A retelling of the ballad of the Scottish borders
This time we’ve got the second in a two parter telling tales from the biggest smoke: London town. This time there are three stories of residents of the city: an entrepreneur who dares to think outside the box, a property developer with an unpaid debt, and an honest workman with a secret admirer. Musical credits, sources and more at: https://talesofbritainandireland.com/episode-19-london-legends-part-2-residents/ #myth #mythology #folklore #legends
The vermin of the world…..
This episode concludes our look at some stories from the biggest smoke of biggest smokes – London.
This time there are three stories of residents of the city: an entrepreneur who dares to think outside the box, a property developer with an unpaid debt, and an honest workman with a secret admirer.
As well as some quite literal vermin.
Dick Whittington still doesn’t feature (sorry once again if that’s what you wanted).
“There’s a hole in the world like a great black pitSweeney Todd, as written by Stephen Sondheim
and the vermin of the world inhabit it
and its morals aren’t worth what a pig could spit
and it goes by the name of London”
Stories in summary (Warning – contains spoilers!)
In brief, without the detail or discussion – not a transcript.
If you’ve already listened and just want a refresh, only want the bare bones of the story, or really don’t care about spoilers then please do click below to read on…
St. Mary Overie
Southwark Cathedral is a prominent landmark on the South bank of the Thames, a stones throw from London Bridge. Some 800 years old or so it’s proper name is The Cathedral and Collegiate Church of St Saviour and St Mary Overie.
St. Saviour simply refers to Jesus, but St. Mary Overie is of far more local origin.
Back before there was a bridge on the Thames crossing was by way of ferry-men. A whole fleet of small boats would move people from the South Bank to the North Bank and from the North Bank to the South Bank.
And as no one was ever content to simply stay where they were there was a lot of money to be made in this line of business.
Unfortunately for the ferry men they did not see this wealth as, but for some meagre wages, it all went to the owner of the fleet John Overs, who had a city granted monopoly on the business.
Overs was an incredibly rich man. But he was also tight-fisted, mean and frugal well past the point of fault. His house was small and miserable, his garb and manner reminiscent of poverty and both he and his family lived drab dreary lives of constant toil.
His daughter Mary hated this life. She hated even more that her father would not permit her escape – turning down any and all marriage offers he received, always wanting more money. She had recently managed to take matters into her own hands and sneak out of the house to meet a lover from out of town. How long this could go on was not clear. Meanwhile her father continued just as he ever had.
Overs was always looking for ways to make more money. Keep wages down, food for his servants was pitiful, buy nothing new. But this still wasn’t enough. And as with all good antagonists, there came a time in John Overs life where his money-making schemes moved from the cruel and mean-spirited into the over the top pantomime-villainous.
There was a custom at the time that when someone close to you died – say your employer – a period of fasting would be observed. The mad cogs turned. Therefore if he faked his death his employees would have to fast. This meant his servants wouldn’t eat any of the food that he provided as part of their earnings!
He dragged Mary into his hair brained scheme as well, though she’d really much rather he hadn’t.
And so one day a tearful Mary came to head servant and announced with all her acting prowess that she had discovered her father dead, that he was now laid out and did they want to come pay their respects.
They wanted to see. They came into the room where his body lay covered by a white shroud. He WAS dead! Word got round quickly. Men rushed into the room, servants and ferrymen alike.
And they couldn’t contain their joy! “Wahey! He’s finally dead!” An impromptu party was breaking out. Quick, said one, tummy rumbling: “We can have the good food now!” “Fetch the bread, and the cheese!” “Don’t forget the ale!”
Overs had heard enough. With a mighty roar he started up, sheet still upon him. There was a panic, not because people thought a trick had bene played but because they saw a dead body return to life!
Barely thinking about it a ferryman brought an oar down hard on the unholy creature’s head. There was a crack and Overs fell back onto the place he had been laid out to rest. Properly dead this time.
And in strange narrative plotting all of this so far is a prelude to a very short snippet at the end of the story which actually tells how Mary became Sainted. You see on the death of her father she sent a message to her lover from out of town. He was so eager to unite with her that he raced his horse into the city at such a speed it threw him, and he broke his neck falling on the cobbles.
Mary was heartbroken, and in her time of mourning things were made worse as she was constantly assailed by suitors who wanted not her, but the vast fortune she had inherited on her father’s death.
Hounded day by day and with society forcing her to make a choice she found a different option: She became a nun and donated all of her father’s vast wealth to the church. Probably to the disgruntlement of his servant’s and ferrymen.
These funds were used to build a great big church in her honour, and she got a sainthood thrown in for free. At some point Overs got corrupted to Overie. And that is why Southwark Cathedral is called “St. Mary Overie” to this day.
