Sunday, 16 September 2012

An Early Medieval Wardrobe

The Bayeux Tapestry and various manuscripts provide the writer of historical fiction with an insight into early medieval costume. For example the lavish wealth of this world is evident in Aelfric's Colloquy where a merchant sold purple silk and precious gems, coloured garments and dyes. Anglo-Saxon wills are another source of information as they reveal bequests of clothing.

Harold's Crowning at Westminster. The nobles were richly clad.

Unusual Garments

 Anglo-Saxon glosses often provide garment names that are fascinating. It is interesting to guess which are male, female or both or even what they are. Here are a few of my favourites:

A Gobweb- something made of precious cloth, frequently purple, usually silk, maybe shot silk or taffeta.
But what is a Gobweb? No one knows but if you have a suggestion perhaps you would share your knowledge.

Breast-lin -  a linen band for the breast, perhaps a garment, maybe something else, or could it be a wrap for a corpse?

A Breast-rocc- a garment covering the chest. Is it linen underwear?

Smoc- a shirt, undergarment, possibly embellished.

Slop- an upper garment that is loose and made of linen.

Under-sec - undershirt

Nihtwarn- nightwear worn by men, but what about women?

In cupboards, clothing chests and coffers one might discover an array of swiftlere -low slippers, feax-net-hairnets, gloves, mittens, belts, girdles, clasps, ornaments, amulets.

Contrasting bands of gold material and the circlet gold fillet

My Lady's Gown

At night a lady might hang her long-sleeved gown on a clothing pole. She would set aside her headdress, one designed to conceal the neckline. Circa 1066 her gown was tailored but she also had a sleeveless overgown which hung loose from her shoulders. Wide sleeves were in fashion and these flared into exaggerated points. The overgown was often brightly coloured and ankle length with a pronounced hem and sometimes this possessed a contrasting border. In a picture supposed to represent Judith of Flanders her tight belt is visible at the front of the gown to cinche the fabric and show off the waist.

Patterned fabric and hooded or veiled headdresses


My Lady's Undergarments

Sleeves belonging to an underdress visible at the wrist were of linen material. Occasionally the fabric was drawn together with needle and thread, soaked and stretched thus creating pleats. They were not permanent and could wash out!

Stripes of cloth wound around the legs from mid calf to the ankle can be seen in early medieval pictures of women on horseback.

A simpler dress and loose headdress but also hair showing on the forehead

My Lady's Headdresses

It is thought that young girls wore their hair long and loose over their shoulders but a band might keep it neat. Women covered their heads indoors and out. Head bands were worn with a cloth headdress to conceal both neck and shoulders. The Fillet, often mentioned in The Handfasted Wife, was considered a characteristic feature of the married woman's appearance. It was worn in conjunction with a headdress of fabric. Streamers ending in decorated tags emerge from the veil or hood at the back. The Fillet was a narrow piece of fabric embroidered, brocaded, possibly jewelled or it could be a circlet of silver worn outside a hood. It is thought that in the late eleventh century women wore their hair up. A plait or firm mound of hair was practical since it was all the easier for pinning a wimple, veil or hood onto it.

Bands for the head

My Lady's Shoe Collection

Elditha, the heroine of The Handfasted Wife, placed her shoes up on the rafters. She had ankle shoes that were flat-soled. They were plain with a strip running down the front of the foot. The toes have modest points. She had several pairs of low shoes or slippers and at least one pair of fine deerskin boots.

And shoes of course


Anglo-Saxon textiles dazzled the Normans who often referred to them in writings. Their fabrics included imported silks often patterned, fabrics embroidered with gold, fabrics adorned with pearls and jewels and fur-trimmed robes. Matilda, the Conqueror's queen is known to have used English embroiderers. The world the Normans conquered was rich in art, literature, fabrics and jewels. Its noblemen and women were dressed extravagantly. So when Gytha, Harold's mother went into exile with a great treasure in 1068 she may well have carried with her many beautiful and valuable garments.


