ARTHUR, ARTHUR EVERYWHERE
Your March issue on the Age of Arthur had an excellent topic but a poor rendition. Looking for Arthur at Tintagel or Glastonbury is a futile exercise, as you allude to in the Letter-Box.
I believe the most exciting study of Arthur was done by Norma Lorre Goodrich in her book titled King Arthur (Harper & Row publishers 1986). I am disappointed that her book was not listed among the recommended reading. It would have been refreshing and eye-opening to many of your readers if you had taken them to such sites as Loch Arthur, near Beeswing in south-west Scotland, where Arthur spent his youth; to nearby Queen Ygern’s castle mound behind Caerlaverock Castle where he was probably born; and to tiny Peel Island, just off the west coast of the Isle of Man, where he was probably taken after the battle of Camlann.
Perhaps you will consider a reprise on this subject.
Joseph K. Geiger,
Editor’s note: There are indeed many theories and theorists whose work we were not able to include within the confines of one issue, and we encourage readers who are interested in the subject to do some exploring on their own, both through the several scholarly volumes in which these theories are expounded upon, and by travelling to the hundreds of sites throughout Britain that claim Arthurian associations.
At the same time, we caution readers against the very natural tendency to accept a favourite writers’ interpretation of Dark Age history and ancient sites as the last word. There are already a large number of plausible interpretations of the events that inspired the legends, many of which are mutually incompatible. It is at once a frustrating and intriguing aspect of the mystery that many of the explanations that sound thoroughly convincing must necessarily be mistaken. We make no effort to pass judgment on the merits of each theorists’ case, but leave that enjoyable task to our readers.
Another source you may wish to avail yourself of in your quest for answers is the World Wide Web. A number of interesting websites focus on the Arthur legends and origins. Some of those we found most interesting are listed below:
The Britannia Internet Magazine’s King Arthur pages (edited by Arthurian scholar Geoffrey Ashe)
The High Kingdom of Britain King Arthur pages
The King Arthur LinkFinder
By the way, Norma Lorre Goodrich’s book can also be purchased via the Internet ($13.60 paperback). Place your order at: www.amazon.com
Please accept my heartfelt thanks for publishing my letter describing my experiences in England during the Second World War (‘Wartime Recollections’, February 1998, page 6). In particular, my remarks about the BBC’s radio programmes caught the attention of BRITISH HERITAGE readers from all over the United States. Several wrote to say how much the popular radio shows (such as ITMA, The Tommy Handley Show, and Much Binding in the Marsh) helped keep their spirits up during those difficult times; others mentioned how–thanks to the BBC’s wonderful radio adaptations of classic literature–they too became lovers of good books and good music.
One correspondent was kind enough to tell me about the Evacuees Reunion Association, formed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of the War. The organization publishes a monthly magazine, organizes reunions, and helps evacuees still suffering from the trauma of being evacuated. To reach them, write to: Evacuees Reunion Association, James Roffey, Secretary, Beck Cottage, Clayworth, Notts., DN22 9AD, England, or telephone 01777 817294.
Another man wrote to remind me of the food shortage that still existed after the War and how he had to ‘queue for three bananas’ at the corner shop. (He also mentioned, however, how in those days you could get fish and chips for three pence and a cup of tea for a penny!)
Thanks to BRITISH HERITAGE, I have discovered some wonderful former ‘Brits’ now living in the United States. We are even talking about getting together once a year to reminisce about those days, so long ago but not forgotten.
If any other readers who would like to share their memories of England from before or during the Second World War, please get in touch.
R. Naidia Mosher (née Woolf),
San Francisco, CA
I thoroughly enjoyed reading the special issue of ‘The Age of Arthur’ (March 1998). It was of particular interest to me, as I have visited all of the places mentioned.
I would like to point out two transportation discrepancies. Holy Island is reached by car, not by foot, when low tide permits. The Tourist Information Centres and places to stay all have tide tables, as does the newspaper. In addition, current tides are posted at the beginning of the crossing to the island. If you don’t want to drive back before the tide change, you simply stay until the next low tide (which could be overnight).
The second correction regards access to Iona. Ferries do indeed run from Oban, but only to Mull. You may take your car on the ferry or go on foot. At the ferry landing on Mull, buses will take foot passengers across the island of Mull. There is a foot passenger ferry from Fionnphort, Mull to Iona–about a five-minute trip. Persons driving their own cars across Mull must park them at the foot passenger ferry terminal at Fionnphort and take this ferry to Iona. Cars are not allowed on Iona, except those owned by residents, used for deliveries, or under special circumstances.
Victoria, British Columbia
Margaret M. Johnson’s article, ‘The Irish Celebrate St. Stephen’s Day’ (December/January 1997/1998, page 14), was delightful and brought back memories. She reported the first four lines of a song sung by the ‘Wren Boys’ when going through a village begging money on St. Stephen’s Day–26th December.
