Simeon Conquers York

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It has been some time since Simeon the red-haired gibbon (toffee-coloured, if you please) has had an adventure. After months of self-isolation, Simeon braved the outdoors, travelling 200 miles from London to York, the city of Romans, Vikings and Chocolate. Known for its city walls and magnificent Minster, York is situated on two rivers, the Ouse and the Foss, and was founded in around 71 AD. With so much history, York was the perfect city for Simeon to explore and he would love to tell you all about it.

Day One

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Having left London at precisely 6:06 am, Simeon arrived at Ebor Cottage, York around 10:30 am (he stopped on the way for breakfast, naturally). The cottage gets its name from Eboracum, the name the Roman’s gave the city when they arrived in 71 AD, which possibly means “place of the yew trees”. Before the Roman conquest of Britain, the area was inhabited by a tribe called the Brigantes, a name which translates into contemporary English as “highlanders”. The Brigantes were unhappy about their land being taken by the Romans, who had built a wooden fortress and surrounded it with stone walls, however, it was not until AD 306 that they retaliated.

The Brigantes were temporarily subdued by Roman Emperor Constantius Chlorus (c205-306) and his son Constantine (272-337), however, victory did not come without a price. Constantius Chlorus was fatally wounded in battle and passed away in his headquarters at Eboracum. His son immediately seized power, becoming Emperor on what is now the site of York Minster. Constantine I, also known as Constantine the Great, was the first Christian emperor of Rome and brought Christianity to Western Europe.

It did not take Simeon long to unpack his bags before he was racing off to the city centre. What better way to see the city than on a City Sightseeing bus? The open-topped bus took Simeon on a circular route around the city of York, telling him about all the sites and places to visit. Afterwards, Simeon decided to explore some of the city by himself, walking the remaining Roman walls, visiting the many gates and “bars”. The bars are actually gateways to the city that were built into the walls. The gates, on the other hand, are the streets. The term comes from the Old Norse word “gata”, which means “road” or “path”.

The bus tour began in Exhibition Square in front of York Art Gallery. Here, Simeon resisted the temptation to play in the fountains by the statue of William Etty (1787-1849), a member of the Royal Academy of Arts who was born in York. Next door is a grand building called the King’s Manor, where Charles I (1600-49) set up his headquarters during the English Civil War. On the other side of the road is Bootham Bar, one of the four main entrances to the medieval city and the oldest gateway in York dating back to the 11th century. The other bars are Monk, Walmgate and Micklegate.

Monk Bar was built in the 14th and 15th century and now houses the Richard III Experience. The second storey was added by Richard III (1452-85) in 1484. It features a portcullis, which is no longer used, and a series of holes in the walls from which guards could drop missiles onto attackers. Stone figures have been added to the top of the building to represent men throwing boulders onto their victims below. During its history, Monk Bar has been used as a prison and a police station and boasts two garderobes (medieval toilets).

Walmgate Bar is the most complete of the four bars and dates to around the 12th century, although it has had many additions over the centuries. The arch is the oldest part but the portcullis and gates are from the 15th century. The century before, a Barbican (extended wall) was built in front of the Bar. This meant attackers had to get through two gates before entering the city. Damages from cannonballs can still be seen on some parts of the Bar from the time the city was besieged by Parliamentarians in 1644.

“Off with his head and set it on York gates; so York may overlook the town of York.”
– Queen Mary in Shakespeare’s Henry VI

Micklegate Bar was once the most important of York’s gateways. At three storeys high, it was the place where severed heads of traitors were displayed on pikes and pecked at by crows. Sometimes, rotten heads were left up there for almost a decade. Despite its gruesome history, Micklegate Bar was the traditional entry for royalty, dignitaries and important visitors. They could not enter without permission and this rule is still in place today. If the current monarch wishes to enter the city through Micklegate Bar, they must first receive permission from the Lord Mayor of York.

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Clifford’s Tower

The bus took Simeon past lots of interesting places, some ancient, some old and some new-ish. After William the Conqueror (1028-87) invaded York, he built a wooden castle on a raised mound in 1068. Of course, a wooden structure would not last forever, so 200 years later Henry III (1207-72) replaced it with a stone castle, of which one tower remains today. Simeon got a good view of this structure, known as Clifford’s Tower, which was built between 1244 and 1270.

Clifford’s Tower is usually open to the public, however, due to lockdown restrictions, it was closed when Simeon visited. Luckily, the bus tour was able to tell Simeon a little about it. Known by the locals as the “Eye of York”, the 15-metre high building stands on a conical mound and provides stunning views across the city. It contains two floors, the top which once included a chapel and private apartments, however, it is now mostly roofless. At first glance, the tower may appear to be round, however, it was actually built in a quadrilobate design made up of four round bastions and two turrets.

The bus continued on past the War Memorial Gardens, which are relatively new in comparison to the majority of York. The garden was first opened in 1925 to commemorate those who lost their lives in the Great War. In the centre stands a war memorial designed by Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944) and other memorials have been added since to commemorate the Second World War and the Korean War.

Another garden allegedly contains the grave of Dick Turpin (1705-39): “Richard Palmer alias Richard Turpin, notorious highwayman and horse stealer. Executed at Tyburn, April 7th 1739″. Dick Turpin was an infamous highwayman from Essex who fled to York under the pseudonym John Palmer. After a fight with a local man, his true identity was revealed and he was hung in the Knavesmire, a marshy area outside of the city walls. Many now believe Turpin’s body does not lie under the gravestone in York, however, others have recorded paranormal activity in the area. Simeon decided not to visit the gravestone and peered at it nervously from the bus in case he saw the rumoured ghostly figure on horseback.

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After Simeon’s bus journey came to an end, he was eager to explore some of the sights and immediately rushed up the steps at Botham Bar to walk along the Roman walls. Walking where the Romans once trod, Simeon came across some of the places he saw from the bus plus several other places.

The walls do not encircle the whole of York because the River Foss and the boggy land made some areas impenetrable. At the beginning of the 14th century, however, a bridge known as Layerthorpe Bridge was built across the river to increase trade. Those who crossed the bridge were required to pay a toll. It was eventually demolished and replaced in 1996 by two bridges that are used today.

The area surrounding the location of Layerthorpe Bridge has become known as Jewbury due to a Jewish cemetery that once stood there. In the 12th century, York had the largest Jewish community in England, however, in 1190 many of the Jews were forced to take their own lives at Clifford’s Tower. Later, in 1290, the remaining Jews were expelled from England by Edward I (1239-1307).

Later, Simeon came across Fishergate while walking along the wall. Whilst it was not one of the original bars, the gateway was added in medieval times. Inscribed above the central arch is the commemoration of the knighthood bestowed by Henry VII (1457-1509) in 1487 upon William Todd, the Lord Mayor of York. The tower above the gateway was used as a place to imprison Roman Catholics during the reigns of Elizabeth I (1533-1603) and James I (1566-1625). It was also briefly used as a place to incarcerate the mentally ill.

By this point in Simeon’s journey, he was feeling rather worn out and decided not to walk the remaining parts of the wall. This may also have been because he had spied The Postern Gate, a pub built next to the Fishergate Postern medieval tower!

Day Two

More exploring was on the cards for Simeon, this time with the help of a York Minster Area Trail put together by Treasure Trails. The trail contained 19 clues that led Simeon around York, solving hints to work out who murdered the (fictional) novice campanologist, Terry Bell. Along the way, Simeon learnt even more about the City of York.

The York Minster Area Trail began beside a Roman column that once stood in the great hall of an ancient fortress. When the building was destroyed, the column was buried, which preserved it until 1969 when it was eventually found. The trail then led Simeon to Dean’s Park where he met Gerald the Minster Cat along the way. Gerald suggested Simeon look for clues in small places, so he did, including inside a post box! Gerald warned Simeon not to appear suspicious because York Minster has its own police force. Gerald also told Simeon the Minster’s full name is the Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St. Peter in York.

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As Simeon rapidly crossed off his list of suspects, he ventured down many interestingly named streets: Chapter House Street, St. Saviourgate, Swinegate and Coffee Yard to name a few. Simeon’s favourite street, however, was Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate. Ironically, this is the name of the shortest street in York and only contains three buildings: 1, 1a and 1 1/2. It was first recorded in 1505 as Whitnourwhatnourgate, meaning “Neither whit nor what street” or “Neither one thing nor the other”. The locals, however, claim it means “What a street!”

Simeon’s second favourite street is actually the most famous in York. The Shambles, which has been taken over by Harry Potter shops, is a very narrow street that gets its name from the Anglo-Saxon Fleshammels, meaning “flesh-shelves”, due to the number of butchers that once traded there. Some of the shops still have the hooks or “shammels” upon which meat was displayed.

Despite being the best-preserved medieval street in England, literature and film fans have likened the street to Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter stories by J. K. Rowling (b.1965). Some claim the street was actually the inspiration for the fictional alley, however, the author denies this and states she has never visited The Shambles. Nonetheless, Harry Potter fans have moved in, opening shops such as The Shop That Must Not Be Named, World of Wizardry, The Boy Wizard and The Potions Cauldron. Fortunately, the street still contains a few of the more traditional shops selling clothes, sweets, fudge, accessories and gifts.

Partway down The Shambles is a shrine dedicated to Saint Margaret Clitherow. Also known as “the pearl of York”, Margaret Clitherow (1556-85) was a butcher’s wife who converted to Catholicism in 1574 at a time when it was banned in England. Despite being fined and imprisoned multiple times by the Church of England for not attending Sunday services, Clitherow maintained her Catholic faith, celebrating mass in a rented house. She allegedly helped to hide some of the priests who were being persecuted, for which she was arrested in 1585. Refusing to plead neither guilty nor innocent, Clitherow was tortured then executed on Good Friday by being crushed to death by a door. This was a form of peine forte et dure (hard and forceful punishment) given to those who refused to plead in which the defendant was slowly crushed by a gradual accumulation of heavy stones or weights upon their body.

Margaret Clitherow was one of a few notable names Simeon came across while searching for the murderer of (fictional) Terry Bell. While walking down Stonegate, Simeon came across the house in which the infamous Guido “Guy” Fawkes (1570-1606) was born. His date of birth is not known, however, records reveal Fawkes was baptised on 13th April 1570 at St Michael le Belfry church in York. He attended St Peter’s School but left the city when he was 21 to fight in the Catholic Spanish army. When he returned to England he went straight to London to help plot the murder of James I. As the majority know, Fawkes was caught with several barrels of gunpowder in the cellar under parliament, after which he was arrested and hung, drawn and quartered.

Other names that cropped up during Simeon’s search of the city included George Hudson (1800-71) the Lord Mayor of York known as the “Railway King” for bringing the railway to York, and Yorkshireman Miles Coverdale (1488-1569), later the Bishop of Exeter, who published the first complete printed English Bible in 1535. Simeon found the location of the first Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in York where John Wesley (1703-91) conducted the opening service on Sunday 15th July 1759.

