
Take yer bleeding furniture, she sez. It’s rubbish anyway. We won’t miss much anyhows, will we Thomasine? The Lord provided me a husband but little did I know what a useless sack of sugar he’d turn out to be…Haven’t got one decent item here, so yes, there’s nothing to lose, is there?
Don’t be too harsh Good wyfe afterall Master Cannaday made sure to arrange rents ahead so you wouldn’t be without a roof over your head.
What a nice man I thought, and after a few sec0nds Mother said, God bless you Mr Nightingale. You are right. I am feeling for the loss of him once again, over the ocean. She sighed.
It’s a Wapping woman’s lot to to wonder and weep when her husbands out to Sea and her Sailing half is working and playing hard in foreign ports.
Respect to you, Good Wyfe Cannaday, you bare your sorrow well. I’m sure our Preacher will have special prayers on the Sabbath for all the females to strengthen their hearts and a safe return of their husbands. It is Providence that sets us all here to learn our spiritual lessons.
My neighbour Mistress Thomasine Clark went silent. Thinking or, not thinking as I rubbed the olive oil gently into her matted shoulder-length hair. Let us hoping I can untangle it, senore.
“What’s that?” she asked. I explained: it’s an old Portugese recipe passed on from my Grandmother. She used to do my hair in the mornings, like this, and find the lice. She liked murdering them as if they were the bastards of the Inquisitors who tortured and executed our people with a license.
So I understand your feeling with King Charlie – and I spat onto the floor, and Mrs.Clark laughed for the first time. That was a good sign. I told her, Mrs. Clark – call me Thomasin, she said, Thomasin, you must smile every day – you have a beautiful smile.
General Cromwell tried to rid the earth of the Papist scum you know? He hated the Heretics. Thomasine paused, shuffled about on the stool, “our own Royal High and Mighty Stuart King, was going to attack his own Protestant people! Of course he was secretly a Roman Catholic otherwise he wouldn’t have married a Catholic. Because of them making war on us, that’s what caused the Civil War.
Why is it called Civil – no war is civil, si? Si, Widow Cortez. You would know from fleeing your home and country it is the women and children – the innocent godly folk doing their best every day to get by and be good who suffer the most. Everybody including women and children had to fortify their streets all around London and the Liberties to prevent Cavaliers horses jumping over. There was carts loaded with wood, rocks, chairs, tables, anything to stop them attacking us on our streets, in our homes as if we were devils to be destroyed. I still feel the mixture of rage and sadness – our hearts were hurt…
I was trying to comb through her hair, but it was no good. Would it be alright to cut the biggest knots off? Go ahead she said, I’m a Round-head! She laughed again, but this time I heard hysterical notes, By Jehovah is my witness are you crying? You cry – it cleans the dust away from your soul.
“I’m so sorry,” I’m not usually like some weak female. She shook herself.
“Let’s start again, Cut it all off, everything. I’ve got a big felt hat somewhere!”.
I suggested we sit outside, so the hair could fall onto the road. Everybody was too busy to take notice 2 old turkeys like us on the side. So that’s exactly what we did, though we forgot there were plenty of ragged kids playing in the street, hanging about doorways of Well Close.
Thomasine was good to them when they asked what we was doing. ‘She said, well if you don’t bloody know we’ll get you some specs! They laughed, we smiled, which made her continue: Or you’ll end up falling off the edge of Wapping wall. And Captain Kidd’ll be waiting for yer…Oh yes I know, used to be like you once upon a time.
‘Nah my dad taught me how to fight with my bare knuckles”. It might help a little but not when some of these Pirates are double the size of your Dad and pick you up, legs kicking fists punching, and no one would save you because they’d be too scared.
Another child, about nine, piped up, my mum said you’re a hoyden – you dress up in men’s breeches. What a strange thing to say, child, I said. You should be careful of what you say out in the street too, they still burn innocent and godly women when they feel like it!
Go on, you’d better go, scallywags. You’re stopping me from getting my work done. Or would you like me to use my clippers on you!
They’ve scattered now! Let’s move out of this cold breeze a bit, and begin – keep your head still. The hair fell in clumps.
Mother said, it was for real and we had to get on with it, and threw me my oldest brother’s clothes onto the bed. “Thomasin! Get out of bed. Put these on and go with your father..” Her fat pregnant belly was all I could see.
“God’s sending us a new baby today, so stick on your big brother’s clothes – it’ll save your clothes from getting torn and dirty”. Of course now when I recollect, she must have been in early pangs of labour, moving around like a cat trying to find her place to birth her kittens.
My brother had been missing a year. We could only think he’d been taken by pirates or the Royal Navy. He mustn’t have been thinking. My Dad said, you’ve got to watch your back at all times…have eyes in the back of your head. I wasn’t too fussed about putting on boy’s clothes, because most people thought I was a boy anyway.
It was the best thing mum ever did for me, though you wouldn’t think so with the way she disowned me when I walked in with a Red coat and soldiers breeches. She was too busy to mind in 1642! Parliament had said we had to fortify from brought us all together. Instead of spitting and taunting to those you took a dislike to, there grew a common desire to be better with each other. Truly, it was a ‘good old cause’!
Our Lord God showed us a different way of doing things better. That mongrel monarch had turned on his own people and were sending Cavaliers down from Oxford to rape, maim and murder us in our poor beds!
Never seen mother so mad. She had a soft spot for aristocracy and the like. I’d see her part of the crowd gettting a look in at the lar-di dah coming out of the Tower in procession to Westminster. I didn’t mind the horses.
The Lord Mayor had sent plans to every Tower Hamlet to fortify against the King’s men as they rode into our Stepney borough. It was hard for us, lowest of the low in the pecking order to think he would obliterate us. That’s why the Preachers told us.
We prayed to God for Mercy alright as we lifted old furniture to barricade the streets. Despicable! I can trust you can’t I? I’m a bit too old in the tooth to be sent to the Tower…
I nodded assuring my Good woman neighbour, by petting my hand on her shoulder. It was twenty more years since the Royal family had been restored after 10 short years of the Republic under Oliver Cromwell, but you could still be thrown to the rats or have your tongue cut out for speaking dissent enough to spread out to the populace.
There was thousands marched past our door with shovels and all sorts. In unison there was music by the bands of the weavers guild, the shoemakers, brewers, Mariners like my Father. The Banners were majestic, ribbons blowing along Whitechapel High Street, all kneeling to be blessed at St. Mary Matfelon all the while poor Mother was atop the kitchen table in child-labour, moaning she was more cursed than Eve herself!
