Thursday 30 June 2022

An inspiration for Monet and his waterlilies, by Carol Drinkwater

                                   Here we are (Me, Michel and François to the right) at the confluence, 
the conflux, of the Lot and Garonne Rivers. The sound of water crashing and engaging was rather spectacular.

Three weeks ago, Michel and I crossed France to the new home of one of Michel's daughters, Clarisse. She has moved to a region north of Toulouse that I didn't know at all, the Lot-et-Garonne. It was fascinating to be guided by Clarisse and her husband, François, to discover tiny pockets of this area of France. One of the outings that has stayed with me was a visit to the village of Le Temple-sur-Lot, to a water-lily nursery. A water-lily garden. Le Jardin des Nenuphars. For some reason, it had never occurred to me that there exist nurseries dedicated exclusively to the propagation of water-lilies. On a warm summer's day, before the sweltering heat kicked in, it was a real treat to meander the three acres of grounds, circumnavigating small lakes, pausing for shade in the tall bamboo groves, watching the swans feeding with their cygnets, and discovering the process of lilies as they grow. Such outstanding colours!  This establishment has apparently been awarded 'Remarkable Garden' status, plus it is the oldest water plant nursery in the world!

These gardens were established in 1875 by a local man, Joseph Bory Latour-Marliac, a lawyer and horticulturist. Before he set up the nursery for the propagation, cultivation and marketing of water lilies and lotuses, Latour-Mauriac taught himself how to hybridise the lilies and to this day his methods remain a secret. Today, the gardens boast over 250 species of water-lily.  Back in the 1870s, in Europe there existed only the white water lily, the Nymphaea alba. Through his experimentation and botanical expertise Latour-Mauriac crossed the white flower with tropical lilies and with wild examples from America and Asia. He created a collection of hardy lilies with a palette that ranged from a rich yellow to fuchsia and on to a deep dark red.  Word spread, people took an interest.

In 1889, Latour-Mauriac was invited to display his lilies at the Exposition Universelle in Paris. Here the presentations of his hybrids caused a sensation. His plants were displayed at the water gardens at the Trocadéro. (From this point you could see across the Seine to the newly-constructed Eiffel Tower in the background.)  

The present Trocadéro Gardens  (top pic above) covers an area of almost 94,000 square metres. It was created for the 1937 Exposition Universelle des Arts et Technique dans la Vie Moderne. The architect who designed this extraordinary refurbishment was Roger-Henri Expert.

Before that, the gardens Monet would have visited, wandered about, collecting ideas and inspiration and where Latour-Mauriac was displaying his vibrantly-coloured water lilies was the garden of the Old Palais de Trocadéro. These gardens had been designed by Jean-Charles Adolphe Alphand for the previous, the 1878, Exposition Universelle. Alphand was a French engineer for the Corps of Bridges and Roads. He remains famous for the many parks and green spaces he created for nineteenth century Paris. A monument was built in his memory and stands in avenue Foch in Paris. (17-22 avenue Foch.)

Latour-Mauriac won first prize in his category for his water-lilies. The plants, the exquisitely coloured flowers, drew the attention of Claude Monet who was visiting the 1889 fair. He instantly fell under the spell of these exquisite floating plants with hues never before seen in Europe.

Within four years, Monet had bought a second plot of land abutting his home in Giverny, ordered his water-lilies from Latour-Mauriac and created his own water gardens with Japanese bridge. The rest, as they say, is history. The Japanese bridge with wisterias planted by Monet and the coloured floating lilies inspired, of course, some of his most renowned and best-loved paintings.

Joseph Bory Latour-Mariac 1830-1911

Giverny is a village in Normandy. Claude Monet lived there from 1883 until his death in 1926. A decade after moving into his home where he created a fabulous flower garden called Clos Normand, he bought his second plot of land. To reach it he had to cross a small road and a railway line. The plot was crossed by a small brook, the Ru, which is a diversion of the Epte, which in turn is a tributary of the Seine. This offered Monet the possibility of visualising a garden with water features. With the help of the local council and in spite of resistance from disgruntled neighbours who feared he would poison the local water system, Monet started digging ponds. The water-lilies he had seen at the Exposition Universelle were just what he needed; he put in an order from Latour-Marliac.

Monet employed a local craftsman to build him a Japanese bridge that crossed the ponds. At its base he planted wisteria. 