After two hours of deciphering clues, Simeon had solved the murder mystery. As a reward, he treated himself to a Yorkshire pudding at newly opened restaurant Forest.

Day Three

Simeon was not overly impressed with the downpour he woke up to but at least the York Minster, which he intended to visit would have a roof. York Minster, however, had not always been the stable building that it is now. Foundations under the building, which can be seen in the undercroft, date from around AD71 and once belonged to a Roman Fortress, which was later destroyed. It was some time before Christianity arrived in York and the first known Church on or near the site was a wooden structure erected around AD627 and was the location of the baptism of King Edwin (586-633) when he converted to Christianity. The wooden building was soon replaced with a stone version, where King Edwin was buried in AD633, however, it was destroyed by William the Conqueror’s forces in 1069.

Despite having destroyed the first stone church, William the Conqueror gave the Archbishop of York, Thomas of Bayeux (d.1100), permission to build a new church on the Roman foundations. Over the following 250 years, the church was added to by various kings and archbishops, which explains the differences in architectural styles. The original tower collapsed in 1407 and a stronger one built, therefore, the Minster was not consecrated until 3rd July 1472. Future disasters destroyed parts of the Minster, such as fires in 1829 and 1840, and subsidence in 1967, however, rescue missions have saved the Minster, which still stands in all its beauty.

“The Minster is a symphony in stone.”
– John David, Master Mason

As Simeon entered the Minster, his breath was taken away by the enormity of the Gothic Nave. Staring up at the ceiling, Simeon spotted the seven key ceiling bosses that the Victorians recreated after the loss of the original ceiling. Each boss illustrates an event in the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary. Simeon was a little disconcerted by the golden dragon head that peers down into the Nave. No one knows its true purpose but some suggest it may have been used to lift up a heavy font lid.

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The Nave can fit up to 1,500 people, however, on Simeon’s visit, only a few people were allowed to enter at a time. The lack of crowds made it easier for Simeon to study the building carefully, which is when he discovered a series of headless statues on either side of the west entrance. “What a strange sight,” thought Simeon. “Their heads have fallen off.” Their heads, however, had not fallen off, they had been purposefully made without them.

During the Reformation, the Minster was purged of any traces of Roman Catholicism, which resulted in the decapitation of several statues. To symbolise this event, twelve headless statues were created in 2005 by Terry Hammill (b.1941) and are known as the “Semaphore Saints”. Each statue signs a different letter and when placed together, they read “Christ is here”.

Due to repair works, Simeon could not enter the northern sections of the Minster, nor could he see the great organ and its 5,403 pipes, which were hidden by scaffolding. Social distancing prevented Simeon from climbing the tall tower, however, he did not mind too much because he was so busy marvelling at the many stained glass windows. In the Nave, Simeon enjoyed studying the Tree of Jesse Window, which shows the genealogy of Jesus. Simeon’s favourite window, however, was in the Lady Chapel.

Source: Smithsonian Magazine

Great East Window

The Great East Window was created between 1405-8 by John Thornton (c1385- after 1433) for a fee of £46 and tells the story of the world from its beginning as told in the Book of Genesis, to its end as told in Revelations. Simeon could not see from standing on the ground, but the top piece of glass depicts God with the words “Ego sum Alpha et Omega“, which means “I am Alpha and Omega of all things”. A guide showed a close up of the glass on a tablet and pointed out the amusing graffiti left by conservators that read “top, centre” as though they would forget where it goes! It took conservators 92,400 hours to clean and protect all 311 glass panels.

Descending underground, Simeon braved the crypt, which contained some of the original Norman architecture. A disconcerting doomstone showed a carving of Hell in which lost souls were being pushed into a cauldron and boiled alive by demons. Needless to say, Simeon did not stay down there for long.

Before leaving the Minster, Simeon spent some time in the South Transept, which is the oldest part of the present building. Ironically, it has the newest roof because its old roof was destroyed when it was struck by lightning in 1984. Four years later, the roof had been rebuilt and Blue Peter set up a competition for children to design six of the new bosses on the theme of important events of the 20th century. The winning designs include the moon landing and the raising of Henry VIII’s (1419-1547) ship the Mary Rose. Another of the bosses, although not one of the competition entries, represents the nursery rhyme, Jack and Jill. Simeon was slightly disappointed that his favourite song, Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, was not featured.

The round window in the South Transept dates back to 1250, however, the stained glass was installed in 1515. Made up of a pattern of red and white roses, the window commemorated the union of the House of Lancaster and the House of York through the marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York (1466-1503). Strangely, the window features the red roses of Lancaster and the red and white Tudor rose, however, there are no white York roses. Miraculously, the Rose Window survived the lightning strike of 1984, however, it suffered 40,000 cracks in 8,000 pieces of glass. It would have been impossible to replace every panel of 16th-century glass, therefore, a special resin was produced to seal each crack.

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The wet weather put a bit of a damper on the rest of Simeon’s day, so to avoid the raindrops, he took the opportunity to explore a few shops, including those in the Shambles. Being a little gibbon with short legs, however, meant Simeon soon tired and needed refreshments. Fortunately, a stone’s throw away from Lendal bridge where Simeon had found himself, was a French Bistro called Rustique, where Simeon enjoyed steak and chips.

Day Four

From the moment he arrived in York, Simeon was keen to meet the Vikings and he finally got a chance at the Jorvik Viking Centre near Coppergate Shopping Centre. Jorvik (YOR-vik) was the name the Vikings gave to the city, from which the name York developed. In fact, the Vikings are responsible for my place names in Britain. The suffix -ness, for example, means headland, and -by means village or farm, as in Whitby: “white farm”.

Upon arriving at Jorvik, Simeon was ushered down a set of stairs, 9 metres underground to where the Viking street level once was. Years of debris and rubbish has caused the ground level to rise, however, this has been beneficial as the waterlogged soil helped to preserve the Viking village, which otherwise would have rotted to dust. Under a glass floor are the remains of two houses, which were discovered when foundations were being built for the shopping centre. Whilst the houses seem quite small, even to Simeon, they would have been the homes of large, extended families.

Formerly the Anglo-Saxon capital of Northumbria, York/Jorvik was captured by the Vikings in AD866. Under Viking rule, the city expanded and became a populous trading centre where many came to work or settle. The Vikings remained the rulers of Jorvik until AD954 when the Norwegian leader Eric Bloodaxe (885-954) was exiled from the land and possibly assassinated. Back under Anglo-Saxon control, York continued to develop, eventually becoming one of the largest cities in the new kingdom, England.

After a brief talk from a Viking (the face mask made his costume seem less authentic but Simeon did not mind), Simeon boarded the Ride Experience for a journey through a recreated Viking village featuring realistic, moving models, sounds and smells. The audio guide explained to Simeon that the Vikings arrived by sea from Scandinavia bringing with them all sorts of goods to trade, including animal pelts, whalebone and amber.

Simeon was a little concerned to see a woman tied up and even more perturbed to learn this was a common scene in Viking areas. When Vikings raided a village, they often took people captive as slaves. This woman, called Brónach, was captured in Ireland and was being taken to market to be sold. The market also sold food, including meat and fruit, clothes, and animals. Most people worked from their houses and Simeon passed a blacksmith, a cobbler, a weaver and a fisherman on his journey around the village.

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© 2012-2020 York Archaeological Trust

Whilst travelling through the market, Simeon saw a disabled lady trying to cross the road. Initially mistaking her for an elderly woman with a crutch, Simeon learnt the lady was called Leoba and moved to Jorvik when she was young. Now aged 46, which was quite old at that time, her health was beginning to deteriorate. Modelled on a skeleton that was discovered under Coppergate, Leoba had defects in her hip, knee and spine, which caused her to walk with a limp. At 5 ft 2in tall, Leoba had a widespread degenerative joint disease and traces of lead and strontium have been found on her skeleton.

Leoba was not the only Viking suffering from a physical condition that Simeon met on his trip. The leatherworker, Mord, had painfully clawed hands due to suffering from “Viking Disease”. Now known as Dupuytren’s contracture, the hand deformity occurs when the tissue under the palm of the hand begins to knot, causing the fingers to become bent.

After passing a man trying to use a cesspit (toilet), Simeon came to the final two scenes of the ride. The first revealed some of the pagan Vikings converted to Christianity. In Scandinavia, the Vikings worshipped Norse gods, such as Odin, Thor, Frey and Freya, however, they chose to leave those beliefs behind and adopt the religion of their new land. Viking monuments have been found in churches across York and several Viking rulers, including Guthfrith (d.895) and Sweyn Forkbeard (960-1014), were buried in York Minster. Evidence of Pre-Christian stories has also been discovered in York, including the story of Sigurðr the dragon-slayer.

After the ride came to an end, Simeon had the opportunity to view two rooms full of Viking artefacts that were discovered below the surface of Coppergate. These included bones, weapons, knives, coins, clothing and the largest fossilised human faeces. Fortunately, there were no smells in this part of the museum!

After a cup of tea at Lucky Days Cafe on Church Street, Simeon was keen to make the most of the good weather and headed to the Museum Gardens to explore the 10 acres of land that once belonged to St Mary’s Abbey. Throughout the grounds are the remains of the Benedictine abbey that was founded in 1055 and dedicated to Saint Olaf II of Norway (995-1030). After the Norman invasion, the abbey was granted to a group of monks from Whitby. The remaining ruins date from the 1260s when the abbey was expanded to create a defensive wall. The abbey was converted into a palace after Henry VIII banned all monasteries in the 1530s. The palace, however, was seldom used and soon fell into disrepair.

Some of the remains were once part of St Leonard’s Hospital, which shared the grounds with St Mary’s Abbey until the Reformation. The hospital was founded shortly after 1100 to replace a former hospital that had been damaged by fire. The hospital, which looked like a church, cared for the sick, poor and elderly, however, they could be denied treatment for refusing to confess their sins and partake in regular prayers and rituals.

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To one side of the abbey and hospital ruins is a medieval building that has stood the test of time. Known as a Hospitium, the 14th-century building would have once housed guests to the abbey who were not allowed to stay in the main abbey with the monks. Whereas the abbey and hospital were destroyed, the Hospitium has gone through several uses and, although fell to disrepair a few times, was saved by the Yorkshire Philosophical Society in 1828. Today it can be hired for weddings, parties and special events.

On the opposite side of the park is the Yorkshire Museum, which was one of the first purpose-built museums in the country. Designed by William Wilkins (1778-1839) in the neo-classical Greek Revival style, the museum opened in 1830 and is home to several collections, including geology, archaeology, natural history and palaeontology. Unfortunately, the Yorkshire Museum was still in lockdown at the time of Simeon’s visit.