Wednesday, 18 July 2012

A Medieval Summer Picnic

The early medieval climate from circa the ninth century until the Norman Conquest was mild enough to allow the cultivation of vines in Hampshire. Bede remarks 'the land is rich in crops and trees, and has good pasturage for cattle and beasts of burden. It also produces vines in certain districts, and has plenty of both land-and waterfowl of various kinds. It is remarkable too for its rivers, which abound in fish, in particular salmon and eels, and for copious springs...'

The ingredients and possible location for a picnic are present in this tiny extract. Imagination and research fills in the gaps.

A selection of breads and pastries
The Location

This is easy to discover by skimming through the Domesday Book. There I found the Godwin Estate of Reredfelle which straddled the counties of Kent and Sussex. It had parkland and woods and small rivers. It is lost to us now and there is no trace of it.

The ladies ride out into the woods on Lammas Day, 1st August, to enjoy a picnic. Later, there will be feasting in the Saxon Hall.

The Picnic

The first wicker basket contains a flagon of Rhenish wine, a little sweet alcoholic mead, ale and beer derived from fermented fruits. In Aelfric's Colloquy it is written 'What do you drink?' the novice monk is asked 'Ale, if I have it, otherwise water if I don't have ale.' He tells us that wine is drunk by adults and wise ones and never by children and foolish people.

The Servants, or slaves even, carry out the trestles

The next basket contains bread, cakes and pastries. The Anglo-Saxons grew less wheat than their predecessors in Roman times had done and more of the barley which they had raised in their continental homelands. They grew maslin which was a mixture of wheat and rye. It acted as an insurance against the failure of wheat in a bad season. It became known as monk-corn. The Vitruvian water mill with its undershot wheel was in use before the eighth century ( one was mentioned in a Kent charter in AD 762). The Bread Oven was a feature found on the manor. In towns professional bakers began to appear too. The bread in the ladies' baskets is made from a fine grain of flour but the protagonist of my novel, The Handfasted Wife, will on her travels be thankful for ordinary wheaten bread made from coarsely sieved flour. For the picnic they have honey-dumplings and cakes a little like crumpets. These are seasoned with lavender and cinnamon, cloves and cardamon which have travelled from Rome and beyond. They have little pastries with meat and today they contain a little pepper and cumin. The sweet pastries contain fruit and a hint of liquorice and cloves.

The Medieval Kitchen Garden

The third wicker basket contains vegetables and fruits. St Benedict decreed in his rule that the chief meal of the day should consist of two cooked dishes, followed by a third of vegetables and fruit. Grafting was known. Verjuice was a medieval invention devised to make use of grapes which remained unripe until the end of the season. It was also made from sour fruits, particularly in Northern climates. The fruit basket contains a pottery jar of pickled fruits and small onions in verjuice. There are wild woodland strawberries and nuts. There is a dish filled with cherries. Sometimes they ate apples, pears, plums and quince which grew on trees planted deliberately on the edge of the woods. These fruits were more palatable when stewed with honey. Elditha grows cabbages, leeks and wyrts or herbs in her kitchen garden. Today they will eat a salad of tum-cerse ( garden cress) and tun-minta ( garden mint) and a little hint of tun-melde ( garden orache).

A Basket of Foods that we would have enjoyed in the Middle Ages

The Recovery

And finally if anyone leaves the picnic with a heaviness of the belly there is a remedy:

For heaviness in the belly: give to eat radish with salt, and vinegar to sip; soon his mood will lighten. (The Lacunga c. 1000).

This is probably the best text on the subject of Food & Drink


Food & Drink In Britain by C. Anne Wilson

Taste by Kate Colquhoun

Daily Life in Anglo-Saxon England by Sally Crawford

Primary Sources

Bede, The AS Chronicles, The Bayeux Tapestry, Aelfric's Colloquays and Anglo-Saxon Prose and Poetry.

