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Ancient London #5

Ancient Kings and Others #3


PREHISTORIC LONDON

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agreed price, to build a wall round the city. When the task was
accomplished, Laomedon refused to pay them. Thereupon, Neptune
sent a marine monster, which was wont to issue forth from the
water into the fields of Ilium, seizing and devouring the
inhabitants. An oracle declared that in order to appease the
angry god it was necessary for Laomedon to expose his daughter,
Hesione, upon the shore, that the monster might devour her.
Hesione was accordingly taken forth, but Hercules came to her
rescue and undertook to destroy the monster. In order to assist
him in his enterprise, Minerva built for him a wall of earth,
behind which he would retire "when the sea monster from the shore
unto the plain would chase him" (see xx. Il. 145; Deod. iv. 42;
Apollod. ii. 5-9).
     It is to this story that Shakespeare refers in The Merchant
of Venice, Act III, Scene 2:

"with much more love
Than young Alcides, when he did reduce 
The virgin tribute paid by howling Troy 
To the sea monster."

     The Rev. R. L. Morgan, in his "History of the Kymri,"
referring to Laomedon, says that in the reign of the latter "the
citadel and walls of Troy were rebuilt by Belin and Lev,
architects of Crete, after the model of the Cretan labyrinth,
which was also an exact representation of the stellar universe."
This interesting statement must not be omitted, although at
present Science has neglected to prove its claims.
     Reference is also made to the Walls of Troy by Lydgate in
his "Troy Book," where he speaks of Brutus, who won Britain from
the giants. Chaucer, Caxton, Denham, Milton, all refer to the
story of Brutus.
     This legend is rather alluded to than related by Homer and
other writers whose works have come down to us. It is taken for
granted by authorities in classical literature that a more
complete and detailed narrative than we possess existed and was
familiar to the ancients. One wonders whether, if the full story
were before us, we should find that the analogy to the Cretan
legend was carried out and that Minerva's walls were labyrinth in
their form. Even without this added circumstance is it possible
that the charging and retreating, the chasing and eluding, which
seem to have characterized the combat between Hercules and the
Trojan monster, were sufficient to suggest the name of Troy Game
as descriptive of the mock combat of the Roman youths? The game
may have been designated without any special reference to the
labyrinthine movements of which it consisted.
     In London, in the days of Henry II, FitzStephen relates that
Troy Game was played by the young men of the King's household
every Sunday in Lent, the King and his courtiers frequently being
present. Troy Game on horse-back continued to be played down to
the Middle Ages and was probably the origin of jousts and
tournaments, afterwards so popular. We have come across more than
one reference to its having been played on Tothill Fields.
     Mimic warfare between opposing companies of schoolboys might
very naturally be named after the immortal combats that formed
one of the principal subjects of their lessons. Even in modern
English playgrounds the game of Greeks and Trojans still holds
its place with French and English, and few among us realize that
the game of Troy is still played in our streets under the name of
"Hop Scotch." Intricate lines are drawn on the pavement in chalk
and competitors try to reach the goal by devious ways. As to the
origin of the word Maze, it is from a Kymric word "maes," meaning
greensward in the Cornish language = afield; the name seems to
indicate that in some bygone age, the maze game was played on the
greensward. We still use the word maze and amazement to express
the bewilderment of one who knows not which way to turn.

     But to return to the story of the Trojan prince, the founder
of London.
     Brutus died after a memorable reign of twenty-four years and
was interred by the side of Imogene on the Bryn Gwyn (the White
Mount). The genealogies record the names of the British kings,
Brutus, descendants and successors, but it is not mentioned that
any of these monarchs were buried on the Royal Gorsedd until
Dunwal Molmutius in the fourth century B.C., whose history we
shall learn later.

