The value of independence in local politics

At a time when party politics can appear increasingly toxic, it is a strength of local politics in the City that the vast majority of City councillors do not operate on a party-political basis. It is vital that, on issues affecting local residents and workers, as well as stakeholders in other areas managed by the City Corporation- from housing estates to open spaces – Councillors should be able to work together to determine the best outcomes, irrespective of the differences they may have in political viewpoint and ideology. For members to be subjected to a party-whipping system when determining policy, or for card-carrying electors to be ‘instructed’ to vote on a party-political basis, rather than by determining who they think would best represent them and their local concerns, would be a step in the wrong direction.
The vast majority of the 100 Common Councilmen and 25 Aldermen who make up the City’s Court of Common Council declare themselves as ‘independent’, even if quite a few of them are signed-up members of political parties. And for the purposes of their role in the City Corporation, they are indeed independent – often fiercely so. The advantage of this is that each issue which arises is discussed on its merits; alliances among members are of course formed, but these will change depending on the issue at hand. In my previous stint as a Common Councilman, there were many members with whom I would not agree politically with a capital ‘p’, with whom I do not share a ‘worldview’, but with whom I could work in full accord and effectively in order to address some matter of local concern, from roadworks to almshouse maintenance to oak processionary moth. There was never any question of a ‘party line’, a sense that because A did not agree with B about, say, the benefits of laisser faire capitalism, B could not expect support from A when advocating for traffic lights to be installed at a dangerous junction.
In these days of fragmented politics, with many people feeling disenfranchised – unable to support the manifesto of any political party in its entirety – should not more local councils go the way of the City Corporation and embrace independence for its elected members? Rather than the City Corporation going the way of a tired old system in the way the City Labour Party seems to want it to?
Independence has its costs – particularly at election time, when you don’t have an army of party volunteers to help stuff your envelopes and accompany you in your canvassing. But it’s still worth fighting for.

Why I am standing in the City by-election on 24th July

VR photo #6 smallI have been involved in City of London life since I first moved into a flat in Long Lane in 1997. My side of the street was then in Farringdon Without, boundary changes bringing it ‘Within’ a few years later. I subsequently moved out of the Ward, but continued to be closely involved with it through my long-term association with the Priory Church of St Bartholomew the Great, and now work only a few minutes’ walk away.

I was a Councillor for the Ward from 2011 to 2017 and, in these last two years away from the Court of Common Council but still in the City, I have taken the time to reflect: on my personal achievements – on ‘what I have done and what I have left undone’ – and, more widely, on what works well in how the City Corporation manages itself and on what needs to change. I would now like to take up the cudgels again on behalf of residents and workers in the Ward.

I have also focused on the Ward in my profession as a historian and writer, my most recent book (published by Macmillan in 2017) having been The Burning Time: The Story of the Smithfield Martyrs, described in The Times as ‘gruesomely entertaining’. I believe my historical perspective assists in understanding how change and development have affected, and will continue to affect, the area, and enables me to approach such change with sensitivity for the needs of residents and other stakeholders.

In the other aspect of my professional life, I have been Clerk to the Worshipful Company of Builders’ Merchants, a Modern Livery Company, for nearly three years, having previously been Clerk to the Guild of Public Relations Practitioners – and, before that, having worked in administrative roles for various organisations, including St Bartholomew the Great, the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, and the Consort of Musicke, a renowned vocal and instrumental ensemble.

During my earlier six years as a Common Councillor, I worked with other Councillors and local residents to address noise issues in various parts of the Ward, including Carter Lane and Cloth Fair, and took an active role in both licensing and planning matters, in formulating objections where appropriate and assisting others to do so. I also chaired two Corporation committees: the Hampstead Heath Management Committee and the Housing Management Sub-Committee, which looks after the City’s almshouses and social housing estates, located in the City and in several neighbouring boroughs.