Dear Reader, These are the words I heard and now write down in the hope it will be told and be of use for those historian’s wanting the story of all those who fought for the Commonwealth of England, Ireland and Scotland so they all may prosper under God’s Grace, magnified by their Leader Oliver Cromwell. This story of my next door neighbour, Good Wife Thomasine Clark was given in good faith over the English Spring of 1689. May future generations find pleasure and learning in it, as I did, when she shared it with me. I am a Widow of the late Jacob Cortez, kosher butcher, living here in peace, practising my faith in the Divine as I enter my old age. My husband and I grew up in Amsterdam after our families fled persecution by the Roman Catholics, and it was with great surprise we were allowed to sail to England for a new life as a married couple, free to practice our Jewish heritage and religion without being killed for it. The Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell opened the welcome mat with a firm belief in our people’s abilities to contribute. When Mr and Mrs Clark who live next door to me heard this they were pleased and said it was sad he was now gone only to be replaced by another arse-licker on the throne! I do swear this is an honest record of the lived life of my Good neighbours Clark of Well Close. Thomasine started to spill the beans when she trusted me to pour water through her dirty, knotted dank hair due to neglect caused I believe by a severe disease of melancholy. Like me and most women, she has travelled a long and hard road I have been a witness to untold joys and tragedies in this world. I feel compelled to express my thanks to three honourable men without who I could not be writing this story.First is our Rabbi, second is my husband Jacob Cortez, third is the man who helped us to start a new life without being persecuted for being Jews. God has carried them to a Heavenly place. They deserve the rest! Out of adversity can be an opportunity, so it was for Jacob who chose me as his wife when we were 16years. He started to teach me language of England on the ship. It was of benefit to him, he said that we could read and talk about books when the snow sealed us into our lodgings on many freezing winters when even the Thames River froze over.Words warmed and nourished us. Our families were Sephardic Jews who had sought some safety in the city of Amsterdam. Our fathers said they were blessed finding each other catching fish and started talking. Then it was a double blessing their eldest children wanted to marry each other at 16years.
We all live in Wells Close, off Whitechapel High Street. It is a hovel, but that’s all we can expect. When I asked my neighbour how long she had lived in this neighbourhood – she said All me life – born and bred East London; dragged out and dragged up! and grateful for it. The Tower and the Thames is my map. I’ve been abroad, and God knows I’m tired and staying put. I was born and I’ll die here….at least, thanks to you I’ll have my hair washed and cut to meet my Maker! If you had first saw Thomasine Clark like I did, you may have been shocked by her motley visage, dirty nightie smelling of stale urine, an oversized shifthanging from a skeletal form. She let me wash her hair and was silent, until the last drop was smoothed along her neck-line and she piped up:How on God’s earth did you get a pail of water to wash my hair? I explained I traded in a favour. There was no quarrel with the well-keeper because I kept his wife serene with St. John’s Wort.
Diggin ditches we was! Me too! All in there. We even worked on a Sunday – that was how dire it was. Nobody cared if you were a maiden or lad when Prince Rupert and his Cavaliers was galloping to our City and Liberties to kill us all…That’s what we were told anyways. I put me brother’s breaches on, loose shirt. Nobody knew the difference and the Lord granted me Grace – not to be detected by even the strictest of Puritan folk!
On a Sunday sabbath – oh yes, when there’s evil threats on our bodies we have to abandon the day’s rules.There were thousands marching through the streets proudly walking with their banners of shoemakers, weavers, boatmen – it was like the hard labour was cut in half because everybody was chattering like the birds-I don’t think nobody wanted to talk about the King and what was really going on with his plans to rid the East end of radicals.
And how was your mother in her child labours? I asked, stroking soap scented of geranium to undoe the knots. I guessed it would take all afternoon, so I suggested we sit on the street and enjoy a clay pipe.
It caught us off-guard going out. We had been coseted by the noise and light from the heavy oak door. She moaned and I understood, but saying I could see the tangle of hair better, to undo the knots. For fuck sake, she said, startling me – cut it all off. I’m not vain, and I will put my hat on.
I have never heard anybody swear like this, let alone a woman, but what choice did she have, born amongst sailors, soldiers and sluts. Living was raw and tough, but the attention to her skull had stimulated speech of Poets and Philosophers and the Holy Bible!
He may have hoped the Iberian refugee Jews would convert, but there was no pressure. Overall he was tolerant of the many urges of the Spirit expressed – apart from the Papists of course. May they burn in Hell forever.
It didn’t matter what class of person you were, or girl or boy…we were building forts and trenches against the Royalists. Even my mother volunteered to carry buckets from the well to make the walls, and believe me, that were a pissin’ shock for the old cow!
I must warn the reader or listener to forgive the offensive language of my neighbour. She has grown up around this Port of London hearing the speeches of Pirates and Puritans, then on a fit of passion became as one in the New Model Army. What she witnessed and learned in this revolutionary age I will transcribe to you in this living book under the Divine guidance of our living God amen.
Her request to cut off her hair made me hesitate, but she insisted I cut her like her old Roundhead days that I must say shocked me into submission!
I will wear my big hat to disguise my savage look and none will be the wiser! Yet I will feel good…bless you my dear.
Suggesting we moved closer to the Summer light we manouvered a sheet from under her chin to her feet. Please continue with your memories.
It was God’s Providence John and me was brought together. I had prayed for someone special, who didn’t punch and kick me till I was bruised black and blue, unlike all the other men I witnessed in London! Mother said who did I think I was the Queen of Sheba!
She said, Thomasine, I don’t know a woman in God’s creation who hasn’t had to suffer because of a man, husband or brother.They’re in charge and they won’t let you forget it – my advice to you daughter is acquiese, do your duty to man and to God the Heavenly Father.
They were always coming home from the Tavern with some sot or other, wanting me to flirt and serve him like the whores outside, who at least were honest about it. My folk were just wanting favourable custom when blacksmithy’s were 10 and half a dozen around the Hamlets.
I got out of their way whenever I could, especially when they were yelling and cursing each other. I took the young ones to the Church for peace and quiet.
Psalm 92 fell from my lips, I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.
Mrs. Clark turned to me and said you know that Psalm?
I laughed – It’s from the Old Testament, Tehillim – Psalms…of The Torah – we are made to learn every holy word inside and out. My husband was a kosher butcher but his brother was a Rabbi and we learned a lot when he came to dinner! Bless him.
Did he come to London with you?
No, God wanted him to serve with the angels.
The Jews have angels too, I laughed. Our God is the same God of Abraham, yes?
This woman was like a girl I thought and asked, Where have you been?
Mrs.Clark informed me it was known as the Soldier’s Psalm. They used to sing it every day: I had long ago finished with her hair, and I was collecting dirty rags around the floor and beside the bed.
It is the song of protection we all need. I will give you a rest and I go to my favourite Rag woman in Petticoat Lane and find some new clothes for a lease of life and a new wife! Okay? Don’t worry about the money for now – Trust me I will work it out for you.
As I was about to leave she started to sing very softly, gaining vocal strength as she went Psalm 91:
He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.