Simeon’s favourite part of the garden was the botanical section, which has won the Gold Award at the Yorkshire in Bloom competition three years running. There are several themes throughout the garden, such as the Prairie Border, which contains the native flora of the American prairie, the Fern Garden, and the Oriental Border, with plants from China and Japan. Simeon liked the Butterfly Border best, which contains several perennial plants that are full of nectar and other plants on which butterflies like to hibernate.

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After leaving the garden, Simeon found himself by the River Ouse and went for a long walk up one side and down the other (actually, he was lazy and was carried the entire time!). All the walking (?!) made Simeon very tired and he was glad to find a cocktail bar on Coney Street with views of the river. After enjoying a burger at Revolution, Simeon returned to his cottage where he promptly fell asleep, dreaming of fighting Vikings in a garden full of flowers.

Day Five

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Before travelling to York, Simeon was told the city was nicknamed the Chocolate City and today he was determined to find out why. In King’s Square, a building has been devoted to York’s Chocolate Story, so using his nose, Simeon followed the scent of chocolate through the city until he found the correct building. Inside, Simeon joined his tour guide outside a make-shift shop to begin his journey through the history of chocolate.

York’s Chocolate Story has been told in the city since 2012 and begins by travelling back to around 1900 BC when the earliest evidence of humans consuming the cacao bean has been recorded. Simeon felt right at home in a room decorated to look like the Amazon rainforest and had to resist swinging from the trees but was soon captivated by the film about the origins of chocolate.

Simeon learnt that drinking chocolate has a much longer history than coffee, almost equalling the enduring history of tea. It is believed the cacao bean was discovered by the Mokaya people in the north of the Amazon rainforest who took it to other places in South and Central America. In Aztec societies, only the upper class were allowed to drink chocolate and in Mayan myths, chocolate was believed to be a gift from the gods.

Unfortunately, the way chocolate made its way to Europe paints the 16th-century explorers in a bad light. The Spanish were the first to discover the cacao-based drinks of the South American natives and were keen to trade with them. Girolamo Benzoni (1519-70) described the chocolate drink as “somewhat bitter, it satisfies and refreshes the body without intoxicating”. Whilst the natives agreed to trade with the Spanish, it was in part due to the Spanish colonisation of Central and South America. In other words, the natives may not have had a choice.

It was the Europeans that first added sugar to cocoa to make the chocolate drinks sweeter. Due to the cost of both the beans and sugar, chocolate was initially a drink for the rich. In 17th-century Britain, chocolate houses began to appear in the cities where the elite would congregate to drink the precious liquid. To make more money, however, dealers began to sell compressed “cakes” of cocoa powder, which people could buy to make chocolate drinks in their own homes.

Mary Tuke (1695-1752), a Quaker, was one of the key sellers of cocoa in York. In a grocery store on Walmgate, Tuke sold the “cakes” by weight, which people would take home and add to hot milk or water. This was the precursor to the chocolate bar, which was eventually created by J. S. Fry & Sons of Bristol in 1847. When Mary Tuke died, the family business was handed down to her nephew William (1732-1822) who, in turn, passed it down the family line until it was sold to Henry Isaac Rowntree (1837-83) in 1862.

Simeon had heard of Rowntrees and is particularly fond of their fruit pastilles, so was keen to learn more. The Rowntrees company was founded by Joseph Rowntree (1801-59) who moved from Scarborough to York where he established his grocer’s shop at 28 Pavement. As a Quaker, Rowntree knew the Tuke family as well as other Quakers, such as his apprentice George Cadbury (1839-1922) who eventually set up his own chocolate factory in Birmingham. Joseph’s youngest son, Henry, worked for the Tuke’s cocoa production, and it was to him the Tukes sold their business.

Henry Rowntree died shortly after Rowntree’s Fruit Pastilles launched, which saved the company from bankruptcy, and Henry’s brother Joseph (1836-1925) took over the business. Rowntrees, however, was not the only chocolate company in York. Terry’s, most associated with the Terry’s Chocolate Orange, was established in York by Robert Berry and William Bayldon in 1767. Initially known as Berry’s, they sold rock cocoa and lozenges, claiming they had many health benefits. Joseph Terry (1793-1850), a relative of Berry, joined the company at its Saint Helen’s Square (named after Constantine the Great’s mother) premises in 1824 and eventually took over the business, renaming it Joseph Terry and Company. Since 1993, Terry’s has been owned by Kraft Foods.

Craven’s, initially a sugar confectionery company famed for humbugs and other boiled sweets, is another chocolate company from York. The business had been set up by Thomas Craven and was run by his wife Mary Ann Hick (1829-1900) after his death in 1862. Craven’s main factory was at Coppergate and was known as the “French Almond Works” as this was their key product. It is on this site that the Viking remains were found and where the Jorvik Viking Centre has been situated since 1984.

Simeon was overjoyed to receive some chocolate samples to try. He was feeling rather hungry after learning about different chocolate bars. Yorkie, for example, was made by Rowntrees in the 1970s to compete with Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. Several names were considered, such as “Trek”, “O’Hara” and “Jones”, before they decided to name it “Yorkie” after the city of its birth. When it was first launched, Yorkie was targetted at men, hence the sexist slogan “It’s not for girls.”

Terry’s Chocolate Orange is Terry’s best-known product, however, they also developed the Chocolate Apple and the Chocolate Lemon, although neither were successful. Rowntrees, on the other hand, have had several successes, such as Polos, Smarties and the Chocolate Crisp, now known as KitKat. Now owned by Nestlé, who purchased Rowntrees in 1988, KitKats are the most sold chocolate bar around the world. In Japan, they are particularly loved due to the similarity in name to the phrase “Kitto Katsu” (you will surely win) and gifted as good luck presents. Different countries have developed alternative flavours of KitKat, such as honeycomb in Australia and a twelve-finger KitKat in New Zealand. Japan, however, has produced hundreds of flavours, including, strawberry, green tea, melon, and cheese. (“Yuck!” says Simeon.)

Simeon’s favourite part of the Chocolate Story was making his own chocolate lolly. Naturally, it did not last long. He was hungry after learning all about chocolate!

“No city in England is better furnished with provisions of every kind, not any so cheap, the river being so navigable, and so near the sea, the merchants here trade directly to what part of the world they will.”
– Daniel Defoe, 1724

With an entire afternoon at his leisure, Simeon decided to head to the River Ouse where he walked (was carried) yesterday. This time, however, Simeon was hoping to go on the river.

Near Lendel Bridge, Simeon boarded the York Sightseeing Cruise and set off on a 45-minute trip up and down the River Ouse. Simeon was not too sure whether he would enjoy the trip because it was quite breezy but, after adapting his facemask into a headscarf, he sat back and enjoyed the ride. The captain of the boat told the passengers about the history of York, pointing out famous landmarks that Simeon could see from the upper deck. The captain was full of fascinating facts about the history of flooding and trade on the river. Simeon enjoyed seeing all the views but fell about laughing when he saw a converted ice cream van-boat floating on the river!

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Back on land, Simeon was momentarily startled by a cat on the balcony of a nearby building. After being reassured the cat was a statue, Simeon learned there were several cats all over the city. The originals had been placed there to ward of rats and mice. Using a map supplied by the York Lucky Cats glass shop, Simeon set off on the York Lucky Cat Trail, determined to find them all. Craning his neck to look up at the tall buildings, Simeon found the majority of the hidden cats. His favourite was the ghost cat coming out of the wall of the Golden Fleece Pub. The pub is allegedly haunted and has reported the sightings of several ghosts. Lady Alice Peckett has been seen wandering the corridors, Geoff Monroe haunts the third floor, and a small child hides behind the entrance to the pub. Two ghosts have been reported by the bar: One-Eyed Jack and a Grumpy Old Man, who crouches in an alcove.

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Simeon decided The Golden Fleece was not the place for him, however, he was rather hungry after chasing cats all over York. Thankfully, he had spotted a restaurant called D’Vine in Swinegate and ordered himself a large pizza!

Day Six

Simeon, the little explorer, decided to step outside of York and travel through the North York Moors to the seaside town of Whitby. The journey, which took just over an hour, led Simeon up and down some steep hills and he was pleased when he caught sight of the River Esk, which headed out to the North Sea.

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The little gibbon was keen to see the ruins of Whitby Abbey on top of the East Cliff and was grateful someone was willing to carry him up the 199 steps. The abbey was founded in AD657 by the Northumbrian King Oswiu (612-670) in commemoration of his victory over the pagan king of Mercia. It was a double monastery, meaning it housed both men and women, and it soon became a place of learning. It is said a cowherd called Cædmon (657-684) was miraculously transformed into a poet while staying there. Simeon returned to sea level following the more gentle path known as “Cædmon’s Trod”.

Whitby Abbey was destroyed by Vikings in a series of raids, however, after 1066, it was rebuilt as a Benedictine monastery dedicated to St Peter and St Hilda. Unfortunately, it fell into disrepair when Henry VIII ordered its closure in 1539. The ruins of the abbey inspired the setting of Bram Stoker’s (1847-1912) Dracula and there is a museum based on the story on the quayside.

Having conquered the East Cliff, Simeon was determined to climb the West (with help) to see the whalebone replica and the statue of Captain James Cook (1728-79) whose ship, HMS Endeavour, was built in Whitby and known by the locals as the Whitby Cat. Simeon saw a scaled-down replica of the ship in the harbour called the Bark Endeavour Whitby. The Captain Cook Memorial Museum can be found on Grape Lane, however, Simeon was eager to walk on the grade II listed West Pier, which ran parallel to the East Pier. Both piers have a lighthouse and a beacon to help guide ships in the dark. On the West Pier, a horn is sounded every 30 seconds if the piers become hidden by thick fog.

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Before returning to York, Simeon had time for some local scampi at the award-winning fish and chip shop Quayside.

Day Seven

Simeon’s trip to York has come to an end and, whilst it was sad to leave, he has lots of great memories that will last him a lifetime. As he settled into his car seat for the long journey home (via Stamford for refreshments), Simeon tried to pick out his favourite part of York. Was it making a chocolate lolly or was it visiting Jorvik? What about the Minster or the Treasure Trail? Do not forget the boat trip and the bus tour! “It is impossible to choose a favourite,” thought Simeon. “I’ll have to tell everyone about ALL of it.” And so, he did.