Virginia was fantastic to work with. She was knowledgeable, understood the issues facing residents, approached problems with immense common-sense, and was always prepared to speak up and fight for local people. As Chair of Housing Sub-Committee, she was passionate about social housing, and helping vulnerable tenants in particular. Residents appreciated her compassion and the fact that she made the time to talk to them and to listen. And staff had huge respect and liking for her because she worked so constructively and effectively with us. 

[Jacquie Campbell, former Assistant Director, Housing & Neighbourhoods, City of London]

At a time when party politics can appear increasingly toxic, it is a strength of local government in the City that the vast majority of City councillors do not operate on a party-political basis. It is vital that, on issues affecting local residents and workers, as well as stakeholders in other areas managed by the City Corporation – from housing estates to open spaces – Councillors should be able to work together to determine the best outcomes, irrespective of the differences they may have in political viewpoint and ideology.

The issues currently facing Farringdon Within are numerous, ranging from national and global problems (climate change, poor air quality, homelessness,  the uncertainties related to Brexit) to the very specific challenges surrounding the advent of Crossrail, the Barts Square development, relocations of Museum and Market, and the emergence of the Culture Mile, all bringing increased footfall and transport ‘corridors’ to the area.

All these issues need to be handled with sensitivity, in a non-partisan and collaborative spirit, but with a willingness to ask difficult questions, raise appropriate objections and hold developers and planners to account. I will do this.

 

Promoted by Virginia Rounding of 4 College Hill, London EC4R 2RB

My pledges as a candidate in the City of London by-election in Farringdon Within

  • I will not make false or reckless promises just to get votes but, if elected, I will always be attentive to the concerns of residents and workers in the Ward and argue forcefully on their behalf for what can be achieved.
  • I will work to make it easier for those who live and/or work in the Ward to report issues of concern and to be sure that their comments, queries or complaints are followed up.
  • I will maintain pressure on City planners to improve the management of shared space, so that all road users, including pedestrians, can move around the City in safety.
  • I will work with the existing team in this and neighbouring Wards to maintain pressure on Transport for London to re-address traffic flow and crossing times at Ludgate Circus.
  • I will champion the needs of the City of London Police in resisting further budget cuts.
  • I will be an independent, non-party-political, voice in representing electors’ concerns and working to improve the quality of life in our Ward, our City, and wherever the City Corporation’s influence extends.

 

Promoted by Virginia Rounding of 4 College Hill, London EC4R 2RB

21 February 1846: Marie Duplessis marries Count Edouard de Perrégaux

Marie DuplessisOn this day in 1846 occurred one of the most enigmatic episodes in the brief life of the Parisian courtesan Marie Duplessis  – her marriage to Count Edouard de Perrégaux at the Kensington Register Office in London.

Marie had met Edouard a few years previously, at a masked ball at the Paris Opera House in the rue Le Peletier. Edouard’s grandfather was Jean Frédéric de Perrégaux, a financier who had been made a senator by Napoleon Bonaparte and who became the first regent of the Bank of France. His son, Charles Bernardin, was made a count during the Empire. Edouard had fought in Africa against  Abd-el-Kader, the great opponent of France’s conquest of Algeria, and had acquitted himself very well. Afterwards, however, his conduct deteriorated. He contracted debts, which increased on his return to France. On the death of his father, he found himself with a very large fortune at his disposal. He proceeded to dispose of it as fast as he could, becoming involved in all the high life of Paris. On meeting Marie, Edouard rapidly dropped another courtesan, Alice Ozy, in order to take up with her, installing her in an apartment at 22 rue d’Antin.

As an amant de coeur, Edouard had to put up with his mistress having a roster of paying clients who took up most of her waking hours, with just a few hours at night reserved for him. Unsatisfied with this situation, wanting Marie to himself and to be with her all the time, Edouard rented a house for her in the countryside at Bougival with the intention of freeing her from this daily round of Paris – and from the exigencies of other men. Here for a few weeks the couple enjoyed a pastoral idyll, though they also made regular excursions into Paris to attend the Opéra and to eat at the Café Anglais or the Maison Dorée. Marie was flattered by Edouard’s exclusive passion for her and willing to reciprocate his love as far as she was able and for as long as he was able to continue supporting her. All he wanted to do was keep her happy, and he fell out with his family and friends as Marie continued to dissipate his fortune. It was around this time that Marie began to show signs of illness, coughing blood for the first time.