3 Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence.
4 He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.
5 Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day;
6 Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.
7 A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.
8 Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked.
9 Because thou hast made the LORD, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation;
10 There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.
11 For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.
12 They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.
13 Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet.
14 Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name.
15 He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and
16 With long life will I satisfy him, and shew him my salvation.
I knew she was on the mend, and the next morning I visit and brought her new skirt to fit properly, such a skinny thing. She was so rushed with emotion when I gave her a vest instead of a bodice like for a small man. Nobody knows what I wear underneath except God and my husband.
And I replied, and it pleaseth them otherwise you wouldn’t have survived. The tears stuck to the corner of her eyes, standing like stuck to the earthen floor. I helped her to the bed before she crumpled.
I can’t pay you, she said, shame faced, but I want to give you this to say thankyou. She paid me with a treasure of hers – The Soldier’s Catechism by Oliver Cromwell. It had been opened, she said but never read as her and Johnny never had the chance to learn how to. It didn’t matter though, because they knew it off by heart from listening to others.
I can read drum notes but not the word of God! He made me a Drummer for my salvation!
I looked at this book, written by the great man himself. Bless you, my dear. In my mind I thought it would be valuable to someone. Would you like me to see if I can trade it for you?
It’s my gift to you she answered for being my Angel!
Si, I understand you. Gracia, and then her godly husband Johnny came in with a plate of oysters – Dig in, he said, then produced a pitcher of ale. The Lord has favoured us this day and we give thanks. Thomasine got up to fetch cups, but I made my excuses. I had done all that I could do, for now.
John looked at the book I was holding. He looked at his wife. She smiled serenely. You sold our medals so I am giving this kind woman my soldier’s creed.
For the first time she asserted her self and sent me from their hovel, dismissed me before I offered to give it back!
I’m not going to argue with you, he cried.
I closed the door behind me and felt pleased, and hungry.
Many, many years ago when great grandmother Kathleen Patricia Clark with an ‘e’ was only a girl of nine years, with tidy orange plaits and hugging a new red coat to her chest, ( a luxury supplied from the Rescue Society for the Protection of Homeless and Friendless Catholic Children), the Priest asked the lady and gentleman to step forward so the children could clap and shout ‘Thankyou and God Bless You’.
Kathleen’s ears pricked up when the woman wished them a safe voyage. What did she mean? She was suspicious.
What did she mean? called out Kathleen, but the Priest disappeared as fast as he appeared, and she was told to shut-up by Sister Ruth. She found out next day when a bus arrived with some new girls coming from other orphanages. Great -Grandma was going on a ship – a very big ship for those post-war years.
There were more adult visitors who told them how lucky they were to be going to another country and to show them what they meant plates of cut orange and apple fruit were put on tables. It was going to be an amazing adventure said one lady in a woolen twin suit and big white handbag, especially going through the Suez Canal.
What was the Suez Canal? Reverend Mother said they wouldn’t be getting off the boat as there were far too many foreign heathens to watch out for two nuns to watch out for!
The children had to pray with gratitude for they had been chosen. Kathleen closed her eyes a bit overwhelmed and excited by another day full of surprises. Going on a holiday, on a ship was something none of them could have predicted. It didn’t take long for the kids to scoff down the fruit. The children’s lives were about to change for ever and they didn’t know why or how.
Mary said it was the miracle of the Pope coming to Birmingham. Yes, the kids from Nazareth House were a bit confused, especially when they were all sent outside into the freezing December concrete play-ground and not allowed to wear their new coats and save it for the trip!
Kathleen was given her mother’s name at birth which was quite common advice to a new mother who couldn’t keep her baby. The baby would at least have her mother’s name, although if parents were found they usually picked a different name…
The nuns said her mother was a fallen woman. Being only seven and the term not being explained to her, Kathleen reasoned her mother had fallen because of all the bombs in the Birmingham Blitz. Hitler’s Nazi’s had left her motherless. No corrected the Priest in Religious Instruction, God punished any girl who went with a man before her wedding day, and that was the God’s honest truth.
She drew a blank when thinking of a father. The girls said if ever she saw a grocer with red hair that would be her father, because his name would be carrots, like her!
The World War had finished in 1945 and by 1950 the British Government and Religious institutions had a well co-ordinated plan to relieve themselves of the burden of all the extra babies conceived during the black-out, when men and women gave in to the desire of joining their sex to another because they might die any minute.
All the rules of courting and waiting to be married before they had sex was liberated by drinking and living life to the full after a 12 hour day at Munitions factories or training to kill the enemy.
Ladywood Palais du Dance was a place of sparking atoms of attraction, illicit contraband and assignations. Condoms to stop pregnancy was hard to get. The contraceptive pill wasn’t ready. There was no such thing as sex education. A stork really did deliver babies like in the Walt Disney film Dumbo, and books were banned which mentioned the facts of life or the explicit nature of the birds and the bees.
So young couples fumbled in the dark, and if mating was successful, it was the woman like Kathleen senior who bore the brunt of being shunned by a cruel society. There was no single parent pensions to help her keep her babies – and many, many men could disappear to wives and war, and be ignorant or bear no obligation for support.
Even if you wanted a choice of abortion it was only available to rich women because it was illegal and in Kathleen’s mother’s case, being brought up by Nuns too, termination of a pregnancy was a grave sin which would send you to Hell, as if War wasn’t Hell enough.
Some Churches like the Roman Catholics and evangelical Protestants can brow-beat and make laws against your reproductive rights in the name of their God. We can murder, and stone to death, bomb and execute with every weapon available, but be autonomous, knowing your own mind and body, and what is best for your life?
In 1950, the consequence was the group of “illigegimate” children looking their best, with the crows beside them(what the girls called the nuns in their black and white habit), found themselves waving from the Sailing Ship Asturius at the Southampton dock.
This policy to send children to populate all the former British colonies was a continued racist ideology to maintain a White Christian Australia. There was a growing need for domestic and general labourers. There was no expectation of having a quality education – basic literacy and religious observations would suffice.
The children were out milking cows, on their knees scrubbing and polishing, ironing and the like and then sent out from 12 years to distant farmsteads to help the wife with her house and kids.
The rhetoric delivered to the good citizens was how good they should feel having room for all these war orphans where they would have much better prospects than staying in the old battered and beaten Mother country.
Suddenly it dawned on Kathleen and the children they were not on a holiday. They were going to stay in the land down under when they disembarked at Sydney and stayed in a hostel overnight before taking the train to their new orphanage called St. Johns in Albury.
The photographer of the local Albury’s Border Mail asked the children to smile instead of looking so sour – but one Sister said it had been a long journey and they would be tired and hungry. Little did he know they had only fully realised this was to be a permanent home. Kathleen folded her arms in a rebellious pose – she wasn’t going to smile for the Nuns or anybody after they had lied to them.