Simeon’s Top Tips

  1. Book tickets for the attractions in advance. Most places are limiting the number of visitors due to Covid-19. (Generally, it is best to book to avoid disappointment)
  2. Buy a map. There is so much to see and so many streets, so be careful you do not get lost.
  3. Wear a mask. Obey all social distancing measures.
  4. Do not eat too much chocolate. You will get a tummy ache.
  5. Do not fall into the river. It is deep and you will get wet.
  6. Do not try to fight the Vikings. They are actors and wax models.
  7. Visit The Shambles in the evening if you want to take photographs. It is too crowded during the day.
  8. Do not fall off the Roman Walls. Not all sections have railings.
  9. Be respectful in the Minster. It is a place of worship.
  10. Pace yourself. There is so much to see. It is impossible to do it all in a day.

Read about Simeon’s previous adventures here:
Simeon goes to Amsterdam
Simeon and the Bloomsbury Treasures
Simeon Visits Rainham Hall
Simeon, the Cliffs and the Sea
Simeon Encounters Antwerp
Simeon Investigates Covent Garden
Simeon and the Green Witch’s Treasure

Simeon and the Green Witch’s Treasure

Ahoy there, Simeon! The Cutty Sark restoration team have come across a strange document wedged in behind the ship’s figurehead. A map of an island and set of directions allude to “The Green Witch Treasure”. But which witch? Do they mean Greenwich? And what treasure? Can you follow the trail for a spell and see where it leads – and maybe you’ll earn some bounty in return?

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After receiving a copy of the map and directions from Treasure Trails, Simeon the red-haired gibbon (toffee-coloured, if you please) wasted no time in getting himself to Greenwich to discover the mystery of “The Green Witch Treasure”. (Naturally this included a trip on the Emirates Airline and the Thames Clipper; after all, he is a very adventurous gibbon.) From the Cutty Sark to the Royal Observatory, Simeon raked over the ground, climbed up steep hills (he was carried) and investigated several buildings. He studied the Meridian line, appreciated the architectural beauty of the Queen’s House, Naval College, and the Maritime Museum, and resisted the temptation to jump into the River Thames (it was a hot day). Eventually, Simeon unearthed the location of the treasure but, along the way, he found and learnt about the hidden treasures of Greenwich.

Greenwich, located 5.5 miles from the heart of London, is notable for its maritime history and for giving its name to the Greenwich Merdian (0° longitude) and Greenwich Mean Time. It was the birthplace of many of the Tudor Royals, who once spent time at the Palace of Placentia. During the reign of Charles II (1630-85), the palace was demolished and a new building erected, now used by the University of Greenwich.

With reference to a place named Gronewic in a Saxon charter of 918 AD, it is believed the area of Greenwich has been populated for over 1000 years. It is recorded as Grenviz in the Domesday Book of 1086, and later as Grenewych in the Taxatio Ecclesiastica of 1291.

As Simeon discovered at the top of Greenwich Park after a long uphill walk, the ground is full of huge mounds and craters, making it appear as though they were the foundations of an old house. Further research reveals these are tumuli, also known as barrows or burial mounds. These are thought to be early Bronze Age barrows (3000 BC), which were later appropriated by the Saxons in the 6th century AD.

During the reign of Æthelred II (the Unready; 966-1016), a Danish fleet (i.e. Viking) anchored on the River Thames and camped on the hill in Greenwich for three years. During this time, they attacked the county of Kent and took the Archbishop of Canterbury as their prisoner. This was Archbishop Alphege (or Ælfheah; 935-1012), who was kept prisoner for seven months until he was stoned to death for his refusal to allow his ransom of 3,000 pieces of silver to be paid.

Shortly into Simeon’s treasure trail, he entered St. Alfege Passage and came across a church bearing the sign “open”. Being the lazy little gibbon that he is, Simeon decided it was a great opportunity for a rest but what he found inside was so interesting that he barely sat down at all! The church is built on the site where Saint Alfege was allegedly killed and a memorial stone marks the spot inscribed with the words “He who dies for justice, dies for Christ.”

The current building, which is undergoing restoration work, was not the first church on the site. No one knows when the first was built but records state the second building was built during the 13th century. It is highly likely that Henry VIII (1491-1547) and other Tudor royals were baptised in this church and one of the stained glass windows depicts this event.

Another stained glass window depicts Thomas Tallis (1505-85), the “father of English church music”. He was the organist at St. Alfege Church during the reigns of four Tudor monarchs: Henry VIII, Edward VI (1537-53), Mary I (1516-55) and Elizabeth I (1533-1603). On display is an old organ that may date to Tallis’ time. This was replaced after the Second World War, however, the current organ was transferred to the church from Eton College in the year 2000.

The second church building was destroyed in 1710 when a gale caused the medieval roof to collapse. A new church was proposed and Nicholas Hawksmoor (1661-1736), a pupil of Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723), was chosen to be the architect. The building was completed by 1714, however, on 19th March 1941, an incendiary bomb hit the roof of the church and destroyed a lot of the architecture. In 1946, rebuilding began but many of the original features had to be replaced.

Fortunately, much of the altar survived the bombing during the Second World War. The iron rails were designed by Jean Tijou, a French Huguenot ironworker who also produced screens for Hampton Court and St. Paul’s Cathedral. The original trompe l’œil painting around the alter by James Thornhill, famed for his work in the Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College, had to be carefully restored.

There were many things that caught Simeon’s eye around the church, including a Coventry Cross made from the medieval nails of Coventry Cathedral, which had been destroyed during World War II. Simeon enjoyed seeing the stained glass depicting Thomas Tallis and Henry VIII’s baptism. There were also windows commemorating the marriage of Princess Mary (1496- 1533), the fourth child of Henry VII (1457-1509), to the Earl of Suffolk, and General Charles George Gordon (1833-85), who was baptised there in 1833.

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At the back of the church is a memorial to General James Wolfe (1727-59), who is also remembered with a statue at the top of Greenwich Park. General Wolfe was 32 when he died after leading his troops to victory at the siege of Quebec in 1759. Wolfe, who had moved to Greenwich in 1738, worshipped at St. Alfege Church and is subsequently buried in a vault in the crypt. Thomas Tallis is also buried in the crypt, as is Sir John Julius Angerstein (1735-1823), the “father of Lloyds of London”, and Samuel Enderby (1719-97), the founder of Samuel Enderby & Sons. Other famous worshippers at St. Alfege’s include Reverend John Flamsteed (1646-1719), the first Astronomer Royal; MP for Canterbury Sir James Creed (1695-1762), for whom the steep street Simeon climbed is named; and Sir John Lethieullier (1633-1719), a sheriff of London. In Charles Dicken’s (1812-70) novel Our Mutual Friend, a wedding takes place in St. Alfege Church.

Up near the statue of General Wolfe in Greenwich Park is Charles II’s Royal Observatory. Initially, this was the site of a tower erected by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester (1390-1447), the half-brother of Henry V (1386-1422). It was at this observatory that the Greenwich Meridian was determined. A prime meridian and its antimeridian create a full circle that divides the planet into two sections: the Eastern Hemisphere and the Western Hemisphere. The Greenwich Meridian passes through the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Algeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo, Ghana and Antarctica. There is an opportunity to stand on the spot that the (invisible) line passes through, however, Simeon was in too much of a hurry to find his buried treasure to stop and join the crowds of people awaiting their turn.

From the highest point in Greenwich Park, the only hill overlooking the Thames on the eastern approach to London, there is a magnificent view over London. Simeon spotted the towers of Canary Wharf in the background, however, he was most impressed with the buildings at the bottom of the hill. One of these buildings is called the Queen’s House and was commissioned by the wife of James I (1566-1625), Queen Anne of Denmark (1574-1619). The house, designed by Inigo Jones (1573-1652), is one of the surviving buildings belonging to Greenwich Palace. Unfortunately, Anne did not live to see the final outcome and Charles I (1600-49) gave the completed house to his wife Queen Henrietta Maria (1609-69).

The Queen’s House did not remain Queen Henrietta Maria’s house for long due to the English Civil War, which began in 1641. During this time, Greenwich Palace was used as a prisoner-of-war camp as well as a biscuit factory. Later, throughout the Interregnum (1649-1660) the palace and park were seized for the Lord Protector’s use as a mansion. By the time of the Restoration, the remains of the old Palace of Placentia had been pulled down and Charles II began to oversee the construction of new buildings, including the aforementioned Royal Observatory.

Prince James (1633-1701), the Duke of York and future king, was the person to propose the idea of creating a Royal Naval Hospital in the buildings closest to the Thames, however, it was not until his daughter Mary (1662-94) was on the throne that the work began. The construction of the hospital was eventually finished in 1696.

A century later, the Queen’s House, as it is still known, was transformed into the Royal Naval Asylum, a school for children orphaned by war, by George III (1738-1820). This was later amalgamated with the Greenwich Hospital School before eventually being renamed the Royal Hospital School by Queen Victoria (1819-1901) in 1892. As well as the Queen’s House, the school inhabited the building next door, which is now the National Maritime Museum.

The National Maritime Museum was opened during the reign of George V (1865-1936). The Royal Hospital was moved to Suffolk so that the museum could inhabit the buildings in Greenwich. Forming part of the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site and Royal Museums Greenwich, the museum contains some of the most important items in relation to the history of Britain at sea. The two million items include maritime art, maps, naval manuscripts and navigational instruments. Two of Britain’s greatest seamen are also celebrated in the museum: Admiral Horatio Nelson (1758-1805) and Captain James Cook (1728-79). Although the museum is free to enter, Simeon passed up the opportunity in favour of finding his hidden treasure.

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Despite his persistence in continuing the treasure trail, Simeon had time to give a cursory glance to the granite statue of William IV (1765-1837) at the back of the museum. The statue was made by Samuel Nixon (1804-1854) and represents the King in the uniform of a high admiral. Although this statue is impressive, another artwork had caught Simeon’s eye.

Situated on a plinth outside the new Sammy Ofer Wing of the National Maritime Museum is Yinka Shonibare MBE’s (b.1962) Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle (2010). Originally commissioned for the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, this scaled-down replica of Nelson’s HMS Victory sits protected from the elements in a large, corked glass bottle. HMS Victory was the ship on which the war hero died during the Battle of Trafalgar on 21st October 1805. The impressive ship had 80 cannons and 37 sails, although they would not have been as richly decorated as the sails in the model. Shonibare chose to use a pattern inspired by Indonesian batik, which was mass-produced by Dutch traders during Nelson’s lifetime. This alludes to the negative usage of ships such as these, which enabled colonialism, industrialisation, and the misuse of cultural appropriation. Today, this model is one of the most photographed artworks in London.

At the exit of Greenwich Park near Park Row, our little friend was distracted by several enormous anchors. Each one was once used upon a British ship and they now serve as a memorial to the ships used between the 18th and 20th century. Early seafarers would have used stone, wood or lead to make their anchors, however, as seen here, they soon discovered that iron served the best purpose.