All these are important primary sources for this period.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Medieval Travel, Trade, Pilgrimage, Maps and Journeys

Exactly one year ago I took to the pilgrim route from Ferrol to Santiago de Compostella. It was the one favoured by the English pilgrims who sailed to either Ferrol or A Coruna to begin their pilgrimage to the shrine of St  James.  This experience reminded me of how much travel went on throughout the Middle Ages. Pilgrim routes were of extreme importance in our past, a chance to get away from it all, visit foreign lands and, since God was the ever present and dominant aspect of medieval Christian existence, the medieval traveller might seek miraculous cures from illnesses or simply become absorbed by prayer and contemplation.

The Canterbury Pilgrims

Pilgrimage has been immortalised in Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales where there appears a gallery of not so devout pilgrims. In Chaucer's work, characters from a variety of walks of medieval life are represented on pilgrimage to the tomb of Thomas a Becket in Canterbury and, famously, they tell stories as they travel. The Canterbury Tales is worth reading and re-reading over and over if only to find in it brilliant snap shots of fourteenth century existence, stories and journeying. It is not the only text that embraces medieval travel. For instance, Anglo-Saxon poetry is filled with wanderings and The Bayeux Tapestry depicts ships, horses, goods and waggons.

Making An English Embroidery for Bayeux

Travel in the Middle Ages was equally associated with trade. The occupant of the early seventh century ship burial at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk was buried with an array of artifacts that give an overt message of the wealth the controlling groups within Anglo-Saxon Society possessed. Settlements were reasonably self sufficient but industrial centres for mass produced pottery existed by the ninth century as for example at Ipswich in East Anglia. At this time the potter's wheel was introduced into England. Lead based glazes which produced orange, brown or yellow colours were produced at Stamford, Lincolnshire and at Winchester, Hampshire.

Anglo-Saxon Pottery for trade

Stamford ware has been found in Ireland and Scandinavia. Pottery travelled, as did metalwork and exquisite early English tapestry work, beautiful embroideries, and wool, too, became English exports throughout the Middle Ages. Then there is glass. In early Anglo-Saxon England the main source for glass was Ravenna in Italy. Cubes known as tessararae were traded throughout Europe for reworking into vessels or beads. But larger imported objects such as lava quernstones from Niedermendig in Germany found their way, too, into early Anglo-Saxon graves. Elephant ivory, whose origins lay in East Africa or India was, in fact, a surprisingly common artifact in early Anglo-Saxon England. It was particularly used in bags and pouches, and has, according to Sally Crawford, writing in Daily Life in Anglo-Saxon England, frequently been discovered as an incinerated artifact in cremation urns. 

And glassware from Anglo-Saxon England

The Viking influence, she writes, on Anglo-Saxon England cannot be underestimated. The Danish Vikings were traders as well as raiders and their settlement in England was rapidly followed by urbanisation. Excavations at York and in East Anglia have revealed the extent of manufacturing and production that took place from circa 866. Glass making furnaces were introduced and other crafts were established in York to include woodworking, stone sculpture, leatherworking and boneworking. Equally, the wealthier inhabitants of Viking Age York could buy Rhenish wine and lava quernstones, sharpening stones of Norwegian schist, amber and soapstone from Scandinavia and silk from Byzantium. Bald's Leechbook contains a number of remedies requiring exotic spices, including cumin, pepper and coriander and it is possible that the exotic ingredients included in Bald's recipes could be found in the markets of York and London. The merchant in Aelfric's Colloquy explains how he made his money by filling his ship with English goods which he sold on the Continent, then returned to England with continental luxuries such as precious metals and clothing, purple cloth and silks, elephant ivory and tin, sulphur and glass which he sold in English markets.

