“You are not blamed for your unwilling ignorance, but because you fail to ask about what you do not know…. For no one is prevented from leaving behind the disadvantage of ignorance and seeking the advantage of knowledge.”
― Augustine of Hippo
I live three minutes away from the Thames via leisurely stroll (which technically forfeits my right to complain about anything ever). Not only is the pretty great in and of itself, but the Thames is a fascinatingly historic river in a fascinatingly historic city. Come wandering with me this week as I show you a bit of the fantastic history within twenty minutes of my flat.
I’ve lived and traveled in some neat places. As a child in Germany, our town had a history dating straight back through to the Romans and a ruined castle on the hill. When my family lived in Cambridgeshire we were a short drive away from Bury-St-Edmunds, the site where King John’s barons basically thought up the Magna Carta, as well as a number of other interesting medieval incidents. As a student living in Kensington, I was a hop skip and a crosswalk away from Kensington palace and Hyde Park. In Virginia we lived near the historic battlefield that saw the last major battle of the American Revolution. On Guam I lived on a military and government base whose beaches still house relics of a WWII canteen and my high school was an old military weather station atop the hill charged by Admiral Nimitz.
This is not (entirely) to brag but to show that history has always felt incredibly present and accessible to me, which is probably why I’m passionate about it. It’s developed a sort of aloofness, not just in academia, but in everyday culture that I simply don’t share. Americans are bad at this in some ways, at least compared to Brits. I understand as a nation our history is relatively short but it’s not surprising to me at all that the only remaining residence of Benjamin Franklin left in the world doesn’t exist in Philadelphia but in London. Americans are better at forward thinking (perhaps not planning) than past preservation.
This is a bit of a cultural failing to me. As a child (and still as an adult, if I’m honest), I was fortunate to be able to explore scramble over and through ruins, sites, monuments, and this put old and ancient things into my here and now in a way that I think was and is incredibly valuable. It fosters learning, it fuels imagination, it encourages discovery and explanation.
This humble heaping of stone and grassy knolls seem pretty tame at first, but nestled as it is between a somewhat famous pub on the bank and some houses, it’s actually the remains of a medieval manor home belonging to Edward III.
Edward III became nominally king at about 14 when his mother Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer deposed and most likely did away with Edward II. Isabella was dubbed the She-wolf of France for her part, even though history shows that Eddie II was a pretty disastrous monarch and the kingdom was probably better off. At about 17, Eddie III overthrew his mother and ruled in his own right. Though his reign is not blemish free (he kicked off a little thing that turned into the Hundred Years’ War and probably laid some of the foundation work for the Wars of the Roses), it saw a lot of legislative and judicial progress. And for the love of chocolate, William Wallace was not his father; Braveheart is not history, people!
When it was first built, the house would have been situated on an island within the river, with a moat on three sides and the Thames itself on the fourth. The best current guess is that this residence may have also housed the royal falcons which could be trained and hunt along the marshland of the area. Today it looks across the river at the City, but what I love most about it is that every time I walk past it, kids are climbing all over it having adventures.
I overheard these particular small fry, they were slaying dragons. I approve.