The Expositions Universelles were world fairs held in Paris between 1855 and 1937. There were eight in total and the 1889 edition was the fourth. It is particularly famous because it was for this fair that the Eiffel Tower was constructed. Once completed, it was the tallest structure in the world.

The 1889 fair was held between 5th May to 31st October 1889. It attracted an astonishing thirty-two million visitors. What is perhaps even more astonishing is that there were 61,722 official exhibitors, almost a third of which were from outside France. What serendipity then that the paths of Monet and Latour-Mauriac crossed at all. Had Monet heard about these water features? Did he going looking for them? He was by this time an avid gardener, fascinated by the combination and symmetry of colours, textures, the dramatic effects created by the height and volumes of the various plants he was digging into Clos Normand at Giverny.

Water lily displays at the gardens in Le Temple-sur-Lot. Both photos above taken by Clarisse Noll.

After Monet's death in 1926, his son Michel inherited the property and gardens. Alas, Michel and his wife Blanche never lived there. Due to WWII and various other obstacles, the gardens grew neglected. Michel Monet gifted the property and grounds to  the Académie des beaux-arts in 1966.

The restoration of the house and grounds took almost ten years. The ponds had to be dug again, much dedicated time was given to recreating the gardens, finding the same flower species as Monet had chosen. The Japanese bridge was beyond repair and a new one had to be built to the same specifications. 
Monet's home eventually opened to the public in 1980. Now the property is in the hands of the Fondation Claude Monet museum. The house and gardens are visited by millions every year. They continue to be an inspiration.

Two of Monet's works inspired by his water gardens and bridge in Giverny.

And here are three pics I took of our little pond at our home east of Paris. Not quite as colourful!

We have only the white water lily, but I have decided to order one of the deep red varieties from Latour-Mauric's amazing gardens. 

©Carol Drinkwater June 2022

Carol's most recent novel is An Act of Love published by Penguin

Friday 24 June 2022


Time and the City by Miranda Miller



World’s End is a poetically named area of London. In the 17th century, when this remote area lay beyond the village of Chelsea in Middlesex, there was a popular tavern here, with gardens leading down to the river. Most people would have arrived by boat and it was probably called "The World's End" because of its distance from London and the dangerous roads leading to it.

 Later, Cremorne Gardens occupied a large site running between the Thames and the King's Road. These lively pleasure gardens offered restaurants, a theatre, a banqueting hall, dancing, entertainments such as balloon ascents and the first ten-pin bowling alley in Britain.Pauline Violante,“The Female Blondin”, was paid to cross the Thames on a tightrope, wearing  Albanian costume. She walked from Battersea Bridge to the Cremorne Gardens, watched by 20,000 people.


The gardens could be entered from the north gate on Kings Road or by boat from the Cremorne Pier.  In 1856, a French visitor to London described this scene:

“A variety of attractions. One moves on methodically from the one to the other at the sound of a large bell which a man rings as he leads the way, the crowd trotting along behind him…In a Chinese bandstand an orchestra struck up a scottische. A minute later the carefully level open space was filled with couples…people here dance with their hips and their shoulders, seeming to have little control over their legs…frivolous young things improvise all sorts of indecorous antics.”

In 1877 the gardens were closed down “after protests by the Chelsea Vestry”–probably because of their reputation as a place for cruising, illicit assignations and prostitution. The original tavern was replaced by a Victorian gin palace.


That’s history. At which point does memory become history? I’ve known this part of London all my life. Recently I visited a friend who lives in Stadium Street, and as I wandered around in a post-Covid daze I reflected that I’m now so old that some of my memories of these streets are history (the usual definition of a historical novel is that most of it took place more than fifty years ago).


 One of my earliest memories is of walking down to the river here hand-in –hand with my father after Sunday lunch; throwing stale bread to the swooping screaming gulls, watching small boys diving into the river, envying mysterious people who lived on houseboats. During the years of rationing my mother bought illegal chickens and steak treats from a black-market butcher called Henry whose shop was in World’s End. In our greedy family Henry was a hero.


 This area was heavily polluted by smoke from Lots Road Power Station which once provided energy for most of the underground railways and trams in London. Dark streets stank of the brewery opposite, in Battersea, shrouding everything in its yeasty beery breath. Battersea Power Station loomed over the murky skyline like an ogre’s upside-down table as filthy traffic roared past on the embankment. This part of London, just a few hundred yards away from the grand houses of Cheyne Walk, was very poor. When I was twelve, I was invited to tea by a girl who lived down there. Barefoot children played on the pavement and my conventional parents thought her mother, a journalist, was wildly bohemian to live there. 