Image of the ship at Sutton Hoo

Most journeys in early medieval England were local and carried on foot and as most of the population was tied to the land access to travel was limited. In Kent a series of old droveways have been identified that connected manor estates to the forests of the Weald. Roads acted as boundary markers as well as being a corridor for movement. Roads were also places where kings showed and the major highways represented an aspect of the king's power. To travel on the road was to recognise the right of the king to control his people's travel. To travel off the road was prohibited and restricted by law. Harold's journey of 442 kilometres from Yorkshire to the South coast after the Battle of Stamford Bridge was impressive. It was accomplished in a fortnight. However, this journey was not unique to the Anglo-Saxon world. King Athelstan and his court only took eight days to travel from Winchester to Nottingham a distance of 248 kilometres.

Harold on the Bayeux Tapestry. It is recorded that he travelled to Rome on Pilgrimage as did his brothers

The Anglo-Saxon elite travelled overseas generally to Rome on pilgrimage. Churchmen travelled in large groups. Women were warned to be careful of their moral welfare in Italy. Pilgrim routes also existed across England to Glastonbury. People went to see saintly relics. The horses of the Anglo-Saxon elite often had decorated harnesses with spangles of tin or silver. Silver decorated stirrups have been found by the river Cherwell in Oxfordshire. Carts and waggons were used to carry people and goods and sometimes these were pulled by hand rather than by animals! Rivers were important routeways. The monks of Abingdon Abbey cut a large canal across one of their meadows to ease traffic of goods. Ships and seafaring are important in Anglo-Saxon life. Poems and other texts also give a picture of the hardships suffered by early medieval sailors. The Gaveney ship built around AD 900 was carrying a cargo of hops and may have been bound for Canterbury, Rochester or London when it sank.

An Anglo-Saxon Map

As for early maps, they mostly existed in the form of lists compiled by those who had travelled the route already and these lists referred to places based on the first-person experiences of others. As early as the fourth century there are reports of pilgrimages with an itinerary originating in Bordeaux that suggests the best route to follow to the Christian sites in Jerusalem. In the seventh century the bishop Adoman wrote a book on the holy places, based on the experiences of another bishop a few years earlier. It was illustrated with 'measured drawings' of the churches of the Ascension and Holy Sepulchre. Travellers generally did not make use of maps in the Middle Ages. They sought the advice of local guides or joined groups, such as the pilgrims in the Canterbury Tales. Later Medieval maps  were used by scholars, such as those wishing to interpret the Bible. Charts were used by administrators at home and were rarely taken to sea. However, features of medieval maps such as the inaccessible garden of Paradise and the peculiar hydrology of the four rivers flowing from it were difficult to hold to against the first-hand experiences of travellers. By the end of the fifteenth century the actual experience of sailing around the sphere that is the world became a transforming and perhaps disturbing discovery as old belief systems became challenged and new lands were discovered that were full of previously unknown nations.

A painted map showing Rome

Finally, back to Compostella. The twelfth century Pilgrim's guide to the route to Compostella describes the four common routes and the sights and dangers encountered along the way. This is an early medieval list and here is a medieval warning from the guide:
On leaving that country of Gascony, to be sure on the road of St James, there are two rivers that flow near the village of Saint-Jean-Sorde, one to the right and one to the left, and of which one is called brook and the other river. There is no way of crossing without a raft. May their ferryman be damned! Though each of the streams is quite narrow they have the habit of demanding one coin from each man, whether poor or rich, whom they ferry over, and for a horse they ignominiously exort by force four.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

The Bayleaf Farmstead, a Late Medieval Building

The Bayleaf Farmstead, a Late Medieval Building, is an inspiration for anyone who loves timber-framed constructions. This building is a Wealden Hall house that was extended in two separate stages and has now been transported from Chiddinghurst in Kent to the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum in West Sussex.

The Farmstead
The first phase has been dated to 1405-30 when it is suggested that the open hall and service end of the farmstead were attached to an earlier structure that may have originally resembled an eleventh century hall, such as Reredfelle, the hall that features in my work in progress, The Hand-fasted Wife.