My maternal grandmother, who was born in Ireland, and who later lived with us until her death in 1943 at age 86, often sang that very song to me. The song goes back to her childhood in the 1860s and undoubtedly was ancient even then. Her song, however, had an additional eight lines. The complete song is as follows:
The wren, the wren,
the king of all birds,
St. Stephen’s Day
it was caught in the furze.
Although he is little,
his family is great,
Come landlady, give us a treat.
And if you fill it of the best,
We hope in heaven your soul may rest.
But if you fill it of the small,
It won’t agree with the boys at all.
My box it would speak,
if it had but a tongue,
Had but a tongue, had but a tongue.
My box it would speak,
if it had but a tongue,
And two or three shillings
would do it no wrong.
I have always thought this was the origin of the Irish and English term ‘Boxing Day’.
George J. McCormack
Brooklyn, New York
A WONDERFUL SUMMER
My first issue of BRITISH HERITAGE (February 1998) proved to be a special treat for me. In addition to enjoying the photographs and articles, there was one story in particular, ‘Wensleydale Cheese’ by Claire Hopley (page 66), that stirred my interest and memory.
I was born in Bury St. Edmunds in 1945, the child of an American 8th Air Force gunner and a Watford girl. I was brought to the United States in 1946, and it wasn’t until 1963 that I was sent back to Britain for a summer to meet my English family and do a bit of travelling. Due to circumstances that I could not control, it was not until last summer, 1997, that I was able to return again to the country that has always been a spiritual part of my life. But because I have always been a letter-writer, the family I went to see weren’t strangers to me, nor was the landscape or the history of Britain, because I teach English in an upstate New York high school.
During my summer in Britain, I was fortunate to be able to take a five-day trip to the North of England, stopping first at Windermere in the Lake District to trace the footsteps of William Wordsworth, and to visit his cottage at Grasmere and his birthplace at Cockermouth. The whole trip was like magic, especially when I was able to walk part of Hadrian’s Wall–a treasure about which I teach my English classes in our history of the language unit, but which I never dreamed I’d actually see or touch.
While in the North country, my uncle drove me through the village of Hawes in Yorkshire, the home of Wensleydale Cheese. Hawes stands out in my mind for its lovely village with a stream running through it beside houses of dark stone. We spent an entire afternoon visiting places of business, exploring their museum, and eating the cheese.
At the post office store in Hawes, I found figurines of three fell sheep being looked over by a sheepdog, and I had to have them to take back to the States. I made the purchase and posted the sheep from Watford. Unfortunately, all were damaged on the journey to the States, and I began a correspondence with a woman of Hawes, Mrs. C. Duckworth, who sent me a new set of figurines.
Three weeks ago, at about the time I was able to first sit down and read your magazine, my new set of sheep arrived. Together with the article on Wensleydale Cheese, they stirred a nice memory of the wonderful summer I spent in England, and those sunny days in Hawes.
Virginia P. Westacott
Pavilion, New York
It’s with great pleasure that I read ‘The Journeys of Celia Fiennes’ (February 1998, page 48) and I would like to read her book. I wonder if it would be possible for you to indicate where I could buy or order it.
Ginette Charbonneau Perreault
St. Eustache, Quebec
Editor’s note: The Illustrated Journeys of Celia Fiennes is published by Allan Sutton Publishing, Ltd. Their U.S. offices are at Books International, P.O. Box 605, Herndon, Virginia 20175-0605. Tel: 800-758-3756. The cost is $26.95 plus $5 postage and handling. Supplies were aleady short when we last enquired, so don’t delay! Should this latest edition be unavailable from the publisher, previous editions of the book can also be found in many well-stocked public libraries.
A LAST WORD ON MG CARS
I was delighted to read the article in the February issue on the history of the MG Car (page 54), since my first car was a 1956 MGA. I bought it because I couldn’t get the top up in an Austin Healey–and I practised on the show room model of the MG until I could get it buttoned on in five minutes in case of a sudden rainstorm!
Most of the time I merely drove around with my head sticking out of the zipped-up tonneau cover. I promptly joined the MG Club and sported their badge on my bumper, attended meetings, and raced on old airport runways. Once we managed, with two people in the car, to beat a Triumph on the road from Montreal to Vermont, clocking 107 miles per hour before we broke off the competition as we ran out of road. My turquoise ‘A’ had the distinction of chauffering the great Sterling Moss around Toronto one evening when he came to speak at our club.
Those glory days of the MG, the Austin Healey, and the early Triumphs are all gone now. They were all jolly cars and we, in the flush of youth, thought they could do anything we put them to.