Kathleen was whacked across the head by Sister Mary Bernadette once the photographer had gone and they crossed the threshold to the large wrought iron building, the template for Roman Catholic schools and orphanages across the land, and which the girls would be used as slave labour for the next few years when they were no long wards of the state.
They were told that Almighty God had guided the Catholic Australian Prime Minister Chifley and Minister for Immigration, Calwell to take them where they were wanted, and needed to make the country strong with their hard work and Catholic faith. It was Divine Providence.
So being born recruits to
the British Commonwealth and Catholic Empire, Kathleen decided she had no choice, until she grasped the opportunity to escape the orphanage.
It was a different sort of Ship which our ancestors Thomasine and John Clark travelled on 300 years earlier; they were the pioneer soldiers of England’s standing parliamentary army – the New Model. Westminster had provided a really decent Red Coat and a pair of real quality leather boots.
The new recruits had been warned they would be doing lots of walking – 10 miles a day and in weather that was worse than England. 12 generations past the first professional soldier serving the country was a young woman called Thomasine!
To her Roundhead chums she was a he and his name was Tom, and she had been led to believe all her life in London the Catholics were barbaric, unholy, in fact, they were heretics. No matter that everybody had belonged to the Roman Catholic Church before Henry the eighth created the Church of England, and pillaged, looted and burned every Church and Monastery from Landsend in Cornwall to John O’Groats in Scotland.
In 1649 after years of anti-papist pamphlets of murdering, mutilating and raping of Protestant settlers in Ireland including roasting babies on the spit – they were serving God and Country under the Lord Lieutenant Oliver Cromwell. It was a Crusade – a Divine Calling.
If a wise woman had told the Tom and John that one day their descendents would return to the Roman faith they would have been speechless. Horrified. Accused the woman of being possessed by the devil.
Our Kathleen with her Celtic DNA and Catholic heritage line was passed on through the Mothers, but the Clarks were from London a long way back and they gave in to the anti-papist propaganda over the years of King Henry’s Divine Right to head a Church of England.
Thom and Johnny Clark were assumed to be brothers in arms and by blood. The lads were quietly excited about the mission before them, under the command of Oliver Cromwell. It certainly wasn’t going to be boring like if they stayed at home. They were familiar with the sight of sailing ships coming from the the East End of the Tower where most vessels unloaded their cargo and returned with new goods for trade, from convicts in chains to children picked from the workhouse and streets enticed with sugary sweets and captured for the slave labour of tobacco and sugar plantations of Virginia and Bermudas.
As in the twentieth century, the capitalistic ventures of the powerful few – fused with a moral crusade, manipulating the market and populace to willingly go under the patriotic banner of an avenging, converting Christ as their guiding light.
Thom and Johnny were exemplary Puritan apprentices, well, apart from their transgression of Tom pretending she was a man…
Thomasine couldn’t believe her eyes! Was that her son Billy in the stocks? What the hell…she walked straight up to the poor sod and asked him straight: What have you done?
‘Get out of the way you old whore’ and a mouldy ball of cauliflour hurtled towards her, missing her by an inch. She turned and faced the handful of young lads and growled, ‘ Get ye be gone or I’ll curse God to get ye!’
She picked up the cauli and bruised tomato and potatoes and hurled them back at the boys, catching one on his cheek. He yowled. ‘I’ll do more damage if you don’t scarper!’
Mum….Billy squirmed, ‘leave it alone will yer’.
‘Blimey, I bleeding haven’t seen you for months and I find your ugly mug here! Didn’t your dad and I tell you so many times to keep your head in or you’ll lose it?’
His mother walked over to the notice board which proclaimed her son’s guilt and punishment:
Old Bailey Proceedings, 10th October 1683.
William Clark was Tryed for speaking Seditious Words, viz. That there was no Presbyterian plot, but a Church of England Plot, &c. The which being proved against him by Two Witnesses, he was found Guilty of the Trespass and Misdemeanour.
Thomasine couldn’t read it even if she could of – all a blur to me she said, you blumin’ idiot. As bad as your dad of course, what could I expect? How long have you got to be in here?
‘I dunno, an hour or more.’
‘Alright – I’ll see if I can get you something to keep you going’. William Clark was feeling really sorry for himself, but he made sure he said thanks to his mum. He might have to ask them to pay his fine…but he’d tell them the good news first, the reason why he went out celebrating in the first place, and then he got socked right in the head with a rancid cabbage.
She found her husband at the talking with an old army pal, Shifty Turner. He had an arm missing from a matchlock shot, but otherwise he was good for wear. Hey blimey, sister I didn’t recognise yer without yer men’s clobber on! He put his arms around to greet her like a comrade. People were too busy to notice. John noticed a concerned look though on Thomasine’s face, and excused themselves by saying they’d got a bit of work on, but come on over to Well Street anytime for a brew.
‘What’s up?’ said John.
‘ Billy’s in the fuckin’ pillory! Told him I’d get him a drink – you go and talk to him! He should have learned from watching you when you piss it up, but no, a boy has to be his father, heh?’
John was annoyed at this, but God love her, he could see what she meant;
‘Daft pillock. Look on the bright side, Thom, he could have been put on a boat to the Demon’s land, leaving his family without a man.’ She kissed him on the cheek quick and moved on, looking for something to tide her son over.
Billy cringed. He heard his Dad coming when he heard him telling the young lads to clear off or he’d lop their heads…The battle scars on his face and neck showed up when he was shouting so after a bit of swearing at him and an apple thrown, they backed away.
Hello Billy, how old are yer? Let me guess – you were born 7 th July 1655 a day I’ll never forget and here’s how you end up! And what was the point of it all, so far away from your good wife?
I went for a night on the Strand on a bonus. Celebrate the end of me apprenticeship. The lads said, let’s do something a bit different! Next thing I’m being pulled out by some Beadle telling me he’ll have me in the Tower for mouthing sedition.
What d’you say then, spit it out!
I can’t remember.
John looked out for someone he thought could read, whilst he congratulated his son.
‘Can’t even bloody remember. Well at least they didn’t leave you to rot in Newgate. God’s will be done, son.’
His mother arrived with a notice and said the pamphleteer had told her he had been giving everybody the shits in the tavern, but even more so when he started being an expert on politics, then she swiped him about the head.
‘It’s a little bit of our fault – you probably heard too much when you were a young un.’
Here Pet, I got you this – this will get you through – How long you here – till the sun goes down?
John slipped a coin in his pocket – that’s all I’ve got left so take this and if you get in further trouble send for me. We’re always here for you even when we don’t sees ya.
Come and see us son, and bring the wife and boy.
C’mon let’s not humiliate him any more – we’ll get him going.
