The Father of Modern Photography

Situated in a converted 16th-century stable at Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire is a museum dedicated to one of the owners of the building and the nearby village. Whilst the French inventor Louis Daguerre (1787-1851) is usually recorded as the inventor of photography, Lacock owner William Henry Fox Talbot equally deserves that title. The museum demonstrates the history of photography from Talbot’s era up until the present day and explores Talbot’s techniques and processes.

William Henry Fox Talbot was born on 11th February 1800 to a soldier called William Davenport Talbot and the daughter of the 2nd Earl of Ilchester, Lady Elisabeth Fox Strangways. When he was only five months old, Talbot inherited Lacock Abbey following the sudden death of his father. Unfortunately, the estate came with a £30,000 debt, which was eventually paid off when his mother married the sympathetic Captain Charles Feilding in 1804. Feilding carefully managed the estate on his behalf to allow Talbot to focus on his schooling.

Talbot’s education began with the Scottish governess Agnes Porter (c.1752-1814) before attending a primary school in Rottingdean. Talbot did not live at Lacock during his early years. Instead, he lived with his mother on the south coast of England while the Abbey was let out to various lodgers. For his secondary education, Talbot boarded at Harrow School in Greater London. During his teens, Talbot took a keen interest in chemistry and used his pocket money to buy equipment for experiments. He also excelled at mathematics, which he went on to study at Trinity College, Cambridge.

By the age of 21, Talbot could legally take possession of Lacock, but it was let to a local MP at the time, so Talbot decided to visit Europe with his stepfather until the house became vacant. During his travels, Talbot met the polymath John Herschel (1792-1871), with whom he went on to collaborate, and Sir David Brewster (1781-1868), who influenced Talbot’s research into light and optics. In 1826, Talbot submitted a paper called Some Experiments on Coloured Flame to the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal, followed by an essay to the Quarterly Journal of Science about monochromatic light the following year.

In 1832, Talbot married Constance Mundy (1811-80) of Markeaton Hall. Constance was the youngest daughter of Francis Mundy (1771–1837), a Member of Parliament for Derbyshire. In the same year of their marriage, Talbot became the MP for Chippenham, meaning the newlywed couple had to wait a year before they could take their honeymoon. In June 1833, the Talbots finally travelled to Lake Como in Italy for six months, where they attempted to capture the scenery on paper with pen and brush. Constance proved to have a natural artistic talent, but Talbot struggled with his efforts. Determined to think of a solution to his difficulties, Talbot began experimenting with various methods, which eventually led to the negative-positive process of photography.

Talbot initially experimented with a camera obscura, which used natural light to reflect views onto a surface for an artist to trace. Although this made it slightly easier for Talbot to produce drawings, he did not take naturally to using pen and ink. Instead, Talbot thought, “How charming it would be if it were possible to cause these natural images to imprint themselves durably, and remain fixed on paper.”

To attempt to capture images, Talbot coated ordinary paper with table salt and silver nitrate, which he placed in the sun with an opaque object, such as a leaf, resting on top. Talbot discovered that the paper became dark in the sunlight, except for the section covered by the object, which left a silhouette of white paper. Talbot called these creations sciagraphs, which is Greek for “shadow drawings”.

Talbot’s early sciagraphs did not survive for long because after he exposed the white silhouette to the light, it too began to darken. Throughout the summer of 1843, Talbot experimented with ways to stabilise the images, eventually developing a wash of potassium iodide that successfully fixed the silhouettes in place. Pleased with his discovery, Talbot set up several modified camera obscurae around his estate at Lacock Abbey. He commissioned the Lacock village carpenter to produce little wooden boxes with microscope lenses to reflect silhouettes of buildings around the Abbey onto the light-sensitive paper. His wife, Constance, nicknamed the boxes “mousetraps” and Talbot named the resulting pictures the work of “Lilliputian artists”.

The first successful image Talbot took with a “mousetrap” camera was an oriel window from inside Lacock Abbey. Talbot set up the camera obscura to point at the window and left it for several hours. The result, whilst tiny, captured the intricate details of the diamond-patterned glass, plus the view beyond the window.

When Talbot showed the silhouettes to his friend Herschel, the polymath pointed out Talbot had created a “negative” image where the light sections become dark and vice versa. Herschel suggested the “negative” could be placed on another sheet of light-sensitive paper to reverse the dark and light tones. Herschel subsequently coined the terms “negative” and “positive” in relation to photography.

Despite Talbot’s progress, his political work as a Member of Parliament took up much of his time, thus preventing him from making his findings public. In January 1839, Louis Daguerre revealed to the world that he had “frozen” the images from a camera obscura. Much to Talbot’s dismay, Daguerre was hailed the “father of photography” and rewarded by the French government. It later became clear that Talbot’s and Daguerre’s techniques differed greatly, but it was still a blow to Talbot. It was also revealed that other inventors, such as Thomas Wedgwood (1771-1805) and Nicéphore Niépce (1765-1833), had captured shadows on paper much earlier but failed to find a way to prevent the images from darkening over time.

In 1840, Talbot observed that if he coated his light-sensitive paper with silver iodide instead of potassium, the paper reacted to sunlight within seconds. This significantly sped up the exposure time when capturing images. Talbot also discovered that applying gallic acid to the already exposed paper developed the image into a full-strength negative. The chemical also revived faded negatives.

Talbot’s mother suggested he name the new technique the “Talbotype”, but Talbot was not too keen to name it after himself like his rival Daguerre and the Daguerreotype. Talbot was also hesitant to declare his process to the world, so took out a patent before introducing his invention. In spring 1841, Talbot publically named the process the “calotype” after the Greek word kalos, meaning “beautiful”.

Patenting the calotype caused more problems than it solved because anyone wishing to use the process needed to apply for a licence. Although Talbot received the Rumford Medal of the Royal Society for his photographic discoveries in 1842, he received many criticisms about the way he handled the administration of the calotype licences. Some accused Talbot of hindering the development of photography through money-grabbing schemes, although Talbot did not make much money from patenting his work. Meanwhile, the Daguerrotype became well-established as the principal method of photography.

Attempting to undo the damage to his reputation, Talbot published the first photographic book, The Pencil of Nature (1844). He wrote about potential uses of photography in the future, including portraiture, landscapes, architecture and documentation. The photographs for the publication were taken by Talbot’s former valet, Nicholas Henneman (1813-98), using the calotype process.

Henneman was not the first photographer to adopt the calotype process. Talbot previously licensed the painter Henry Collen (1797-1879) as the first professional calotypist in 1841. Collen subsequently set up the first calotype studio in London where he took one thousand portraits using Talbot’s process. One of his earliest photographs was of Queen Victoria (1819-1901) with one of her daughters.

Talbot set up the second calotype studio, the Reading Establishment, halfway between London and his home at Lacock. Talbot employed Henneman as a photographic assistant, who printed many of Talbot’s photographs. These include a series titled Sunpictures, which featured places mentioned in poems by Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), and about 7,000 prints for Talbot’s article in the June 1864 issue of the Art-Union Journal. Henneman also developed negatives for other photographers, totalling over 50,000 prints before the short-lived studio closed in 1847.

Talbot continued to experiment with photographic processes for the rest of his career. He was one of the earliest researchers in the field of spectral analysis and investigated the polarization of light. He pioneered the polarizing microscope, which is still used today to identify minerals and chemical elements in rocks. Talbot also studied the diffraction of light using gratings, which led to the discovery of a phenomenon known today as the Talbot effect.

For development purposes, Talbot made the calotype licences free for scientific uses. Using his scientific knowledge, Talbot experimented with microscope lenses, including those used in telescopes, to take close-up images of flowers and insects. These are known as photomicrographs because they reveal details that are usually difficult to see with the naked human eye.

Whilst the development of photography took up a great deal of Talbot’s time, he still enjoyed his family and political life. His wife, Constance, encouraged his photographic exploits and became the first woman to take a photograph, but she also wanted to focus on raising a family. Talbot began to distance himself from politics during the 1840s, despite being made High Sheriff of Wiltshire by Queen Victoria in 1839, so he could spend time at Lacock with his young children.

Talbot and Constance had four children, Ela Theresa (1835-93), Rosamond Constance (1837-1906), Matilda Caroline (b. 1839) and Charles Henry (1842-1916). Matilda was the only child to marry and provide Talbot with grandchildren, John Henry (b. 1861), Constance (b. 1863) and Matilda Theresa (1871-1958). The youngest granddaughter lived at Lacock, eventually selling the Abbey and village to the National Trust.

Due to Talbot’s passion for photography, Lacock Abbey became the first widely photographed building. Talbot often asked his family and workers to pose, but when no one was available, he took still-life shots of the many statues and ornaments around the estate. As he got older, Talbot began to spend less time at Lacock, preferring to stay in Edinburgh, where his daughter lived with her husband, John Gilchrist-Clark (1830-82) and her children.

In 1863, Talbot received an honorary doctorate from Edinburgh University. As well as a photographer and scientist, Talbot was a geologist, mathematician, botanist, astronomer and classicist. He also helped decipher cuneiform, an ancient Assyrian form of writing, which he wrote about in eight books and over 100 articles.

After a lifetime of achievement, albeit not always recognised, William Henry Fox Talbot passed away in his library at Lacock on 17th September 1877. He is buried in Lacock village cemetery along with several members of his family. Whilst not many people know about his contribution to photography, the National Trust is attempting to change that with a museum dedicated to his work at Lacock Abbey.

Although Louis Daguerre usually takes the credit for the invention of the photograph, Talbot improved the process by developing the negative, which until the introduction of digital cameras, was a vital part of photography. Talbot’s contribution to science helped shape the future, but he also helped preserve the past. Through careful upkeep, much of Lacock appears as it did during Talbot’s time, almost as though he captured it as a photograph for posterity. Lacock is now a place of historical interest and is popular with filmmakers of period dramas. As Talbot’s granddaughter, Matilda, said, “I have a pleasant feeling that Lacock is rather like a tree which will go on growing, even if most of the people that sat under its shade have moved on to another world.”


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Lacock Abbey

Situated in the county of Wiltshire in South West England is a village that time forgot. Used as a backdrop in many period dramas, Lacock has a history that dates back around 800 years. Originally belonging to a nunnery at Lacock Abbey, followed by its subsequent owners, the village is now almost entirely owned by the National Trust.

Lacock Abbey was founded by Ela, Countess of Salisbury (1187-1261), in 1232 during the reign of Henry III (1207-72). The village predates the nunnery by several hundred years and is recorded in the Domesday Book as the property of Edward of Salisbury, Ela’s great-great-grandfather. The name derives from the Saxon word lacuc, meaning “little stream”, which references the nearby Bide Brook.

While under the ownership of the Abbey, the village inhabitants paid their rent by work and goods, such as hay, corn, hides and fleeces, which were collected in the old Tithe Barn. Lacock Abbey soon became known for its wool trade and owned a flock of 2,000 sheep by 1476. Many village tenants were responsible for shearing the sheep and washing the wool ready for trading. In 1539, Lacock was prosperous enough to be called a town by Henry VIII‘s (1491-1547) dissolution commissioners.

Lacock continued to thrive under the various owners of Lacock Abbey throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. The London to Bath road helped bring in more trade, which financed improvements to buildings in the village. Despite being made up of four roads, Lacock opened seven alehouses in the 1620s, of which only four public houses remain. The village also owned a “blind house”, where drunkards were left to sober up.

Despite Lacock’s early success, the Industrial Revolution during the 19th century took trade away from manual workers, replacing them with mechanical factories that could produce wool and other products at a quicker pace. The lack of a railway also reduced trade significantly. Without any money, the modernisation of the village ceased, and some inhabitants sought employment elsewhere. The landlord at the time, William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-77), tried to help his tenants and persuaded Parliament to sponsor a few to emigrate to Canada. Many of the remaining inhabitants ended up in the village poorhouse.

Talbot did his best to support his remaining tenants and established a new school in 1824, which still thrives today. Many people continued to work in the fields, and children occasionally left school early to help their fathers during haymaking season.

As time passed, the villagers set up local businesses in their cottages. These included four grocers, four bakers, two blacksmiths, a draper, a tailor, and a luxury goods store. Several men also worked as carpenters, masons, undertakers and plumbers. Between 1927 and 1966, Lacock had a postman named Harry Potter, who worked six days a week. Coincidentally, parts of Lacock and the Abbey became film locations for the famous film franchise Harry Potter (2001-2011).

Lacock has had a church since the Norman occupation of the 12th century. Although it was rebuilt around 1450, the church retains its Norman dedication to Saint Cyriac. According to legend, Cyriac was a three-year-old child killed by the governor of Tarsus in AD 303. His mother, Julitta, attempted to flee with her son from Christian persecutors but did not make it far. While his mother was being tortured, Cyriac scratched at the face of the governor holding him captive, who subsequently threw Cyriac down the stairs. Julitta refused to weep for her son; instead, she rejoiced that he had earned the title of a martyr. Angry with this reaction, the governor put Julitta to death.

Until 1962, St Cyriac’s Church was the home of the Lacock Cup, “one of the most significant pieces of secular English medieval silver” from the 15th century. Although it was intended for feasting, its purpose changed after the English Reformation in the 16th century. The church used it as a goblet to hold enough communion wine for the congregation. Previously, churches used cups decorated with religious imagery, but these were deemed too Catholic by Henry VIII.

Due to the Lacock Cup’s age and rarity, St Cyriac’s Church lent it to the British Museum for safe keeping in 1962, where it remains on display today. In 2013, the church needed significant money to maintain and restore the building, so they officially sold the cup to the British Museum and Wiltshire Museum for £1.3 million. The Wiltshire Museum agreed the Lacock Cup could remain at the British Museum in London but had a replica made for themselves and another for the church.

Visitors to Lacock may recognise some buildings and streets from period dramas, including Pride and Prejudice (2005). Whilst Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s Rosings was filmed at Belton House, parts of Mr Darcy’s Pemberley were filmed at Lacock Abbey, and the Bennets shopped in Lacock, which was renamed Meryton for the duration of the show. For the 2007 show Cranford, Lacock became an 1840s village with earth spread over the tarmac and a false facade erected in front of the Red Lion inn.

Other television shows and films recorded at Lacock include Downton Abbey (2015 and 2018), Mariah Mundi and the Midas Box (2012), Wolf Hall (2015), Beauty and the Beast (2017), and two Harry Potter films. One quaint building in the village appeared in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001) during a flashback scene about the death of the titular character’s parents. More iconic scenes were filmed at Lacock Abbey, which was also used as a setting for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002) and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018).

The Abbey Cloisters became corridors of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry on several occasions. Several rooms also became the Potions and Defense Against the Dark Arts classrooms. The Cloister originally ran around an 80-foot open square, but the west corridor later became part of the servants’ quarters. The medieval plaster still contains traces of wall paintings, such as the head of Saint Christopher carrying the Christ Child, which is visible in the Chaplain’s room off the South Cloister. There is also evidence of 15th-century graffiti signed Johan fecit hoc (John did this).

Restoration work in the 1980s uncovered other faded paintings, including a kneeling nun receiving the blessing of a bishop. The mural dates back to the early 15th century when Agnes Frary (1429-45) was the Abbess. Only the silhouettes of the two figures remain, but people assume the bishop is Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD), the founder of the Augustinian Order.

The first Harry Potter film used the Chapter House as the location of the Mirror of Erised, in which Harry saw his parents reflected back at him. The nuns met in the Chapter House to read a passage from the Rule of St Augustine. Written around 400 AD, these rules served as an outline for religious life in a community and emphasised chastity, obedience and charity.

Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Lacock Abbey came into the possession of William Sharington (c.1495-1553), an ambitious Tudor courtier who converted the building into a large house. Despite having three wives, Sharington had no children, so Lacock Abbey was passed on to Sharington’s brother, Henry (1518-1581). Henry entertained Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) at the house during her visit to Lacock in 1574, earning him a knighthood.

Following Sir Henry Sharington’s death in 1581, Lacock Abbey became the possession of his daughter Olive (d.1646), the wife of John Talbot of Salwarpe (d. 1581). Their eldest son, Sherrington, predeceased his mother by four years, so Olive’s grandson, Sherrington Talbot the Younger (d.1677), inherited the Abbey instead. Sherrington Talbot was a Royalist and was forced to give up Lacock Abbey to the Parliamentary forces during the Civil War. Fortunately, his younger brother Gilbert, a founding member of the Royal Society, managed to claim back the Abbey after the restoration of the monarchy. Gilbert died unmarried, so Lacock Abbey was passed on to the eldest son of Sherrington Talbot, John (1630-1714).

John Talbot only had daughters, so on his death, the Abbey became the home of his eldest grandson, John Ivory, who added the name Talbot to his name. During the 58 years he lived at the Abbey, Ivory Talbot made many changes to the building before passing it on to his son, John. Unfortunately, John died six years after inheriting Lacock, so it was passed on to his sister Martha, the wife of Reverend William Davenport (not to be confused with the fictional vicar in the television series Granchester).