A few years later my first boyfriend dropped out of school and sat for months in a grimy basement in Ashburnham Road, philosophising and listening to Bob Dylan records, fascinating me by his negative energy. Iris Murdoch’s 1964 novel, Bruno’s Dream, brilliantly describes these streets. In my teens, I bought imaginative clothes at a boutique called Granny Takes a Trip on the King’s Road. Psychedelic designs on the front of the shop changed every few months, bringing colour and fun to this dreary area. 

Now I’m a granny, wandering around this strange and familiar part of London in a post-Covid daze. On the day I revisited this area the end of the world did feel quite close – it was soon after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and politicians were making terrifyingly casual references to using nuclear weapons.

In the late sixties many of these streets of small decaying houses were demolished and the World's End Estate was built: seven high-rise tower blocks of varying heights linked by low-rise blocks that form walkways in the sky. Thousands of people were housed here – an immensely ambitious social housing scheme that could never happen now.

 Down by the river there was once a 28-acre estate, Sandford Manor House. Nell Gwyn is thought to have lived there, the poet and essayist Joseph Addison lived nearby and, later, so did the ceramicist and potter William de Morgan.  In the 19th century part of the declining estate was bought by a gas company and the rest  was used as a railway coaling dock. In the 1980s this industrial wasteland was transformed into Chelsea Harbour. 

I walked past Lots Road Power Station, which is being converted into shops and luxury flats, to get the train at Imperial Wharf, past a yacht marina, a pier for river boat services, elegant towers and strange new buildings slender as credit cards. 

Cities, like people, reinvent themselves and physically, visibly, embody new ideas. Our memories are buried in bricks and mortar, the present pushes out the past but, in the mind, different times coexist. 


Miranda Miller’s eighth novel, Angelica Paintress of Minds, about the 18th century artist Angelica Kauffman, is published by Barbican Press.





Friday 17 June 2022

ELEANOR OF AQUITAINE'S BIRTH YEAR - and why it matters to this writer of historical fiction


FOR MANY YEARS it was assumed and accepted that Eleanor of Aquitaine was born in 1122.  Several of her modern biographers have stated it as her birth year, but they often tend to copy and cite each other and it can be a minefield leading to wrong information.

Eleanor's birthdate is one of those minefield traps, where circular arguments have been used to show taht she was born in 1122. Alison Weir in her biography of Eleanor gives Eleanor's birth year as 1122. She does say that 'the exact birth date is not known, but the year can be determined from the evidence of her age at death and from the fact that the Lords of Aquitaine swore fealty to her on her 14th birthday in 1136. Some chroniclers give 1120 as a date, but her parents cannot have been married until 1121.  Unfortunately Weir does not cite the chroniclers who give the 1120 birth date, nor the documents for the fealty swearing, making it difficult for the curious to follow up. 

Medieval scholar Elizabeth Brown states that Eleanor was born in 1124, the first daughter and the second child of William X of Aquitaine. Ragena C. Dearagon says that when Duke William X died in April 1137, his 13-year-old daughter Eleanor had been his presumptive heir for 7 years.  Elizabeth Brown, at the time of the statement was a specialist in medieval and early modern French history and professor emeritus of history at the City University of New York.  Ragena C. Dearagon was associate profeessor of history at Gozanga University, Spokane, Washington.

The scholar who unravelled the tangle of Eleanor's (probable) birth year is Andrew. W. Lewis who was  Professor of History at Southwest Missouri State University.  He says "For Eleanor of Aquitaine's age, most recent scholars have relied on Alfred Richard, the great modern specialist in the Counts of Anjou.  But details of this sort were not among Richard's strengths as a scholar. Moreover he vacillated in his statements on the subject and his argument is circular. Thus, when speaking of Eleanor's birth, he wrote that it was only from knowing that she was 82 years old when she died in 1204, that one could place her birthday in 1122.  Yet, when speaking of her death, he gave her age as 'about 82 years old' while citing no source to that effect.  In other words, without sources, the evidence is doubtful and inadmissible.  In fact there is only one source quoted in footnotes as giving her age, and when professor Lewis checked back to the primary source for himself, he found that it didn't actually mention her age at her death at all! 