Billy took another tomato on the chin. He hadn’t wanted his parents to find out. He should have known they would somehow. They knew everybody in the whole of the Tower Hamlets except the higher-ups of course. Now he would have to tell his Mrs or she’d whip him for finding out from somebody else. Even bloody worse if it came from his mum and dad, as she didn’t care for them, being Republicans and all that.
There was no pleasing everybody in this world. He decided to say the Lord’s Prayer. His back was killing him. His shoulders ached. God was punishing him.
Our Father who art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy name,
Thy Kingdom come. Thy Will be done, on Earth as it is in
As soon as Widow Cortez entered the dark room the smell of urine and musty mould hit her nose. She recognised a situation of neglect. It wasn’t in her nature to make instant judgement but rather choose compassion to well up from a natural spring within her. This well was where she felt her God whose senses were alerted and intent to find out what was wrong, and if it could be fixed.
She left the door wide open to let in the fresh air. Thomasine felt the light and air instantly and her eyes opened to see a female stranger in her doorway. The womanly shape seemed familiar through the fog of her vision. Cortez stepped toward t the double mattress on the floor, looked down to the hunched over, almost foetal frame of this poor lady.
In Thomasine’s mind she conjured incredible speed and energy to grab the musket by her side and on her knees point it at the intruder, who only witnessed this unkempt woman dressed in loose calico stained with spilled food, drinks and possibly excrement grab a musket and point it at her!
“Don’t be alarmed Mrs.Clark, I am Judith Cortez your neighbour and I have come to ask if you are alright?”
“I spoke with your husband, very nice man, a musketeer! very good… He said he was going to pick flowers to mend your aches and pains, si?” Gently, she moved towards the musket laying beside the bedraggled, but still breathing wife, moved it aside and sat down beside her, uncomfortable though it was.
“Is this the weapon from winning the war with Senor Cromwell?
Aah, very special. My husband and I very grateful to him for letting us Jews come here to freedom.”
She noticed Mrs Clark seemed stuck to the spot, and her mind making up it’s mind. The woman spoke with gentle reasurance; ‘Mrs. Clark! It is a beautiful London day and I still make too much food and I am without my husband. I have come to share some special dandelion soup with you…I will help you out of bed to go to the potty then we will sit at the table, si?
Widow Cortez saw this woman was an invalid. She had seen it before, in fact she suffered with melancholy herself, therefore she knew what action to take.
Thomasine wasn’t sure if she was still in a dream state. Her mind was being urged to come out of a deep trance, and pay attention to the voice of this foreigner, and do as she was told. A soft groan released from her throat with the effort of standing.
She wanted to cry with shame as this stranger picked up the pot in the corner, and quickly emptied it out of the open door into the street and place it beside the table. “I will go, and come back, si?” and without really waiting or expecting an answer she told her to take her time, she would be back with a hot bowl of soup.
“I will be back as soon as you say Oliver Cromwell!” laughed the Jewess.
Thomasine was raising her dress but when she heard that name her finger went to her shut lips quickly to warn the woman. “Yes you are right Mrs. Clark..it is London 1689 and we watch words we speak – I’ll be back by the time you can say Jack Robinson!’
Suddenly she picked up some words to throw at her neigbour which made her step backwards and listen further “We knew Sir John… Robinson – he gave Johnny a job at the Tower.” She was still thinking on this statement when her neighbour returned with a beaker, two mugs and spoons.
Thomasine raised herself slowly, moving the pot back to the corner, wiping her hands down her dress as the smell of hot broth seduced her nostrils and she salivated for the first time in days. Ever since the pork sausage.
This new character pouring soup into a mug made her think of Judith from the Bible. Judith who she had heard about in the women’s tent at the Battle of Worcester. Absorbed by the fact God had brought an Angel to her home, she took the spoon and started to sip.
Judith Cortez offered her the recipe and some Jewish bread -“make you strong – we are survivors, si? – You can get everything you need at Spitfield markets…quarter of chick-peas, quarter white beans, corned meat, beef sausage, garlic, tomato, cumin spice, potatoes and dandelion bunch.
Yes, survivors, the fragile Thomasine thought to herself. She sure didn’t know what the other things were.
Thomasine Clark felt so old, and wouldn’t survive for much longer…after all she had marched, after surviving ten mile marches every day along dirt and stony roads, in mud and shit, days on end. Bleeding feet – and battle smoke, drum at her hip..She mumbled into her soup;”Wars, plague, the fire, she said, “misery on earth – only God knows why.”
The Jewess poured what was left into her charges plate, then proceeded to pull the bed covers away. “You need to come and sit outside for the sun shine and I can get a friend nearby to takeyour laundry. I have good clothes for you. It’s my job. Something right for you. Don’t say anything – it is my business to make you better- back to normal self.
Thomasine knew it was no use resisting – she’d met women like her before. Big hearts. Open minds. A tear formed when she saw an image of the army camp’s woman of many talents, who everybody called Queen Matilda. She had the answer for everything. If it hadn’t been for Queenie she would have been sprung and had to go home. Instead she fought in the most important battles at Dunbar, and Worcester, and not forgetting the necessary conquering of the Irish Papists, in 1649.
It had been her and Johnnie’s first adventure together after their army training at the old artillery ground. The tears dripped uncontrollably down her face, and the Jewess instinctively was at her side, no talking, holding her, patting like a mother or an aunt.
For the first time in a month Judith Cortez felt useful again. She was only doing what kindness had been shown to her when she needed it most. The Jewish community had set up a charity, Hebra to visit the sick. It occurred to her to ask the Rabbi if she would get paid for doing such a job.
When John Clark pushed the door open and saw his wife sitting up in bed he was overcome with spontaneous jerky, drunk movements. “Honey sweet”, you are up!”
He looked around. There was something different…He crashed to his knees at the side of her, and she smiled. His wife certainly looked different, almost back to her old self and then she told him, “An angel came to help me.”
“Oh mate, that’s fuckin’ great – which one?” He was joking. She was serious.
“A Hebrew one!” and Thomasine slid under the new sheet. She sighed, and she’s cleaning my red coat!”
John Clark was nodding and nodding off. He had an inkling who she walking about, but it had been a long day. He’d tell his Mrs. all about it tomorrow. He kissed her on the nose. “Glad you’re getting better. I lost the bag of ragweeds.”
“Must have got lost at the fair heh?” He heard her laugh. That was good news, really good new – they could go together, go and see a puppet show, get pissed together again.”
Then it clicked, Thomasine had a hair cut! He’d compliment her in the morning, and more…
The Jewish woman from two doors down in the Well Street tenement was sweeping the right-of-way and saw John Clark carefully close the latch on his dwelling, and when he stepped away and drew near she smiled playfully, stood to attention with her broom.
The sun was shining from behind the clouds for a change. It cheered John enough to acknowledge his neighbour with a salute. Ever since she had got out of him he was a Private in the New Model Army the sun could shine out of his arse!