When Martha died in 1790, her son, William Davenport Talbot (1764-1800), inherited the estate. As a soldier, Davenport Talbot racked up many debts and left his wife and young son penniless after his death in 1800. His widow, Lady Elisabeth Fox-Strangways, moved out of the Abbey and let it out until she remarried to Captain Charles Feilding in 1827. The Captain, later an Admiral, helped bring the estate out of debt and made it into a comfortable home for his stepson, William Henry Fox Talbot, the Victorian pioneer of photography and the inventor of the negative.

Lacock Abbey subsequently passed on to Fox Talbot’s son Charles in 1877, who left it to his niece, Matilda Gilchrist-Clark (1871-1958), who gave it to the National Trust. The house remained inhabited by Matilda’s great-nephew and niece until they died in 2002 and 2011. Since then, the house has become a museum of Lacock Abbey’s rich and varied history.

Most of the rooms at Lacock Abbey are open to the public, although access may depend on the number of volunteers available on the day. One notable room to see is the Blue Parlour, which William Henry Fox Talbot used as a library. The walls were painted blue by his grandaughter Matilda when she inherited the Abbey in 1916, which she believed to be very similar to its original colour at the beginning of the 19th century.

The desk in the Blue Parlour is known as a Carlton House desk. It was first made for the home of the Prince Regent in around 1825. Allegedly, the desk was given to Lacock Abbey by Queen Victoria (1819-1901), who wished to pay off the gambling debts incurred by her father. Also in the room are several items and books that allude to Fox Talbot’s studies. Lacock has a collection of almost 4,000 books that span from the late 13th century to the 20th century.

The South Gallery, which served as a corridor between the nun’s dormitory and the chapel, became a family sitting room during Fox Talbot’s time at Lacock Abbey. Guests frequently filled the long room for evenings of entertainment, which included poetry, singing and piano music. Situated next to the piano is an Angel harp made by the French instrument maker, Sébastien Érard (1752-1831). A photograph, presumably taken by Fox Talbot, shows his half-sister Horatia Feilding (c.1809-51) playing the harp. 

Fox Talbot enlarged the South Gallery by adding three oriel windows, which let in plenty of light and provided views across the land. One of these windows played a significant part in the development of photography.

Although Fox Talbot and Louis Daguerre (1787-1851) both lay claim to the invention of photography, Fox Talbot is credited for the development of the camera negative. In August 1835, Fox Talbot set up his camera in the South Gallery, pointing at one of the oriel windows. Although it took much longer to produce than a simple click of a button, the result was the first negative photographic image. Whilst the negative reversed the light and dark tones of the image, it captured the 200 diamond-shaped panes of glass in the window.

At one end of the South Gallery is the Dining Room, which John Ivory Talbot decorated in the Palladian style. The doors are set in cases with curved brackets and triangular pediments. The fireplace also features Palladian characteristics. Family meals were usually eaten here until Matilda converted it into a ballroom. The National Trust has since returned the dining table to the room to make it resemble the space where previous owners ate in relative privacy.

When John Ivory Talbot moved into Lacock Abbey, he immediately hired the architect Sanderson Miller (1716-80) to rebuild the “horrid” Tudor hall. At Ivory Talbot’s request, the barrel-vaulted ceiling was painted with 45 heraldic shields. Miller salvaged glass from the nunnery to use in the windows and designed the Gothick cornice and canopied niches. Austrian modeller, Victor Alexander Sederbach, produced several terracotta sculptures for the niches.

Many of the terracotta sculptures pay homage to the nunnery. Above the chimneypiece, a statue of Abbess Ela stands with her two granddaughters, who also served as nuns. Another statue is William Longespée (1156-1226), Ela’s husband. When Longespée died, Ela decided not to remarry and devoted herself to God instead. Longespée’s father was King Henry II (1113-89), who also stands in one of the niches, as do two of his grandsons, Ela’s children. The statue that stands out to most visitors is a man and goat, upon whose nose rests a sugar lump. A student staying at the Abbey in 1919 positioned the sugar lump as a prank, but Matilda found it so amusing that she insisted it remain there, replacing it with a fresh lump when necessary.

Outside the Abbey is an extensive parkland, with several gardens and beds of flowers that bloom at various times of the year. For the nuns, the land provided food and a peaceful sanctuary. For the subsequent inhabitants, it became a space to enjoy and escape the hustle and bustle of towns and cities. The gardens are still carefully maintained for visitors to explore.

Lacock Abbey is open daily for paying visitors and National Trust members. In addition to the Abbey, there is a museum about William Henry Fox Talbot, which documents his life and experiments with photography. Lacock Village is open from dawn to dusk, with several shops selling local products. Visitors need to be mindful that people live in the village and must not trespass on private properties.

For more information about visiting Lacock Abbey, go to the National Trust website.


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The Painting Demon

Kawanabe Kyōsai may not be as famous as other Japanese artists, but the Royal Academy claims he was one of the most exciting painters from Japan in the 19th century. From 19th March until 19th June 2022, the RA exhibited a large number of Kyōsai’s works belonging to the London-based art collector Israel Goldman (b.1958). Goldman has amassed an impressive collection of over 1,000 pieces of art by Kyōsai, including prints, paintings and sketches, which reveal Kyōsai’s witty imagination and exceptional skill.

Kyōsai was born in Koga in 1831 during the Edo Period. As a child, he studied with the ukiyo-e artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798-1861), who specialised in woodblock printing. Later, he studied at the Kanō school of art, where he gained the nickname “The Painting Demon”. Rather than sticking to the traditional ukiyo-e art, Kyōsai broke away after the Meiji Restoration in 1867 to focus on political caricature, for which he was arrested on three occasions.

Kyōsai demonstrated a lighter, more fluid style of art than most of his contemporary Japanese artists. The traditional painting techniques were reserved for serious subjects, such as literature and religion, whereas Kyōsai’s skill with the paintbrush was more suited to comic pictures. Kyōsai often incorporated serious themes into his work, such as politics, but always managed to introduce humour into the scene. He also adopted Western techniques, including perspective and shading.

In 1881, Kyōsai became famous in Japan after winning a prize for his painting Winter Crow on a Withered Branch at the Domestic Industrial Exposition. Three years later, another painting, Crows on a Withered Branch, won him more prizes. From then on, crows symbolised success for Kyōsai and frequently appeared in his artwork.

A collector purchased Crows on a Withered Branch for 100 yen. To put this into perspective, this was enough money to buy 400 bottles of saké, an alcoholic beverage made of fermented rice. Several of Kyōsai’s crow paintings were sent to Europe, leading to commissions from people all over the world. His crows quickly took on new meaning and symbolised Kyōsai flying across the planet and spreading his reputation.

Ever since his first sketch as a child, Kyōsai’s favourite animal to paint was a frog. The creatures had plenty of comic potential, which Kyōsai used to produce satirical pictures of society. He used frogs to represent the lives of ordinary people, whether they be street performers, postal workers or children. Frog School, painted in the early 1870s, depicts frog students interacting with a frog teacher, who points at a lotus-leaf wallchart. Around the time Kyōsai produced this artwork, a national education system was established in Japan, resulting in the opening of the first public elementary school in 1872.

Kyōsai’s work documented the changes occurring in Japan during the 1860s and 70s. Political turmoil and economic instability led to the collapse of the shogunate and the rise of the Meiji government. Kyōsai depicted the events in his artwork as frog battles, monsters and semi-human characters called tengu. Under the new government, 260 years of isolation ended with the introduction of Western culture into Japan. Kyōsai’s excitement about the new era, which included modern technologies such as trains and the telegraph, is evident in his artwork.

The Meiji government introduced a policy of hiring European and American teachers and specialists to work in the new schools in Japan. Josiah Conder (1852-1920), a British architect, travelled to Japan to become a professor of architecture for the Imperial College of Engineering. Known today as the “father of Japanese modern architecture”, Conder taught many young architects and built several notable buildings, including the Rokumeikan (Banqueting House) and the Holy Resurrection Cathedral in Tokyo.

Conder met Kyōsai in 1881 when he was accepted as Kyōsai’s pupil. Kyōsai gave him the name Conder Kyōei (ei meaning Britain) and taught him the art of Japanese painting. Whilst he did not excel at painting, Conder remained Kyōsai’s friend and patron. Kyōsai’s initial fame in Europe is largely thanks to Conder sending examples of art home to Britain.

An example of the Western influence on Kyōsai’s work is evident in Skeleton Shamisen Player in Top-Hat with Dancing Monster (1878). Western costumes were becoming all the rage in Japan, and Kyōsai wanted to emphasise that no matter how much people changed their appearance, they remained the same underneath. The skeleton in the painting wears a top hat and black jacket and plays the guitar, which was a relatively new instrument in Japan. Not only does the artwork poke fun at the people adopting the fads and fashions, but it also emphasises that the way people dress does not affect the transience of life. The samurai sword sticking out from behind the skeleton shows that it is impossible to completely escape native cultures.

With Western culture came Western religion, particularly Christianity. Kyōsai painted a picture called Five Holy Men to illustrate the influence the new religions had on traditional Japanese beliefs. Kyōsai included a verse written by the Confucian scholar Tachibana Kirō from the point of view of a Japanese deity, which reads: “While I protect myself, Christ seizes the moment to dance, Shakyamuni and Laozi tune in, and Confucius beats the drum in attack. The world is one great theatre.” At the time of painting, Confucianism was being challenged by modern thinking, and Buddhism was struggling to stop so-called Christian men from exploiting their country.

Despite the influx from the west, Kyōsai continued to satirise the traditions and government in Japan. During the summer, processions of decorated floats filled the city of Edo (now Tokyo). Kyōsai represented this in Cats Pulling a Catfish Float, in which the catfish with its moustache represented the government officials. The cats symbolised geishas and courtesans, who used stringed instruments made from catskin.

Kyōsai’s satirical paintings frequently got him into trouble with the government, as he recorded in his four-volume semi-autobiography Kyōsai gadan (Kyōsai’s Account of Painting). Transcribed by Uryū Masayasu and illustrated by Kyōsai, the book features an account of Kyōsai’s arrest in 1870 after being accused of painting insulting images of high-ranking people. The incident occurred at a shogakai, a commercially organised calligraphy and painting party. 

Shogakai attendees paid a fee to enter the party, after which they could ask any artist to produce work for them at no extra charge. At the gatherings, painters often worked with a calligrapher, who would inscribe a poem on the edge of the artwork. The parties usually involved a lot of alcohol, which in Kyōsai’s case, made him playful and more likely to produce insulting images of the commissioners. When writing about the shogakai, Joseph Conder noted, “Under the influence of Bacchus some of his (Kyōsai) strangest fancies, freshest conceptions and boldest touches were inspired.”

Between 1876 and 1878, Kyōsai collaborated with 54 artists to produce a painting of a shogakai. Kyōsai painted all the figures but left blank scroll papers for other artists to fill in with their artwork or calligraphy. Collaboration was an important component of Japanese art, particularly between teachers and pupils, yet until the 19th century, this was usually a private affair. During Kyōsai’s lifetime, the creative process became public, almost like a performance. Kyōsai became known for his speedy, skilful performances, which became more dramatic the more he drank.

Several of Kyōsai’s satirical artworks contained what is classed as “toilet humour” today. Fart Battle (1881) depicts men passing wind at each other and blowing people and objects away. Whilst Kyōsai painted scenes of this nature because they amused him, the tradition dates back much further. Dating back as far as the 12th century, art historians suspect these “fart battles” illustrated Japan’s xenophobia. For centuries, Japan remained isolated from the world and did not welcome foreigners. Artists satirised the government’s wish to oust Western cultures from the country through the strength of their resources, or in this instance, their bodies.

Kyōsai also included stories in his artwork. Some depicted real events, such as wars, although fought by frogs instead of humans. Others satirised scandals, often painting the government in a negative light. A handful of Kyōsai’s artworks illustrate stories and parables, for instance the ancient Indian story about three blind men describing an elephant. Having never come across an elephant before, the men attempt to describe it by feeling a different part of the animal’s body. Each man only touches one section, such as the side or the tusk, and attempts to describe the elephant’s physical appearance. Kyōsai likened this tale to a group of Blind Connoisseurs commenting on a painting. This theme also mocks critics and judges at official art competitions and exhibitions, whose comments suggest they did not pay much attention to the art they were judging.

Kyōsai also likened art critics and judges to tengu, semi-human supernatural beings with long noses. According to Japanese folklore, tengu were the reincarnated spirits of arrogant people. They had long noses that stuck up in the air. The expression “being a tengu” is the equivalent of being conceited or “sticking your nose up in the air”. Some interpret Kyōsai’s painting Tengu Viewing Art as critics at art competitions looking disdainfully down at the paintings they are supposed to be judging. An alternative interpretation is the tengu are connoisseurs who are proud of their art collection and believe they are more culturally sophisticated than others.

After looking at Kyōsai’s work, it is evident that the majority of his paintings had more than one meaning. Ink Battle, for instance, references a traditional New Year’s party given by the Sōma samurai clan during the Meiji period. Hosts applied ink to the faces of their guests to wish them a happy and healthy year. Rather than depicting the event as a joyous occasion, Kyōsai painted two groups dressed as medieval courtiers and warriors fighting with giant paint brushes and ink. This may allude to the battles between the supporters of the Edo empire and the Meiji government during the 1860s.

Despite satirising the Western world in some of his artworks, Kyōsai embraced European cultures and had many foreign friends. As well as Conder, Kyōsai taught the Anglo-Irish journalist, Francis Brinkley (1841-1912), who wrote several books about Japan, including an English-Japanese Dictionary. Kyōsai also befriended Mortimer Menpes (1855-1938), an Australian-born British painter, who enjoyed watching Kyōsai paint. Speaking of his time in Japan, Menpes recalled, “I never saw such facility in my life … in about seven minutes he had completed a picture, superbly drawn and full of character.”

In 1888, the Japanese art critic Okakura Kakuzō (1863-1913) and American art historian Ernest Fenollosa (1853-1908) asked Kyōsai to consider teaching at the Tokyo School of Arts. This prestigious offer indicated the school acknowledged Kyōsai as a legitimate successor of the Kanō tradition. Unfortunately, Kyōsai developed stomach cancer the same year and was unable to take up the offer.

Despite treatment from the German physician Erwin Bälz (1849-1913), Kyōsai passed away on 24th April 1889 at the age of 59. He died at home with Josiah Conder holding his hand. Little is known about his private life, but it is believed he was also surrounded by family and friends. Eighty-eight years after his death, Kyōsai’s granddaughter, Dr Kawanabe Kusumi, opened the Kawanabe Kyōsai Memorial Museum in Saitama, Tokyo, in 1977.

Kyōsai’s reputation quickly dwindled following his death. His artwork did not conform to traditional Japanese standards, nor was it westernised enough to appeal to art collectors in Europe and America. Kyōsai’s drinking habits and prison sentences also diminished his status now that he was no longer around to defend himself. Thanks to Israel Goldman, Kyōsai’s work is gaining recognition and popularity. Contemporary generations look at the paintings from a new perspective and appear amused rather than shocked at their satirical nature. Kyōsai’s style of art also appeals to manga and tattoo artists, who incorporate Japanese and Asian aspects into their designs.

Kyōsai: The Israel Goldman Collection takes place in The Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries at the Royal Academy of Arts until 19th June 2022. Tickets are £15 but concessions are available.


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Raphael

After delaying its opening due to Covid-19, the National Gallery in London finally opened its doors to The Credit Suisse Exhibition: Raphael on 9th April 2022. Originally intended to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Raphael’s death in 2020, the exhibition is the first outside of Italy to encompass the entire length of Raphael’s artistic career. Whilst Raphael’s life was short, he was a prolific painter, producing as much work as other painters who lived twice as long. Working across a wide range of media, Raphael produced oil and fresco paintings and designed prints, tapestries, mosaics and sculptures. The extensive exhibition, with loans from the Louvre, Uffizi and Vatican, proves that whilst Raphael passed away at the age of 37, his legacy is immortal.

Although known mononymously as Raphael, the artist’s birth name was Raffaello Santi or Sanzio. He was born in 1483 to Giovanni Santi (1440-94), the court painter of the Duke of Urbino, and Màgia di Battista Ciarla. Unfortunately, Raphael’s mother died when he was only eight years old, and his father followed three years later. For the remainder of Raphael’s childhood, his paternal uncle, a priest called Bartolomeo, served as his formal guardian.

Raphael showed a talent for drawing at a young age and continued his father’s workshop following his death in 1494. Some sources claim Raphael received training from Pietro Perugino (1446-1523), but others maintain Raphael only worked as Perugino’s assistant, from whom he picked up similar artistic traits.

Raphael had a talent for seamlessly combining observation and imagination, which attracted several religious establishments in the Umbrian cities of Città di Castello and Perugia. His first documented commission was for the church of Saint Nicholas of Tolentino in 1500, after which Raphael worked in numerous churches. In 1503, he painted the Mond Crucifixion, an altarpiece for the church of San Domenico. The main panel depicts the Crucifixion of Jesus against a luminous Umbrian sky. Two angels hover in the sky, collecting Christ’s blood in chalices, while on the ground kneel Mary Magdalene and Saint Jerome. The church had a chapel dedicated to the saint, which is likely why he was included in this composition. Also depicted in the painting are John the Evangelist and the Virgin Mary, who stand slightly behind the kneelers.