(Please do note that this a story and may not actually reflect the origins of Southwark Cathedral)
Bleeding Heart Yard
The next story takes place several hundred years after that of Mary Overie, but not very far away – just across the river and inland a bit. In the area of the city now known as Hatton Gardens. Famed for centuries as a place of jewellery stores, and consequently also jewellery story heists.
But though the 1678 or 2015 robberies might make an interesting true crime tale we are more concerned with the place in an earlier time. When it was not yet called Hatton Gardens, but was on the very cusp of developing that moniker.
For Sir Christopher Hatton, advisor to Queen Elizabeth the First, had constructed there a large house and extensive grounds, having nicked the land from a local abbey.
Hatton had risen fast in court politics and was renowned for his ability to throw some serious shapes, so much so that he was known as “The Dancing Chancellor” (that bit is 100% true).
But there were some who whispered that his rise to favour had been driven by darker forces than disco moves.
For his wife of many years was known to be… an odd sought. Perfectly, charming and pleasant yes, but also…. whisper it… “a women reader”. Scandal!
Now I don’t mean to in any way defend those who had their suspicions based upon such misogynistic, flimsy evidence. But even a stopped clock is right twice a day and all that.
For Lady Hatton was much more than she let on. And reading was but the tip of the iceberg. She was a fortune teller. But so were many. She was a poisoner. Which was far more serious. But it had helped her husband’s career. She was also directly in league with diabolical forces using dark forbidden magics. Which was really quite bad indeed. But had helped her husband’s career.
Life was very easy and very good for the Hattons. And it remained so for quite some time. For far longer than it should have. For in some stygian depths the Infernal credit controllers had overlooked a debt due. But one day, deep in the offices of hell, the auditors came in. Picked up on the discrepancy. Let the boss know.
It was the very height of London’s High Society calendar. A ball to top all others, hosted by Lord and Lady Hatton in a newly acquired property at Hatton Gardens. This one they’d taken from a bishop.
Anyone who was anyone was in attendance. This would be a grand affair, to be remembered for years to come, and promised to combine the elegance of a high society ball with the rowdiness of a massive frat party.
Carriages filled the streets all around while their owners partied inside, where the ball was living up its reputation. Hatton was on the dance floor making his famous moves.
It was all going well right up until when the clock struck midnight at which point there was a loud knock on the door. The party subdued in an instant, musicians included. They found themselves worryingly unable to play, the tune vanished from their minds and fingers.
A hush fell across the room.
From below there came the noises of the front door opening slowly, and then footsteps, unusually echoey footsteps, sounded on the stairs that led up to the top floor ballroom in which the party took place.
The folding doors of the room swung open and, into the room, with great panache, danced a figure. He was dressed smartly, with a ruff and pointy shoes, and fabulous gloves all as black as night. He span pirouettes and danced up to Lady Hatton, stretched a black gloved, taloned hand out to the horrified hostess and grasped her hand tightly in his.
She let out a blood curdling scream, and onlookers close by saw that the arm of the hand that had been taken seemed to shrivel up.
The two then whirled together in a dance, faster and faster, and impossibly up and up, off the floor, smashing through a high window into the stormy night.
There was a moments silence and then the screaming began in earnest, and the guests fled in desperate confused terror.
When the bravest of the people returned in the daylight the interior of the wonderful mansion was completely wrecked. by the weather.
Of Lady Hatton there was no sign at all. But, out in the courtyard, by the pump, a discovery was made. There, on the cobbles, lay a human heart. Improbably, impossibly, the organ was still beating, blood pouring from it unceasingly.
The place where it was found still has the name “Bleeding Heart Yard” to this very day. And it’s right in Hatton Gardens.
There’s a third story on the podcast – about a Sewer man and an unusual rat, but it’s a short one already and so better not compressed – why not listen to the Episode if you’re curious?
Not massive amounts to say on this one with retelling the stories right here so here’s a mixed bag miscellany of images that I can find of them all.
I would really love a picture of a seductive Queen rat by the way… so if anyone wants to do one then please do get in touch!
- The Romance of London – Strange stories, scenes and remarkable persons of the great town, John Timbs FSA
- London Lore – Steve Roud. I try to make all my sources free to read but unforuntaely this is one of the few you’ll have to buy if you want it
- The Ingoldsby Legends – English language and history
Musical credits for Episode 19: London Legends, Part 2: Residents
Intro and outro theme from the incredibly talented Alice Nicholls Music
Other music, used under various Creative Commons licenses:
Roads that burned our boots
Godess of the moon
Rise of the evil
Force of the spell
The Crosses of Annagh. The Humors of Tulla. The Cup of Tea