     Brutus was succeeded in Lloegria by his eldest son Locrinus,
in Albyn by his second son, Alban, and in Cambria by his youngest
son, Camber. The portion of Britain assigned to Troenius, the
valiant companion of Brutus, was the Western Keryn, or
promontory, extending from Torbay to the Land's End, part of
which is now known as Cornwall. From the Keryn, Troenius changed
his name into Keryn or Corineus. The Dukedom of Cornwall thus
founded was a Dukedom Royal, that is the Duke within it exercised
the same prerogatives as the Kings of Lloegria, Cambria and Albyn
did within their territories. Next to these crowns, it is the
oldest title in Britain. Spenser alludes to this naming of
Cornwall in the Faerie Queene:

"In meed of these great conquests by then gott, 
Corineus had that province utmost west
To him assigned for his worthy lott, 
Which of his name and memorable gest, 
He called Cornwaile."

     The tradition that a race of giants dwelt in Cornwall,
Drayton quaintly alludes to in his "Polyolbion." After a terrible
struggle, the Trojans got the upper hand and killed all their
assailants, except the leader, Goemagot who was preserved for
combat with Corineus, who, "holding it a diversion to encounter
giants," met him on a spot pointed out to this day on Plymouth
Hoe. Goemagot broke three of his opponent's ribs and this so
enraged Corineus that, taking the giant upon his shoulders, he
ran with him to the shore and getting upon the top of a high
rock, hurled the savage monster into the sea. The struggle
between these mighty men of valour was recorded as late as Queen
Elizabeth's time, by what Carew calls the "pourtradture of two
men with clubbes in their hands cut in the turf, the one bigger,
the other lesser, whom they term Gogmagog and Corineus,
intimating the wrestling to have been between these two champions
and the steep rocky cliff affording aptitude for such a cast."
     Carew considers that the great activity of Devon and
Cornishmen in the faculty of wrestling seems to "derive them a
special pedigree from that grand wrastler Corineus."

     Spenser in his "Faerie Queene," where he records the early
history of Britain, refers to the conflict of Brutus and Corineus
with the giants.

"But ere he had established his throne
And spread the empire to the utmost shore, 
He fought great battles, with his savage foes, 
In which he defeated evermore,
And many giants left on groaning flore, 
That well can witness yet unto this day. 
The Western Hough, besprinkled with the gore 
Of mighty Goemagot, whom in stout play 
Corineus conqered and cruelly did slay."

     The Plymouth Corporation records confirm the recutting and
renewal of these figures as early as 1494. It was only when the
citadel was erected in 1671 that this interesting monument was
destroyed. The story of Jack the Giant Killer is said to have had
its origin in the combat of Corineus with the Cornish giant and
there seems little reason to doubt the tradition that the two
gigantic figures in the Guildhall of the City of London,
popularly called Gog and Magog, really present Corineus and
Goemagot.

     And now in the light gathered from similar mounds in other
parts of Britain, we will pass on to a more detailed examination
of the prehistoric mounds that stood round about the Porth of the
Llandin (or the Ladndin = the Lake City) the Caer Troia of
Brutus, the Londin or Londinium of the Romans. Upon the two
natural eminences of the Llandin and the Penton, the eyes of
Brutus must have rested when he made choice of the Kymric Caer
for his capital; the two smaller artificial mounds of the Bryn
Gwyn and the Tothill may have been erected by the Trojan king as
trade increased under his rule. It is conceivable that in the
foreknowledge of the Creator, the two "high-places" commanding
the marshes, east, west and south may have been predestined to be
used in the service of the Lord of Hosts, as Holy Hills from
whose summits the astronomer-priests, in the dawn of
civilization, might study the "heavens," that "declare the Glory
of God" and the firmament that "sheweth his handiwork"; and by
heliograph, semaphore or beacon light, signal the time and the
seasons, the result of their observations for the daily direction
of the lives of the traders and sea-faring population of the
Porth. History has proved the wisdom of Brutus' choice of what
appeared a very unpromising district for a capital, which has
held its own and won its way to the foremost place, as the
capital of the British Empire and the greatest city in the world.
The Llandin-Parliament Hill - is the largest, loftiest and most
imposing of the four prehistoric "Gorsedds of Great Seats" of the
Metropolis. Standing on a spur of the Northern Heights in an
amphitheatre of wooded hills midway between Hampstead and
Highgate, from its site and surroundings the Sacred Eminence
retains somewhat of its original dignity as a "high-place of
worship." The structure of the hill is London clay at its base,
gradually changing to a sandy loam. The central boss would appear
to have been sculptured from the highest layer, since there is a
circular terrace still distinct. Half a century ago, the sighting
lines (somewhat similar to those on Silbury) and graded slopes
were to be traced, but a pathway over the summit and trees
planted on the sides have destroyed the original contour; a
vestige of the trench remains, which in Kymric times encircled
the base, but the spring has been diverted by the L.C.C., and now
forms a series of ponds where bathing and boating may be enjoyed
by the general public. Symbolic, as are all our prehistoric
mounds, of the earth rising out of the sea, a British Gorsedd may
always be known by its symbolic trench.