The most common shape of an anchor is known as the Admiralty-pattern and consists of a shank with a stock and ring at one end and a crown with flukes at the other. A length of cable would lower the anchor by its ring into the water and the flukes on the crown would dig into the seabed, eventually pinning the ship in place. Anchors on display include an Admiralty-pattern recovered off the coast of Sheerness in Kent dating to approximately 1750, an Admiralty-pattern from the Kathrena Anne (1805), a single-fluke anchor from 1820, and a 4-tonne anchor from the Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert (1899).

The one that intrigued Simeon the most was the bright red and yellow, many-toothed cutterhead from a cutter suction dredger. Although more than heavy enough to be used as an anchor, the cutterhead’s purpose was to remove materials from the seabed in land reclamation projects in the Far East. It eventually became obsolete in 1995.

Simeon’s treasure trail eventually led him to the riverfront where Thames Clippers and other boats sail throughout the day. From Greenwich Pier, a number of riverboat services take passengers to Westminster via Canary Wharf, the Tower of London and Embankment. For those who wish to travel to the opposite bank of the Thames, a foot tunnel was designed by civil engineer Sir Alexander Binnie (1839-1917) and opened in 1902. The tunnel exits in Millwall on the Isle of Dogs, which was once home to the West India Docks. The entrance to the tunnel can be found inside a glass-domed shaft beside the famous Cutty Sark.

The Cutty Sark is a British clipper ship built in 1869 that has been preserved on dry land for the benefit of visitors and conserving British maritime history. Although a major fire destroyed a large part of the ship in 2007, a restoration team returned the Cutty Sark to her former glory.

Simeon, of course, had no time to pay the interior of the Cutty Sark a visit, however, he was content to view the impressive ship from the outside. From there, Simeon had a great view of Nannie Dee, the ship’s figurehead, which has been attributed to carver Fredrick Hellyer of Blackwall. The Cutty Sark was named after Nannie Dee, who’s nickname was Cutty-sark, a term that means “short undergarment”. Her story can be found in the poem Tam o’ Shanter (1791) by Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-96).

Her cutty sark, o’ Paisley harn,
That while a lassie she had worn,
In longitude tho’ sorely scanty,
It was her best, and she was vauntie.
Ah! little kend thy reverend grannie
That sark she coft for her wee Nannie
Wi’ twa pund Scots (’twas a’ her riches)
Wad ever graced a dance of witches!
– Tam o’ Shanter

The figurehead is completely white, with hair flowing back as though moving at speed. In her outstretched left hand is a clump of long black hair from the tail of a horse. In the poem, Tam has come across a group of dancing witches and falls in love with Nannie Dee. Whilst watching them from afar, he forgets himself and calls out “Weel done, Cutty-sark!” Alerted to his presence, the witches chase him and, although he survives, Nannie Dee managed to grab hold of his horse’s tail and pull it off before he had crossed the river to safety.

“Fascinating,” thought Simeon. “But on with the trail!”

Eventually, Simeon located the position of his much sought after treasure. Completely elated, he was not concerned that he never found out who the elusive “Green Witch” was; perhaps she was Nannie Dee? On his two and a half-mile trek, Simeon enjoyed discovering the history of Greenwich and finding some hidden gems. As well as seeing all the historical buildings and taking in the view from the top of Greenwich Park, Simeon had the opportunity to have photos taken with various statues, explore the town centre and admire the Georgian houses while he was being carried up Croom’s Hill. He was also able to walk through Greenwich Market and look at (but not buy) a range of wares.

It is believed that a market has existed in Greenwich since the 14th century. The present market, however, dates back to 1700 when a charter was agreed by Lord Henry, Earl of Romney (1641-1704) that the Commissioners of Greenwich Hospital could hold a market every Wednesday and Saturday. Today, the market runs daily and is surrounded by Grade 2 listed buildings. In the early 1900s, a roof was added to the market place so that sellers could have a dry place to sell their articles at all times of the year. Selling predominantly antiques, fashion and food, the market opens daily at 10am.

Treasure Trails allows people to explore areas around the United Kingdom at their own pace whilst solving clues in order to find fictional treasure or solve a murder mystery. Simeon thoroughly enjoyed the Greenwich Treasure Trail and wholly recommends it, although be aware that there is a rather steep hill. Thanks to the intricate trail, Simeon and friends discovered things about Greenwich that they would have otherwise missed. To top it all, Simeon is now the owner of yet another Treasure Trail certificate!

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Read about Simeon’s previous adventures here:
Simeon goes to Amsterdam
Simeon and the Bloomsbury Treasures
Simeon Visits Rainham Hall
Simeon, the Cliffs and the Sea
Simeon Encounters Antwerp
Simeon Investigates Covent Garden

For more information about Treasure Trails and the areas they cover, please visit their website.

Simeon Investigates Covent Garden

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Simeon the red-haired gibbon (toffee-coloured, if you please) was beyond excited to receive a letter from Treasure Trails with a number of clues to solve a mysterious murder in the heart of London. Famous detective novelist Lotta Twist (fictional but don’t tell Simeon!) has died under baffling circumstances and it was up to Simeon, with a little help from his friends, to work out which suspect was the murderer and what weapon they used.

After hunting high and low between Leicester Square and Covent Garden, Simeon solved the mystery but, along the way, he discovered many exciting streets and buildings. Of course, the biggest and most popular of all was Covent Garden’s central square, London’s main theatre and entertainment area. The Covent Garden Piazza is full of luxury shops, street entertainers, market stalls and hundreds of excited tourists; and amongst them, was a little wide-eyed detective, Simeon.

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Apple Market, Covent Garden Market traders inside Inigo Jones’ “handsomest barn in England”.

Covent Garden is the name of a district in the capital that stretches from St Martin’s Lane near Trafalgar Square and Drury Lane, towards Camden. Although it is now a popular shopping and tourist area, it used to be famous for the former fruit-and-vegetable market in the central square. Simeon was intrigued to discover the market stalls selling homemade wares was still known as Apple Market.

The history of Covent Garden dates back to 400 AD when the area near St Martin’s-in-the Fields was used as a Roman gravesite. Excavations have also suggested that there were Anglo-Saxon settlements nearby. From around 600 AD, the land stretching from Trafalgar Square to Aldwych was a trading town called Lundenwic, however, during the reign of the King of Wessex, Alfred the Great (c.847-899), the boundaries of the capital were shifted and the town was abandoned, eventually becoming a field.

A document dating from 1200 AD states that the land became the property of the Benedictine Monks of the Abbey of St Peter, now known as Westminster Abbey. Over the next century, a square garden, approximately 40 acres long, was gradually established, combining orchards, meadows, pastures and arable land. Adopting the Anglo-French word for a religious community, the quadrangle became known as “a garden called Covent Garden”. The name has stuck ever since.

The Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540, meant the land belonging to Westminster Abbey, including Covent Garden, became the possession of King Henry VIII (1491-1547). Just over a decade later, however, Henry’s son Edward VI (1537-53) granted the land to John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford (1485-1555). The Russell family, who were eventually elevated to the Dukes of Bedford, held the land until 1918.

The land, including Covent Garden, did not remain farmland under the Russell family’s ownership. In 1630, Francis Russell, the 4th Earl, commissioned the English architect Inigo Jones (1573-1652) to build a church (St Paul’s Church) and houses around a large square. Initially, these houses attracted the wealthy, however, they lost their appeal after a market was set up in the square, coffee houses and taverns were opened, and prostitutes moved in.

As a result, due to the seedy establishments, Covent Garden became known as a red-light district and gentlemen had a wide choice of brothels to visit in the area. Things improved after a more permanent trading centre was built in 1830. Later, in 1913, the 11th Duke of Bedford, Herbrand Russell (1858-1940) agreed to sell his estate to the MP Sir Harry Mallaby-Deeley (1863-1937) for £2 million. Not long after, it was sold in 1918 to the Beecham family for £250,000.

The Beecham family, the proprietors of Beecham Estates and Pills Limited, managed the properties around Covent Garden until 1924 when they gradually began to sell them off. By 1962, the main bulk of the district, including the market place became the property of the newly founded Covent Garden Authority at a cost of £3,925,000. Since then, redevelopments have been undertaken and the main market building was opened as the shopping centre it is today in 1980.

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Simeon was intrigued to discover the original rules, orders and bye-laws of the market on the wall of one of the tunnels leading into the centre of the market place. Despite the warnings of various penalties, it appears the rules are no longer enforced.

Notice is hereby given that in persuance of the Act of Parliament passed in the ninth year of the Reign of King George the fourth entitled “An Act for the Improvement and Regulation of Covent Garden Market” the several Rules, Orders and Byelawes hereunder written have been constituted, provided and ordained for the purpose in the said Act mentioned. Dated this 22nd Day of May 1924

Simeon thought it rather naughty of the stallholders to disobey the rules that were clearly stated on the wooden sign. “No Fruit, Flowers, Vegetables, Roots, Herbs or other thing shall be placed, pitched, exposed for sale, or sold in any part of the said Market on a Sunday.” Well, that’s a 40 shilling penalty everyone should be paying, deemed Simeon in disgust.

“No person shall sleep or lie down on any Stand, Footpath or Gangway in the said Market or on the said Terrace or Steps leading thereto.” Just as well Simeon did not need a nap, otherwise, that would have cost him five shillings.

“No person shall carry, use or have any lighted Candle or other Light except in a Lanthern …” Try telling that to the fire juggler!

Of course, these rules were written when the market sold fruit and vegetables and not the hand-crafted commodities of today. Covent Garden now boasts some of the best luxury clothes shops in London, including Chanel, Mulberry UK and Sass & Belle. There are also independent stores, such as Benjamin Pollock’s Toy Shop, which sells creative, theatrical and educational toys that nurture storytelling.

Opposite the Covent Garden piazza is Jubilee Hall, which contains Jubilee Market, the only market in London to be wholly owned by traders. The market opened in 1904 and was later taken over by the traders in order to save the building from bankruptcy. Along with the rest of Covent Garden, Jubilee Hall was renovated in 1985 and reopened by Queen Elizabeth II (b.1926) on 5th August 1987.

The stalls in Jubilee Market change from day-to-day. On Mondays, the market offers a whole range of antiques. Sold by professional antique dealers, collectables can be found from every era and style, including Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian, Art Deco, Art Nouveau, fine china and old books. From Tuesday until Friday, the market describes itself as a General Market. During this period, traders can sell anything they wish and shoppers can find bargains on plants, greeting cards, beauty products, clothes and souvenirs.

The weekends at Jubilee Market are devoted to the arts and crafts. Traders show off their creative skills and sell their art to the public. The term “Art” in this case is rather broad and visitors can expect to find anything from hand-painted items, jewellery and fashion to metal sculptures, fossils and minerals.