From 1504 to 1508, Raphael spent a lot of time in Florence. A letter from the mother of the Duke of Urbino, for whom Raphael’s father once worked, suggests he travelled to the city in search of patrons and customers. The letter reads, “The bearer of this will be found to be Raphael, painter of Urbino, who, being greatly gifted in his profession has determined to spend some time in Florence to study. And because his father was most worthy and I was very attached to him, and the son is a sensible and well-mannered young man, on both accounts, I bear him great love…”

On arrival in Florence, Raphael’s style of art was very much like Perugino’s, but he soon started adopting the manners of other artists, including Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519), Michelangelo (1475-1564) and Donatello (1386-1466). (Incidentally, Raphael, Leonardo, Michelangelo and Donatello are the names of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.) One of Raphael’s drawings, potentially a study for a painting that is either lost or never produced, looks remarkably similar to Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Raphael’s painting of Saint Catherine of Alexandria also bears similarities to Da Vinci’s work.

With her arm resting on the wheel upon which she was tortured, Saint Catherine’s slightly corkscrewed body is an echo of Da Vinci’s lost painting Leda and the Swan. Unlike Leda, Catherine is fully clothed and looks up to the sky in ecstasy. The religious nature of the scene is still reminiscent of Perugino’s work, but the inclusion of other influences shows Raphael was experimenting and developing as an artist.

Raphael’s painting of The Madonna of the Pinks also pays homage to Da Vinci. With similarities to the Benois Madonna, a youthful Virgin Mary sits playing with the Christ child, handing him carnations (pinks). Carnations belong to the dianthus genus, Greek for “flower of God”. In art, these flowers are symbolic of Christ’s Passion, from His entry into Jerusalem to His death and resurrection. Due to the similarities with other artists, scholars only officially identified The Madonna of the Pinks as a genuine Raphael in 1991.

During his years in Florence until his first year in Rome in 1508, Raphael painted many Madonnas (depictions of the Virgin and Child). Several were commissioned as large-scale altarpieces for churches, although some were designed for private prayer and devotion. As well as showing great attention to detail, Raphael filled his religious paintings with symbolism and dynamism, which emphasised the importance of the characters.

The Tempi Madonna, so named because Raphael painted it for the Tempi family, depicts Mary’s maternal love for her child. Unlike other Madonnas, which usually hint at Christ’s future through his dramatic poses and behaviour, this painting is more natural. Raphael reveals the emotion, tenderness and absorption of a mother, who holds her son close with her cheek pressed against his. Yet, the baby, Christ, stares into the distance as though contemplating his destiny. Raphael may have taken inspiration for the emotionally charged scene from sculptural reliefs made by Donatello.

A more typical pose of the Christ child is the scene in Raphael’s Alba Madonna, which belonged to the Dukes of Alba in Spain until 1836. As well as Jesus and Mary, the infant John the Baptist joins the scene, holding purple anemones, symbolising Christ’s fate. Other flowers in the painting hold significant meaning, including cyclamen for love and sorrow, and violets for humility. Some scholars surmise the tondo-style artwork was inspired by Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling.

In 1508, Raphael moved to Rome, where he immediately gained two new patrons, Pope Julius II (1443-1513) and the Pope’s principal financial backer, Agostino Chigi (1466-1520). The Sienese banker was allegedly the richest man in Italy and required Raphael to produce frescoes for his villa in the Via della Lungara, now a museum called Villa Farnesina. Chigi also commissioned Raphael to design chapels in two churches, Santa Maria della Pace and Santa Maria del Popolo.

While working for Chigi, Raphael also completed many works for Julius II, starting with a fresco in the Pope’s private library at the Vatican Palace. The Stanza della segnatura (Room of the Signatura), or Stanze for short, and other rooms in the palace are frequently referred to as the “Raphael Rooms” because of the numerous paintings that adorn the walls and ceilings. The majority of the paintings depict religious scenes, such as Cardinal and Theological Virtues, Disputation of the Holy Sacrament, Deliverance of Saint Peter and The Vision of the Cross. Other scenes captured legendary events, including The Coronation of Charlemagne and The Battle of the Milvian Bridge.

One of the most famous of Raphael’s paintings for the Stanze is The School of Athens, painted between 1509 and 1511. The masterpiece reflects the growing interest in Ancient Greek Philosophy in Rome at the time. Several of the figures in the scene have been identified by art historians, including a self-portrait of Raphael posing as Apelles of Kos, a 4th century BC painter.

In the centre of The School of Athens, the Greek philosophers Aristotle and Plato are seen in conversation. Plato points his hand towards the sky, signalling his idealism and abstract thinking, while Aristotle gestures at the ground, referencing his study of the natural world and human behaviour. In his other hand, Plato holds a copy of Timaeus, a dialogue that responds to the opinions of other scholars. Similarly, Aristotle holds a copy of his Nicomachean Ethics, which had a profound influence on Europeans during the Middle Ages. Around Plato and Aristotle, other philosophers are engaged in debates about their ideas and theories.

In the centre foreground of The School of Athens sits a man resting his head upon his hand while writing on a sheet of paper. This is possibly a representation of the philosopher Heraclitus, who lived around 500 BC. Some believe Raphael modelled the figure on Michaelangelo, who was working on the Sistine Chapel ceiling at the time. Similarly, Plato may be modelled on Da Vinci. Heraclitus, nicknamed “the weeping philosopher”, was prone to depression, which explains his physical demeanour and isolation from the other figures in the painting. Heraclitus believed the world was made of fire and stressed the importance of the unity of opposites and harmony.

Other philosophers Raphael included in his painting are Pythagoras and his pupil Anaximander sitting with Archimedes, who holds a diagram of his method for determining the volume of an object with an irregular shape. Averroes, an Islamic scholar, peers over Pythagoras’ shoulder while Socrates is seen conversing with the Attic orator Aeschines. Names suggested for some of the remaining philosophers include Diogenes, Zeno of Citium, Parmenides, Carneades, Epicurus, Xenophon, and Alexander the Great.

Although much of Raphael’s time was spent working on the frescos in the Vatican Palace, he still found time to complete other paintings, such as a portrait of the elderly Julius II. Seated in a chair rather than on a papal throne, the Pope looks frail and humble; a stark contrast to his powerful and influential position. Julius was responsible for rebuilding St. Peter’s Basilica and the establishment of the Swiss Guards. When Julius died in 1513, less than two years after the completion of the portrait, he was replaced by Leon X (1475-1521), who continued to oversee Raphael’s progress in the Stanze and Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel.

As Raphael grew in popularity, he started training other artists and employed them as assistants in his workshop. One of his assistants was Giulio Romano (1492-1546), a young artist from Rome who helped Raphael complete the paintings in the Stanze. By teaching his students to replicate his style, Raphael doled out sections of artworks to his assistants to complete, thus saving time and energy.

In some cases, Raphael only provided the drawing, for which his students provided the paint. One example is The Vision of Ezekiel (1516-17), which while designed by Raphael, was executed by Romano. The painting depicts a scene in the Old Testament involving the prophet Ezekiel, who rarely appeared in Italian Renaissance art. In the Book of Ezekiel, the prophet described an encounter with God and four living creatures. According to the Christian priest Jerome (347–420), the creatures symbolised the authors of the New Testament gospels. Matthew is the man or angel because his book begins with the genealogy of Jesus, whilst Luke is the Ox because his book starts with temple sacrifice. Mark is represented by the lion, “roaring in the desert with prophetic power”, and John is the eagle, “flying heavenwards like the divine Word”. Alternative interpretations of this tetramorph (a symbolic arrangement of four differing elements) include Babylonian symbols of the zodiac: Taurus (ox), Leo (lion), Scorpio (eagle), and Aquarius (man); and the four elements of Western astrology: Earth, Fire, Water and Air.

With his assistants working on paintings, Raphael was able to prove his versatility with other mediums. Inspired by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), Raphael designed prints, which were subsequently engraved by the printmaker Marcantonio Raimondi (c.1480-c.1534). An example of Raphael’s print compositions is The Massacre of the Innocents (c.1510), which not only shows Raphael’s mastery of the classical male nude but also reveals his talent for depicting movement and violent action. The scene comes from the nativity narrative of the Gospel of Matthew (2:16–18), in which King Herod learns of Jesus’ birth and orders the execution of all children under the age of two. Etching allows the artist to include expressive lines and shading, which often gets lost in coloured paintings. Every detail of the violent soldiers’ actions is carefully recorded, as is the despair and horror on the faces of the mothers.

Alongside prints, Raphael designed mosaics, sculptures, metalwork and decorative art, such as vases. Several drawings and plans for these objects still exist, as do many letters and notes proving that Raphael also had an interest in archaeology. Raphael wrote to Pope Leo X, begging him to prevent the destruction of archaeological interests, such as Roman ruins. He provided the Pope with a survey of all the buildings in Rome that he believed should be preserved for the future, along with detailed drawings. Plans to tear down ancient structures, presumably to build new houses, horrified Raphael and many of his contemporaries. It is thanks to them the world is still in possession of many historically important places.

Some historical buildings appear in Raphael’s work, as do reimagined structures from Classical Greece, such as in the tapestry Saint Paul Preaching at Athens. Between 1514 and 1515, Leo X commissioned Raphael to design a series of tapestries to hang on the walls of the Sistine Chapel. Each design depicted a scene from the Acts of the Apostles, which included the life of the first pope, Saint Peter, and Saint Paul. Saint Paul Preaching at Athens reimagines the biblical city and the Areopagus, upon which Paul preached to the judicial council of Athens about God and Jesus. Standing behind Paul in a red cap is a depiction of Leo X.

With so many commissions, Raphael rarely had time to produce portraits, which may be why he included his patrons and himself in some of his large scenes. Towards the end of his short career, while his assistants completed other work, Raphael found a moment to paint a handful of portraits, including a self-portrait with Giulio Romano. Sometimes known as Self-Portrait with a Friend or Raphael and His Fencing Master due to the presence of a sword hilt, the identity of the younger man remained unknown for many years. Today, most art historians agree that it is probably Romano. The hierarchical design of the double portrait, in which Raphael stands behind Romano with his hand on his shoulder, suggests Raphael is the teacher, whilst Romano, who looks over his shoulder for reassurance, is the student. The way Raphael painted the clothing of both himself and Romano makes it look as though the right arm belongs to both of them, hinting that as the master, Raphael aids or manipulates his student.

On promotional material for the Raphael exhibition, the National Gallery used Raphael’s portrait of Bindo Altoviti (1491-1557), a banker and friend of Raphael. The painting echoes Leonardo da Vinci’s Venetian style of posing the sitter as if interrupted by the viewer, at whom he turns to gaze. Altoviti’s father was the papal Master of the Mint, and his mother was the niece of Pope Innocent VIII (1432-92), which made Altoviti a man of wealth and influence. He was also known for his good looks. Altoviti was in charge of collecting taxes to fund the reconstruction of St. Peter’s Basilica. He also liaised with the likes of Emperor Charles V (1500-58) and the Medici family.

The final painting in the exhibition was a portrait of a woman known as La fornarina or The Baker’s Daughter. The suggestive semi-nude portrait has led many to believe she was Raphael’s lover. Traditionally, the sitter is identified as Margherita Luti, who refused to marry Raphael despite his obvious devotion. Art historian Giorgio Vasari (1511-74) claimed Luti was Raphael’s muse and model. He also wrote that Raphael was a “very amorous man and affectionate towards the ladies”.

There are numerous interpretations of La fornarina, with some claiming she represents idealistic beauty and others claiming she was a malevolent goddess. On the one hand, many believe Luti was Raphael’s lover, but another theory is she was a sex worker. An in-depth analysis of the portrait has led some art historians to diagnose Luti with breast cancer. The right breast appears fully formed and proportional, but the left upon which her hand rests is large and deformed. Her left arm also seems swollen, suggesting an enlarged lymph node in her armpit. Since Margarita Luti’s dates of birth and death are unknown, it is impossible to tell whether she died from breast cancer.

On Good Friday, 6th April 1520, Raphael passed away after developing a sudden fever. Vasari poetically recorded that his death was the result of an overindulgence in “amorous pleasures” with Luti, but other sources claim Raphael was engaged to Maria, the daughter of his patron Cardinal Bernardo Dovizi (1470-1520). Raphael’s illness lasted approximately 15 days, during which time he realised he would die and received last rites, confessed his sins and put his affairs in order. As per his request, Raphael was buried in the Pantheon in Rome, where his fiancée was also buried some years later.

Due to his fame and importance in the art world, Raphael received a grand funeral, attended by large crowds. Four cardinals carried Raphael’s body, and the pope kissed his hand before they lowered him into a marble sarcophagus inscribed with a quote from the poet Pietro Bembo (1470-1547): “Here lies that famous Raphael by whom Nature feared to be conquered while he lived, and when he was dying, feared herself to die.”

Following his death, Raphael became the prototype for high art across Europe. Due to his versatility, Raphael influenced many areas of art and remains one of the greatest artists to have ever lived. Raphael produced as much work in his 37 years of life as those who lived twice his age. He was a prodigy of the likes that has not been seen since. Today, artists have barely established themselves by the age of 37, let alone produced even half the number of paintings. The Credit Suisse Exhibition: Raphael demonstrates Raphael’s importance in the art world and proves that his work will last for time immemorial.

The Credit Suisse Exhibition: Raphael is open until 31st July 2022. Tickets cost between £24 and £26 and must be purchased in advance. Concessions are available.


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A House of Prayer for all Nations

“Bath Abbey seeks to be a “House of Prayer for all nations”, praying with and for needy people locally and all around the world, regardless of their political, ethnic or religious affiliation.” – The Rev’d Canon Guy Bridgewater, Rector of Bath Abbey

For over 1,000 years, a Christian place of worship has stood in the centre of the city of Bath, Somerset. Known today as Bath Abbey, the present-day parish church was built in the 16th century, replacing a Norman cathedral, which, in turn, had replaced a Saxon monastery. The Grade I listed building is one of the largest examples of Perpendicular Gothic architecture in the West Country and the most visited church outside London.

In 675 AD, a French Abbess, either called Bertana or Berta, was granted a plot of land in Bath for the establishment of a convent. In 781, King Offa of Mercia (reigned 757-796) rebuilt the monastic church on the current site of the abbey, which is where the first king of all England, Edgar the Peaceful (reigned 959-975), was crowned. King Edgar encouraged the monks to adopt the Rule of Saint Benedict, a book of instruction written in 516 by Benedict of Nursia (c. AD 480–550). The Benedictine monastery was led by Abbot Ælfheah, now known as St. Alphege (953-1012), who was later killed during a Viking invasion.

In 1087, William II (1056-100) granted the city of Bath to a royal chaplain, John of Tours (d.1122), subsequently making him the Bishop of Wells and Abbot of Bath. Three years later, John transferred the bishopric to Bath Abbey, which was much wealthier than Wells. He rebuilt sections of the monastic church and raised it to cathedral status. John planned to expand the cathedral and dedicate it to Saint Peter and Saint Paul but died before its completion in December 1122.

A fire in 1137 hindered the construction of the cathedral, which was eventually completed in around 1156. After a couple of successful years, during which time Pope Innocent IV (1195-1254) awarded joint cathedral status to Bath and Wells, the building gradually fell into disrepair. By 1499, it was almost in ruins. Oliver King (1432-1503), the Bishop of Bath and Wells, blamed the state of the cathedral on the monks being “all too eager to succumb to the temptations of the flesh”.

In 1500, Oliver King allegedly had a dream in which he “saw the Heavenly Host on high with angels ascending and descending by ladder,” similar to the scene dreamt by Jacob in chapter 28 of the Book of Genesis. The earliest recording of King’s dream was written 100 years later and is largely considered to be a story; nonetheless, the dream is represented in stone on the west front of the cathedral.

King commissioned brothers Richard (b.1506) and William Vertue (d.1527), who were also involved with work on the Tower of London, to rebuild the dilapidated cathedral. They promised, “there shall be none so goodly neither in England nor France” and incorporated the surviving Norman wall and arches into their design. The Vertue brothers specialised in fan vaulted ceilings, which remains one of the most admired sections of the building’s architecture today. Unfortunately, King did not live to see the result, which was not completed until at least two decades after his death.

Due to the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the church was deprived of its cathedral status in 1539, and stripped of £4,800 worth of lead, iron and glass. The roofless remains of the church was given to the corporation of Bath in 1572, which struggled to raise funds for its restoration. Fortunately, Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) set up a national fund to finance the necessary works and decreed that it should become the parish church of Bath.

The church remained incomplete when the queen died, but James Montague (1568-1618), the Bishop of Bath and Wells from 1608 to 1616, personally paid £1,000 for a new roof. The gesture came after Montague attempted to shelter in the church during a thunder storm, only to discover the building offered no protection. Montague financed the rest of the restoration, which was completed in 1611. After his death, Montague was buried in an alabaster tomb, which remains in situ in the north aisle.

For a couple of centuries, Bath Abbey survived without the need for any building works until the 1830s, when George Phillips Manners (1789-1866), the first Bath City Architect, remodelled the interior. Manners also added flying buttresses and pinnacles to the exterior. In the 1860s, major restoration work by Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-78) took place, involving the extension of the fan-vaulted ceiling in the nave. Scott also designed the finely-carved pews, later described as “one of the most magnificent and extensive suites of Victorian church seating in the country”. When Scott died in 1878, his pupil, Thomas Graham Jackson (1835-1924), completed the building project.