Lewis goes on to say that greater confidence can be placed in the genealogical text composed in Limoges in the late 13th century.  This record has an early tradition that she was 13 years old at the time of her father's death in April 1137. Lewis says that not only would more people at that time, before the passing of generations, have been likely to know her age, but by canon law, a woman had to be at least 12 years old in order to marry, and the information would have a practical relevance.  By contrast, Eleanor's exact age at her death had no such need for relevance. 

The document Lewis cites is an early 14th century manuscript from St. Martin of Limoges, containing copies of early manuscripts from St. Martial of Limoges.  It says that in "1136 on the fifth ides of April, which in that year was Good Friday, William Count Palatine of Poitou and the last Duke of Aquitaine died at St.James in Galicia, leaving his only daughter, named Eleanor, aged 13 years, whom he had begotten of the sister of Viscount de Chatelleraut in the principality of Aquitaine to Louis King of the French...;   Now that may seem partially wrong because William X died on that date in 1137, but Lewis suggests that it is either a copying error by the cleric, or more likely caused because the reckoning of the years at that time was from Easter to Easter, and so would actually be correct.

It is interesting that Weir says that the nobles swore fealty to Eleanor on her 14th birthday in 1136 - there is no citation given. However, the age of consent for a girl was 12 at that time and Eleanor would have turned 12 in 1136.  If the birthdate of 1124 is correct, it seems more likely to me that Eleanor's father would have the nobles swear to her the moment she came of age rather than leaving it until she was 14.  She would also have come of age around the time that her father was campaigning with Geoffrey le Bel, Count of Anjou.  One has to wonder whether approaches were made by Geoffrey to William X concerning Geoffrey's infant son Henry and a proposal to unite Anjou and Aquitaine by a marriage with Eleanor. Certainly Geoffrey was intent throughout his life on pursuing such a course of union. He approached Eleanor Louis VII on the matter of a betrothal between Henry and their small daughter Marie, which was refused by Louis.  As soon as Louis's and Eleanor's marriage was annuled, Henry and Eleanor were married.  How much of that was set up by Geoffrey before his death?  Were approaches made in 1136 concerning the 12 year old Eleanor and the then 3-year-old Henry?   Was William X dismayed at the thought?  Did he prefer to put his eggs in a bigger basket when he arranged for the French to care for his daughters when he went to Compostella?  It's a point to ponder - and pure speculation on my behalf, I honestly admit. 

I do believe that the current scholarly thinking regarding Eleanor's age is correct.  The concrete evidence points to her being in her 13th year at the time of her marriage to the future Louis VII and makes sense.  It's also interesting for me the writer.  13 is such a different prospect to 15.  Eleanor is often imbued with power and charisma she simply did not possess at the time in her life.  She was a year out of childhood and a pawn in the power struggles of the men who wanted to rule. Aristocratic medieval girls might have grown up swiftly, but 13 is still 13 and a perilously young and vulnerable age. Political clout, for a female especially, was none existent beyond that of being a figurehead for the ambitions of men. It makes for a rather different angle when it comes to telling the story of Eleanor's first marriage, and that's one of the reasons why that 2-year difference is important to me as a writer of Eleanor's tale, when others might be asking "Does it really matter?"  Yes, it really does. 

Elizabeth Chadwick is the author of an internationally best-selling trilogy about Eleanor of Aquitaine - THE SUMMER QUEEN, THE WINTER MANTLE and THE AUTUMN THRONE. 

Friday 10 June 2022

From the Nameless to the Nameless by Maggie Brookes

In 1947 the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the British and American Quakers for their "compassionate effort to relieve human suffering," which included their work during the Spanish Civil War. It was given for their "silent help from the nameless to the nameless."

Quaker Fundraising © Britain Yearly Meeting

But of course the volunteers were not nameless, and a small handful of extraordinary women laid the groundwork for the large and well organised charitable responses we see today.

By 1936 Edith Pye was president of the British Midwives Institute and also an experienced humanitarian worker. She had qualified as a midwife in 1906 and become a member of the pacifist Society of Friends (Quakers) in 1908. During the First World War she set up a maternity hospital in France, inside the war zone, and was one of very few women to be awarded the French Legion d'Honneur. 