Whilst the market place is the main attraction, Simeon’s murder mystery trail took him up and down streets and alleyways that were just as exciting. As well as solving clues, Simeon discovered many interesting things about Covent Garden, including statues, noteworthy buildings and famous people associated with the area.

One of the first buildings that caught Simeon’s attention looked at first to be a regular sandwich shop: Pret a Manger. The building’s history, or rather the site’s history, on the other hand, is much more noteworthy. A green, circular plaque situated on the upper level of the building reveals that this was the site of the Old Slaughters Coffee House. Whilst the plaque and present building are in Cranbourne Street, the original address of the coffee house was 77 St Martin’s Lane. The building was destroyed when Cranbourne Street was built in 1843.

The Old Slaughters Coffee House was opened by Thomas Slaughter in 1692. It was frequented by game players who would meet to partake in chess, draughts and whist amongst other things. For a time, Benjamin Franklin (1706-90), the American polymath and founding father of the United States, was one of the establishment’s regular players. It was also popular with artists, including, Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88), William Hogarth (1697-1764) and Louis-François Roubillac (1702-62). The English dramatist Henry Fielding (1707-54) was another regular patron of the coffee shop. Incidentally, Fielding lived in the area and came up with the idea of the Bow Street Runners, an early form of the Police Force. Eventually, Britain’s first Police Station was opened on Bow Street and manned by Robert Peel (1788-1850).

The coffee shop’s claim to fame is for its use as a meeting house for discussions that resulted in the founding of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (later the RSPCA) in 1824. The meeting was organised by the Reverend Arthur Broome (1779-1837) and chaired by the MP Sir Thomas Foxwell Buxton (1786-1845). Amongst the eight attendees was William Wilberforce (1759-1833), who was also responsible for the abolition of the slave trade.

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Almost opposite the site of the Old Slaughters Coffee House is a memorial to the writer and playwright Dame Agatha Christie (1890-1976). Unveiled by her grandson Matthew Prichard amongst others on 18th November 2012, the book-shaped sculpture by Ben Twiston-Davies celebrates the 60th anniversary and 25,000 London performances of Christie’s play The Mousetrap.

The memorial provides a brief biography of Agatha Christie née Miller who was born on 15th September 1890 in Torquay, Devon. She was educated at home, which helped to develop her lifelong passion for writing and reading. She also developed an interest in poisons, which secured her with a position as pharmaceutical dispenser during the First World War. This, in turn, provided her with considerable knowledge to use in her novels.

Agatha married her first husband, Archibald “Archie” (1889-1962) on Christmas Eve 1914 in Bristol whilst he was on leave from the army. In 1919, their only child Rosalind Margaret Hicks was born – the future mother of Matthew Prichard and unveiler of this statue. Unfortunately, Agatha and Archie’s marriage was not to last after he fell in love with another woman. In 1930, however, Christie met Max Mallowan (1904-78) who she subsequently married.

Due to being an archaeologist, Mallowan was required to travel extensively, particularly in the Middle East. Christie accompanied her husband and the places she visited became the settings for some of her murder mysteries.

At the time the memorial was erected, Agatha Christie’s books had sold over two billion copies in 100 languages. She is famous for her characters Hercule Poirot, the all-knowing Belgian detective, and Miss Jane Marple, the all-seeing village spinster. The Mousetrap, amongst many other plays and books, shot to fame during Christie’s lifetime making her one of the most successful and best-loved writers of all time. Agatha Christie was appointed Dame Commander of the British Empire in 1971, five years before she died on 12th January 1976.

Almost immediately around the corner from Agatha Christie’s memorial is the St Martin’s Theatre where The Mousetrap has been performed continually since March 1974. Having moved there from the Ambassadors Theatre on Charing Cross Road, the play is now the longest-running production in the world.

Opposite the theatre is another building Simeon found of interest. Situated in a narrow, slightly triangular building is The Ivy, a restaurant popular with celebrities and theatregoers. It was opened as an Italian cafe in 1917 by Abele Giandolini “Monsieur Abel”. Over the years, it has become the haunt of many famous names, including, Laurence Olivier (1907-89), Vivien Leigh (1913-67), Marlene Dietrich (1901-92), Terence Rattigan (1911-77) and Noël Coward (1899-1973).

In 1950, The Ivy was sold to Bernard Walsh who made it part of a chain of fish restaurants. The establishment changed hands twice more before closing in 1989. Fortunately, it was saved from permanent closure by Jeremy King and Chris Corbin who renovated the building and reopened it the following year. Today, The Ivy is owned by multi-millionaire Richard Caring (b.1948).

The Ivy can seat up to 100 guests at a time, plus a further 60 in the private dining area on the first floor. No mobile phones or cameras are allowed in the building and there is a strict dress code. Simeon, wearing absolutely nothing, decided not to try his luck in securing a table for lunch.

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There are many other pubs and restaurants around Covent Garden and, if Simeon had been a drinker, his murder mystery trail could easily have turned into a pub crawl! According to Trip Advisor, some of the best bars and pubs in the area are The Kings Arms, Mr Fogg’s Tavern (named after the fictional explorer Phileas Fogg), Crown and Anchor, Lady of the Grapes and The Long Acre Bar & Kitchen. Some of these establishments are easy to find, whereas others are hidden away in the city’s courtyards and backstreets.

The Lamb and Flag (formerly The Coopers Arms) was established on Rose Street in 1833. Despite being small and out of the way, the pub earned a reputation for staging bare-knuckle prize fights, earning it the nickname “The Bucket of Blood”. The covered alleyway (mind your head!) to the side of the building also has a sinister history. It was here that the English poet John Dryden (1631-1700) was attacked by thugs in 1679. It is believed the 2nd Earl of Rochester, John Wilmot (1647-80) was responsible for hiring the thugs. There had been a long-standing conflict between the two men.

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Simeon enjoyed investigating all the little alleyways and discovering where they led. Whilst trying to solve a mystery, Simeon also unearthed other mysteries, for example, Monty Python’s house. Simeon’s first question was, “Why did a python named Monty have a house in Neal’s Yard?” His second question, after establishing that Monty Python is a British surreal comedy group who created the sketch comedy television show Monty Python’s Flying Circus, “How can ‘Monty Python’ have a plaque stating that the filmmaker ‘lived here 1976-1987’?”

The answer: Rather than commemorating a person as the plaque implies, it is indicating the location of the Monty Python studios in Neal’s Yard. This is where the British surreal comedy group created their BBC sketch show, which first aired on 5th October 1969. Broadcast until 1974, the series was written and performed by a group of six people known as “the Pythons”: Graham Chapman (1941-89), John Cleese (b.1939), Terry Gilliam (b.1940), Eric Idle (b.1943), Terry Jones (b.1942), and Michael Palin (b.1943). The show pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable at the time, influencing British comedy of the future.

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As well as being part of Covent Garden, Neal’s Yard and the surrounding streets are also known as Seven Dials. This is a junction where seven streets converge, forming a circular space at the centre. The land originally belonged to the estate of the Worshipful Company of Mercers, however, in the 1690s Thomas Neale (1641-99) designed a new layout consisting of six residential roads to replace the open farmland. Although the plan was for six roads, Neale added in a seventh road in order to own and lease out more properties. This area was used as the setting for Agatha Christie’s The Seven Dials Mystery (1929).

“The stranger who finds himself in the Dials for the first time…at the entrance of Seven obscure passages, uncertain which to take, will see enough around him to keep his curiosity awake for no inconsiderable time…”
– Charles Dickens

In the centre of Seven Dials is a sundial column, however, because the original plan was for six roads, there are only six faces or dials. The column itself is said to be the gnomon (the piece that casts the shadow) of the seventh dial. The original column was built by the stonemason Edward Pierce who based the design on a Doric column. Today, a replica sits in its place. The column itself is 20 feet high, however, it is sat on top of an 8-foot plinth, making it appear even taller.

Intrigued about the sundial, Simeon was pleased to discover a plaque on the wall of a nearby pub containing instructions for using the dial to tell the time. “The Sundials show local apparent solar time. To convert this to Greenwich Mean Time (G.M.T) use the graph below. Find today’s date and add or deduct the number of minutes shown (+ or – on the graph) to the time showing on the sundials to obtain G.M.T. ” Each of the faces is accurate to within ten seconds. It is impossible to get a totally accurate reading because the sundial is positioned to the west of Greenwich, thus making it 3.048 seconds behind G.M.T.

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There is so much more to discover around Covent Garden and Simeon, being only a little gibbon, had only enough energy to walk up and down a few of the streets. Nonetheless, there are a couple more highlights Simeon wishes to mention. The first is a beautiful statue of a ballerina opposite the Royal Opera House.

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Also situated near the Royal Ballet School, Young Dancer by Italian-born British sculptor Enzo Plazzotta (1921-81) is a statue of a ballerina sitting on a stool while lacing up her shoes. Plazzotta is remembered for his fascination with movement and portraying this with bronze. Although this particular model is not in the process of moving, ballet and dance were Plazzotta’s favourite subjects. This statue was unveiled in 1988, seven years after the artist’s death. There are a number of other sculptures by Plazzotta around the capital, including, Crucifixion outside Westminster Abbey, Jéte (a ballet movement) near the Tate Modern, a homage to Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man in Belgrave Square, and Camargue Horses near the Barbican.

Whilst Simeon enjoyed posing with the young dancer, his favourite thing about his trail through Covent Garden was knowing he was walking in the footsteps of famous and important people of the past. Many names have already been mentioned, however, before he reached the Covent Garden Market, Simeon found one more person to add to his list.

Along Henrietta Street above what is now the designer men’s shoe and clothes shop Oliver Sweeney, is where the novelist Jane Austen (1775-1817) stayed between 1813 and 14. In 1813, Jane’s older brother Henry lost his wife Eliza after a long and debilitating illness. After her death, Henry moved into the rooms above Tilson’s Bank on Henrietta Street, which is where Jane and her niece Fanny Knight visited him.

While she was visiting her brother, Jane took the opportunity to do some shopping, writing to her sister, “I hope that I shall find some poplin at Layton and Shear’s that will tempt me to buy it. If I do it shall be sent to Chawton, as half will be for you; for I depend upon your being so kind as to accept it . . . It will be a great pleasure to me. Don’t say a word. I only wish you could choose it too. I shall send twenty yards.” The shop she mentioned was also on Henrietta Street. Today, a plaque marks the apartments in which she stayed.

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Where’s Simeon?

Simeon (and friends) thoroughly enjoyed the murder mystery trail around Covent Garden set by Treasure Trails. This was not the first trail the little gibbon has completed, nor will it be the last. The trails allow you to solve fictional murders or find buried treasure, at the same time as discovering the hidden secrets of cities and towns around the United Kingdom. There are over 1000 trails to choose from that provide a fun way to explore all parts of the country.