Bath Abbey is constructed from Bath stone, a form of limestone obtained from the Combe Down and Bathampton Down Mines. The majority of buildings in the city are built from the same material, giving the streets a yellowish tinge. The interior of Bath Abbey features the same stone, but the 52 windows, occupying about 80% of the wall space, bring in enough light to make the walls appear much whiter. In recent years, traces of coloured paint were discovered in the spaces between the fan shapes on the vaulted ceiling. Closer inspection revealed these to be the coats of arms of King James I (reigned 1603-25), Cardinal Adriano de Castello, a former Bishop of Bath and Wells (1503-18), and the pre-Reformation priory.

The nave is 211 feet (64 m) long and 35 feet (11 m) wide, ending in a tall stained-glass window depicting 56 events in the life of Jesus from the Annunciation to the Ascension. The window contains 76 square metres (818 sq. ft) of glass, the majority of which dates to the Victorian era. It was likely designed by Alfred Bell (1832-95), who established Clayton and Bell with John Richard Clayton (1827-1913), one of the most prolific British stained-glass windows manufacturers during the latter half of the 19th century. During the air raids of 1942, sections of the coloured glass were destroyed. A Canadian soldier stationed in the area collected the shards and took them home, where they now form part of a window in Christ Church, Meaford, Ontario. In the 1950s, Michael Farrar Bell (1911-93), the great-grandson of the original designer, repaired the war damage.

On the north side of the Abbey, a 19th-century stained-glass window depicts the coronation of King Edgar in 973. The service was devised by Saint Dunstan, which has remained the basis of coronation ceremonies ever since. Dunstan (909-988) was an English bishop who served as the Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, Bishop of Worcester, Bishop of London and Archbishop of Canterbury. Dunstan became famous for the many stories about his dealings with the Devil. Allegedly, Dunstan resisted the Devil’s temptations by holding the Devil’s face between a pair of red-hot tongs. The only evidence of this event are accounts written at least 100 years after Dunstan’s death, including an old folk song:
St Dunstan, as the story goes,
Once pull’d the devil by the nose
With red-hot tongs, which made him roar,
That he was heard three miles or more.

On Ascension Day in 988, Dunstan had a vision of angels who warned him that he would die in three days. Dunstan made the necessary preparations, warning his congregation of his impending death and choosing a place for his tomb. Three days after the Ascension, Dunstan fell ill, and after partaking in Mass from his bed, he passed away. People immediately revered him as a saint, although Dunstan was not officially canonised until 1029. Dunstan was buried in Bath Cathedral, although later reinterred in Canterbury Cathedral. Until he was overshadowed by Saint Thomas Becket (1119-1170), who was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral, Saint Dunstan was the favourite saint of the English people.

There are over 1,000 memorials inside Bath Abbey, including the aforementioned effigy of James Montagu, the Bishop of Bath and Wells. On the north wall, a memorial stone remembers Admiral Arthur Philip, who founded the state of New South Wales in Australia. Unfortunately, the inscription states Philip founded Australia. Other people honoured with memorials include Master of Ceremonies Beau Nash (1674-1762), Reverend Thomas Malthus (1766-1834), Mary, the Countess Dowager of Kintore (d. 1826), botanist John Sibthorp (1758-96), and several military men. In 1958, the most recent memorial was installed to commemorate Sir Isaac Pitman (1813-97), who developed Pitman shorthand.

In 2007, a frieze of 12 wooden angel musicians was installed above the quire screens. The quire, also known as the choir, is where the clergy and church choir sit during services. The screens were installed in 2004 to improve the acoustics. Music in the Abbey is supplied by the large organ in the north transept, which was first installed in 1895.

The earliest mention of an organ at Bath Abbey dates to 1634, but there are no specific details about the instrument. In 1708, another organ was built by Abraham Jordan and modified in 1718 and 1739 by his son. The organ was later moved to the Bishop’s Palace at Wells in 1836. That year, John of Bristol built a new organ, which now resides at the Church of St Peter & St Paul in Cromer, Norfolk.

Norman and Beard, a pipe organ manufacturer based in Norwich, supplied Bath Abbey with a new organ in 1895. Initially, the instrument stood on two steel beams in the North and South crossing arches before being re-erected in a case designed by Sir Thomas Jackson in the North Transept in 1914. On several occasions, organ manufacturers rebuilt sections of the instrument, adding a variety of keys and stops. Eventually, the entire organ was reconstructed in 1997 by Orgelbau Klais, a German firm, who restored it to its original 1895 condition.

The organ is not the only form of instrument installed in the Abbey. Hung in the ringing chamber in the tower are ten bells. Unconventionally, they are arranged from highest to lowest in an anti-clockwise ring around the chamber, rather than in the usual clockwise fashion. Eight of the bells were created in the early 18th century after six of the originals were melted down. The two lightest bells were added in 1774. The heaviest bell, the tenor, was replaced after it cracked in 1869. After installing the replacement, the organist claimed it was out of tune and ordered it recast.

Visitors to Bath Abbey are offered guided tours of the tower, which include viewing the bells in the ringing chamber. Two spiral staircases consisting of 212 steps provide access to the 161 feet (49 m) structure. The first staircase ends at the roof level, and the second reaches the top of the tower, from where visitors can survey the city of Bath.

Bath Abbey is open most days for visitors except during scheduled service times. Sunday services include Morning Prayer, Holy Communion and Evening Prayer. Weddings, baptisms and funerals also take place throughout the year, although burials are no longer allowed in the Abbey due to health and safety. The last burial took place in 1845 before the practice was outlawed in 1853. Approximately 3,800 bodies are buried under the floor. Only the rich could afford this privilege, and the nearer the altar they wished to be buried, the higher the fee.

Between 1583 and 2022, there have been 28 rectors at Bath Abbey. The first rector was John Long, who held the position for a year before Richard Meredith (1559-1621) took his place. The current rector is Reverend Canon Guy Bridgewater, who was appointed in 2018. Other notable rectors of the past include George Webb (1581-1642), who was also Chaplain-in-Ordinary to King Charles II, the philosopher Joseph Glanvill (1636-80), and James Phillott (1750-1815), of whom the writer Jane Austen thought very little.

Bath Abbey is free to visit, although a donation is most welcome. Tours of the Abbey are available to book for a fee of £8 per adult or £4 per child. Tower tours, which last between 45 minutes to an hour, cost £10 per adult and £5 per child. The Abbey gift shop, which is open every day except Sundays, offers a range of products inspired by Bath Abbey, including books, gifts and postcards.


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5 Book Reviews

Looking at the Stars
Author: Jo Cotterill
Published: 30th January 2014
ISBN13: 9781782300182
Goodreads Rating: 4.18 out of 5
Reviewed: June 2014

Looking at the Stars by Jo Cotterill is a beautiful story targeted at older children and young adults. It handles serious themes that most readers would not have and hopefully will never face.

Amina is thirteen years old, living in a country where women have absolutely no power. She is prohibited from going to school, so she spends her days with her sister, Jenna, weaving baskets and rugs, which they sell to stall holders in the local market. The novel begins with the two girls witnessing the arrival of foreign soldiers. They are overjoyed, believing that all their troubles are over now that the liberation has begun. This, however, turns out to be a false hope.

Separated from their family, Amina and Jenna head to a refugee camp where they hope to find their younger sister, Vivie, and discover information about what has happened to their mother. To prevent them from succumbing to despair, both on the journey and living in the camp, Amina makes up stories about the stars in the sky – hence the novel’s title.

Amina and Jenna’s personalities are vastly different, meaning the reader should be able to identify with at least one of the girls and place themselves within the story. It makes us wonder how we would cope in these situations. Amina is the kind of person who asks questions. She wants to know why things happen and constantly asks, “what if?” Despite being a year younger than Jenna, she is the more confident of the two, and it is partly her determination that keeps them alive. Jenna is quiet, anxious, and always wants to do the right thing. Jenna “just wants everyone to be happy”. She is a realist, whereas Amina is a dreamer.

The storytelling aspect of this novel makes it unique from others in this genre. Many books deal with war, refugees and death, but Amina’s stories provide something extra. They are beautiful and bring hope and faith into such as bleak and dangerous setting.

Whilst this story is set in fictional towns in an unnamed country, it is not unlike recent civil wars in Syria and conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of us can distance ourselves from these stories because, for us, they are just that: stories. They are not something we have to deal with every day. This novel, told from the point of view of a thirteen-year-old girl, reveals what it is like for the thousands of innocents caught up in war. The way it is written helps children and young adults understand and learn more about what is happening in these countries.

These is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901
Author: Nancy E. Turner
Published: 3rd February 1998
ISBN13: 9780340717783
Goodreads Rating: 4.34 out of 5
Reviewed: July 2014

These is My Words is a magnificent historical novel by American author Nancy Turner, told through diary entries written by the protagonist Sarah Prine. For twenty years, Sarah wrote about her experiences, both good and bad, beginning when she was almost eighteen years old.

The first entry in 1881 reveals that Sarah and her family are travelling from Arizona to Texas, which proves disastrous, with her father and youngest brother dying along the way. Soon after they arrive, they decide they would be much better off back home and prepare to make the return trek through the “heathen land”. This time they join a train of travellers accompanied by soldiers to make them feel safer, although this by no means makes it any less dangerous. With constant attacks from Indians, many trekkers are killed or wounded, but thankfully Sarah’s family makes it through. Not long after settling back in Arizona, Sarah receives a marriage proposal from a childhood friend, which she gratefully accepts. Unfortunately, the marriage is not a happy one and ends with the untimely death of her husband, who probably never loved Sarah anyway. Later, a potentially fatal incident brings Sarah together with Captain Elliot, a soldier from the journey to Arizona, and her life takes a new direction.

Sarah is a very likeable character. Her innocence makes her a pleasant girl, but she is admired for her independence. Having grown up on a ranch with only brothers, she knows how to fight for herself and can fire a pistol better than any man. As the wording of the title suggests, Sarah has never been to school, and her grammar and spelling require improvement, which is witnessed throughout the progression of the novel. By being written this way, the reader gets a closer insight into Sarah as a person: the way she talks, the way she has been brought up, and her determination to learn and develop her reading and writing skills.

Initially, it is difficult to get into the storyline. The blurb suggests that the book is about the journey to Texas, but that is over in a matter of pages. Once they are on the return voyage, it is easier to understand, and there is a stronger connection with and appreciation of some of the characters. It is fast-paced, and most of the diary entries are short, only becoming considerably longer when something of significance is recorded. Towards the end, entries occur less frequently, resulting in the latter ten years flying by.

These is My Words is both humorous and heartbreaking. There is a romantic theme throughout the book from the very beginning, where it is clear that something is happening between Sarah and Captain Elliot, and the reader can only begin hoping that something will bring them together. This book can either make you laugh, make you cry or both – for a book to cause that amount of emotion, it must be good!

Unremembered
Author: Jessica Brody
Published: 28th February 2013
ISBN13: 9781250040022
Goodreads Rating: 3.68 out of 5
Reviewed: June 2014

Unremembered is the first book in a young adult science-fiction trilogy by American author, Jessica Brody. Set in current-day California, Unremembered is told from the point of view of a sixteen-year-old girl, Seraphina, who has no memory of anything before the first page of the book.

Whilst a first-person narrative by someone who does not know anything may hinder the telling of the story, it connects the audience with the main character. As readers, we also do not know what happened before the first page of the story. We learn everything as Seraphina does, the only difference being that we are aware of what certain items are – particularly technological ones – as well as being able to communicate and understand other people, not just through words but also with sarcasm and body language.

At the start, we learn there has been a plane crash into the Pacific Ocean with only one survivor, an unidentifiable girl with amnesia. Further on, it transpires that there was never any record of her being on the plane in the first place. This is where all the questions and mysteries begin. Temporarily given the name Violet, she is placed with a foster family, the Carson family, whose thirteen-year-old son Cody is intimidated by her flawless beauty. He begins to connect with her more after it emerges that she is a mathematical genius. So, another question arises, how can she remember how to solve complicated equations yet cannot even remember who she is?

There are also mysteries surrounding a peculiar tattoo on her wrist; a boy named Lyzender who keeps appearing, claiming to know who Violet, or should we say Sera, is; her uncanny ability to speak fluently in a range of languages; and the number 1609. What is the significance of this number? Not only is it the year Sera believes it is after recovering from the crash, but it is also engraved onto a locket she was wearing along with the initials “S + Z”.

Unremembered is a fast-paced novel with mysteries that get solved at the same time as more questions develop. It shows us how people with no experience of the modern world would struggle to understand the things we take for granted. It also poses the question of what truly makes us human.

A Song For Issy Bradley
Author: Carys Bray
Published: 19th June 2014
ISBN13: 9780091954376
Goodreads Rating: 3.7 out of 5
Reviewed: June 2014

A Song for Issy Bradley is the captivating debut novel of talented author Carys Bray. Set in modern-day Britain, this heart-breaking story shows a family’s struggle to overcome the loss of their youngest child whilst also adhering to the strict rules of their Mormon religion.

It begins with seven-year-old Jacob’s birthday, and Mum, Claire, is rushing around with last-minute party preparations whilst her husband, Bishop Ian, is off attending to his religious duties. Although Claire is aware that Issy is feeling poorly, she does not realize how serious it is until much later – too much later. After being rushed to the hospital with meningitis, Issy’s prognosis is not good. Despite Ian’s blessings and prayers, no miracles occur, and Issy passes away the following day.

The main storyline is about how the characters cope with this sudden loss. Claire hides away from everyone by remaining in bed for weeks and ignoring her duties and her family’s pleas. Ian, worried that Claire is not grieving in the proper Mormon way, throws himself even deeper into religion by focusing on what is expected of him as a Bishop rather than concentrating on his children’s needs.

Zipporah, the eldest, is expected to become the woman of the house until Claire returns to “normal”. As well as studying for her exams and doing the housework, Ian insists she attends all church events for people her age. Alone, she worries about love, marriage and falling into sin; she would really like to be able to talk to her Mum. Alma, on the other hand, is becoming more and more rebellious. Not only does he have a stupid name (Alma was named after a prophet in the Book of Mormon), his ambition to become a professional footballer is not conducive to living the gospel. Although he makes jokes and rude remarks about religious ideas, there is still a part of him that believes, and despite his attitude, it is clear he is deeply affected by Issy’s death.

Jacob’s reaction is the most heart wrenching of all. Being so young, he believes everything he is told, especially the Bible stories he hears at church. If Jesus can bring people back to life, perhaps Issy can live again? He puts his faith in God and waits in vain for his sister’s miraculous return.

The story is told through each of these five characters’ points of view, which allows the reader to see how each person’s actions affect the others and gives a greater insight into character development. It is gratifying to witness, albeit slowly, the family pick themselves up and begin to work together and carry on.

As to be expected with a story about Mormons, there are a large number of Bible quotations. Many are from the Book of Mormon, but there are numerous biblical references that Christians of all denominations will appreciate. The author was raised as a Mormon, so it can only be assumed that all the details are accurate. Non-believers should not be put off from reading this beautiful book: it is how people deal with loss that is important, and there is no preaching to the reader or attempts to convert.

The Atlas of Us
Author: Tracy Buchanan
Published: 31st July 2014
ISBN13: 9780007579358
Goodreads Rating: 3.68 out of 5
Reviewed: July 2014

It is hard to believe that almost a decade has passed since the Indian Ocean tsunami at Christmas 2004. Tracy Buchanan’s novel The Atlas of Us is set partly in Thailand during the aftermath of the natural disaster. Yet, this is not a story about the tsunami; it is a tale of love, relationships and motherhood, travel and mystery. Stay-at-home Mum of two, Louise, has flown out to Thailand in a desperate attempt to locate her missing mother. Although they did not have a close relationship, Louise is determined to find Nora and bring her home. An unidentified body was discovered with Nora’s bag containing her passport, but also a book titled The Atlas of Us and a necklace belonging to a woman named Claire Shreve. So who is the body? Is there a chance Nora survived? And just as importantly, how did Nora know Claire?

In between accounts of Louise’s frantic search is Claire’s story, starting from 1997 in Exmoor, where she meets Milo, the potential love of her life, and the rest of his family. But there seems to be more than meets the eye. After a disastrous event, Claire gives in to her wanderlust, and her story continues as she moves from country to country, including Serbia, Finland and Australia, where she writes award-winning travel articles. During this time, she slowly discovers the secrets that Milo has been harbouring that threaten to damage their relationship. This continues until she reaches her final destination: Thailand.

Buchanan creates a sense of foreboding as Claire travels and arrives in Thailand. The reader knows what disaster she will face there and that her chance of survival is slim; Claire, of course, is completely oblivious.