In the medieval hall section of Bayleaf. The roof was actually very high here
One of the two service areas at the end of the hall
The height of the main hall is Cathedral-like, lending a sense of grandeur to the building. At one end the hall was floored during the late 16th century and in this period more space was created upstairs. Originally there was an open fire in the centre of the hall. There is a sense that on a damp day it could be smoky, though the smoke should escape through apertures formed in the ridge of the roof. However, most of the smoke seeped out through gaps between the roof tiles.

The fire place at the other end was sixteenth century, a home improvement

Above the service area accessed by a narrow staircase
The Solar
At one end there is a parlour and the solar, an upper chamber reached by a staircase, which was used as the family's private bed-sitting room. and it has, yes, a loo that hangs over the outside wall. Surely it was draughty. And, nothing was wasted! A jug strategically placed collected urine that was used as a mordant in dying cloth.  This privy may have emptied into an open cess-pit or there may even have been a covered conduit. Its contents would have been used as garden manure. Window shutters in the solar slide vertically in grooves cut into the timbers. Originally, beautiful textiles and cushions must have graced walls and benches lending comfort and a personal touch.

The medieval loo is in the solar
Comforts such as fabrics. This is behind the curtained bed.
If you look closely you can see how the shutters work
In the early sixteenth century a brick chimney stack was inserted at the hall's service end. These rooms were traditionally known as buttery and pantry. Some cooking took place over the fire but many houses of this status also had a kitchen detached from the house which was used for baking and brewing.  The following photographs were taken in the separate kitchen building.
This kitchen was late medieval.
 Such a kitchen comes from the parish of Sundridge in Kent. This is my favourite building. It is a superb example of late-medieval building and is alive with atmosphere and interest because of the small details of the period, the tallow candles, the smoky fire, the spits, the beautiful crockery, the hanging cheese, the bundles of herbs and authentic ingredients.  Two bays form a single room. One of these areas is open to the high roof rafters. As well as everyday cooking this kitchen was used for smoking, baking, brewing and washing. In the large room coffers called arks were used for storage.  A bake oven stood conveniently beside brewing apparatus. No one drank the water!

The storage Arks
Charlotte, who is exceptionally knowledgeable on the subject of late medieval cooking told us the history of food as we sampled a bowl of exotic stew that had been simmering all morning in a crock over the fire. It tasted delicious.The mutton was so tender it melted in your mouth and what flavour! In the late medieval and Tudor period cloves may have travelled from Kerala and the currants possibly originated in France. On this chill, drenching wet day, Charlotte conjured up maps (a list of landmarks that were well-travelled from the east spice routes and then through Europe) travel, trade, Dutch markets and English cooking practices. I now possess the recipe and intend trying it out for a twenty-first century dinner. She, then, showed us how to make butter in a bowl and then cheese in muslin bags.
Our mutton dish is simmering in the crock. Again this area had extremely high rafters.
I have only touched on a fragment of what the Weald & Downland open-air museum offers. The whole museum seems to be snuggling naturally into its surrounding landscape so that each of the individually transported and transposed buildings appears appropriate and comfortable in their new rural set. It is a stage set that is so artfully composed you lose any sense of artifice. The many paths through the wooded site present an unromantic past but one brimming with energy. Charcoal burning at one turn, pigsties and barns at others and, of course, the beautiful buildings themselves nestling among the many trees that grace the site.

Charcoal Burning
Importantly, for a writer of historical fiction, the overall impression is that the past is a busy country, a foreign and yet familiar place.  Every building here- medieval hall, shop, mill, late eighteenth century house, toll booth, school, Edwardian corrugated-iron roofed church (so many more), possesses its own unique atmosphere seeping through its bones, and reaches out to our twenty-first century world, conjuring up the stories of people who once inhabited them, reminding us of how we once lived.

Cheese Making
So, of course, I am wondering, have you a favourite building that has pulled you out of today and headlong into another time?