It was gratitude to the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell for re-admitting the Jews. He told her it had nothing to do with him, but it didn’t matter. It was a bit of a laugh.
It was the height of Summer, 1690 and John Clark still felt it prudent he and his wife keep quiet about their role in the Civil War.
Mr. Clark, she said, going out dancing today? Spontaneously he raised his hand and combed his mop of red hair with his stubby fingers. You watch those ladies at St. Bartholomew Fair!
He couldn’t help but smile at her Portugese pronunciations. You couldn’t hide from a woman like Widow Cortez. She collected clothes and rags of any kind, hats, gloves anything in fact – to survive. See you there then!
The Cloth Fair at St. Bart’s had been running since ancient times, and it had reminded him to do what the old Parliamentary officer and apothecary Nick Culpepper had shown them when on the daily 10 miles march, to gathering the blooming rag-weeds along the roadside. They made a salve to ease their aches and pains on the road, and now it eased their arthritic joints.
It was a folk remedy for many of the poor, having various uses of its yellow raggedy daisies and leaves.
Shh! he winked, the Mistress of the house will hear you, and they smiled. Life was good in that very moment. Enough chit chat for now, I have to fresh pick some flowers.
She had seen him putting the sack-cloth bag over his shoulder and the dirty grey linen shirt he wore. She wouldn’t even sell that at the rag market!
The Widow asked where he was going for the flowers, Que? He looked like he needed food not flowers, and then wondered about his wife.
“Never mind, you go now, and I will look up in Monsieur Culpeppers book , si. Raggy weed. I will remember.
John walked away down Well Street into the Close. The Jewess might be able to read a book, but they got his medicine from the man himself.
Goody Cortez returned to sweeping the foot-made pathway and around her door. In she went, briefly to bring an ancient oak chair and sat. Traffic was building. The old man across the street was putting a stool down in front of his door to catch the sun-beams.
For a moment she sighed with the weight of her large breasts bearing down. As soon as she realised the sadness; loss of her family and friends back home in Lisbon, she stood up. How did she survive and arrive with her husband in this cold, grey city and they didn’t? What was it all for? Yes, God only knew.
She believed herself an instrument of the Divine.
She sighed again, deflated by what she called her London limbo…she must check John Clark’s wife if she was living. She had a traditional Sephardic soup tonic plus English herbs gleaned from Mr. Culpepper’s book. His wisdom was English herbs for English people. Pick local as often as practical.
It helped a little with her poor husband, but he still suffered as he wasted away, the same as her teacher apothcary. Both men had died in their 30th years. Her husband was a Kosher butcher – he worked hard for his cousins – a simple loving man who she had to put out of his interminable pain.
Captain Culpepper had a war-wound to complicate his consumption, but at least he went to the other world speedier, where he belonged. She had cooked him a favourite meal – he saw it, but the rice was spat up with blood again. He had moaned with tears from each eye. Then she knew it would be Time to send him home to his Mother.
The candles lit the poky room and she washed him, gently tapping his face with a wet cloth, and a touch of sweet lavender oil. She sung their sacred song, and let him go into a deep sleep even though he coughed it didn’t wake him. She judged the moment when it was time to take the pillow from under his head, and firmly pressed it to squeeze the laboured and torturous breath out of him.
She hoped somebody would do the same for her in the same situation. The next day she donned her black shawl and walked to the Rabbi’s house and inform him the merciful Yahweh had released her good husband from the hellish disease.
Women must sit outside, don’t stay inside on a lovely day like this! Louisa Cortez said with a purposeful lift in her voice. She had knocked on the door hard and many times. Now her dear husband had died so suddenly she had more free time to care for others. Nothing. She laid the linen covered pewter bowl down, so she could lift the latch on the ill-fitting wooden door.
She tried again, calling to the bodily lump under the blanket and what looked like an old army coat placed on top. Yes she was sure this was the right approach as she peered inside the dark room; Hello, anybody home?
Descript : The greater common Ragwort hath many large and long, dark green leaves lying on the ground, very much rent and torn on the sides in many places: from among which rise up sometimes but one, and sometimes two or three square or crested blackish or brownish stalks, three or four feet high, sometimes branched, bearing divers such-like leaves upon them, at several distances upon the top, where it branches forth into many stalks bearing yellow flowers, consisting of divers leaves, set as a pale or border, with a dark yellow thrum in the middle, which do abide a great while, but at last are turned into down, and with the small blackish grey seed, are carried away with the wind. The root is made of many fibres, whereby it is firmly fastened into the ground, and abides many years.It is called also St. James’-wort, and Stagger-wort, and Stammer-wort, and Segrum.
There is another sort thereof differs from the former only in this, that it rises not so high; the leaves are not so finely jagged, nor of so dark a green colour, but rather somewhat whitish, soft and woolly, and the flowers usually paler.
Place : They grow, both of them, wild in pastures, and untilled grounds in many places, and oftentimes both in one field.
Time : They flower in June and July, and the seed is ripe in August.
Government and virtues : Ragwort is under the command of Dame Venus, and cleanses, digests, and discusses. The decoction of the herb is good to wash the mouth or throat that hath ulcers or sores therein: and for swellings, hardness, or imposthumes, for it thoroughly cleanses and heals them; as also the quinsy, and the king’s evil. It helps to stays catarrhs, thin rheums, and defluxions from the head into the eyes, nose, or lungs. The juice is found by experience to be singularly good to heal green wounds, and to cleanse and heal all old and filthy ulcers in the privities, and in other parts of the body, as also inward wounds and ulcers; stays the malignity of fretting and running cankers, and hollow fistulas, not suffering them to spread farther. It is also much commended to help aches and pains either in the fleshy part, or in the nerves and sinews, as also the sciatica, or pain of the hips or knuckle-bone, to bathe the places with the decoction of the herb, or to anoint them with an ointment made of the herb bruised and boiled in old hog’s suet, with some Mastick and Olibanum in powder added unto it after it is strained forth. In Sussex we call it Ragweed.
Widow Cortez had removed the picture from Culpepper’s book, The Complete Herbal. Her husband had bought it for her in their first days of the English Commonwealth. She didn’t have a picture of her husband, but the image gave her comfort, and the fact that both men who had taught her so much about life had died on the same day of the same consumption connected her mutual respect for them into an eternal God-given love.
Thomasine very much wanted to tell her son everything about herself – it was like the open sewer flowing into the Thames outside her door, spewing forth every bit of human waste and rubbish refuse flowing down with Heaven’s release of cleaning rain, making a giant stew in the River Thames diluting out to sea or for monsters to gobble up!
She did amuse herself with her thoughts, and the rhythmic drum in the background. Thrum, bum, bum, bum. Leaned over to the crate next to her bed, another bit of medicine, then she’d get up and see what was going on. Berump bump bump bum bump! Aah..this was good rum.