Louise’s first-person account gives an insight into the reaction of relatives of the missing as they take in the devastation left by the waves. Although she has not seen or heard from her mother for two years, there is a powerful need to find her. Louise also talks about her children and what it is like to be a mother, which helps her understand her own mother’s past behaviour and discover how much she loves her. By writing Claire’s section in the third person, Buchanan keeps the question of Claire and Nora’s possible survival unanswered until the very end. From Claire comes the perspective of someone who yearns to be a mother but is unable to conceive. She also explores the effects of the relationship with her father, the way she lives her life, and her passion for travel.

Despite the traumatic storyline, The Atlas of Us is a beautiful story with a lot of detail to keep the reader interested. One minute the focus is on relationships, and the next, a whole new world is opened up with descriptions of foreign places that could spark a desire for travel even in those usually content to stay at home. 


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Simeon and the Quest for the Roman Hoard

Dear Simeon, During a recent archaeological dig in Bath, a skeleton, believed to be of an elderly male dating back to Roman times, was discovered. Local media have leaked the intriguing news that, clutched in its hands, sealed inside a vessel, was a well-preserved treasure map with some mystifying scrawled notes. Experts at IES (Intrepid Explorers Society) are speculating that this map might lead to a stash of precious gems and possibly Roman gold, buried on an island somewhere in the Bristol Channel. Unfortunately, the very dodgy Brutally Awful Treasure Hunters (aka BATH) are also super keen to discover this lost treasure. IES don’t want them uncovering it before you do so get out there, solve the Clues and identify the location of this hidden hoard!

After receiving this intriguing quest from Treasure Trails, Simeon, the red-haired gibbon (toffee-coloured, if you please), grabbed his towel and headed to the bathroom. After laughing hysterically for some time about his mistake, Simeon got out of the bath and into the car to make the long journey from London to Bath in Somerset. Assisted by his friends, Simeon began a perilous expedition around some of the most beautiful, historic streets of Bath.

Simeon began his quest in the Bath Abbey Churchyard, where he squeezed through the crowds of people listening to the buskers. Towering above him, the Bath Abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul stood in all its glory. Built between 1499 and 1533, the limestone building is one of the largest examples of Perpendicular Gothic architecture in the United Kingdom. The abbey is the third building on the site, but there has been a church here for over 1,000 years. The Saxons built the first church in the 7th century, which was where King Edgar, the first king of all England, was crowned in 973. The second church was built by the Normans in the 12th century. The present building largely resembles the 16th-century architecture of the third building, although Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-78) undertook a restoration project during the Victorian era.

Whilst the Abbey is an impressive structure, Simeon did not have time to admire it because he heard about the nearby Beau Street Hoard. Discovered in 2008, 17,577 silver Roman coins dating from 32 BC to 274 AD had been buried under the streets for thousands of years. It is the fifth-largest hoard ever found in Britain, unearthed during the construction of a swimming pool at the Gainsborough Hotel. The hoard consisted of eight money bags and 2,437 loose coins, which are now on display in the Roman Baths Museum. After some investigation, Simeon decided this was not the Roman hoard he was looking for and continued on his quest.

Around the corner, Simeon peered into the Cross Bath, but the clear water did not reveal any treasure. Constructed in 1784 and remodelled in 1789, the Grade I building houses a historic pool famed for its healing properties. The nearby St John’s hospital used the pool for treatments as early as 1180, and the royal family frequently visited between the 16th and 18th centuries.

The water in the Cross Pool fell as rain around 10,000 years ago in the Mendip Hills. After sinking 3 kilometres below the earth’s surface, geothermal energy heated the water, which eventually rose under natural artesian pressure. Legend claims the mythical Prince Bladud discovered the thermal waters in 863 BC, which cured him of his skin disease. The warm water allegedly contains over 42 different types of minerals. The bath and Victorian construction now belong to the adjacent Thermae Bath Spa.

As Simeon continued his journey around Bath, he came across a mystery. Beaufort Square, designed by John Strahan in 1730, appears to have two names. On one signpost, the name reads “Beaufort”, but on another, it says “Beauford”! There does not seem to be an explanation for this other than a spelling mistake, but it was enough to make Simeon stop in his tracks and look around. Beaufort square is surrounded by two-storey cottages and the original frontage of the Theatre Royal. In the centre, a small rectangular lawn is all that remains of the communal area. Simeon could not enter the garden but admired it from the railings. These date from 1805, and the spear shapes commemorate weapons used during the Battle of Trafalgar.

Simeon came across another strange site in Chapel Row, where he stopped briefly to rest. Standing separately from the other buildings is Temple Ornament, which was re-erected in 1976 by students of Bath Technical College. The limestone structure, featuring five Ionic columns, is situated on the original site of St. Mary’s Chapel, built between 1732 and 1734 by John Wood the Elder (1704-54). In 1875, the city demolished the church for road widening. The ornament was constructed from the ruined building.

After paying his respects at the war memorial on the corner, Simeon made his way along the Gravel Walk. The pathway leads past the gardens of the houses in Gay Street, where the English novelist Jane Austen (1775-1817) once lived. In Austen’s time, the Walk was known as Lover’s Lane and was where young lovers used to meet each other for a stroll. In Austen’s novel Persuasion (1817), it is the setting for a love scene between Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth. Simeon did not see any Georgian ladies and gentlemen walking along the path, but he did come across an intriguing garden.

Signposted as the Georgian Garden, the gap in the wall led Simeon into a Georgian-style garden, which is a recreation of one of the gardens of the Circus (not a circus with animals, as Simeon later discovered). The project started in 1985 to replace the existing Victorian landscape with its former style. There was no grass in the original garden, only gravel and flower beds. Grass lawns were not easily maintained in the 18th century and only became popular after the invention of mechanical lawnmowers in 1832.

Excavation work revealed the original 18th-century layout, including the position of flowerbeds and paths. Dr John Harvey of the Garden History Society sourced appropriate plants, such as honeysuckle and other fragrant flowers. Towards the end of the 18th century, plants from Indo-China and the New World arrived in Britain, replacing many native plants in private gardens.

Keen to continue his quest, Simeon returned to the Gravel Walk and soon found himself in the Royal Victoria Park. Opened by the 11-year-old future Queen Victoria (1819-1901) in 1830, the 57-acre park consists of grasslands, tennis courts, a golf course, a botanical garden and a children’s playground. It was the first park to carry Victoria’s name and was privately owned until 1921 when it was taken over by the Bath Corporation.

Overlooking the Royal Victoria Park is the Royal Crescent, a row of 30 terraced houses laid out in a 500-foot-long (150 m) crescent shape. Built by John Wood the Younger (1728-82), the Grade I listed buildings feature 114 Ionic columns on the first floor with Palladian-style mouldings above. In front of the houses is a ha-ha (ditch), making an invisible partition between the lower and upper lawns. The latter is for residents only.

Notable residents of the Royal Crescent include William Wilberforce (1759-1833), who stayed at number 2; Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts (1814-1906), who lived with her father at number 16; and Elizabeth Linley (1754-92) at number 11, who eloped with the playwright, Richard Sheridan (1751-1816). “Would I like to live here?” pondered Simeon. After learning about Georgian lifestyles, particularly sedan chairs, at No. 1 Royal Crescent, a historic house museum, Simeon decided yes, he would.

On the corner of the Royal Crescent, Simeon looked for clues inside a silver-coloured telephone box. Whilst he did not locate any treasure, Simeon found some interesting information about the box. The telephone box or kiosk was designed by English architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (1880-1960) in 1924. Over the following years, the design was tweaked before settling on Kiosk no. 6 (K6). The bright red boxes were primarily used in London, but when they spread to neighbouring towns and cities, people complained about the bright colour. In response to the complaints and to coincide with King George V’s silver jubilee, the kiosks were painted battleship grey (silver) with touches of red around the windows.

Tempted to call the Treasure Trail team for more clues, Simeon noticed the kiosk did not contain a telephone. Whilst it is no longer in use, the kiosk is a listed structure of architectural and historical importance. Many K6s were painted the iconic red colour once people got used to their presence, so very few remain battleship grey, making them very rare. This particular box survived the Blitz and has remained in situ for over 80 years.

Next, Simeon visited the Circus, where except for himself and a few pigeons, no animals or entertainers could be seen. The Circus is a circular ring of terrace houses built between 1754 and 1768 by John Wood, the Elder. Its name comes from the Latin word circus, meaning circle. Today, it is a famous example of Georgian architecture and has been designated a Grade I listed building.

Wood was inspired by Stonehenge, a prehistoric monument on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire. Believing that Bath had once been a centre for Druid activity, Wood mimicked the neo-druid place of worship. Unfortunately, Wood died five days after the construction began and his son, John Wood, the Younger, oversaw the rest of the building project. On completion, it was named King’s Circus, although the royal title was later dropped.

Walking around the Circus, Simeon appreciated the various styles of architecture incorporated into the building. Each floor represents a different Classical order, with Doric on the ground level, Ionic or Composite on the piano nobile (principal floor), and Corinthian on the upper floor. The styles become progressively more ornate as the building rises. Between the Doric and Ionic levels, an entablature decorated with alternating triglyphs and 525 pictorial emblems completes the building’s design. Simeon enjoyed looking at the many images, including nautical, art, science and masonic symbols. He also spotted serpents and owls – so there are some animals in the Circus after all!

Simeon’s instructions eventually led him to Pulteney Bridge, where the confused little gibbon warily eyed the shops on either side, wondering why it was called a bridge. Only later did Simeon discover the buildings were constructed over the River Avon! Designed by Robert Adam (1728-92) in 1774, shops span the length of the Palladian-style Grade I listed bridge, making it a highly unusual construction.

Pulteney Bridge is named after Frances Pulteney, the first cousin once removed of William Pulteney, 1st Earl of Bath (1684-1764). When the Earl died, Frances inherited his estates and a significant amount of money. Her husband, William Johnstone (1729-1805), promptly changed his surname to Pulteney and made plans to create a new town, Bathwick, which eventually became a suburb of Bath. For easier access across the Avon, William Pulteney commissioned Adam to design a bridge, who took inspiration from the Ponte Vecchio in Florence and the Ponte di Rialto in Venice. The original designs for Pulteney Bridge are held in the Sir John Soane’s Museum in London. As of 2022, it is one of only four bridges containing shops across its entire span, the others being the aforementioned bridges in Italy and the Krämerbrücke in Erfurt, Germany.

As well as the bridge, Great Pulteney Street, Henrietta Street and Laura Place are the work of William Pulteney. Great Pulteney Street connects Bathwick with the City of Bath. It was designed by Thomas Baldwin (1750-1820) and completed in 1789. At over 1,000 feet (300 m) long and 100 feet (30 m) wide, Great Pulteney Street is the widest and the grandest road in Bath. Situated at one end is the Holburne Museum of Art, which was originally the Sydney Hotel. The hotel attracted many visitors, and several notable people lived on the street, including Napoleon III (1808-73), during his exile from France; William Wilberforce, who also stayed in the Royal Crescent; and the “Father of English Geology” William “Strata” Smith (1769-1839).

Henrietta Street and Laura Place were named after Pulteney’s daughters. Both were constructed in the late 1780s by Thomas Baldwin. Laura Place, situated at the end of Pulteney Bridge, is an irregular quadrangle containing four blocks of houses. In the centre sits a circular stone fountain, which was not part of the original plan. Instead, residents petitioned for a column similar to Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, London, but when construction began, they realised it would tower over the area and petitioned against it.

After admiring the weir in the River Avon below Pulteney Bridge, Simeon made his way back to the Abbey for his final clues, resisting the urge to eat Sally Lunn’s buns and Charlotte Brunswick’s chocolates. Sally Lunn’s historic eating house is one of the oldest houses in Bath. It was allegedly the home of a Huguenot refugee called Solange Luyon during the 1680s, who became known as Sally Lunn. As a baker, Luyon or Lunn became famous for her buns, now known as Bath Buns.

It is claimed that Charlotte Brunswick was the first and finest chocolatier in Bath during the 18th century. Fascinated by flavour, she sought the perfect combination of ingredients to make her delicious chocolate. The men in her family were explorers and brought her back oranges from Spain and ginger and cinnamon from China, which she incorporated into her recipes. The Charlotte Brunswick Shop on Church Street continues to use many of the recipes today.

Another delicacy from Bath is the Bath Oliver biscuit, invented by the physician William Oliver (1695-1764). Some claim Oliver, not Sally Lunn, invented the Bath Bun, but after realising it was too fattening for his rheumatic patients, he sought an alternative. A Bath Oliver is a dry, cracker-like biscuit, often eaten with cheese. When Oliver died, he bequeathed the recipe, ten sacks of wheat flour, and £100 to his coachman, Mr Atkins, who set up a biscuit-baking business.

Back at the Abbey, Simeon used all the clues he had gathered to work out the location of the Roman Hoard. After celebratory ice cream, Simeon sat and reflected on the sites he saw around Bath. Simeon enjoyed walking along quaint streets, admiring the architecture, and felt humbled knowing he was walking in the footsteps of many famous people, not least the Romans. “I think I’ll visit Jane Austen for afternoon tea on Gay Street,” mused Simeon, not fully comprehending that he would not be able to see the REAL Jane Austen but a waxwork. “And after that, I’ll pop in and see Mary Shelley.”

Both the Jane Austen Centre and Mary Shelley’s House of Frankenstein are located on Gay Street, which links the Circus to Queen’s Square. It is named after Robert Gay (1676-1738), a Member of Parliament for Bath who leased part of his estate to John Wood the Elder for the construction of Queen’s Square.

Simeon recalled seeing many other names on plaques around the city, such as Beau Nash (1674-1762), the Master of Ceremonies at Bath. Nash made it his job to meet new arrivals to Bath and judge whether they were suitable to join the select “Company” allowed to attend dances and such-like. He infamously confronted John Wesley (1701-93), the founder of Methodism, when he began preaching in the city. Nash question Wesley’s authority, demanding to know who allowed him to speak to crowds of people. Wesley calmly answered, “Jesus Christ and the Archbishop of Canterbury.” Having lost the argument, Nash left Wesley alone, allowing the people of Bath to flock to hear the preacher speak.

Simeon did not like the sound of Beau Nash, but he was intrigued to learn about William (1738-1822) and Caroline Herschel (1750-1848), who lived at 19 New King Street. William Herschel famously discovered the planet Uranus, which resulted in his appointment as Court Astronomer to George III (1738-1820). His sister, Caroline, made several discoveries of her own and became the first woman to receive a salary as a scientist and the first woman in England to hold a government position. Today, 19 New King Street is home to the Herschel Museum of Astronomy. As well as documenting the Herschels’ astronomical finds, a room is devoted to their love of music, which originally brought the German siblings to England.

Another notable resident of Bath was Admiral Arthur Phillip (1738-1814), the first governor of the Colony of New South Wales. Simeon came across the Admiral’s memorial on Bennett Street during his quest for the Roman hoard. Installed in 2014 by the Britain-Australia Society Education Trust, the sculpture resembles an armillary sphere, which sailors used to determine their position in relation to Earth and the sun. Phillip commanded the first fleet of convicts sent to Australia and established a settlement at Sydney Cove in 1788. In 1793, he returned to England and settled in Bath for the remainder of his life.

Other notable residents of Bath include John Christopher Smith (1712-95), the secretary of the Baroque composer George Frideric Handel (1685-1759). Smith moved to Bath in 1774 after King George III granted him an annual pension. The 1st Earl of Chatham, also known as William Pitt the Elder (1708-78), lived in the Circus between 1757 and 1766 when he stood as the Member of Parliament for Bath. He then served as Prime Minister of Great Britain for two years.

The artist, Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88), lived in the Circus with his family from 1759 until 1774. During this time, he became a popular portrait painter for fashionable society. He eventually got bored of painting people and longed for the “quietness and ease” of landscapes. Another artist from Bath is Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830), who from the age of ten, supported his family with his pastel portraits. Amongst his sitters were Duchess Georgiana Cavendish (1757-1806), who visited Bath in 1782, and Sarah Siddons (1755-1831), a Welsh actress, who first performed in Bath in 1778.

“Who knew there was so much to discover in Bath,” exclaimed Simeon. “I shall have to come back another time to learn more about the historic city.” As well as completing his Treasure Trail, Simeon visited some of the attractions and highly recommends the Abbey and Roman Baths. He also enjoyed the Jane Austen Centre, House of Frankenstein, No. 1 Royal Crescent, the Herschel Museum of Astronomy, and travelling on the sightseeing bus. There is only so much a little gibbon can fit into a week, so Simeon has plenty more places to explore on his next visit to Bath.

Simeon’s Top Tips

  1. Book tickets for the attractions in advance. Some places are limiting the number of visitors due to Covid-19. (Generally, it is best to book to avoid disappointment)
  2. Do not fall into the Roman Baths. You will get very wet.
  3. Do not pull a face if you try the waterYou will put other people off trying.
  4. Be respectful in the AbbeyIt is a place of worship.
  5. Pace yourself when climbing all the hillsBath is supposedly built on seven.
  6. Remember to use the Park and Ride buses if you are staying outside the city. Parking is free, you only pay for the bus ride.
  7. Do not get ink on your paws if attempting to write with a quill pen at the Jane Austen CentreSimeon did this and it was very messy.
  8. Buy a map. And try not to get lost.
  9. Only go into the basement at the House of Frankenstein if you are really brave. Simeon was not.
  10. Follow social distancing rules. Some places still request you wear a mask.