     Parliament Hill carries on its Keltic traditions as a place
of assembly to this day. On the north-eastern slope is a stone
monument on which an inscription states that here public speaking
is allowed. The numerous assemblies, religious and political,
which from time immemorial have been held either on the mound
itself or on "Parliament Fields" at its base, is an interesting
survival of a national custom.
     The Llandin has been called the "Areopagus" of Britain, from
the tradition that St. Paul preached from the summit. On this
account the Apostle became the Patron Saint of London, and his
emblem, the sword of martyrdom, incorporated in the arms of the
City, in the same way as St. Peter became the Patron Saint of
Chartres from the tradition that this Apostle preached in the
"Grotte des Druides," the Druidic rock temple, the actual
foundations of the oldest Cathedral in France.
     What is more likely if, as history tells us, St. Paul's
friends were the children of Caractacus, than they should take
measures for the conversion of their native land? And the great
love St. Paul had for his peculiar mission to the Gentile world
would not have allowed him to overlook the claims of such an
important city as the "Colonia Augusta" of the Roman writers.
     The Roman historian, Tacitus, writing in A.D.61, describes
Londinium as famous for its vast number of merchants who resorted
to it for its widely-extended commerce and for the abundance of
every species of commodity which it could supply. 
     Strabo speaks of British merchants as bringing to the Seine
and the Rhine shiploads of corn and cattle, iron, hides, slaves
and dogs, and taking back brass, ivory, amber ornaments, and
vessels of glass. And that the Port was considered by the Romans
as the Metropolis of Britain is further established by the fact
of its being the residence of the Vicar of Britain. The abode of
such an officer clearly marks London to have been a Seat of
Government, of Justice, and of the administration of the finances
which consequently contributed to its extent, its magnificence
and its wealth. "As early as the year A.D.359, eight hundred
vessels were employed for the conveyance and exportation of corn
only," says Brayley in his "Londinium."

     The prehistoric burial-ground of the leaders of pre-Roman
times was close around Parliament Hill, reminding us of the
cemetery round about Silbury. Several barrows remain to this day,
notably Primrose Hill and Barrow Hill, the site today of a
reservoir. Other tumuli have been levelled and all trace of them
lost. A bird's-eye view of the two cities, one in Britain and one
in Asia Minor, would offer a general resemblance, and in the case
of the latter the tombs bear the names of the heroes of the
Trojan war, as every tourist will remember.
     At Highgate a memorial of the national religion survives in
the place-names of the Grove and Bishopswood. Situated on high
ground, on the fringe of the forest that in Kymric times framed
the Gorsedd, the Grove commands a view of both Parliament Hill
and the Penton, and was the probable site of the Druidic College
where dwelt the "ministers of law and order" - the Druids.
     Bishopswood (mainly consisting of oak trees) lies at the
foot of a steep descent westward of the Grove and is so called
from the fact that it has formed, from time immemorial, part of
the endowment of the Bishopric of London. There is documentary
evidence of the Emperor Constantine having bestowed the royal
demesnes hereabouts and a portion of the Forest on the diocese of
London, together with the Gorsedd lands of "King Coel's" castle
in Cunobeline's royal city of Camulodunum; Colchester being at
that time in the diocese of London. Constantine thus appears to
have followed in the footsteps of his predecessors Arviragus at
Glastonbury, and Lucius at Winchester, in thus transferring the
Druidic emoluments of the Gorsedds to the maintenance of the
Christian faith, now established as the national religion.