Martha said she was coming. Reverend Davenant had sent her even though she was a Quaker. He said she could bring what she needed. Food to eat, water, clothes and he’d try and find her son for her. Where was he? He can’t have gone far – she told him, he builds ships not sails them! He’ll be around Southwark somewhere.
What had happened to him, to them? She held onto the chair from her bed – wouldn’t cry over spilt milk. No she still wore the badge of pride and honour, though invisible of serving Parliament. Why had she survived heh? She was adamant to the cleric at St. Mary’s – she needed the woman to bring some paper, something to write with, whatever was best. Did Martha know how to write? He must get somebody to write, why else would she still be here?
She could have died in many a battle but she was saved, every musket shot flew past her! The Lord had filled her with Life. No disrespect but it’s God’s Providence I am here and I can’t die until it’s all on the page to read (even though I can’t read).
In my day it wasn’t the done thing for us common folk. The boys perhaps…not waste time with the girls, but my auntie wasn’t like that. She told me, ‘If I can learn to read then you can learn to read Thomasine’
She tried, but when her father found out she was taking me to learn at Mrs Chidley’s house he forbade me to ever go there – I’d be touched by Satan! It was a wonder she hadn’t been burned already from what he’d heard about her inviting all kinds of demons to wrestle with her in bed.
Auntie said he’d end up in Bedlam. He should be proud of a daughter who could read and write her name. And what else, what else – you can’t trick me. You were Eve at birth and evil in life! My mother stood in the corner away, holding the baby, letting him blow his filthy blacksmith mouth.
She told us kids he was like a big dragon, blowing fire and smoke out of his nostrils, and we should hide. So I didn’t learn to read and write, but that’s okay because the Lord of Hosts had other plans for me – that nobody else would have guessed for a girl!
Martha was on her way. She’d have a clay pipe and relax. She was too tense. And she’d take a sip of that stash inside the pillow slip.
If God hadn’t wanted her to drink it – oh stuff that, it was doing her head in all this thinking. Her mind travelled back to the day she put on that red coat. One of the best moments in her life, so many, ah she had many of those and not…. otherwise what was the point of it all?
She hoped William would think kinder of her and share stories with her grandchild – the Commonwealth was fast fading with the crazy King Charles back in charge. She couldn’t bear to think the children born out of the survivors of the civil wars wouldn’t know what had been suffered by so many. Surely her grandchild had a right to know?
Thomasine lay back on her straw mattress, a slightly drunken skeletal body unsure whether it was time to cark it.
Martha came through the door of the hovel, with the Jewess from the second floor. God sent me a premonition Widow Clark. You are to be kept alive for a bit longer by my beautiful soup!
Thomasine found it difficult to sit up so Martha went over to lift her. I’ve bought you a warm jacket. It’s getting colder. I need socks. My feet are frozen. Yes of course, look at them – bare, she touched them, like frozen blocks. She took them and quickly rubbed them between her large hands.
Thomasine was in shock, watching her feet being rubbed and prodded with thumbs and fingers. The jewess brought her over to the table, sat her on the chair with the bowl of soup in front of her. She sat on her bed!
I’m not going to steal your spoon you know. The woman laughed. No, of course not. I want to hear some of your story about London before we arrived. What were you fighting for?
Our King, our own King was going to murder us all, Thomasine said, Oh believe it, when I was a 12 year old, it didn’t matter what class of person you were, girl or boy, we were building forts and trenches against the Royalists. Even my mother who spent a lot of time inside carried buckets from the well to make the walls.
My father said for those in his occupation of blacksmith, war was his busiest time and even needed to get a new apprentice. You name it, he made it. Musket bits and balls, swords, more of it – hardly saw him he was in the workshop and mother was happy he was too tired to have his way with her.
Shall we start then, said Martha opening a little porcelain ink well and dipping the nib. Thomasine clenched her lips before saying I can’t tell him everything, can I? There are some things a child, even if he is a man with a wife of his own, there are some things he wouldn’t want to know about his mother?
The two women looked quizically at this frail aged, rickety woman at the table thinking out-loud. They were curious: you can always cross out what you don’t want him to read, but it is up to you – follow your inner light, my dear, that’s what the Society of Friends are all about!
How are you son? It’s been a long time since you managed to come and visit your old mum, and it’s been a bit of a palava for me to get around like I used to. God has granted me some time to speak to you with the help of a Friend.
Martha is an Angel to me, but she won’t have it. She’s promised to take down everything I say so that you know the true picture of where you come from and who. We are not very grand people, not ruthless enough for that, but we’re smart enough. Like my Friend Martha, there is a Light within which seems to get us through the almighty tests in Life.
Soon, my journey will be over and I can join your father and Our Father who art in Heaven. Amen.
I hope you won’t be too upset and shocked by what I will tell you. I never learned to write and read myself – didn’t have the patience, and my parents didn’t put a thought to it, except when they found out our Eve was learning. They was a bit scared of her – maybe she was a witch, but she wasn’t. Not a bit. Satan couldn’t get near her.
Strangely God did guide me to the art of the Drum, though I had to be undercover – nobody could discover I was a girl or I could have been hung.
Nobody could know – even the Lord Protector Cromwell himself didn’t have a clue that under the breeches and red-coat was a skinny wench with a couple of bumps. I’ll tell you how I hid my real person amongst the roughest of men later on.
It was enough for me our great General kept me learning and drumming the New Model soldiers to defeat the forces of the King. Your daddy was a little jealous I could communicate with our Godly General and eventual conqueror of the Irish papists and Scottish non-conformists. He couldn’t keep an eye on me and protect me himself he said.
He knew I was a natural, and it must have come about by God’s Providence.
Your great Aunt Eve had a talent with Midwifery. She learned her letters and numbers from the Lillburn and Chidley crowd, in exchange for delivery a baby! Apart from the famous Midwife Jane who wrote a whole book, our Aunty Eve was very popular.
Including bringing you Will safely into the world – oh yes – she got a shock when she got the call from John, how we were billeted at the Three Hammers in East Smithfield. The family all thought I was dead you see, or kidnapped – as when mum sent a brother to look for me I was usually on a stack of corn sacks watching the goings on.
They just thought I was a boy! It was those early days keeping out of the house I got the idea to put on my brother’s breeches but I still kept out of people’s way. I’ve seen some sights and thats why I want to tell them to you – you’re my only flesh and blood.
Will, before I forget, in case the Lord takes me when I’m not looking, I’ve asked My Friend, she’s a Widow like me to take you this letter so you know I’ve always loved you, pet, and I’m sorry if I’ve ever caused you distress but you might be best to bury this letter with me as I’d hate to think you were found treasonous by having it.
