Page 10, 16th January 1987

16th January 1987
Page 10
Page 10, 16th January 1987 — Save London's best old bits
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Save London's best old bits

ABOUT A YEAR ago I visited, and reported on, the excavation of the site of the old Royal Mint near the Tower of London.

There was then a fear that redevelopment would proceed so quickly as to obsure the traces of a remarkable find on this ancient site, namely the remains

of an extremely old Cistercian monastery, the Abbey of St Mary Graces founded in 1350.

I am glad to notice in the latest London Log that enough

time has been given for continued research. This has been financed by the site developers, City Merchant Developers, and the funders, Poste].

Further excavation will accompany the beginning of new building and the final structure will incorporate part of the old Abbey.

I like to think that my report may even have helped to alert certain interested parties and societies in preserving some visible remains of one of the most remarkable old sites perhaps the most remarkable old monastic site — in London.

My picture shows an old friend from Oxford days, Edward (Lord) Montagu of Beaulieu, inspecting part of the wall of the original monks' infirmary on the site in question.

Edward Montagu, must be commended for his interest in this and other such "saving" ventures, as part of his chairmanship (since 1983) of the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission.

When I visited the site over a year ago, there was grave fear that the new building would proceed so quickly as to obliterate virtually all vestiges of this old and historic monastery.

Now there is to be a concerted effort to preserve its most interesting features in a manner that will blend with the new building and surroundings.

It only goes to show what can be accomplished if enough people care about the past.

Indeed if anyone wonders how the Phoenix of a lost London can rise from the ashes they have only to walk along London Wall to see how imaginative planning has been able to reveal fragments of ancient London amidst the spectacular new buildings that have arisen since the blitz.

Let's hope that some such scheme will evolve with the redevelopment over the ancient monastery_of St Mary Graces whose extensive ground plan and original walls, covering a wide area, are in a remarkable state of preservation. To bury them would indeed be an irreparable loss.

Stockton — Knox

WE must await the monumental book by Alastair Horne about

Lord Stockton — Harold Macmillan — before knowing all of the truth about that enigmatic and intriguiging personality.

I met him often but can hardly claim to have "known" him. We occasionally talked about one of his friends at Balliol, Ronnie Knox, who, in turn, often told me some tales, long ago, about Macmillan.

It is often said that Macmillan considered, before the war, becoming a socialist. I doubt it. But he did seriously consider, on and off becoming a Catholic, and, of course, his friendship with Ronnie Knox had much to do with this.

But Ronnie was the gentlest of persuaders. The two men liked each other enormously and Macmillan, as Prime Minister, attended the funeral of Ronnie Knox in Westminster Cathedral.

Apocalypse now

AUSTRIA TODAY, an excellent quarterly review

linking no less than 140 countries with opinion and viewpoints in Austria, had an interesting if rather doomsdayish item in its last edition. This was the reply to a correspondent from Quebec as to the etymological derivation of the name Chernobyl.

The reply referred to the seven plagues described in the Book of Revelation, explaining that these plagues will lead to the downfall of mankind.

I looked up the passage in question which is as follows: "Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God and seven trumpets were given to them...The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the fountains of water. The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the rivers became wormwood, and many men died of the water because it was made bitter..."

This I found mildly alarming, for Wormwood is derived from the Greek "absynthos," a collective expression for all evil that falls from the gods. Recently, however, the Austrian Slavist, Professor Gerhard Birkfellner, has pointed out another even more sinister connection: in Russian speech usage, Wormwood corresponds to "Chernobyl."

Apocalypse now?

Apple blossom

TOMORROW they will be wassailing the apple trees at Carhampton in Somerset. Shot guns are fired through the branches of apple trees to scare off evil spirits and encourage good crops.

The word "wassail" comes from the Anglo-Saxon wes hal, meaning "to be of good health" and was originally a convivial drinking custom.

Today's ceremony is held on Old Twelfth Night and includes cider tasting and songs. Carhampton is, as far as I know, one of the few places to be so actively involved in preserving this old custom. There is an excellent hotel nearby (The Beach at Minehead) for those wishing to witness the celebrations.

Homage to Gala

LAST week's "Self Portrait" Film at the. Tate Gallery about Salvador Dali will surely make many want to visit one of the world's most unusual museums. For who apart from experts, know enough about one of the most astonishing artistic geniuses of our century?

Dali first hit headlines at 14 when he had his first public exhibition of paintings at the municipal theatre of his birthplace, a small town in Catalonia near the French border.

More than half a century later the world-famous artist presided at the opening ceremonies of a museum devoted to his genius in his home town of Figueras in that selfsame theatre, now transformed into the TeatroMuseo Dali.

"Because of Dali, thousands of people came to Figueras who never would have heard of us," said Mayor Marino Lorca recently.

And Ramon Guardiola, a former mayor, now a prominent lawyer, the man most responsible for guiding the museum's course past many bureaucratic reefs, said: "Dali is a rare phenomenon. Imagine! With just three simple props — a pair of rolling eyes, a moustache and a cane — he has astonished the world."

But there was, of course, more to it than that. His exhibitionism was largely. prompted by his longing to be loved, and no one loved him more than the strange Gala Eluard whom Dali credited with giving him the necessary peace of mind to mature as a true artist in the surrealist tradition.

There is no doubt that she mothered him, supplied him with crucial emotional support and was of vital practical help to him as his business manager and publicist.

Someone was once daring enough to bracket him with the very different but equally enigmatic Pope Pius XII, adding, quizzically, "where would that lofty dreamer have been without Mother Pasqualina?"




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