Then, on their return from a two-month stay in Baden, Edouard realised that he could no longer afford to keep on the house in Bougival. Marie felt she had been deceived as to the extent of Edouard’s fortune, and realised that she again needed to find other protectors to support her way of life. Or, as Romain Vienne puts it:

It was then that she noticed, by the sudden cooling of her sentiments, that she had loved him only superficially, in the intoxication of deceitful hopes; that she had been the dupe of lying appearances, and that she had built her projects on shifting sand.

Edouard did not make a complete break with Marie, but she returned to dispensing her charms elsewhere – including acquiring a wealthy new protector in the shape of the octogenarian Count Gustav Ernst von Stackelberg, a former Russian ambassador to Vienna, who set her up in style at 11 boulevard de la Madeleine.

And then, out of the blue, Marie and Edouard de Perrégaux were married in Kensington on 21 February 1846. Marie had obtained a passport from the Prefecture of Police on 25 January which described her as ‘Mlle Alphonsine Plessis, person of private means, living in Paris at 11, boulevard de la Madeleine’ and provided the following additional details:

22 years old, height one metre 65 centimetres, light brown hair, low forehead, light brown eyebrows, brown eyes, well-made nose, medium-sized mouth, round chin, oval face, ordinary complexion.

On 3 February Marie obtained a visa from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and she and Edouard set off for London. The address for both Edouard and Marie is given in the marriage register as 37 Brompton Row, Kensington.

Husband and wife never lived together after this mysterious marriage. It was perfectly regular according to English law, and Edouard could have made it valid for France by having it properly announced according to article 170 of the Civil Code. Instead he abandoned his wife immediately after the wedding and let her return alone to Paris. Marie kept the surname Duplessis but began to use the title of Countess for certain business matters. With the help of a specialist she designed her own coat of arms, using part of the arms of her husband, and had them emblazoned on her carriage, her linen and her silverware.

The rest of Marie Duplessis’s brief and eventful life is recounted in my book, Grandes Horizontales.

20 February 1547: Coronation of Edward VI

220px-Edward_VI_of_England_c._1546On this day in 1547 Edward, the young son of the late King Henry VIII and his third wife Jane Seymour was crowned in Westminster Abbey, the event accompanied by much pageantry and celebration, as recorded by the Grey Friars Chronicler:

Item the 20th day of the same month the said King Edward the Sixth came from the Tower of London through London, and in divers places pageants, and all the streets hanged richly, with all the crafts standing in Cheap, presenting them as loving subjects unto their King, and so to Paul’s; and at the west end of Paul’s steeple was tied a cable rope, and the other end beside the Dean’s place at an anchor of a ship, and a man running down on the said rope as swift as an arrow out of a bow down with his hands and feet abroad not touching the rope; and when the King had seen the said thing went forth unto the palace of Westminster; and the next day came from thence unto Westminster church, and there was crowned, and kept his feast in Westminster Hall. God of his mercy send him good luck and long life, with prosperity! And this was done in the 9th year of his age and birth.

Among those in charge of the arrangements for the coronation and accompanying festivities was Lord Rich (a title that by this time he had enjoyed for five days). On the day of Rich’s ennoblement, the corpse of Henry VIII had arrived at Windsor where it was received by Bishop Stephen Gardiner, who preached at the Requiem Mass, and at Edward’s coronation Archbishop Cranmer was flanked by both Gardiner and Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall. But that the tide was turning against such religious conservatives as Gardiner, Tunstall and Bonner was already evident, Cranmer in his coronation sermon extolling Edward as a royal iconoclast and second Josiah. (Josiah, according to the Second Book of Kings, became King of Judah at the tender age of eight, and was known for having destroyed the images, idols and other ‘abominations’ that had been spreading among the Hebrews.) The nine-year-old Edward must indeed have appeared a Josiah-like godsend to the convinced reformers at court and in the Church.