Read more of Simeon’s adventures:
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 Conquers York
Simeon’s Bristol Highlights
Simeon Returns to Bristol: Part One
Simeon Returns to Bristol: Part Two
Simeon goes to Grantham
Simeon and the Cable Car Mission


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The Twelve (Thirteen) Disciples [Part 2]

The following was originally written for Gants Hill United Reformed Church in June 2020. For part one, click here.

7. Thomas

Thomas, most commonly known as “Doubting Thomas”, is one of the disciples with a speaking part in the Bible, and yet, he is barely mentioned in the Synoptic Gospels. Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18 and Luke 6:15 list him as one of the Twelve Disciples, but nothing is said about how he became an apostle and what came after. For that, we have to turn to the Gospel of John.

Thomas is believed to have come from Galilee and is listed as having two names. Thomas was his Aramaic name, and Didymus was his Greek name, both of which mean “twin”. Although there is no explanation for the choice of names, it is most likely Thomas was born a twin. In the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas, the author gives his name as Judas Thomas. 

The first time Thomas’ name appears in John’s Gospel is John 11:16: “Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’” Jesus had learnt that his friend Lazarus was sick and had decided to visit him. The disciples were shocked by this decision. Lazarus lived in Judea, where the Jewish population had tried to stone Jesus. Yet, Jesus was adamant, and Thomas encouraged the disciples to go with him.  

Thomas next speaks in John 14:5: Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’” Jesus had explained that he was going to prepare a place for them in heaven and that one day they would join him there. Thomas spoke on behalf of the disciples, explaining that they did not know where that place was or how to get there. Jesus responded to this with one of the most famous sayings in the Bible: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (14:6)

Of course, the most famous exchange between Thomas and Jesus took place after the resurrection. This scene forever branded him as “Doubting Thomas.” “Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.” (John 20:24) To prove he had risen from the dead, Jesus visited the disciples in a locked room where they were hiding from the Jewish leaders, but Thomas was not there. Unable to imagine someone coming back to life, Thomas doubted the disciples’ claim that they had seen the Lord. “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (20:25)

The following week, Jesus visited the disciples again. This time, Thomas was with them, and Jesus showed Thomas the nail marks and wound in his side. At once, Thomas believed, declaring, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) Unfortunately, it was too late for Thomas to redeem himself. Thomas is still referred to as the doubter, giving his name to sceptics who refuse to believe without direct personal experience. “Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’” (20:29) 

Apart from these brief episodes in the Gospel of John, the Bible reveals nothing else about Thomas’ life. Scholars have turned to other literature to ascertain what happened to Thomas after Jesus was taken up into heaven. One belief is Thomas travelled to India in AD 52 to spread the Christian faith to the Jewish community that lived there at the time. Tradition claims he established seven churches while he was there and baptised many families. 

The theologian, Origen of Alexandria (184-253), stated Thomas was the apostle of the Parthians, a historical region located in north-eastern Iran. Eusebius of Caesarea (c.260-340) recorded that Thomas and Bartholomew were assigned to Parthia and India. The Christian treatise Didascalia Apostolorum corroborates Thomas’ presence: “India and all countries considering it, even to the farthest seas… received the apostolic ordinances from Judas Thomas, who was a guide and ruler in the church which he built.”

Traditions of the Saint Thomas Church in India claim Thomas briefly visited China. The Office of St. Thomas for the Second Nocturn written by Gaza of the Church of St. Thomas of Malabar claims the following: 

1. Through St. Thomas the error of idolatry vanished from India.
2. Through St. Thomas the Chinese and Ethiopians were converted to the truth.
3. Through St. Thomas they accepted the sacrament of baptism and the adoption of sons.
4. Through St. Thomas they believed in and confessed to the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit.
5. Through St. Thomas they preserved the accepted faith of the one God.
6. Through St. Thomas the life-giving splendours rose in all of India.
7. Through St. Thomas the Kingdom of Heaven took wing and ascended to China.

Regardless of whether Thomas visited China or not, it was in India where he was allegedly martyred. It is recorded that Thomas died in Chennai on a small hillock now known as St. Thomas Mount. Syrian Christian tradition believes his body was buried in Mylapore, and Ephram the Syrian (306-373) adds that Thomas’ relics were then taken to Edessa. The Portuguese writer Duarte Barbosa (1480-1521), who served as an officer in India, recorded that Thomas’ tomb was maintained by a Muslim, and a lamp was always burning. Today, the San Thome Basilica sits on the site of Thomas’ tomb.

Saint Thomas has been made patron of a handful of things, including India and Sri Lanka. Other claims about Thomas include:

  • He was martyred by a spear
  • He was a builder by trade
  • Thomas was the only witness of the Assumption of Mary
  • Thomas met the biblical Magi on his way to India
  • Finger bones of Saint Thomas were discovered during restoration work at the Church of Saint Thomas in Modul, Iraq in 1964
  • He worked as a builder and architect for King Gondophares, the ruler of the Indo-Parthian Kingdom

8. Matthew

Matthew, later Saint Matthew, is another of the Galilean disciples. Traditionally, he is also the author of the Gospel of Matthew, one of the four evangelists. Of all the disciples, he is one of the least likely candidates chosen by Jesus since he was Matthew the tax collector” (Matthew 10:30) and not liked by the public. 

Tax collectors or publicans, as they were also called, collected unpaid taxes for the Roman occupiers. It was not their job that caused people to dislike them but rather their fraudulent behaviour. Rather than collecting the amount owed, the tax collectors demanded more money, keeping the excess for themselves. Tax collectors were seen as both greedy and collaborators with the Romans.

“As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.” (Matthew 9:9) Jesus came across Matthew after healing a paralysed man in Capernaum. Matthew invited Jesus to his house for a meal, an invitation that did not go unnoticed by the Pharisees. Always trying to find fault with Jesus, the Pharisees asked the disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (9:11) Before they could respond, Jesus answered them, explaining, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (9:12-13) 

Not much is recorded about Matthew’s early life other than his career, although one Bible verse mentions the name of his father. “And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him.” (Mark 2:14) Matthew was also known by the name Levi. The Bible also records the father of the Apostle James the Less as Alphaeus, but there is no evidence they are the same person. A man of the same name is also said to be the father of Joseph/Joses, a potential brother of Jesus. In the Catholic Church, Saints Abercius and Helena also have a father called Alphaeus. 

Matthew’s call to discipleship is recorded in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, but he is never mentioned in John. The final reference to the disciple is in Acts 1:10–14, where the apostles had withdrawn to a room after the Ascension of Jesus. To begin with, the disciples remained in the Jewish communities in Judea, preaching the Gospel before moving to other countries. Unfortunately, scholars have not been able to determine which countries Matthew visited. It is traditionally believed he died a martyr, but there is no evidence of this. Writers have suggested Hierapolis in Greece or Ethiopia as Matthew’s place of death.

The early Christian bishop Papias of Hierapolis (c. AD 60–163) was the first person to propose Matthew the Apostle and Matthew the Evangelist were the same. The Gospel was written in Hebrew near Jerusalem for Hebrew Christians before being translated into Greek. As a tax collector, Matthew would have been literate in Aramaic, Greek and his native tongue. To begin with, Matthew’s Gospel was known as Gospel according to the Hebrews and Gospel of the Apostles. An argument against Matthew’s authorship points out the text was written anonymously, and at no point does the author imply he was an eyewitness to the events. 

Matthew is supposedly buried in the crypt of Salerno Cathedral in southern Italy. He is recognised as a saint in Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran and Anglican churches, and his feast day is celebrated on 21st September. In art, Matthew is usually shown with a book, implying he wrote the Gospel, and an angel. Matthew is listed as the patron saint of accountants, bankers, tax collectors, perfumers, civil servants and Salerno, Italy.

9. James, son of Alpheus

James, son of Alpheus, not to be confused with James, son of Zebedee, is a disciple mentioned in three of the four gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke. He is also identified as James the Less, the Minor, or the Younger, depending on the translation. “Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome.” (Mark 15:40 NIV)

The word “less” does not imply James was less worthy than James the Greater. Instead, it may refer to his age or his height. Although there are very few mentions of James the Less in the Bible, his importance is equal to that of the other disciples. “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matthew 19:28)

Like most of the other disciples, James came from Galilee, which at the time was part of the Roman Empire. How he came to be Jesus’ disciple is missing from the Bible. There is also confusion about who James was since some scholars debate he may also have been Jesus’ brother, James the Just. The consensus is they were two separate people.

Very little is known about James. After King Herod killed James the Greater, Peter, who had been arrested, escaped and said to Mary, the mother of John, “Tell James and the other brothers and sisters about this.” (Acts 12:17) Since James the Greater was dead, this James could either be James the Less or James the Just. Unfortunately, there is no clarification in the Bible.

James the Less’s death was recorded by the 2nd-century theologian Hippolytus. “And James the son of Alphaeus, when preaching in Jerusalem was stoned to death by the Jews, and was buried there beside the temple.” James the Just, the brother of Jesus, is also believed to have died the same way, thus adding confusion about their identity. On the other hand, James the Less is traditionally thought to have preached at Ostrakine in Lower Egypt. Many people claim he was crucified there.

In Art, James is usually depicted with a fuller’s club, implying he may have worked in woollen clothmaking before becoming an apostle. Occasionally, he is portrayed with a carpenter’s saw, suggesting an alternative trade.

Saint James the Less is recorded as the patron saint of apothecaries, druggists, dying people and pharmacists, suggesting another potential career. He is also the patron saint of fullers, milliners, Frascati and Monterotondo in Italy, and Uruguay.

10. Jude

Jude, Judas Thaddaeus, Thaddeus, Jude of James, Lebbaeus, or whatever you wish to call him, was an apostle and martyr from 1st century Galilee. The use of multiple names in the Bible makes it difficult to determine whether they are one person or several. Cross-referencing the four Gospels, most scholars have agreed that the Thaddaeus in Matthew and Mark is the same person as Judas in Luke and John. Matthew also refers to the apostle as Lebbaeus and Judas the Zealot, whereas Luke and the Acts of the Apostles record him as Judas, son of James. One thing for sure is this disciple should not be confused with Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Jesus.

Not including Judas Iscariot, the name Judas or Jude is mentioned six times in the Bible. In Luke, both Judas, son of James, and Judas Iscariot are recorded in a list of the twelve disciples. The same is recorded in Acts, minus the latter, of course. Similar lists in Matthew and Mark, on the other hand, state his name as Thaddeus. It has been suggested this may have been a nickname. Thaddeus means “courageous of heart”.

John makes an effort to differentiate between the similarly named disciples. “Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, ‘But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?’” (John 14:22) In response to this, Jesus says, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me… Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (14:23-24, 27)

There is debate as to whether Judas was the brother of Jesus because Matthew 13:55 says, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?” The same is said in the Gospel of Mark, but there is no clarification as to whether this Judas was also the disciple. Protestant churches tend to believe they were different people, whereas Catholics usually argue the opposite. 

The author of the Book of Jude is also widely debated. The book begins with the author’s introduction: Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James.” (Jude 1:1) We know from Matthew that both Judas and James were brothers of Jesus, but is Jude the same person? Also, we know Judas was the name of a disciple of Jesus, therefore, he may identify himself as “a servant of Jesus Christ.” From this, it could be inferred that Judas/Thaddaeus, Judas the brother of Jesus and Jude the author are all one person, but no one has been able to find solid proof.

A collection of biographies compiled by Jacobus de Varagine in the 13th-century attempts to clarify the mixture of names used in the Gospels:

“This Judas was called by many names. He was said Judas James, for he was brother to James the Less, and he was called Thaddeus, which is as much to say as taking a prince; or Thadee is said of Thadea, that is a vesture, and of Deus, that is God, for he was vesture royal of God by ornament of virtues, by which he took Christ the prince. He is said also in the History Ecclesiastic, Lebbæus, which is as much to say as heart, or worshipper of heart. Or he is said Lebbæus of lebes, that is a vessel of heart by great hardiness, or a worshipper of heart by purity, a vessel by plenitude of grace, for he deserved to be a vessel of virtues and a caldron of grace.” 

Putting aside the confusion of names and identity, tradition tells us Jude the Disciple continued to spread the word of Christ after the crucifixion of Jesus. Jude preached the gospel firstly in Judea before travelling through Samaria, Edom, Syria, Mesopotamia and Libya. Jude, along with Bartholomew, is also credited as the first people to bring Christianity to Armenia.

Jude’s life before becoming a disciple is unknown. Over time, theories and ideas suggest he may have been a farmer by trade. Growing up in Galilee, Jude would probably have spoken both Greek and Aramaic, which would have been beneficial when preaching to people of other areas. The 14th-century historian Nicephorus Callistus believed Jude was the bridegroom at the wedding at Cana recorded in the Gospel of John. This was the event that saw Jesus perform his first miracle.

Tradition states Jude was martyred around 65 AD in Beirut. Although Beirut is now the capital of Lebanon, it was then part of the Roman Province of Syria. Abdias, the first bishop of Babylon, recorded Jude’s death in the Acts of Simon and Jude, along with the death of a fellow disciple, Simon the Zealot. It is thought the pair were killed with an axe, possibly beheaded.  

Many years after his death, Jude’s bones were brought to Rome and buried in the crypt of St Peter’s Basilica. His resting place became a popular destination for pilgrims, giving him the title, “The Saint for the Hopeless and the Despaired”. He is also known as “The Patron Saint of the Impossible.” Shrines and churches have been erected all over the world in Jude’s honour, such as in Australia, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Cuba, India, Iran, the Philippines, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States and Lebanon. The most recent shrine is the National Shrine of Saint Jude in Faversham, Kent, built in 1955.

The Feast of St Jude is traditionally celebrated on 28th October. He is the patron saint of several places and people, including Armenia; St Petersburg in Florida, Lucena, Quezon, Sibalom, Antique, Trece Mártires, and Cavite in the Philippines; Sinajana in Guam; Clube de Regatas do Flamengo, a sports club in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; the Chicago Police Department; lost causes; desperate situations; and hospitals.

11. Simon the Zealot

Simon the Zealot or Simon the Canaanite/Cananaean is possibly the most obscure disciple. Although his name appears on a list of the disciples mentioned in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and John and the Book of Acts, he does not play a named role elsewhere.

To distinguish Simon from Simon Peter, Matthew and Mark use the term “Simon the Canaanite” (Matthew 10:4; Mark 3:18 KJV). Luke and Acts, on the other hand, call him “Simon Zelotes” (Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13 KJV) or “Simon the Zealot” (NIV), depending on the translation. The term “Canaanite” has led people to assume Simon was from Canaan or Cana, but the Hebrew text proves this to be a mistranslation. In Hebrew, Simon was referred to as “qanai”, which means “zealous”. The reason for the Canaanite confusion is easy to forgive since the term stems from the same Hebrew word. Unfortunately, no one knows why Simon was singled out as being zealous. Although, in contemporary English zealous means enthusiastic or to have a strong passion, in Greek, it was also a synonym for “jealous”. 

Catholic scholars have attempted to identify Simon the Zealot with both Simon the brother of Jesus and Simeon of Jerusalem, despite no evidence in the Bible for either claim. The names of Jesus’ brothers are mentioned in Mark 6:3, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” Simeon of Jerusalem or Saint Simeon does not appear in the Bible.  

According to tradition, Saint Simeon was the second Bishop of Jerusalem, appointed by the Apostles Peter, James and John. He is also said to be the son of Clopas and, therefore, potentially a cousin of Jesus. “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” (John 19:25) 

As mentioned above, the “Judas” mentioned in Mark 6:3 may have been the disciple Jude, also known as Judas Thaddeus, and the “James” was potentially James the Less. So, it is possible, as it says in the Golden Legend compiled by Jacobus de Varagine (1230-1299), “Simon the Cananaean and Judas Thaddeus were brethren of James the Less and sons of Mary Cleophas, which was married to Alpheus.” The names Clopas and Cleophas refer to the same person depending on the Bible translation.

The Bible does not record how Simon was called to be a disciple, but a book of the Apocrypha, if it is to be believed, may shed some light on this. The Syriac Infancy Gospel, which supposedly records the childhood of Jesus, contains a story about a boy named Simon who was bitten by a snake. Jesus, who was only a child himself, healed the boy and said, “you shall be my disciple.” The story is concluded with “this is Simon the Cananite, of whom mention is made in the Gospel.”

There are various speculations about Simon’s actions after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Some say he visited the Middle East and Africa. Another tradition claims he visited Roman Britain during the Boadicea rebellion in 60 AD. Likewise, there is more than one version of his death. Stories tell of Simon being crucified in Samaria, sawn in half in Persia, martyred in Iberia, crucified in Lincolnshire and dying peacefully in Edessa. In art, Simon is portrayed with a saw, suggesting he was sawn in half.

Simon the Zealot, like all the apostles, is regarded as a saint. He shares a feast day with Saint Jude on 28th October. He is the patron saint of curriers, sawyers and tanners, perhaps alluding to his profession.