     In Triad III, #62, special mention is made of the Emperor
Constantine. He is, according to the Triad, the first of the
Emperors to extend his royal patronage to those who assembled
together in the Faith of Christ. It is noteworthy this mention is
connected with the three Archbishops of the Island of Britain.
At the foot of Parliament Hill is Gospel Oak Station, a name
which connects the Druidic with the Christian religion, and links
British and Saxon customs. One of the first acts of Edward the
Confessor after his coronation at Winchester was to renew the
Charter of Rights to the citizens of London, seated under the
sacred oak of the Druids.
     The Penton (Pen signifying in Keltic a hill rounded like a
head) is a natural height about halfway between the Llandin and
the Bryn Gwyn. The New River reservoir now occupies the site of
the prehistoric sanctuary, and its massive masonry and earthworks
have completely obliterated all traces of the original circular
contour of the Ton (sacred mound). Approached by mean streets,
nothing could well be more dismal and depressing than the
appearance of this prehistoric Gorsedd as we see it today. It is
difficult even to imagine it as depicted by Hollar, still less as
the spot where, in Elizabethan times, Gerard the herbalist
mentions he found the "white saxifrage growing in abundance." But
if the beautiful greensward has disappeared and the Penton has
lost its rural aspect, there is the same far-stretching panoramic
view to be seen, as in British times, however much it may differ
in detail. It is well worth a pilgrimage if only to appreciate
the magnificent site of the "Holy Hill," and to gaze on the
splendour of the "dim rich City" spread out at our feet with its
mysterious medley of spires, domes and palaces, dominated by St.
Paul's, gleaming from out the mist, like some beautiful vision.
No site could have better realized in its day the regulations
laid down by Aedd Mawr, the founder of the Druidic Order, viz.
that a "Gorsedd of the Bards of Britain must be held on a green
spot, in a conspicuous place in full view and hearing of country
and aristocracy, in the face of the sun, the eye of Light, under
the expansive freedom of the sky, that all may see and hear."
     Commanding both the Caer and the Port, it is probable that
the summit of the Penton was crowned by a stone circle, probably
oriented to the May sunrise, the new year of the Ancients, like
so many of the existing Cornish circles. We owe to Sir Norman
Lockyer the knowledge that the majority of circles were thus
oriented. A very perfect example of one of these Gorsedds may be
seen at Boscawen-Un, not far from the Land's End. Near the centre
of the nineteen standing stones is a monolith, 8 feet out of the
ground, which inclines to the north-east; one of the stones is a
block of quartz 4 feet high, "obviously placed in a post of
honour." "As a matter of fact, from it the May sun was seen to
rise over the Index stone in the centre of the Circle." This
remarkable circle is referred to in a Welsh Triad: "the Three
Conventions of perfect song of the Isle of Britain: the
Convention of Beiscawen in Dyvnwal, the Convention of Caer
Caradwg in Lloegria, and the Convention of Brynn Gwyddon in
Cymry" (Wales). It is suggested that Dyvnwal is the kingdom of
Damnonium, and that Beiscawen is Boscawen Un. Caer Caradwg is the
Hill of Caractacus in Salop; and Brynn Gwyddon is in Anglesea.
That the circle of Boscawen Un was the centre of a large
population in Druidic times is certain, from the numerous
remains of British dwellings in the immediate neighbourhood. Many
of the domed-stone roofs were in perfect condition until a few
years ago, when one by one they were wantonly destroyed by idle
youths on Sunday afternoons we were told by the farmer. And that
this district, in the extreme West of Cornwall, was one of the
headquarters of Druidical worship is shown by the remains of what
appear to have been some of the finest and most elaborately
constructed circles in the country, judging from Sir Norman
Lockyer's account of Botallack, now completely destroyed by the
erection on the site of the offices, etc., of the famous copper
mine. At Boscawen, probably the Bards would assemble from all
parts of the country for a convention of perfect song or
Eisteddfod.