In a later period garden at the Weald and Downland Museum . Planting faithfully follows the period a building represents.

Anglo-Saxon Food & Drink by Ann Hagen

DiscoveringTimber-Framed Buildings by Richard Harris

The English Housewife by Gervase Markam, edited by Michael R. Best.

The English Medieval Roof by John Walker

The Medieval Dress and Textile Society Magazine May 2011

Mothers, Mystics and Merry Makers by Sarah Hopper.

Weald and Downland Museum, Singleton, Chicester, West Sussex, PO18 OEU. Telephone 01243 811348.


Sunday, 29 April 2012

A Titanic Weekend in Belfast

The weekend of 14th April was the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic, a hugely significant date in the maritime and social history of Belfast. We had arranged to visit the city for a Van Morrison dinner concert taking place that weekend in The Culloden Hotel. We had set out innocent of all knowledge of the imminent anniversary but as soon as we stepped off the plane and got to the centre it became apparent that Belfast was deep in the throes of a titanic Titanicfest. 

Titanic Tours
Easons bookstore's contribution

Some of the leaflets picked up at the airport
Belfast also has a strong Dissenter tradition

Human "Icebergs" in the city centre

World's largest Titanic model constructed entirely from balloons
Sanity restored at The Crown Liquor Saloon
....with a couple of pints of the blackstuff

The Titanic was oozing out of every one of Belfast's pores; turning every corner it was impossible to avoid Titanic Tarts, Titanic Beer, Titanic Sandwiches, Titanic Bus Tours, Titanic Books, Titanic Cappuchinos, Build it Yourself Titanics, Sink Your Own Titanics, Titanic Titanics everywhere. Even Queens Island which was where Harland & Wolff had built the Titanic and thousands of other ships since the mid 19th century, had itself been renamed. It is now grandiloquently called The Titanic Quarter and is destined to be developed to become a new city on the edge of  the city. 

Is what it says
Belfast is where the Titanic was conceived, designed and built  and it is here that the curious visitor can still find traces of that magnificent doomed enterprise. On Queen's Island you can visit the derelict Drawing Offices in which draughtsmen meticulously planned and drew the positions of every single one of the tens of thousands of rivets that stitched the steel hull together. The slipways from which she was launched also still remain. You can walk by the Thompson Dry Dock where she was fitted out and see the original pump-house that was used to drain the water from the dock.  

A scale model of the ship with Titanic Belfast in background

The "King of the World" pose is seemingly mandatory
 The centrepiece of the redevelopment of the old shipbuilding area is what is billed as the world's greatest Titanic Museum - "Titanic Belfast". Here visitors are invited to immerse themselves in the life of 1900s Belfast a city which then was an industrial superpower with shipbuilding, engineering works and linen manufacturing. From this base of technical knowledge came the confidence and the expertise to build the Leviathan of the Oceans. From this historical starting point the visitor traces the development of the project using modern interactive technology and at one juncture a Disneyesque Shipyard Ride in which you sit in a computer controlled capsule which wafts you through a virtual shipyard. Given Belfast's recent industrial decline it is not a little significant and ironic that one of the commentary options in the capsule is Chinese, the language of our generation's industrial superpower.

The Titanic Visitor's Centre was one of several highlights during our visit. The exterior design of the building reflects the scale and shape of the prow of The Titanic whilst the reflective quality of its cladding panels evokes thoughts of the crystalline reflectiveness of its nemesis the Iceberg. It rises up five floors like the decks of the ship.