My arthritis is giving me pain in all me joints…knees particularly bad …and shoulders -even if I could write I couldn’t because my hands are all knarled and bumpy like a thousand year old tree, and I feel that old too. The things I’ve seen I wish I could have told you in person. I told you some stories before you was apprenticed. Do you remember any of them?
Your dad thought the world of you and wanted you to be able to support yourself and a family. The civil wars affected him more than he or I admitted to ourselves and I think you felt it but would not have understood it. (Sigh)
I have to spit it out now, clear my chest – was that you in the stocks at Smithfield market? I was gonna come up and say something but I didn’t want to embarass you!
You wouldn’t have recognised me as I was covered in a head shawl but I found out – Gawd, typical like your old man, gift of the gab when you are drinking. Haven’t you got anybody to take you home. It’s always dangerous times for people like us.
I prayed and hoped you’d not take to the cursed drink but there you are, like father like son. I’d still like you to come and visit your old mum before I goes. Even if you are bruised and battered by old fruit and veg they threw at you. Listen to your old mum, if you’re going to have a drink – do it at home with a pal. Keep out of trouble and have a peaceful life.
From your Mother. Thomasina Clark
Silly me, I forgot to tell you the real reason I’m writing to yer…I’m thinking of you when I’m crook, laid out on my bed thinking this is it. I can lie in my bed and have me memories in my head, but what use is that if you don’t know your own mother and father? and the grandchildren haven’t any stories about us, where we lived, what we did with our lives?
Your father and I were going to tell you one day about our soldiering days together, and then before I knows it he’s dead and I’m in grief, could have thrown myself in the Thames, but I didn’t of course, because I had you to think of, leaving something of your dad and me to keep and pass on.
Will. Woah, did I get a shock the day you were born… I’ll tell you now as the Lord has granted us this time. I bet you’re wanting to know what I mean by soldiering days? Well it wasn’t that I was one of them camp followers, it was because I couldn’t bear to be apart from him that I joined up with him as a brother! Yes.
(Widow Clark is hysterical with her memories). She has asked me to tell you that your birth and baptism record is at St. Botolph without Aldgate. It was July 1655.
Will, as God is my witness these are not the ravings of a mad woman. Yes, I dressed as a boy as God is my witness and I am sure His Providence did guide me into training with the New Model Army. It was 1649. You might think I’m making it up, but I will prove it to you.
give my best wishes to your wife and children. Mum.
Before the building of the Brutalist Barbican in the 1960’s, before the bombings by the Nazi’s in the second world war, there was a famous poet called John Milton who thrived in the early modern life of London.
On the 28th of October 1647 our famous resident of Bread Street had woken, sat on the edge of his bed and pissed in the pot, his head and body ached again even though he had slept deep.
He lay back again on his pillow, eyes closed and prayed: If it pleases you my Heavenly Father, relieve this pain and torment of my flesh. My dad is dead, and in the arms of the angels on his way to you, dear Heavenly Father. Milton swung himself over to the side of the bed in his white nightie, sat with his head drooped.
Every morning it had been like this. He would send for John Culpeper then knelt on the ground, his socks slipping over his soft white heels. Dear God, I am ashamed with a lustful desire for that woman! His damned prick was up again, and he moaned in agony of it, not any joy.
Next he lay on the bare boards in a grovelling movement, like a serpent. A Sinner he was, and at last John relieved his physical torment and put his mind at ease. Why would God create Man to suffer the agony and ecstacy of longing and needing?
He made his mind up to consult Culpeper. There must be a beneficial herb for this inflamed humour. He couldn’t understand why he was needing this particular woman – Eve. Midwife Eve.
The tortured poet, John Milton no longer beside himself with fear and anxiety in conflict between his religious and physical desires, grabbed his porcelain pot from under the bed and filled it to the very edge.
To modern day scholars the years between 1646 and 1648 were surprisingly quiet for John Milton. He was known as a prolific political pamphleteer and poet; his essays Of Education, and provocative divorce articles were still being discussed but he was not responding.
London was rife with political activity and constitutional disturbances after the civil war, and John Milton, avid writer and polemicist did not even have many notes in his commonplace book. This is why I can fill the gap, like a spiritual medium, I am living beside and above him in his bedroom at Bread Street.
It wouldn’t surprise me, this Head of household was kidnapped by Melancholy. His father, John Milton senior had died on the 15th March 1647 and it was hard to shake away the grief. The son was a very near replica and thanks to John seniors work and prosperity had enabled his children to have the opportunity to achieve their potential through a classical education.
What would have his father said to the mourning son who was prostate on the bed, then on the wooden floor in his dressing gown? John pulled his sock up and sat in his reading chair, opened his Bible and read from the teacher
1To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: 2A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
3A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
No! He didn’t like that one…why, a time to hate, why a time of war?
Oh dear…He really didn’t want his mind to think on the thousands of bodies, lives of good, honest men women and children exterminated. Of course others like him could bear it with detachment and went out of their way to get to an execution, the body hung drawn and quartered, dogs hungering for intestinal scraps.
His mother had said he was a sensitive soul.
John pushed himself up with his hands and plonked himself in his arm chair. Opened his Bible to the place and read silently, the power of the words striking a chord in his soul:
9What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth? 10I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it.
11He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.
12I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life. 13And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God. 14I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before him. 15That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past.
16And moreover I saw under the sun the place of judgment, that wickedness was there; and the place of righteousness, that iniquity was there. 17I said in mine heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked: for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work. 18I said in mine heart concerning the estate of the sons of men, that God might manifest them, and that they might see that they themselves are beasts. 19For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. 20All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. 21Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth? 22Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?
John thought, it is true. This is the eternal truth!
He required a mug of hot tea.
And wouldn’t you know it – there was a knock on the door and his maidservant opened it with tray of beverages and breakfast. Dear merciful, mighty God, he laughed loud.
“I heard you were up” she said, “it’s not like you to sleep in. I’m glad you are up. I’ll get a pitcher of water to wash sir”.
The boy with the newsbooks had been already. He read whist supping tea and breaking bread. He must really go out. He couldn’t miss the most important event now occurring in London with the New Model Army camped at Putney Church. Anyone who was anyone would be there to debate the very future of their country.
He had to be a part of it, but he wasn’t sure what yet. John was feeling much better, until his maid came in for the tray and said his wife had requested he visit her in the day room.
His wife was on her knees playing with the child when he walked in; Good morning good lady. It is a fine morning and I will find transport to take me to the Putney debates. Cromwell, and Fairfax – all the Generals shall be there discussing a new Constitution.
She was hoping they could go out together but she mustn’t complain. Her godly husband was ever so tolerant of her family staying in the house getting on his nerves.
I understand, she said.
It will be a long day and I will most likely eat out. He went over to her and bent to kiss her, on the head. No matter how hard he tried there was still an emotional rift between them.