Edith Pye © Creative Commons

When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, refugees began to trek north, escaping the advance of Franco's fascist army and the worst fighting. Edith went to Barcelona to assess the needs of the children. Her report said,"food supplies are diminishing rapidly" and identified serious shortages of "milk, sugar, farinaceous foods and cod-liver oil."  Fundraising by the Society of Friends and Save the Children International followed.  Soon dried milk, plus donations of cocoa, biscuits and oats from Quaker companies, began to be shipped to Spain. 

Map 1937 © DKB Creative

As the war continued, Edith Pye was instrumental in setting up a fund for Spanish refugee children. She persuaded the British Foreign Office to pledge £10,000 if other governments would do the same.  Her efforts succeeded so well that by 1938 the International Commission for the Assistance of Child Refugees was based in Geneva and had money coming in from 24 governments. On the ground in war-torn Spain a team of British Quakers was put in charge of administering the distribution of thousands of tons of wheat and condensed milk and other goods which arrived in Barcelona. Two of the team were Francesca Wilson and Kanty Cooper.

Francesca, aged 49, was also a veteran of aid work. She'd studied history at Newnham College and became a teacher at Gravesend in Kent. At the start of the first world war she heard that Quaker Relief was helping civilians in France. She was interviewed by Ruth Fry at Friends House and stressed her fluent French and willingness to do any kind of work. But Ruth Fry turned her down, saying "You are engaged in useful work here. What is your motive for wanting to leave it? Is it a genuine concern for the relief of the unfortunate, or only love of excitement?" Despite this rejection, Francesca found a way to get to a POW camp on the Dutch island of Urk and from there to a refugee camp in Gouda, and later to work with refugees in France, Corsica, North Africa, Serbia, Austria and Russia.

Francesca Wilson © Britain Yearly Meeting

In 1937 the headmistress of her school gave her two months leave to go to Spain. She travelled south from Barcelona to Murcia, finding refugees suffering, "The greatest misery I've ever seen in my life." She swung into action, organising deliveries of food and serving breakfasts to the children and expectant and nursing mothers in the worst refugee night shelter, which housed 4,000 people who had escaped from Malaga. She saw children were dying  – there was a 50% infant mortality rate – and called on Sir George Young, who agreed to fund a children's hospital, which Francesca got equipped and running in just over a week.

On subsequent leave from her teaching, she set up a farm school to give teenage boys an occupation and stop them joining the army, and a holiday camp which became a full time "colony school" on the beach near Benidorm, to give refugee children a healthy break in the fresh air. She strode fearlessly into war zones and appalling situations, saying, "I have a species of arrogance that this is not my time to die... My insolent confidence protects me from fear."

Spanish civil war map 1938 © DKB Creative

For the Spanish-speaking English sculptor Kanty Cooper, who had studied under Henry Moore, the war was her first taste of relief work.  Her "indignation at the injustice of our non-intervention policy which crippled a socialist, democratically elected government fighting a right wing fascist revolt," led her to help out with the 4,000 Basque children who had been evacuated to Britain. Then she developed neuritis. "It was like arrows of fire down my arms at night." Her doctor told her she would have to stop sculpting for at least six months, so she decided to go to Spain.

Kanty Cooper © Len Lye Centre NZ  

In January 1938 she arrived in Barcelona and was immediately put in charge of three of the canteens being managed by the British Quakers. One of these alone fed 3,000 children a day. Thousands of refugees continued to pour into Barcelona and the city was under constant air attack from Franco's forces. After a "short apprenticeship" Kanty took over the running of all the Barcelona canteens and opened more until every district had its own. By September 1938 she was running 74 canteens feeding 15,164 children and by January 1939, 132 canteens served 27,532 every day. There were perhaps a million refugees in Catalonia, of whom many passed through Barcelona on their way north towards France. As Franco's forces closed in on the city, most of the foreign aid-workers left, but Kanty stayed in Spain for a further five weeks, distributing the last of the food stores.

Kanty Cooper's memoir The Uprooted. Author's photograph.

After the Spanish Civil War, these three women continued their life-saving humanitarian efforts. Francesca went on to support refugees in France and Hungary, while Kanty worked in Greece, Germany, Jordan and Amman. Both Kanty and Francesca wrote moving memoirs. During WW2 Edith Pye became a leading member of the Famine Relief Committee and worked in both France and Greece. She was awarded an OBE.