Simeon has learnt that Convent Garden is not only a market but a whole district. He found hidden alleyways, beautiful statues, impressive buildings and interesting historical facts but, most importantly, he caught the killer. Simeon highly recommends Treasure Trails and cannot wait to go on his next adventure. I wonder where that will be?

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Catch up with Simeon’s previous adventures here:
Simeon goes to Amsterdam
Simeon and the Bloomsbury Treasures
Simeon Visits Rainham Hall
Simeon, the Cliffs and the Sea
Simeon Encounters Antwerp

For more information about Treasure Trails and the areas they cover, please visit their website.

Simeon Encounters Antwerp

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Simeon the red-haired gibbon (toffee-coloured, if you please) has been off on his travels once again. Having caught the travel bug on his trip to Amsterdam in 2018, Simeon could not wait to go on another trip abroad. This March, our fluffy little friend braved the Eurostar for his second holiday on foreign soil and he is eager to tell you all about it. So, here it is, Simeon’s review of a city like no other: Antwerp.

Antwerp is a city in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking northern portion of Belgium. Also known as Anvers in French, it is the most populous city in the country and lies approximately 25 miles north of the capital city Brussels. Situated on the River Scheldt, the Port of Antwerp is one of the biggest in the world, ranking second in Europe, Rotterdam in the Netherlands coming first.

Having travelled over 200 miles via Eurostar and train, Simeon got his first glimpse of Antwerp after emerging from the Premetro at the Groenplaats. The Groenplaats or ‘Green Place’ is one of Antwerp’s most prominent squares located in the heart of the city’s historic district. Ironically, there is nothing green about the cobblestoned square on top of an underground car park surrounded by cafes. The name stems from the cemetery that stood on the site until the 18th-century when Emperor Joseph II (1741-90) abolished cemeteries inside the city walls.

For Simeon, the first glimpse of Antwerp was rather overwhelming, having emerged from the underground to a world surrounded by Baroque buildings, an impressive cathedral and a Hilton hotel. In all the excitement, our little friend almost missed the bronze statue of Antwerp’s famous painter standing in the centre!

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In 1843, a crucifix that once stood in the Groenplaats was replaced by a statue of Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) who lived in Antwerp from 1587 until his death in 1640. By far the most celebrated artist in the city, the statue was commissioned in 1840 in honour of the bicentennial of Rubens’ death. The sculptor, Willem Geefs (1805-83), depicted the bearded artist standing with his paint palette and distinguished hat at his feet. Although some critics complained that the statue appeared to be discarding his artistic emblems on the floor, Geefs’ intention was for Rubens to be remembered as a human being rather than the most influential artist of Flemish Baroque tradition.
Rubens is not the only notable statue in the city; around the corner in the Grote Markt with its back to the Stadhuis van Antwerpen (city hall) is the Brabofontein, which tells a legendary tale from the Middle Ages. Simeon, a lover of fairytales, was enchanted to discover the story behind the intriguing statue.

Once upon a time, let’s say 2000 years ago, Antwerp was only a small settlement in the Roman empire, however, it was under threat from a huge giant of Russian descent. (Cue Simeon gasping) Druon Antigoon, as he was called, had built a large castle along the River Scheldt and was demanding a toll from every ship that wanted to pass by. Unfortunately, not everyone was rich enough or willing to hand over half of their cargo, which angered the giant. As a punishment, Druon Antigoon cut off the hands of sailors who refused to pay and threw them into the river. (Cue Simeon quaking in fear)

One day, a Roman soldier named Silvius Brabo was sailing along the river when he came upon the giant’s fortress. “Fee, fie, foe, fum, I smell the blood of an Italian man,” shouted Druon Antigoon. (Simeon added that bit) Just as he had done with all the previous sailors, the giant demanded Brabo to give him half of the ship’s cargo. Brabo refused but before the giant could chop off his hands, Brabo challenged him to duel. (Cue Simeon’s hair standing on end)

Brabo rushed at Druon Antigoon with his sword held high, (Cue Simeon covering his eyes) and just like in the poem Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll the vorpal blade went snicker-snack! Brabo chopped off the giant’s head and hand and threw them both into the river for good measure. Thus, Antwerp was saved from the giant and they all lived happily ever after. (Cue Simeon cheering)

Regardless of the accuracy of this myth – who knows, there could be an element of truth – according to Dutch etymology, the city’s name Antwerpen was derived from this event. The name is made up of two Flemish words: (h)ant” (hand) and “werpen” (launch), which allude to Brabo throwing Druon Antigoon’s hand into the river. Other etymologists, or spoilsports as Simeon calls them, maintain that Antwerp is a combination of “anda” (at) and “werpum” (wharf), regarding its location on the River Scheldt.

The legend of Brabo is very symbolic in Antwerp, particularly after the temporary downfall of the city in the 18th-century. In 1585, Dutch authorities closed the River Scheldt, requiring a toll from any passing boat. As a result, the city began to diminish in size until it lost its status as one of the world’s largest and most powerful cities. Recalling the legend of Brabo and the giant, the Dutch finally stopped demanding tolls in 1863 and the city began to grow once more.

As a reminder of the near ruin of the city, local sculptor Jef Lambeaux (1852-1908) presented the city council with a design for a new fountain celebrating the reopening of the river. The fountain portrays Brabo throwing the giant’s hand in the river. Brabo stands on top of a column decorated with water spouting sea animals, mermaids and a dragon-like monster. Druon Antigoon’s body and head lie at the bottom.

The fountain was inaugurated in 1887 and is turned on every summer with water spurting out from the various elements of the statue. Since it was March, the fountain was not in operation, which was just as well because Simeon had found a comfy place to sit on the rocks surrounding the base of the fountain!

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Simeon’s favourite statue in Antwerp is a fairly recent addition. Titled Nello and Patrasche, a sculpture of a boy and a dog lying on the ground partially covered by a blanket of cobblestones can be found on Handschoenmarkt, in front of the cathedral. Designed by Batist Vermeulen (‘Tist’), the boy and dog appear to be sleeping, or at least that is what Simeon thinks. The characters come from the 1872 novel A Dog of Flanders by the English author Marie Louise de la Ramée (1839-1908) under the pseudonym Ouida. The story, despite being popular in Antwerp at Christmas time, is rather sad and not for the likes of tender-hearted gibbons, so cover your ears, Simeon!

“One day, Nello and Jehan Daas find a dog who was almost beaten to death, and name him Patrasche. Due to the good care of Jehan Daas, the dog recovers, and from then on, Nello and Patrasche are inseparable. Since they are very poor, Nello has to help his grandfather by selling milk. Patrasche helps Nello pull their cart into town each morning.

Nello falls in love with Aloise, the daughter of Nicholas Cogez, a well-off man in the village, but Nicholas doesn’t want his daughter to have a poor sweetheart. Although Nello is illiterate, he is very talented in drawing. He enters a junior drawing contest in Antwerp, hoping to win the first prize, 200 francs per year. However, the jury selects somebody else.

Afterwards, he is accused of causing a fire by Nicholas (the fire occurred on his property) and his grandfather dies. His life becomes even more desperate. Having no place to stay, Nello wishes to go to the cathedral of Antwerp (to see Rubens’ The Elevation of the Cross and The Descent of the Cross), but the exhibition held inside the building is only for paying customers and he’s out of money. On the night of Christmas Eve, he and Patrasche go to Antwerp and, by chance, find the door to the church open. The next morning, the boy and his dog are found frozen to death in front of the triptych.”

On a happier note, the statue is popular with tourists and is a favourite destination for selfie-takers.

Simeon saw all three of these statues on his first tour of the city, however, during his four-night stay, he packed in so many of Antwerp’s other great attractions. Antwerp, particularly the Old Town, is full of museums that explore an extensive history of the city, culture and inhabitants. Of this large number of places to visit, Simeon would like to recommend three museums in particular. The first on his list is the home-turned-museum/gallery of Antwerp’s most famous resident, Rubens.

My dear friend Rubens,
Would you be so good as to admit the bearer of this letter to the wonders of your home: your paintings, the marble sculptures, and the other works of art in your house and studio? It will be a great delight for him.
Your dear friend Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresac, 16th August 1626

In a street named Wapper, Rubenshuis (The Rubens’ House) is open to the public daily from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., except on Monday, for a fee of €10 per adult. This is the house Peter Paul Rubens bought in 1610 with his first wife Isabella Brant (1591-1626), where he lived and worked until his death in 1640. Originally, the building was not as large as it is today, however, Rubens designed and enlarged sections, adding a studio, portico and a garden pavilion. Unfortunately, the garden and courtyard are undergoing restoration work and will not be open to the public until 2028.

Initially a typical Antwerpen house, Rubens developed it into a building that resembled an Italian palazzo. Not only was it an unparalleled home, but it was also the perfect location for Rubens’ internationally admired collection of paintings and classical sculpture. Despite the current renovations, the building retains its original mid-17th-century appearance, however, only a fraction of Rubens’ accumulation of art remains, the rest has been dispersed to museums and galleries throughout the world.

Disappointingly, very little is explained about Rubens’ day to day life in the house and the majority of artworks are by his contemporaries rather than himself. Nonetheless, there is a copy of the portrait Rubens produced of his second wife Helena Fourment (1614-73) whom he married when she was only sixteen. There is also one of Rubens’ four self-portraits, which he painted around the same time he married Helena, aged 53.

Simeon particularly enjoyed seeing Singerie, an oil painting by the Flemish painter Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625). It shows a group of monkeys dressed in clothes mimicking human behaviour. Brueghel was a good friend of Rubens, which is probably how this painting came to be in his possession.

Simeon’s advice: Pick up a free guide book at the ticket desk, which provides you with detailed information about the highlights in each room.

Through labour and perseverance.
– Plantin’s motto

With rooms set out as they may have been 400 years ago, the Museum Plantin-Moretus reveals the lives of the Plantin-Moretus family and the printing press Christophe Plantin (1520-89) and Jan Moretus (1543-1610) set up in the mid-16th-century. Now a Unesco world heritage site, for €8 visitors can experience the building’s creaking oak planks and panels, see an impressive collection of books and art, and the oldest printing presses in the world.

Christophe Plantin was a bookbinder from France who published his first book in 1555. In 1576, Plantin relocated his family and printing works to the Vrijdagmarkt in Antwerp, converting the house into a beautiful mansion. Here, he also set up his printing office, the Officina Plantiniana, which quickly became an international publishing firm and ranked among the top of Europe’s industrial leaders.

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In the heart of the mansion is the old printing shop, which was first used in 1580 until its last owner, Edward Moretus, sold the house to the City of Antwerp in 1876. The museum contains the two oldest printing presses in the world, dating from around 1600 and six other presses that are still in working order. Thousands of tiny lead type can be seen in wooden type cases, which, as Simeon learnt, were assembled in reverse on a chase before being put on the press.

