Mystery Solved: Winchester Palace

Archived from trip to London: April 2009

Winchester Palace Ruins

Winchester Palace Ruins

As my wife and I roamed the city of Southwark after crossing Tower Bridge on our way to the Globe Theatre, we came upon the ruin of what appeared to be a medieval rose window. We passed what remained of this wall very quickly as we tried our best to stay on schedule. Not knowing what we were looking at, I took a picture so that I could identify the structure when I got back home. Well, without having to work very hard, I solved the mystery. The ruin is of Winchester Palace, built in the 12th Century, and mostly destroyed by fire in 1814.

Rose Window, Winchester Palace

Rose Window, Winchester Palace

The palace remained in use until the 17th century, when it was divided into tenements and warehouses. Part of the great hall, and the west gable end with its rose window became more visible after a 19th century fire and 20th century redevelopment. It is believed that the great hall was built c.1136 and that the rose window was added 200 years later. The hall had a vaulted cellar below with direct access to the river wharf for bringing in wares, and was richly decorated. (Source)

Winchester Palace 1660

Winchester Palace 1660

The palace was located near medieval Southwark Cathedral which we passed as I hurriedly tried to find the George Inn and the site of the Tabard. We were very lucky in our choice of day to visit Southwark, one of my favorite destinations in London. It was sunny, slightly chilly, and clear. After passing the George Inn and snapping a few pictures, my wife and I had our breakfast in the form of Cornish pasties. We came upon the ruins of the palace as we made our way through the narrow streets just off the Thames river walk.

With so much of medieval London destroyed by fire, demolition, war, and redevelopment, I’m glad that we were able to get a glimpse of the old palace.


Donne’s “Twicknam Garden”

John Donne

John Donne

Since my trip to London in April, I’ve been revisiting John Donne’s poetry for the first time since college. I wish that I had picked him up earlier. Many of the places that I quickly passed by on my trip were haunts of Donne: Lincoln’s Inn, Bread Street, St. Paul’s, Hertford College, etc. It would have been nice to have had him at my fingertips, as it were.

This morning I decided to give Twicknam Garden a good, close reading. The poem’s title reminded me of staying at a friend’s house in Twickenham over ten years ago. I remember getting up early in the mornings to walk down by the Thames to hear the early morning sounds of the river. My memories of natural beauty and tranquility were disturbed by Donne’s first stanza, beginning with, “Blasted by sighs, and surrounded with teares…”

Blasted with sighs, and surrounded with teares,    
Hither I come to seeke the spring,    
And at mine eyes, and at mine eares,    
Receive such balmes, as else cure every thing;    
But O, selfe traytor, I do bring             
The spider love, which transubstantiates all,    
And can convert Manna to gall,    
And that this place may thoroughly be thought    
True Paradise, I have the serpent brought.
1633 printing of the poem

1633 printing of the poem

Donne, in the spirit of his age, saw the garden as the setting for the balance of art and nature. When he arrives in the garden, the “paradise” of his patroness the Countess of Bedford, he says that he is a “selfe traytor,” and that he has brought the serpent with him. This serpent, the unrequited love that has transformed him by its denial, has also transformed nature.

Donne goes on to complain bitterly of his suffering at the hands of love, and offers the reader a series of religious conceits to stumble upon. He offers his own suffering as the only “truth” and urges the reader to test his tears with the tears of their false lovers at home. In the end, the pain inflicted upon him is the only truth available in the realm of love and false lovers.

The question I suppose is how much emphasis do we put upon the poet’s playing of a traditional role, that of the unrequited lover? There may be some flattery going on here for his patroness, but does this explain his own self-abuse and self-grandissment? He begins the next stanza stating that “Twere wholsomer for mee, that winter did / Benight the glory of this place,” which seems to cancel his reason for going to the garden in the first place, to find a balme for his pain.

In the end, I can’t help but repeat to myself the line, “Make me a mandrake, so I may groane here.” (Insert groaning noise, if you please.)

A Pint at the Cheese

Archived from trip to London: April 2009

My wife must love me an awful lot, because she was willing to indulge my wish to have a pint at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub after an overnight flight, several hours of trooping ’round London, and absolutely no sleep. This pub, the site of a tavern since the 12th century according to our bartender, was a frequent haunt of Dr. Johnson and Charles Dickens. It is also the likely site of Charles Darnay’s fictional dinner with Sydney Carton after his acquittal in A Tale of Two Cities.

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese

We approached the pub from the alleys leading from Gough Square, home of Dr. Johnson. It was late afternoon and we would soon be heading back to our hotel. The pub faces Fleet Street but is entered through an alley. The obvious description of small, dark, and old is apt, but what I’ll try to impart is the acrid smell of a coal fire burning in the front room. It’s a smell that I’d not encountered before – and I suppose it’s a smell that I subconsciously assumed was what the 19th century smelled like. The walls were dark, the ceiling dark, and cobwebs clung to every bit of flat surface. I loved it.

My wife and I sat in the front room, near what was rumored to be Dickens’ favorite table, and took in the atmosphere. This mostly entailed sitting quietly. I had a pint and tried to memorize every inch of space before me as my wife fought off an urge to doze.

We didn’t stay long – just long enough to say we were there. We caught a cab on Fleet Street rather than risking falling asleep on the Tube and riding the Circle Line forever. As I left, I tried to understand just exactly what my fascination with the place meant – it’s a fascination that I have for all places of literary interest, both real and fictional. I could imagine Dr. Johnson reading Oliver Goldsmith’s first draft of Vicar in that pub just as easily as I could imagine Charles and Sydney’s “good plain dinner.” One of those events certainly did not happen in this plane of existence; the other may have – I suppose that the point of my writing this entry is that I could care less what the difference is between these events; I cherish them both.