     But to return to the Penton. It is probable that this circle
was the principal observatory of Caer Troia, from the fact that
within a few yards of the present reservoir, which is built on
the actual summit, there is a well of unknown antiquity under
Sadlers Wells Theatre, lined with masonry of ancient date,
throughout its entire depth similar to the prehistoric wells we
have already mentioned on the Windsor Table Mound, on the
Wallingford Mound, and the well used by the first Astronomer
Royal at Greenwich. Our present knowledge does not enable us to
do more than call the reader's attention to the existence of
these "telescope wells" (as they have been called) either pierced
in the side of the Gorsedd, or, as in the case of the Bryn Gwyn
and the Oxford Mounds, the well is now at the base of what may
have been originally a shaft or funnel-shaped opening. The famous
Holy Well in Dean's Yard, Westminster (referred to by Dean
Stanley), may very possibly, nay probably was a Druidic well
connected with the astronomical observations of the circle on
Thorney and the Tothill.
     That wells were used by the ancient astronomers we learn
from Strabo, the Greek geographer. Describing his travels in
Egypt, he says:

"At Syene is a well which indicates the summer solstice, because
these places lie under the tropical circle, for on proceeding
from the places in our country in Greece, I mean, the sun is
there first overhead, and occasions the gnomons to be vertical
shadows at noon, when the sun is vertical to us, it must
necessarily cast its rays down wells, however deep they may be,
to the water; for we, ourselves, stand in a perpendicular
posture, and wells are dug perpendicularly to the surface." 1

     Pliny and Arrian both mention this well, and Eratosthenes, a
distinguished member of the science school of Alexandria (276
B.C. to 176) accepting the proof that Syrene was under the tropic
of Cancer, made use of the fact in computing the circumference of
the earth. 2 Modern astronomers have found this method of making
daylight observation so reliable that at the Potsdam and Wilson
observatories, similar wells to those used by the Ancients have
been made, fixed with mirrors. The old saying, "Truth lies at the
bottom of a well," may probably be traced to the use of these
wells in Druidic times.

     In the interior of the Penton is a cave known as Merlin's
Cave, which so late as the eighteenth century, when Islington Spa
was a fashionable health-resort, and royalty came to enjoy the
prospect and partake of syllabubs, appears to have been a kind of
show-place. An underground passage at the bottom of the hill led
to the cave; the entrance to which, in the cellars of Merlin's
Cave Tavern, has only recently been bricked up, the passage being
considered no longer safe. Whatever may be the value of the
tradition connecting this cave with the astronomer Druid of King
Arthur's Court, it is not inherently improbable that he who was
"The most famous man of all those times, Merlin, who knew the
range of all their arts, Had built the King his havens, ships and
halls, Was also Bard, and knew the starry Heavens. The people
called him Wizard"--should have carried on his astronomical
studies in the neighbourhood of this ancient well on the Penton.
Merlin's Cave may have been subsequently used as a Session House,
from the example of the cave at the base of the Gorsedd at
Oxford. Many a solar and lunar festival has probably been cele-
......

1. Strabo, Book XVII, e.i.
2 Lewis, Astronomy of the Ancient, p.198.
..........

To be continued


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