12. Judas Iscariot

Judas Iscariot, the most infamous of the Twelve Disciples, betrayed Jesus to the Sanhedrin in the Garden of Gethsemane, which led to Jesus’ death and crucifixion. Due to this notorious role, Judas is a controversial figure in the Bible. On the one hand, he betrayed Jesus, and on the other, he set in motion the events that led to the resurrection, which was necessary to bring salvation to humanity.

The name Judas was a Greek version of the Hebrew name Judah and, therefore, was popular in Biblical times. We have already looked at the disciple Jude, also known as Judas Thaddeus. To distinguish between the two disciples, the Gospel writers used epithets, such as “Judas, son of James” for Jude, and “Iscariot” for Judas. It is not certain what ‘Iscariot’ meant, but some scholars have linked it to a Hebrew phrase meaning “the man from Kerioth.” Other suggestions are “liar”, “red colour”, and “to deliver”. There is also the theory Judas was connected with the Sicarii group, who carried daggers under their cloaks, but there is no evidence they were around during Judas’ lifetime.

“Kerioth Hezron (that is, Hazor)” (Joshua 15:25) was a town in the south of Judea. Judas may have been born there, but there is no direct reference to this in the Bible. All we know about Judas’ life before he met Jesus is his father’s name. Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.” (John 6:71) 

Judas Iscariot features in all four Gospels, although not always named. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus sent out the Twelve in pairs to preach and gave them authority over impure spirits. Other than the twelve, most of Jesus’ disciples had been unable to accept his teachings, which is why they are not named in the Bible. In the Gospel of John, Jesus emphasised that he had chosen the Twelve deliberately because Jesus knew he could rely on them. Yet, he also shocked them by saying, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” (John 6:70) The “devil” refers to Judas Iscariot. 

Despite Jesus knowing Judas would eventually betray him, he promised all the disciples, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matthew 19:28) This suggests Judas was chosen specifically for the role he would play in the crucifixion and resurrection, and God would not punish him.

Judas’ act of betrayal is portrayed from different angles in each Gospel. In Matthew, we are told that Judas Iscariot went to the chief priests and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” (Matthew 26:15) The priests gave Judas thirty pieces of silver. The Gospel of Mark also says the chief priests promised to give Judas money for handing over Jesus, but Mark does not indicate how much. After the Last Supper, Judas found the opportunity to hand Jesus to the chief priests. Whilst Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas arrived with a large, armed crowd and said, “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” (Matthew 26:48) 

The Gospel of Luke provides a similar account to Matthew and Mark but includes further detail. Luke suggests Judas did not go to see the chief priests of his own free will but says, “Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve.” (Luke 22:3)

The Gospel of John is the only Gospel that does not state Judas betrayed Jesus in return for money. Nonetheless, it is implied Judas was greedy and a thief, so it is likely Judas would have asked the priests for something in return for delivering Jesus to them. “He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.” (John 12:6) 

John also directly indicates that Judas would be the one to betray Jesus. In the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus tells his disciples at the Last Supper that one of them would betray him. In the Gospel of John, it is more obvious who this disciple is: “‘It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’ Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.” (John 13:26-27)

Jesus then told Judas to go and do what he had to do quickly, but the other disciples were unaware of what this meant. “Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor.” (John 13:29) 

Judas’ betrayal is mentioned in all four Gospels. The other eleven disciples are either involved with events recorded in a couple of the Gospels, or they are barely mentioned at all. The New Testament scholar Bart D. Ehrman (b.1955) states this is evidence that Judas’ actions truly happened. Whilst Christians believe everything in the Gospels is fact, it is strange not every Gospel writer thought certain events were worth recording.

It is generally believed Judas was overcome by remorse after the arrest of Jesus and committed suicide. The Gospel of Matthew records Judas tried to return the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests, saying, “I have sinned, for I have betrayed innocent blood.” (Matthew 27:3) The chief priests would not accept the coins, “So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.” (Matthew 27:5)

The chief priests could not accept the money because it was “blood money.” Therefore, they used the money to buy a plot of land where foreigners (non-Jews) could be buried. “That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day.” (Matthew 27:8) This supposedly fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah: “They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price set on him by the people of Israel, and they used them to buy the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.” (Matthew 27:9-10) Yet, there is no such prophecy in the Book of Jeremiah, although there is in Zechariah. 

The Book of Acts, on the other hand, claims Judas bought the field with the money. “With the payment he received for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.” (Acts 1:18-19) In this verse, there is no suggestion that Judas was remorseful, and his death could have been an accident rather than suicide.  

The two differing accounts of Judas’ death have caused consternation amongst scholars. St. Augustine of Hippo suggested the account in Acts was a continuation of Matthew. The field bought by the chief priests with Judas’ money may have been the same field in which Judas hanged himself. The rope may have eventually broken, causing his body to burst open on impact with the ground. Other writers have suggested the version in Acts was metaphorical rather than factual. “Falling prostrate” represented Judas in anguish, and the “bursting out of the bowels” is pouring out emotion.

A couple of Apocryphal books add more to the account of Judas’ death. The Gospel of Nicodemus, written in the 4th century AD, relates that Judas went home to his wife and told her he was going to kill himself because he knew Jesus would punish him after the resurrection. His wife laughed and said Jesus is as unlikely to rise from the dead as the chicken carcass she was preparing for dinner. At that very moment, the chicken was restored to life. The Gospel of Judas reveals Judas’ worries that the other disciples would persecute him, so he preferred to commit suicide than face that fate.

Just as the term “Doubting Thomas” has entered the common language, the name “Judas” has come to mean “betrayer” or “traitor”. In Spain, Judas is usually depicted with red hair, which during the renaissance era was regarded as a negative trait. As a result, red hair, alongside greed, became a way of portraying Jewish people in literature. In traditional art, Judas is often portrayed with a dark-coloured halo, which contrasts with the lighter colour of the other disciples.

Unlike the other disciples, Judas was not made a saint. Saint Matthias quickly filled his place among the twelve disciples. Nevertheless, Judas will not be forgotten. His betrayal is remembered annually in churches across the world.

13. Matthias

According to the Acts of the Apostle, written between 80 and 90 AD, the Apostles chose someone to replace Judas Iscariot. Matthias is different from the other disciples in that Jesus, who had already ascended into heaven, did not choose him.

In Acts 1, Peter announced to the other disciples, “It is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us.” (1:21-22) Two men were nominated: Joseph Barsabbas, also known as Justus, and Matthias. Lots were drawn, and Matthias was added to the eleven apostles.

Nothing else about Matthias features in the canonical New Testament, but it can be inferred that Matthias had been a follower of Jesus for the past few years. Nonetheless, non-canonical documents report that Matthias, like the other disciples, travelled from place to place, preaching the Gospel. Traditionally, Matthias is associated with the arrival of Christianity in Cappadocia and the countries bordering the Caspian Sea.

According to the 14th-century Greek ecclesiastical historian, Nicephorus Callistus Xanthopulus, Matthias began preaching in his home region of Judea before travelling to modern-day Georgia, where he was stoned to death. A marker within the ruins of a Roman fortress claims Matthias was buried there.

Other sources record Matthias preaching in Ethiopia. The Coptic book Acts of Andrew and Matthias claims the disciples were “in the city of the cannibals in Aethiopia.” The Synopsis of Dorotheus corroborates this, saying, “Matthias preached the Gospel to barbarians and meat-eaters in the interior of Ethiopia, where the sea harbour of Hyssus is, at the mouth of the river Phasis. He died at Sebastopolis, and was buried there, near the Temple of the Sun.” Sebastopolis is in modern-day Turkey, which means this statement goes against the theory that Matthias died in Georgia. 

A third theory suggests Matthias was stoned in Jerusalem, perhaps taking on Judas’ punishment, and then beheaded. On the other hand, Hippolytus of Rome believed Matthias died of old age.

Fragments of the apocryphal Gospel of Matthias survive, which suggests Matthias believed in a life of abstinence. “We must combat our flesh, set no value upon it, and concede to it nothing that can flatter it, but rather increase the growth of our soul by faith and knowledge.” 

Similar to the other disciples, minus Judas, Matthias was venerated by the Roman Church in the 11th Century. He was given the 24th February as his feast day (25th in Leap Years), but this was later changed to 14th May, so that it would not coincide with Lent. Legend claims Empress Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great, brought Matthias’ remains to Italy, where they were interred in the Abbey of Santa Giustina, Padua, with some sent to the Abbey of Matthias in Germany. Again, this goes against the claim that Matthias is buried in Georgia.

Following his death, Saint Matthias became the patron saint of alcoholics, carpenters, tailors, smallpox, hope and perseverance. He is also listed as the patron saint of the United States town Gary in Indiana and Great Falls-Billings in Montana.


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 Louisa Garrett Anderson

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836-1917), the first woman to qualify in Britain as a physician and surgeon, is a well-known name in the history of women’s rights. Lesser renowned but still important is her daughter, Louisa Garrett Anderson, who followed Elizabeth into the medical profession and Suffrage campaigns. Whilst her aunt, Millicent Fawcett (1847-1929), belonged to the Suffragist movement, Louisa joined the more militant Suffragettes.

Born on 28th July 1873 in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, Louisa was the eldest of Elizabeth and James George Skelton Anderson’s three children. Elizabeth was a co-founder of the London School of Medicine for Women and later Britain’s first female mayor. Louisa’s father co-owned the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, more commonly known as P&O.

As a child, Louisa attended St Andrews School for Girls Company, a boarding school in Scotland, later renamed St Leonards. Founded in 1877, the first headmistress, Louisa Lumsden (1840-1935), believed “a girl should receive an education that is as good as her brother’s, if not better.” The school advocated for higher education for women, which paved the way for Louisa to receive her Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery at the London School of Medicine for Women in 1898.

In 1900, Louisa received her Doctor of Medicine and enrolled at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in the United States for post-graduate studies. Despite her academic achievements, Louisa could not find a hospital willing to employ a female doctor. Instead, she returned to England, where her mother had founded the New Hospital for Women, now renamed the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Obstetric Hospital. Louisa began working as a surgical assistant in 1902 before working her way up to a senior surgeon. Her role involved gynaecological and general operations, including hysterectomies and uterine cancer surgeries.

Louisa joined the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) in 1903, which used democratic and non-militant tactics to protest in favour of female emancipation. The NUWSS was led by Millicent Fawcett, the sister of Louisa’s mother. Despite the family connection, Louisa felt frustrated with the NUWSS’s lack of progress, so she became a member of the more radical Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1907.

The WSPU, led by Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928) and her daughters, Christabel (1880-1958) and Sylvia (1882-1960), were known for their acts of civil unrest, including breaking windows, heckling politicians and holding loud demonstrations and marches. Many members of the WSPU, or Suffragettes as the Daily Mail called them, frequently found themselves arrested for their actions. Regardless of this risk, Louisa devoted her time to the union.

On Friday 18th November 1910, Louisa and her mother joined 300 women to march to parliament and petition Prime Minister Asquith (1852-1928) for voting rights. Louisa and Elizabeth were in the first group to arrive in Westminster, with Hertha Ayrton (1854-1923) and Princess Sophia Duleep Singh (1876-1948). They were taken to Asquith’s office, but the Prime Minister refused to see them. After leaving the building, they witnessed a violent clash between the demonstrating women and the police.

Nicknamed ‘Black Friday’, the marching women were met by lines of policemen who subjected them to violence and, in many cases, sexual assault. Male bystanders felt encouraged to join in the melee. Several women suffered injuries, and the police arrested four men and 115 women, including Louisa. The remaining protestors and the families of the women in prison created a public outcry about the unnecessary actions of the police. To keep the peace, Winston Churchill (1874-1965), the Home Secretary, ordered the release of all prisoners, stating “on this occasion no public advantage would be gained by proceeding with the prosecution.”

Louisa spent time in Holloway prison in 1912 after throwing a brick through a window and participating in other Suffragette activities. HM Prison Holloway was the largest women’s prison in western Europe until its closure in 2016. Many Suffragettes were imprisoned during the years preceding the First World War. In protest, several women went on hunger strike and were subjected to force-feeding. One of Louisa’s fellow window-smashers, Ethel Smyth (1858-1944), composed the official anthem of the WSPU to words by Cicely Hamilton (1872-1952), which they performed during their stay at Holloway in 1912.

In 1914, Louisa left the WSPU to form the United Suffragists, which allowed men and non-militant Suffragists to join former Suffragettes in the ongoing campaign for the right to vote. Supported by the artist Patricia Woodlock (1873-c.1930), Louisa ran the Edinburgh branch of the United Suffragists. They adopted the Votes for Women newspaper, which formerly belonged to the WSPU.

Not much information exists about Louisa’s private life, but her friend, Dr Flora Murray (1869-1923), is frequently described as Louisa’s partner, suggesting a lesbian relationship. Murray, originally from Dumfries, Scotland, started living with Louisa in 1914. Before then, she and Louisa established the Women’s Hospital for Children at 688 Harrow Road, London, in 1912. The hospital provided treatment specifically for children of working-class families. They adopted the WSPU motto, “Deeds not words”, and allowed female doctors to gain clinical experience in paediatrics, which they could not receive anywhere else.

When the First World War broke out in July 1914, Louisa and Murray founded the Women’s Hospital Corps (WHC), which they equipped with female staff. The couple suspected the British War Office would reject their help, so they offered their assistance to the French Red Cross instead. The French provided the women space in a Parisian hotel and appointed Murray as Médecin-en-Chef (chief physician) and Louisa as the chief surgeon.

The Women’s Hospital Corps expanded to set up another military hospital in Wimereux on the coast of the English Channel. They treated both French and British soldiers, the latter of whom were greatly surprised to find a hospital run by British women. Noting the successfulness of Murray, Louisa and their medical team, the British claimed it as their auxiliary hospital rather than a French one. When casualties were evacuated to England in January 1915, the War Office invited Murray and Anderson to run a hospital in London.

Overseen by the Royal Army Medical Corps, Louisa and Murray started running the Endell Street Military Hospital (ESMH) in May 1915. Constructed in the former St Giles Union Workhouse in Covent Garden, the hospital had space for an operating theatre and most of the equipment from Wimereux Hospital, which closed following Louisa and Murray’s departure from France. Initially, the ESMH opened with enough beds for 520 men, but the number of wounded continued to grow, forcing them to squeeze in another 53 beds. Additional Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) hospitals were established to allow doctors and nurses to treat up to 800 wounded soldiers at a time.

The ESMH saw 50,000 patients between 1915 and 1919, with 80 soldiers arriving each day. Louisa and the other surgeons conducted around 20 operations per day. The majority of staff were women, including drivers, dentists, pathologists, doctors, surgeons and nurses. Other women came in daily as librarians and entertainment officers to boost morale among the patients, particularly those who never had visitors from family or friends. Whilst the majority of wounded soldiers were British, at least 2000 Canadians received treatment, plus a handful of Australian, New Zealand, American, Russian and French troops.

Reluctant to give the women full control of the hospital, the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) regularly checked up on the staff and patients. The RAMC was sceptical about the women’s ability to work professionally and felt they were not properly trained for the job. Louisa, Murray and the other women proved the RAMC wrong when they received positive feedback from the patients. Soldiers even commented on the “feminine touches” around the hospital, such as flowers, colour and proper lighting, which benefited their psychological health, unlike the other drab, gloomy military hospitals.

At the ESMH, Louisa worked closely with the pathologist Helen Chambers (1879-1935) to pioneer a new method of treating septic wounds. James Rutherford Morison (1853-1939), a surgeon stationed at Northumberland War Hospital, introduced BIPP (bismuth iodoform paraffin paste) to treat contaminated wounds. Louisa and Chambers tested the product on some of their patients and reported the positive results to Morison, who asked them to continue with a larger trial of BIPP throughout 1916. Louisa published her report on the product in the weekly medical journal The Lancet, in which she praised its effectiveness, both in healing the wound and limiting the patient’s pain. The antiseptic properties allowed dressings to remain on for longer, reducing the use of bandages by 80%.

In 1917, King George V founded the Order of the British Empire to honour those who served in non-combatant roles during the First World War. The Order consists of five classes: Knight/Dame Grand Cross (GBE), Knight/Dame Commander (KBE/DBE), Commander (CBE), Officer (OBE), and Member (MBE). For their work in the hospital, Louisa and Murray became one of the first people awarded a CBE in August 1917.

Louisa and Murray continued working in the ESMH hospital until the end of the war, when they received orders to evacuate and close the building by December 1919. Both women returned to the Women’s Hospital for Children in Harrow Road, renamed the Roll of Honour Hospital. While working as doctors and surgeons, Murray wrote the memoir Women as Army Surgeons: Being the History of the Women’s Hospital Corps in Paris, published in 1920. She dedicated the book to “Louisa Garrett Anderson / Bold, cautious, true and my loving companion.”

As well as celebrating the end of the war, the Suffragists and Suffragettes celebrated the passing of the Representation of the People Act in 1918, which allowed women over the age of 30 the right to vote. The NUWSS and WSPU disbanded and formed the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship (NUSEC), which fought for the same voting rights as men, equal pay, fairer divorce laws and an end to discrimination against women in employment.

Lack of funding resulted in the closure of the Roll of Honour Hospital in around 1921, so both women decided to retire and move to a cottage in Penn, Buckinghamshire. Sadly, Murray discovered she had rectal carcinoma and died shortly after surgery to remove the tumour, with Louisa by her side. Murray left everything to Louisa in her will and was buried at the Holy Trinity Church near their home.