Francesca Wilson and Kanty Cooper both appear in Maggie Brookes' new novel Acts of Love and War published in June 2022 in the UK and August 2022 in North America. 

Friday 3 June 2022

Feed the Crows and Stop the Monstrosity - Michelle Lovric

A close friend had come with me to the Battersea Decorative Antique Fair. She was just a few stands ahead when I heard her calling my name urgently. She was standing with one of my favourite antique dealers, Nikki Page, who sources beautiful and unusual things.

‘Look!’ said my friend, pointing to what was undoubtedly the most exquisite and interesting item for sale at that particular fair. In a nanosecond, I already knew where I would put it. I'd already decided what colour to paint the wall behind it. But, even as I hurried towards it, Nikki was putting a red ‘sold’ spot underneath it.

Then my friend, seeing the catastrophe that was my face, laughed. ‘Don’t worry,’ she said. ‘I told her it was going home with you. The red dot is yours.’ 

Here below is the item in closer focus: a huge metal coat-of-arms painted in lovely colours.

I justified buying it because, little as I know about heraldry, I knew the Salmon of Wisdom when I saw it. That was a gift of research on my Irish novel, The True & Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters. As for the seal, I have written about one seen in Venice in recent years, even proposing it as a mascot for the city. Seals feature also in my children’s novel, The Mourning Emporium.

I knew that there was a lot more to learn about this coat of arms, but there was also a lot of life to be lived that summer, including finishing another book, launching a second one, scripting a play about the London Bridge terror attack and moving into a new apartment (well, new to me - dating to 1609) in Venice, where this ‘stemma’ was now going to live. I had to put researching my crest on the back-burner for a while. 

Instead, the research came to me – in the form of two apothecaries, that is, members of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries in London. Drs Roy and Celia Palmer are also close friends and neighbours in London. Knowing my interest in medical history, they’d asked me to lead a cohort from the Society on a tour of Venice with a focus on the role of apothecaries and barber-surgeons through the centuries.

As members of one of London’s historic livery companies, Roy and Celia took a great interest in my fish-and-seal crest. Shamefaced, I explained that the necessary research had not yet been done. With a twinkle, Roy said, ‘Leave that to me’. He took some photographs.

And, in a remarkably short time, I learned more about my crest than I could ever hope to discover on my own. My source: Andrew Wallington-Smith, who's enjoyed  a distinguished career in the Royal Navy. He is also a dedicated and knowledgeable Liveryman in the City of London and an expert on heraldry and stained glass. Andrew told me that he was ‘brought up on the Scottish historical fiction of Nigel Tranter and history very much motivates me.

Thanks to Andrew, I can tell you that my Venetian crest bears the arms of the Lords Rowallan. And the motto, missing from my crest, is 'DEUS PASCIT CORVOS', which I translate as 'Feed the Crows'.

Source: 1939 edition of Burke’s Peerage (also features in the 2001 version)

The line has been:

Archibald Corbett, Lord Rowallan (1911); died 1933

(s) Thomas Corbett, Second Lord Rowallan; served as Chief Scout and later as Governor of Tasmania

(s) Arthur Corbett, 3rd Lord Rowallan; whose marriage to April Ashley annulled on the grounds that she was a man

(s) John Corbett, Fourth Lord Rowallan

Andrew wrote to me: ‘Archibald Cameron Corbett was the son of a Glasgow (hence the salmon & ring) merchant & philanthropist; he was a politician (MP for Glasgow Tradeston) and philanthropist; born 1856, he matriculated his arms in 1882; he married Alice Polson an only daughter; In Fox-Davies’ Armorial Families of 1905 he is shown as follows:'

excerpt from The Armorial Families: a Directory of Gentlemen of Coat-Armou
by A.C. Fox-Davies; Edinburgh, 1905

Alice Polson was an heraldic heiress herself, so the original crest bore an 'escutcheon of pretence' - a smaller shield placed on top of a larger one. But then Archibald Corbett was made a Baron in 1911 - as Baron Rowallan of Rowallan (having bought Rowallan Castle in 1901) - he acquired the coronet. On his son succeeding in 1933, the escutcheon of pretence became a quartering. That is the way my crest is designed, so it must date from that year or afterwards. Ancient as it looks, the object is less than a hundred years old. 

To understand Andrew’s forensics on the crest design – and to share it usefully, I had to learn that heraldry uses its own special colours, each with its own meaning:

Sable: black, signifying constancy or sometimes grief.

