Wednesday, 25 April 2012

This is the third in my trilogy of ‘armchair detective’ articles about events and mysteries in the fifteenth century.
Acknowledgments to the Richard  III Society whose books and articles have helped me in my search for the past. 


 My friend to her teenage son: ‘We’re going out for a couple of hours. Want to come?’
 ‘Where to?’ he says.
 'To see if we can find this house where Richard III might have lived.’
 He stares blankly. ‘Why?’

 A good question.

 Tooley Street was the first port of call. There, according to accounts, the Pastons had lived in Sir John Fastolfe’s old home and there two anxious young fugitives had stayed, dreading every unknown step. George and Richard, the children of the Duke of York whose head had been severed from his neck and shoved on a pike with a paper crown. George and Richard, the one fair and fearless and the other dark haired and dark eyed with secrecy and tension. In the house of the good and faithful Pastons with their gift for a fair anecdote, their brother Edward had visited daily, bidding them trust in him, in God and a bright future.
So much for expectation.  Of this dwelling – no trace. No plaque, no pub with a sign proclaiming a king had slept there. Even ‘The Duke of Clarence’ was a later model and not golden haired George gasping in Malmsey.

 So we left Tooley Street with the Paston House keeping its secrets and went in search of Crosby Place. This was easier to find.

 There were conkers and yellow leaves in the streets as we walked through, mist and light over the Thames. I stood on the site of Sir Thomas More’s garden and thought about him and Margaret, his daughter and Will Roper, his son-in-law, and it was as if time turned back. I could have reached out my hand and touched those fragile, orchard ghosts.
Originally in Billingsgate, Crosby Place was moved, stone by stone in 1910, to Chelsea. Cecily Neville, Richard III’s mother, known poetically as the Rose of Raby, had stayed there.  A lovely name. I can never resist the rose imagery of Plantaganet and Tudor days. She was also known as Proud Cis, so I wonder what she was really like. A rose with prickles probably and hidden stingers. Richard lived there too, as Shakespeare describes, when he was planning his bid for the throne. All within sight of the Tower where the Princes were kept. I wonder  what Cecily Neville thought about it, what she saw. She was their grandmother. Surely she can’t have sat there doing her tapestry or whatever and let them be slaughtered across the water. Maybe she holds the key to the truth.

 Crosby Hall was open to the public then, when I visited. A beautiful place. Rose-red brick and Tudor chimneys, latticed windows glinting in the autumn light. In later years it become a place of sanctuary for university women. Portraits of scholarly female academics stared down intently at us from the walls.

 As we left I was reminded not so much of Richard and Cecily and those lost children, but of women like Dorothy L Sayers, Phyllis Bentley or Vera Britten – the early days of Somerville when students called each other ‘Miss’ until they became good friends and would then make formal request for the honour of using first names. I thought of choir practices and games of lacrosse, chaperones and the peeling of bells.

 The tables in the ancient dining hall at Crosby Place were laid that day – sparsely laid. A knife, a fork, a spoon, a glass tumbler for water. Tables laid for a hundred. I counted them. Who were they for? Who would be there? It was like a ghost room.






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