A line from Thomas Hardy as noted in the exhibition

An "Airfix" sculpture of The Titanic

The atrium extends to the top of the building and is faced with corroded steel panels

The ship goes down
The exhibition gallery on the first floor shows the rapidly changing Belfast of the 19th century with its range of interconnected industries; the displays concerning the linen mills, rope works and the early years of Harland &Wolff are particularly detailed and innovative. Of note are gigantic projected photographs of city locations with shadowy Edwardians moving across them, giving the feeling that you are present in a fabulous gothic city. The second floor includes temporary exhibition galleries and educational facilities. The third & fourth levels are dedicated to the building of the Titanic, laying the keel, framing, plating and riveting, bulkheads and decking and exhibition galleries which are impressive as they show such detail as the magnificent linen cupboard, the sanitary fittings, a drinks cabinet, a first class and third class cabin, behind the scenes on the Titanic and a display that tells the story of the maiden voyage emphasising the class distinctions.

The last picture, taken as the ship left Queenstown
A reconstruction of one of the lifeboats

 A highlight is an immersive projected computer simulation of all of the Titanic's decks with the virtual view rising from the depths of the engine room up to the top deck through the various class-defined decks between. Finally, the top floor supports an elegant banqueting hall and hospitality suites. Here the centrepiece is a full sized faithful reproduction of Titanic's own grand staircase which controversially is only accessible to those who visit as part of a corporate junket. 
We allowed the best part of a day for our visit.

On the river in closeby SailorTown we discovered The Belfast Barge, a museum, restaurant, bar and performance space owned and operated by Lagan Legacy, a professionally staffed charitable heritage organisation. Its focus is on the city's seagoing and industrial heritage.

When the shipyards of Harland and Wolff were being demolished for scrap a group of local activists suddenly realised a valuable historical resource was in danger of being lost forever. They managed to rescue the shipyard's artefacts including such items as blueprints of ship designs and shipyard timeclocks just days before the wrecking balls of the demolition squads wrought their havoc. The fruits of their labours have been preserved on a Dutch barge now moored behind Belfast's Waterfront Centre. Here they celebrate the diversity of jobs that shipbuilding supported. Rat Killers, Bottom Scrapers, Message Boys, Joiners, Upholsterers, Divers, Rivetters, Draughtsmen, Watchmen to mention but a few.

The Barge
The bar is an intimate and sociable space
The Barge is a floating memorial to a lost industry.  In the bowels of that Dutch Barge they have fashioned a small and intimate perfomance space.

The set of "A Better Boy" in the bowels of The Barge

There we watched a short play called A Better Boy written by John Wilson Foster, an Academic who was raised and educated in Belfast and pursued a career in Canadian Universities where he wrote several treatises on the Titanic. In this play,based upon a real interview,which both  the character of Sir William J. Pirrie, Chairman of Harland & Wolff has agreed to a newspaper interview in memory of his nephew Thomas Andrews who was the chief designer of the Titanic. 

Ironically the interview was conducted in the underwater saloon in the middle of a lake in his residence at Witley Park in Surrey. He recalls Tommy's childhood, his early days as an Apprentice aged 16 at Harland & Wolff and his last moments aboard the stricken liner. It is a fine play which moves and informs. We learn Thomas kept bees and this fact is used by the playwright to illustrate Thomas Andrew's care for the fate of the Titanic's passengers. In evidence to the Titanic Inquiry one of the survivors descibed how those left on the sinking ship were like swarming bees clinging to the decks. A Better Boy personalises the tragedy and deserves future performances in other theatres throughout Ireland and England.

All over the city dinners and events, including the opening of a Remembrance Garden at Belfast's City Hall marked the Titanic's centenary. 

The new memorial carries the names of all of the dead
We had dinner at James Street South, a restaurant which aspires to gourmet status. There we had their "Titanic Tasting Menu" which offered a flavour of the food in the 1st class Dining room. Each or the dishes was paired with appropriate wines. The menu included such treats as oyster with champagne sabayon, consomme with scallop, cucumber and celeriac, lamb, peaches in chartreuse jelly, chocolate and vanilla eclairs and petit fours.

As for Van Morrison! He was excellent, as was the atmosphere in the Culloden, a lovely hotel that looks over Belfast Lough. It was a magical evening and one which brought an enjoyable visit to my home city to a fabulous close.

Van the Man