Following Flora Murray’s death, Louisa lost her radicalism and joined the Conservative Party. In 1934, she became a justice of the peace and later the Mayor of Aldeburgh, Suffolk. When the Second World War began, Louisa came out of retirement to work as a surgeon at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital, named after her mother.

In 1943, Louisa discovered she had developed cancer, which quickly spread throughout her body. She spent her remaining days in a nursing home in Brighton, where she passed away on 15th November 1943 at the age of 70. Her brother, nephews and nieces arranged her funeral and scattered her ashes on the South Downs. They also commissioned a new headstone for Flora Murray, featuring the inscription:

To the dear love of comrades and in memory of
Flora Murray
CBE, MD, BS Durham, DPH. Cambridge
Daughter of Com John Murray RN
Murraythwaite, Dumfriesshire
Born 8 May 1869
Died 26 July 1923
She commanded the military hospital Endall Street London with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel RAMC 1915 -1919
God gave her the strength to lead, to pity and to heal
And of her friend
Louisa Garrett Anderson
CBE, MD, Chief Surgeon Women’s Hospital Corps 1914–1919
Daughter of James George Skelton Anderson and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson of Aldeburgh, Suffolk.
Born 28 July 1873
Died 15 November 1943
WE HAVE BEEN GLORIOUSLY HAPPY

Louisa Garrett Anderson is one of 55 women whose names and photographs appear on the plinth of the statue of Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square, London. Erected in 2018 to celebrate the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, the statue pays homage to several people who supported the suffrage campaign. Many notable Suffragettes appear on the plinth, including Emmeline, Christabel, Sylvia and Adele Pankhurst, and four men: Laurence Housman (1865-1959), George Lansbury (1859-1940), Frederick Pethick-Lawrence (1871-1961) and Reverend Claude Hinscliff (1875-1964).

Flora Murray did not make it onto the shortlist of names on the Millicent Fawcett statue, but she is due to appear on the new polymer £100 Scottish banknote in May 2022. Dr Murray will feature on one side and the poet Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) on the other. Speaking about the decision to include Murray, the chief executive of the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust said, “Almost a century since her death, Flora’s story is a reminder of the huge debt of gratitude we owe to those early agitators who refused to accept the limitations imposed by a society that didn’t believe women could or should be doctors, physicians and surgeons. Then and now, we embrace the pioneers, the innovators, and the game-changers.”


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Britain’s Queen of the Desert

When thinking about the Middle East, the first British name to come to mind is often Lawrence of Arabia (T. E. Lawrence), who was involved with the Arab Revolt (1916–1918) and the Sinai and Palestine Campaign (1915–1918). Yet, Lawrence was not the only British person to support the Middle East. Gertrude Bell, an author and archaeologist, became highly influential to British officials and helped establish modern states, such as Iraq. Trusted by both the British and the Arabs, Bell is often described as “one of the few representatives of His Majesty’s Government remembered by the Arabs with anything resembling affection”.

Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell was born on 14th July 1868 in an English town called Washington in County Durham. Her father, Sir Thomas Hugh Bell, 2nd Baronet of Rounton Range and Washington Hall (1844-1931), was a wealthy landowner, and her grandfather, Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell, 1st Baronet (1816-1904), was an ironmonger “as famous in his day as Isambard Kingdom Brunel“. Gertrude’s mother, Mary, passed away when she was only three years old after giving birth to her younger brother, Maurice (1871-1944).

Without a mother, Bell grew close to her father, who inspired her thirst for adventure. Her father also taught her about British policy-making and capitalism. He always made sure his workers were well paid and cared for, an attitude which he passed down to his daughter.

When Bell was seven, her father married the playwright Florence Olliffe (1851-1930). As well as providing the family with three more children, Hugh (1878-1926), Florence (1880-1971) and Mary (1882-1966), Florence taught Bell about duty and decorum but also encouraged her growing intellect. Florence regularly assisted the wives of local ironworkers, helping them become self-sufficient and access education.

At 11, Bell started attending Queen’s College in London before moving to Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University, at 17. At the time, degree topics were limited for women, with history being one of the few they could study. Bell specialised in modern history and became the first woman to graduate in the subject at Oxford with a first-class honours degree. Unfortunately, her success was not classed as an academic degree because she was a woman.

After graduating from university, Bell travelled to Persia in 1892 to visit her step-uncle, Sir Frank Lascelles (1841-1920), who served as the British minister in Tehran. Bell described her journey in a book, Persian Pictures, which she published in 1894. The adventure inspired her to continue travelling, and she developed a passion for archaeology and languages. During her travels, Bell learned to speak Arabic, Persian, French, German and Italian.

In 1899, Bell explored Palestine and Syria, then travelled from Jerusalem to Damascus the following year. In 1903, Bell visited Singapore with her brother, where she befriended British colonial administrator Sir Frank Swettenham (1850-1946). Bell and Swettenham kept up a correspondence for several years, and they may have had a brief affair in 1904.

Between 1899 and 1904, Bell enjoyed mountaineering. While hiking in the Bernese Alps in western Switzerland, she recorded ten new pathways and reached one of the highest peaks in 1901. Since named after her, Gertrudspitze rises 2,632 m (8,635 ft) above sea level and remains a popular destination for experienced climbers.

In 1907, Bell published another book, Syria: The Desert and the Sown, which described her voyage to Syria. At the time, Syria belonged to the Ottoman Empire and encompassed the cities of Damascus, Jerusalem (now Israel/Palestine), Beirut (Lebanon), the ruins of Antioch (Turkey), and Alexandretta (Turkey). Her descriptions of the country and cities gave readers in the Western World their first glimpse of the Arabian Desert.

In March 1907, Bell returned to the Ottoman Empire, where she joined the archaeologist and New Testament scholar Sir William Mitchell Ramsay (1851-1939) on an excavation of Binbirkilise. Meaning “One Thousand and One Churches”, Binbirkilise is a ruined city once inhabited by Byzantine Christians between the 3rd and 8th century AD. Bell published her initial findings in the Revue Archéologique and helped Ramsay write the book, The Thousand and One Churches. Together, they started excavating several buildings, but when Bell returned two years later, stone robbers had demolished their findings.

Bell returned to England in 1908, where she became a founder member of the Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League. Despite her misgivings about women’s inequality at university, Bell opposed women being granted the vote in parliamentary elections. Bell’s opinions stemmed from her social and political background, where the men were in charge but allowed her to participate in intellectual discussions. Today, it may seem strange that Bell, one of the most educated women of her time, opposed the suffrage campaign, but her main argument was that the uneducated should not be involved in politics, regardless of their sex. If women did not have the right to equal education with men, Bell questioned how they would cope with parliamentary matters.

Bell did not remain in England for long before travelling to Mesopotamia in January 1909. Today, the majority of historical Mesopotamia is located in Iraq. While there, she visited the ancient city of Carchemish, where she met T. E. Lawrence (1888-1935), who was working for Reginald Campbell Thompson (1876-1914), the man responsible for the excavation of the city.

While in Mesopotamia, Bell also photographed the Assyrian relief carvings in the Halamata Cave near the city of Duhok (Iraq). Bell was the first person to document a procession of nine carved figures that date back to approximately 704-681 BC on camera. Further study of the carvings has led archaeologists to believe the figures represent ” the Assyrian king worshipping the main divinities in the Mesopotamian pantheon.”

In the same year, Bell helped excavate the Al-Ukhaidir Fortress and wrote the first report on the remains. Whilst the building was large, Bell noted the living quarters were cramped. The fortress was on several important trade routes, so the size was likely to demonstrate the “despotic and the pleasure-loving character of the dynasty” rather than provide comfort for its inhabitants.

In 1913, Bell made another trip to Mesopotamia, where she became the second foreign woman to visit Haʼil, a city now in Saudi Arabia. Haʼil is the homeland of the Rashid royal family, who are historical rivals to the Saudi royal family. When Bell arrived, the city was in political turmoil. She was held in the city for eleven days before being able to continue her journey across the Arabian peninsula to Baghdad and back to Damascus. The only woman to visit Haʼil before Bell was Anne Blunt, 15th Baroness Wentworth (1837-1917), the daughter of the famous mathematician Ada Lovelace (1815-52).

At the outbreak of the First World War, Bell requested to be posted to the Middle East. Initially, her request was declined, so she spent a year in France working for the Red Cross. In November 1915, British Intelligence changed its mind and sent Bell to General Gilbert Clayton (1875-1929) at the Arab Bureau in Cairo, Egypt. Both Bell and T. E. Lawrence, who had also been sent to Cairo, were recommended by Commander David Hogarth (1862-1927), an archaeologist who became the acting director of the Arab Bureau the following year.

Using her knowledge of the Arabic language, Bell’s first task was to interpret data about Arab tribes collected by Captain William Shakespear (1878-1915), who had been shot and killed at the Battle of Jarrab. With Bell as the translator, Lawrence and other British Intelligence agents aimed to encourage the Arabs to form an alliance with Britain and stand against the Ottoman Empire.

In March 1916, Captain Clayton sent Bell to Basra, a former city belonging to the Ottoman Empire (now Iraq) that British forces had captured. Bell visited the city during her earlier travels and knew the area better than any Brit. Dividing her time between the Military GHQ Basra and the office of Chief Political Officer Percy Cox (1864-1937), Bell devised maps to help British troops travel safely from Basra to Baghdad.

Bell was given the title “Liaison Officer, Correspondent to Cairo” and assigned to Colonial Office intelligence officer Harry St John Philby (1885-1960), an Arabist born to British parents in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). As his field controller, Bell taught him about political manoeuvering and espionage. Bell remained in Basra until British troops successfully took Baghdad in March 1917.

When it was safe, Percy Cox summoned Bell to Baghdad and gave her the title “Oriental Secretary”. She remained in the city until the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire in January 1919, after which Cox sent her to analyse the situation in Mesopotamia. With her knowledge of Arab tribes, Bell wrote a report called Self Determination in Mesopotamia, in which she listed the tribes she thought best suited to take on the leadership of a newly formed country. Unfortunately, the British Commissioner in Mesopotamia, Arnold Wilson (1884-1940), insisted the Mesopotamian population was not ready to rule alone, so proposed an Arab government under the influence of British officials.

Throughout 1920, Bell acted as a mediator between the Arab government and British officials. Not only did she have to convey messages between the two nations, but she also needed to mediate between the various Mesopotamian tribes. The Shias in the south, the Kurds in the north and the Sunnis in the centre all wanted to self-govern their land, but for the country to function, Bell needed to persuade them to unite. British Officials were also mindful of tribal feuds that could be costly and make the country vulnerable to other nations, such as Turkey, Persia and Syria, who had their eye on Mesopotamia’s oil resources.

Uniting the tribes was easier in theory than in practice. The Kurds not only inhabited parts of Mesopotamia but also Syria and Turkey. Whilst the Shias and Sunnis could merge their lands, only a portion of the Kurds lived in the new country, Iraq. Whilst Bell endorsed the division of the northern tribe, the Kurds were not happy about being denied a homeland, which led to uprisings in Syria, Turkey and Iraq.

Bell expressed the difficulties British officials faced in a letter to her father, saying, “Mesopotamia is not a civilised state.” By the end of 1920, the British had prevented the Kurdish revolt from escalating. Bell was invited to attend a series of meetings between 12th and 30th March to discuss the geographic and political future of the country. Officially known as the Middle East Conference held in Cairo and Jerusalem, the meetings were attended by many British officials, including the newly appointed Secretary of State for the Colonies Winston Churchill (1874-1965) and T. E. Lawrence, the Special Advisor to Colonial Office. The minutes of the meetings record Bell as the Oriental Secretary for High Commissioner of Iraq, with Sir Percy Cox as High Commissioner of Iraq.

During the Cairo Conference, Bell provided significant input in the discussions about Iraq’s creation and recommended Faisal bin Hussein (1885-1933), a former commander of the Arab forces, as the first King of Iraq. Lawrence backed up the suggestion, and Faisal officially became King on 23rd August 1921. Due to his Hashemite lineage, the country was initially called the Hashemite Kingdom of Iraq.

Not everyone welcomed Faisal as the king because they did not want to be governed by someone from a different tribe. Bell tried to ease Faisal into the role, teaching him about tribal geography and local business and supervising the election of government officials. The Arabs called Bell “al-Khatun”, which means a Lady of the Court who keeps an open eye and ear for the benefit of the State, and she served as Faisal’s confidante.

Supervising Faisal was not always an easy task, especially when he attempted to rid himself of the control of the British advisors. Writing about the ordeal, Bell confessed, “You may rely upon one thing — I’ll never engage in creating kings again; it’s too great a strain.” Eventually, Faisal settled into the role and assisted Bell to establish the Baghdad Archaeological Museum, later renamed the Iraqi Museum. Bell donated many of her archaeological finds to the museum, believing the relics of Mesopotamian civilization ought to remain in their country of origin. Bell also founded the British School of Archaeology in Iraq to encourage the Arab population to develop an interest in their history and help preserve ancient artefacts.

Before the creation of Iraq, each Arab tribe had a flag or badge. To prevent riots and protests, the British proposed a new flag for Iraq, which incorporated aspects of each tribe. The design featured a black stripe to represent the Abbasid caliphate, a white stripe for the Umayyad caliphate, and a green stripe for Fatimid Dynasty. Joining the three lines together, a red triangle represented the country’s main religion, Islam. Bell also suggested adding a star to the flag to make it stand out from similar flags of other Middle Eastern countries.

The flag of Iraq has changed many times since its creation. Today’s flag looks remarkably different from the version Bell worked on in 1921. In 1959, a revolution led by Brigadier Abd al-Karim Qasim (1914-1963) abolished the Hashemite monarchy. For a brief time, the new republic adopted a black, white and green vertical tricolour, with a red eight-pointed star in the centre. When Qasim was overthrown in 1963, the country adopted the same colours and style as Egypt and Syria’s flags, a horizontal tricolour of red, white, and black bands. Initially, three green stars sat in the centre to symbolise Iraq’s aspiration to unite with Egypt and Syria. The union never happened, and the central symbol changed several times until 2008 when the Council of Representatives of Iraq settled on the phrase Allāhu ʾakbar in Kufic script, which means “Allah is the greatest”.

Bell’s lengthy stay in the Middle East began to take a toll on her health during the 1920s. Her work, which included writing correspondence and intelligence reports, was stressful, not helped by her repeated bronchitis attacks due to the smoke-filled offices she shared with her heavy smoking colleagues. She also suffered bouts of malaria and struggled to cope with the heat in the summer. By the time Bell returned to England for a brief visit in 1925, she was frail and emaciated.

After a short stay with her family, Bell returned to Baghdad, where she developed pleurisy, leaving her unable to work for several weeks. When she recovered, she received the sad news that her brother Hugh had succumbed to typhoid. On 11th July 1926, Bell instructed her maid to wake her up in the morning and went off to bed. That night, Bell died from a supposed overdose of sleeping pills. Whilst some assumed Bell committed suicide, others believe her death was an accident since she had asked her maid to wake her.

Bell’s funeral took place on 12th July 1926, merely hours after her death. The funeral was a major event attended by British officials and Arabs living in the area. King Faisal watched the procession from his balcony as Bell’s coffin was carried to the British cemetery in Baghdad’s Bab al-Sharji district.

Commander David Hogarth wrote Bell’s obituary, emphasising the respect British officials had for her. “No woman in recent time has combined her qualities – her taste for arduous and dangerous adventure with her scientific interest and knowledge, her competence in archaeology and art, her distinguished literary gift, her sympathy for all sorts and condition of men, her political insight and appreciation of human values, her masculine vigour, hard common sense and practical efficiency – all tempered by feminine charm and a most romantic spirit.”

Bell’s stepmother also honoured her by publishing two volumes of letters Bell sent to her and the family about her adventures in the Middle East before the outbreak of World War One. Some of these letters formed part of the documentary Letters from Baghdad, featuring Tilda Swinton (b. 1960) as the voice of Bell. Gertrude Bell’s life was also the basis of the 2015 film Queen of the Desert, starring Nicole Kidman (b. 1967).

For her work, Bell was posthumously made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) and honoured with a stained glass window at St Lawrence’s Church, East Rounton, North Yorkshire. The window, designed by Douglas Strachan (1875-1950), features Magdalen College, Oxford, where Bell attended university, and Khadimain, Baghdad, where she spent the last year of her life.

As one of the few British people remembered by the Arabs with anything resembling affection, Bell remained a respected name in Iraq for some time. Unfortunately, as time went on, she disappeared from general public knowledge, with T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) taking precedence. With the help of recent films, Gertrude Bell is gradually getting the respect she deserves. Whilst the situation in Iraq and its neighbouring countries still face political struggles and tribal feuds, Bell simultaneously helped the country reform after the fall of the Ottoman Empire whilst preserving the remains of the ancient land. Not only are these enormous feats, but Bell’s achievements also occurred at a time when women were excluded from political work. Despite her views on women’s suffrage, Bell paved the way for women to aspire to careers in archaeology, and for that reason, she deserves the epithet “Queen of the Desert”.


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