Argent: light metallic in either gold or silver, meaning sincerity and peace.

Azure: bright blue - loyalty and truth.

Gules: red - magnanimity and military strength.

So, here is a translation of my crest. First the central, quartered part:

 keys fessways (horizontal) downwards between two ravens in Sable: the keys indicate guardianship and dominion. In Scots ‘corbie’ means ‘crow/raven. In heraldry, crows and ravens tend to be used interchangeably. Crows signify watchfulness, talent for strategy in battle, divine providence and insight into other worlds. 

The blue quarters show a chevron between two bear’s heads in Argent, muzzled in Gules (red) The  bears symbolize cunning, strength and ferocity in the protection of one's kin. A bear can also indicated health or healing. 

The base of each blue quarter show a 'Cross Moline' (as in the cross of metal that holds a mill wheel).

The Moline is said to represent the mutual converse of human society. 

Above the central section, we see a crown, a branch of oak, and a raven: the crown is of course a symbol of seigneurial authority. In this case the orbs indicate the type known as the 'Ducal 1 Variation'.

 A sheaf or branch of oak leaves asserts that the harvest of one's hopes has been secured. 

The two creatures who hold up the crest are called 'supporters': dexter (at left) a Salmon Proper bearing in its mouth a jewelled ring; sinister (left) a Seal Proper. (Very proper, in my opinion - though the word 'Proper' in heraldry refers to a 'charge' in its natural colours and form.)

The salmon symbolizes eternity by its return to its birthplace to breed. In Celtic mythology, the 'Salmon of Wisdom' was said to be able to pass on its knowledge to those who eat its flesh. The salmon themselves acquired their cleverness from eating the red Hazelnuts of Wisdom that fell into sacred waters: the red spots on their bellies refer to this. In the case of the Lords Rowallan, it is likely that salmon could be found on their estate. A salmon is also part of the insignia of Archibald Cameron Corbett's native town of Glasgow. Further, a fish indicates selfless virtue, spiritual nourishment and unity with Christ.    

In the bosom of my own rude family, this crest is known as 'The Salmon of Wisdom and the Seal of WTF'.  That's because it's not really obvious what a seal is doing on the coat of arms. The seal (or sea-calf, sea-wolf or sea-bear) is an uncommon image in heraldry. Usually just the paws and head are shown, so the Rowallan seal is exceptional. In general animal symbolism, a seal can
 signify dauntless courage at sea. A pair of seals are the supporters of the crests of Madeira. Seals can also symbolise humour, good fortune and graceful, easy movement.  

So here are my Rowallans ... wise as salmon, supple as seals, protective as bears, watchful as ravens, endowed with good humour and good fortune. Their colours offer me constancy, sincerity, loyalty and truth.

The Rowallans are presently in Venice, but I could really do with their help in London. For, on a sadder note, I must report that the Thames is once more under threat from the Oceandiva, Europe's biggest party boat. That is the 'monstrosity' of the blog's title: 'monstrosity' is the word most often used to describe the Oceandiva in letters, petitions and online comments. At time of writing, this vessel appears to exist only in computer-generated images, which are the copyright of the consortium, but you can see them here.

The Oceandiva first tried to come to the Thames in 2019. That didn't work out for them. Thames campaigners were successful in stopping this Dutch boat, which takes up to 1500 partygoers, from setting up a bespoke pier at historic Swan Lane by London Bridge. In October 2020, the City of London's Planning and Transportation Committee unanimously voted to reject the proposal. 

But in March 2022, without notice to or consultation with those who opposed them before, the Oceandiva relaunched itself, this time as a 'yacht' (?) that will host parties, corporate jamborees and brand 'activation' events. The Oceandiva now claims that it can use a number of piers on the Thames. 

Even though the Oceandiva is bigger than many buildings and will impede World Heritage views, the Mayor of London's office recently told us that 'the Greater London Authority (GLA) does not have the power to grant or forbid access to the river for specific ships or boats'. That decision rests with the Marine Coastguard Agency (MCA) and the Port of London Authority (PLA). The PLA's 1909 charter gives it absolute power despite its limited accountability when it comes to its client-boats' impacts on river dwellers, both human and animal. 