Simeon’s advice: The museum takes approximately two hours to see in full. For those in a rush, by following the highlights on the map provided, it is possible to limit your visit to one hour. The entry bracelet allows visitors to come in and out of the museum throughout the day, so feel free to take a coffee break.

“A surprising museum in the heart of Antwerp”

Rubens was not the only artist and art collector to live in Antwerp. On Keizerstraat sits the houses of two key figures during the Baroque era, which have been combined to create the Snijders&Rockoxhuis, a museum open to the public every day except Mondays. Nicolaas Rockox (1560-1640), the burgemeester (mayor), and Frans Snijders (1579-1657), a painter of still life and animals, were next door neighbours for twenty years. Carefully restored and containing a number of artworks by Snijder and his contemporaries, the museum provides an insight into domestic environments of the 17th-century.

Nicolaas Rockox and his wife Adriana Perez both lived on Keizerstraat before they were married and remained in Adriana’s family home for a short while after their wedding. Eventually, they jointly purchased their beautiful house, known as Den Gulden Rinck, where they remained for the rest of their lives. After Rockox’s death, his nephew Adriaan van Heetvelde inherited the house with the condition that when there were no further heirs, it was to be sold on behalf of the poor. After changing hands numerous times, it was purchased by the non-profit association Artiestenfonds and converted into a museum of ‘neo’ or revival styles of art. Today, the museum is owned by KBC who are endeavouring to preserve the Flemish cultural heritage and have restored both houses to their original interior.

Visitors are provided with an iPad to take with them around the museum, which provides both an audio and visual guide. The audio guide describes the lives of Rockox and Snijders whilst the iPad contributes additional information about every artwork and object in the house. Simeon enjoyed learning about his favourite paintings in more detail and looking at the musical instruments on the top floor.

Simeon’s advice: All the information found on the iPads can be downloaded from their website to read later.

A little known fact about Simeon is that he thinks he is an aficionado of beautiful buildings, particularly churches (really he’s just a fan). Antwerp during the 17th-century was shaped by a large number of churches, however, during French Revolutionary rule, all but five monumental churches were destroyed. Fortunately, this was plenty enough to satiate Simeon’s intense desire to explore and he was able to visit four plus one of the newer churches.

Unmissable from nearly every section of Antwerp’s Old Town is the enormous Roman Catholic Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal (Cahedral of Our Lady) whose 400 ft steeple towers over the surrounding buildings. It took labourers 169 years (1352-1521) to build the tallest cathedral in the Low Countries, comprising of a short and long tower, seven naves and numerous buttresses. The interior, however, is but a shadow of its 16th-century opulence having suffered a fire in 1533 and various destruction during the “Iconoclastic Fury” (1566) and Calvinist “purification” (1581-1585). Initially, on every pillar was a decorated altarpiece, however, only a handful survived.

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Thanks to the aid of Archduke Albert (1559-1621), the Infanta Isabella (1566-1633) and the Counter-Reformation, glory was restored to the cathedral and Rubens was commissioned by Nicolaas Rockox to paint a new altarpiece, Descent from the Cross (1611-14), which can still be seen in place today. The triptych depicts three Biblical scenes: the expectant Virgin Mary, Christ being lowered from the cross, and the elderly Simeon (not the gibbon) in the Temple.

Other works by Rubens can also be found in the cathedral, for instance, Resurrection of Christ (1611-12) and Assumption of the Virgin (1625-26). Statues are also prevalent in the building, including two life-size limestone statues of Saints Peter and Paul designed by Johannes van Mildert (1588-1638) and a contemporary statue of burnished bronze, The Man Who Bears the Cross, which Jan Fabre (b.1958) produced in 2015. For a fee of €6, all this and more can be admired by the public.

On the outskirts of the Old Town, just off the Mechelspleintje (Mechelen square) is the Neo-Gothic Sint-Joris Kerk (the Church of St George). Built in 1853, the church was a replacement for its 13th-century predecessor that had been destroyed by the French in 1798. Despite being tiny in comparison to the cathedral, the architect included two impressive towers approximately 50 metres in height, and a statue of Saint George on a triangular pediment.

The interior of the church was mostly the work of Godfried Guffens (1823-1901) and Jan Swert (1820-79) who spent thirty years or so lavishly decorating the church with mural paintings. Mostly images of Jesus suffering on the cross, these symbolically represent the fight and hardships of the churches in Antwerp during the French Revolution.

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Simeon was most impressed with the large Merklin organ dated 1867, which has three keyboards and 1208 pipes. Although Simeon was not able to hear it played, it reportedly has beautiful acoustics and remains to be one of the best-preserved concert instruments in the city. The organ sits in front of a large stained glass window, looked down upon by two musical saints, Saint Cecilia, the patroness of musicians and Saint Gregory.

Located on the Hendrik Conscience square opposite the Erfgoedbibliotheek (Heritage Library) is the most important Baroque church in the Low Countries, Sint-Carolus Borromeuskerk (St Charles Borromeo’s Church). Consecrated in 1621, the church is a result of the Counter-Reformation, the Jesuit Order, and Antwerp’s number one painter, Rubens. The artist made considerable contributions to the facade, including the coat of arms featuring the “IHS” emblem of the Jesuits, and filled the interior with 39 ceiling paintings and three altarpieces.

Alas, a fire in 1718 destroyed the original ceiling and the altarpieces were moved to the Habsburg imperial collection in Vienna. Today, a smaller altarpiece by Rubens, Return of the Holy Family, commissioned by Nicolaas Rockox is one of the highlights inside the church.

Simeon’s favourite part of the church was the balcony from which he could look down upon the main body and altar. Two small altars can be found at either end of the balcony and, in the middle, visitors get a close up look of the huge organ.

Sint-Jacobskerk (St James’s Church) on Lange Nieuwstraat is the place to go for fans of Rubens. Only a short walk from Rubens’ house, St James’s was his parish church, which he began attending before the building was completed. The first stone of the Gothic church was laid in 1491 and the last some 150 years later. Today, the church is undergoing renovations, so to Simeon, it still did not look complete!

As was the fate of all churches in the area, the interior of the church was destroyed by Calvinist iconoclasts in 1566 but, fortunately, Baroque decorations were found to replace the majority of the damaged altars. The high altar was sculpted in marble and wood by at least four artists and is thought to cost as much as 17,874 guilders, which was roughly seventy times the annual wage of a master craftsman.

Being Rubens’ parish church, Sint-Jacobskerk is home to his resting place. One of the small, fairly modest chapels dedicated to the Virgin Mary, contains Rubens’ remains which lie under an altarpiece produced by his own hand. Rubens, a rather modest man himself, was offered the chapel as his burial ground whilst he was on his death bed. Rather than accepting the generous offer, he replied that he would only be buried there if his family believed he was worthy of such an honour. Naturally, his grave is now the biggest attraction at St James’s and there is a small fee required to gain entry to the church.

The final church Simeon visited was Sint Pauluskerk (St Paul’s Church) a former Dominican church on the corner of Veemarkt and Zwartzustersstraat. Originally part of a large Dominican abbey, the church has a number of Baroque altars, over 200 statues and 50 paintings by artists such as Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678), Rubens, and Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641).

Rubens was commissioned by the Dominicans to paint three large altarpieces and one of the fifteen paintings that make up the Rosary Cycle, Flagellation of Christ. Unfortunately, since the church building was not completed until 1634, Rubens never got to see his work in place because the altarpieces took many more years to finish and were, therefore, installed long after his death.

Visitors are welcome to view the treasures belonging to the church, including a number of reliquaries, chalices, ceremonial robes, sculptures and ornaments. One reliquary is said to contain a thorn from the crown Jesus wore at his crucifixion.

There are, of course, so many more places to visit in Antwerp but there is only so much a small gibbon can pack into a short trip. Buildings, such as Antwerpen-Centraal railway station, are worth admiring for their architecture. There is also the River Scheldt to walk along where you can see stunning sunsets in the evenings. Next to the station is Antwerp Zoo, one of the oldest in the world, established on 21st July 1843, which Simeon did not visit for fear they would not let him back out again!

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Of course, you cannot go to Belgium without sampling some chocolate and Antwerp has a great number of chocolate shops. Simeon’s favourite was Elisa Pralines in the Grote Markt, which sells hundreds of handmade chocolates. They also sell Antwerpen specialities, such as Antwerpse Handjes, which are biscuits in the shape of little hands.

Another Antwerpen speciality is Tripel D’anvers, a Belgian beer made in Antwerp that is “bold, generous and [has] plenty of attitude.” Simeon suggests ordering this in Antwerp’s oldest pub Quinten Matsijs, which is 450 years old. Named after the Flemish painter (1466–1530), the building dates from 1565 and has been the hangout of many Flemish writers, painters and poets. As well as beer, they serve Gezoden worst, an Antwerp speciality of boiled pork sausages with fine herbs, served in bouillon.

While in Antwerp, Simeon was never far away from a cafe or restaurant. There is something to suit every person and mealtime. For cakes and chocolate products, Simeon suggests Sofie Sucrée and for a light bite while museum visiting, Rubens Inn, which is located next to Rubenshuis. For those wishing to be waited upon, there is the t’ Hof van Eden (literally the Garden of Eden) on the Groenplaats, which has an extensive menu. For quick bites or “fast food”, Simeon recommends JACK Premium Burgers established by Jilles “Jack” D’Hulster who wanted to “do a simple thing well, and do it properly.” Alternatively, pop into Panos, which launched its famous sausage roll in 1982. And, for those who are sceptical about trying “foreign” food, there’s always a McDonalds or Starbucks around the corner.

Having exhausted himself by sharing all his memories of Antwerp, Simeon bids you farewell and bon voyage or Goede reis, and leaves you with his top tips.

Simeon’s Top Tips

1. Check museum opening times before you visit. Most museums are not open on Mondays.
2. Be quiet in the churches. Some people have come to pray and do not wish to be disturbed by noisy tourists.
3. Save money and walk. Although there is a tram system, everything in the Old Town is within walking distance.
4. Take a raincoat. Particularly if you are travelling in March.
5. Pace yourself. There is so much to see and you need time to take it all in.
6. Try some Antwerp/Belgium delicacies. There’s more than chocolates, biscuits, waffles and beer.
7. Do not eat too much chocolate. Seriously, it will not make your tummy feel good.
8. Do not cross the road on a red light. They do not like you doing that over there.
9. Do not fall into the river. It is deep and you will get wet.
10. No need to learn French. They speak Flemish Dutch in Antwerp.

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Read all about Simeon’s other adventures:
Simeon Goes to Amsterdam
Simeon and the Bloomsbury Treasures
Simeon Visits Rainham Hall
Simeon, the Cliffs and the Sea