Neither the MCA, which certifies vessels for British waters, nor the PLA take responsibility for party-boat noise or light pollution, for riotous behaviour by disembarking passengers in the early hours or for the effects of floating parties upon the Thames's many residential clusters, which include social housing, or upon the cultural institutions like the Globe and the Tower, both of which objected strongly to the Oceandiva the first time round. Nor do the the MCA and PLA appear to find any problem with the Thames being reduced to an advertising backdrop for luxury cars.

Loud noise and blue or flashing lights, as favoured by party boats, are injurious and unpleasant not just to us overdeveloped bipeds but also to fish, insects and birds. My Thames neighbours and I are delighted to spot seals near London Bridge these days. Seals on the metropolitan Thames, you ask? Really? Oh yes, indeed. Here are some beautiful pictures of them in Patricia Stoughton's excellent Ebb & Flow blog

But it is hard to imagine a seal surviving an encounter with the Oceandiva. 

About this latest manifestation, there are still many questions to be answered, including about what piers the mega-boat can actually use without disrupting public transport, about its much-vaunted green credentials, about the danger to bridges and other vessels, about emergency provisions: an Oceandiva-sized accident would be on a scale never before seen on the Thames. Last week's fire on a mega-yacht in Torquay closed down beaches and roads, left the Environmental Agency dealing with a fuel slick and unknown numbers of people affected by the billowing black smoke. The boat's ropes were burnt - it drifted off its mooring and lurched into a pier wall. That yacht was 25.9 metres long. The Oceandiva 'yacht' is 86 metres long, far wider and much, much taller. The Torquay yacht could host 8 guests; the Oceandiva 1500.

Please have a look at this website, and sign the petition. The historic Thames deserves better than to be commodified in this way. Imagine what imprecations Dickens or Shakespeare would have uttered if this mega-boat invaded their Thames with loud parties and brand launches of opulent carriages that most Londoners could never afford?  On the rare occasions when they've been given a chance, today's river denizens have had plenty to say about it. You can read their words on the website, on the petition and even here, one of the few publications where candid comments on the Oceandiva were briefly allowed. 

I've just published a short blog entitled 'Liquid Iniquity'  on Writers Rebel.

I'll finish with some of the aforementioned candid comments by Londoners ...

It’s disgusting that in the 21st century, with all our concerns for the environment, natural habitat and housing, that some company’s greed is allowed to supersede respect for nature - particularly the river wildlife including seals and for the thousands of residents who live along the river. It will gradually take business away from small river cruise companies and put more cash into the greedy hands of large companies who care more about wealth and status than they do the quality of life of residents and nature.

For the thousands who live along the Thames, we’ve all been woken late at night to the blaring horns, way over-amplified disco music, and DJs shouting on top of that for the entertainment of drunk party goers retching up their blue daiquiris into the Thames ... Now they want to build the river’s largest earsore.

This giant gaudy Dubai style monster ship has no place on the Thames. It would only ever be a noisy, unenvironmental, dominating, damaging money making machine. Leave the Thames alone!

The peace of the Thames is what’s got me through lockdown as unlike wealthy people I don’t have a car to drive out to the countryside. The Thames is our inner city sanctuary. The foreshore is covered in history, and seals swim up the Thames. This monstrosity doesn’t belong here.

This is absolutely horrifying, how could they even think of ruining this lovely historic part (or any part) of the Thames with such a monster. An absurd eyesore which will also be a string of accidents waiting to happen...a non-eco-friendly aberration which would completely ruin the historic setting and ambience of this part of London’s ancient river. Absolutely wrong, astonished the idea even got this far.

Please do add your own eloquence to the petition. It may not be too late. Our views are of demonstrably little interest to the PLA or the MCA. However, we're doing our best to make sure that our voices are heard in every other place where it could  possibly make a difference ... in the Highways and Environmental Health departments of the riparian communities threated by the Oceandiva, with Transport for London, with the River Thames All Party Parliamentary Group, with the authority that will licence the vessel to sell alcohol, but most of all in the court of public opinion, which must count for something, even on the Thames. 

We haven't given up on the Mayor's office, either. When it came to the Oceandiva's designs on Swan Lane Pier, the GLA's Stage One conclusion was that the project failed to comply with the London Plan, which seeks to promote sustainable, biodiverse and considerate development, while safeguarding the public realm for Londoners.

Surely the Mayor of London has some sway over the future of his city's largest and most historic public realm, the river. Doesn't he?