Many of those present at Edward’s coronation feature in my book, The Burning Time.

19 February 1555: Writ for John Bradford’s execution withdrawn

Bradford 'portrait' from FoxeOn this day in 1555 the prominent Protestant preacher, John Bradford, who had been condemned to death for heresy on 30 January, had the writ for his execution temporarily withdrawn. He had expected to be executed in short order, but the authorities were delaying the carrying out of his sentence while they sought to find ways to diminish his influence – preferably by securing his recantation, even at this late stage. If Bradford could be persuaded to recant, it would have a very demoralising effect indeed on the Protestants.

After the writ for his execution had been withdrawn, Bradford was subjected to numerous attempts to get him to change his mind, a number of eminent churchmen and theologians, including Nicholas Heath (who would become Archbishop of York later that year), George Day (the Bishop of Chichester) and two Spanish divines, being enlisted in the exercise. With the Spaniards, one of whom was Alfonso de Castro, the Franciscan theologian who was highly respected by King Philip and who had recently preached a sermon urging caution over the burning of heretics, Bradford discussed the question of how Christ could be present both in heaven and in the bread on the altar, deliberately poking fun at the Catholic position.

‘How does this hang together?’ he demanded. ‘It is as if you should say because you are here, you must therefore be in Rome. And so you reason that because Christ’s body is in heaven, it must therefore be in the sacrament in the form of bread. No wise man will agree with that.’

Alfonso got to the heart of the matter when he asked: ‘So will you believe nothing that is not expressly said in the Scriptures?’

‘I will believe anything you like,’ responded Bradford, ‘provided you can demonstrate it through the Scriptures.’

Details of the life and death of John Bradford can be found in my book, The Burning Time.

18 February 1847: Mary Duplessis’s belongings up for sale

Marie DuplessisOn this day in 1847 an announcement of the sale of the goods of the famed Parisian courtesan, Marie Duplessis, who had died only weeks earlier, appeared in Le Moniteur des Ventes. Viewing commenced at noon on the following Tuesday and the auction took place, in her apartment on the boulevard de la Madeleine, from Wednesday 24 to Saturday 27 February. Much of fashionable Paris attended the sale, fascinated to see the interior of an apartment few would have deigned to enter during the courtesan’s life. Among items up for sale were furniture, including pieces in rosewood and marquetry, wardrobes, beds, tables, dressing tables, armchairs, other chairs, mirrors and a piano by Ignace Pleyel, curios, including clocks and candelabras, clothes, silverware, diamonds, other jewels, curtains, carpets, books, pictures, horses and a carriage and its accoutrements. Despite the pecuniary difficulties she had been in before her death, which had led to her selling or pawning many of her more expensive clothes, Marie left a wardrobe of about 150 articles, including dozens of pieces of lingerie, 27 peignoirs, more than 30 gowns, masses of lace, boas and shawls. She also left a stash of invoices stuffed in a drawer, detailing the myriad purchases she had made over several years from dressmakers, milliners, restaurants, pastrycooks, florists, booksellers and other suppliers.

The sale realised just over 89,000 francs, of which nearly 50,000 went to her creditors, who had been waiting for her to die to claim at least some of what was owing to them.

The brief, turbulent life of Marie Duplessis is recounted in my book, Grandes Horizontales.

18 February 1533: Thomas Cromwell receives a letter

Cromwell by HolbeinOn this day in 1533 an Observant Franciscan lay brother by the name of Richard Lyst wrote a letter to Thomas Cromwell, one in a series of letters denouncing a fellow Observant Franciscan, Friar John Forest. Cromwell had recruited Lyst as an informer in 1532, Lyst thereby becoming a small cog in Cromwell’s machinery to discredit, and ultimately destroy, monastic life in England.

Richard Lyst, a former grocer and apothecary in Cheapside, and at one time a servant of the late Cardinal Wolsey, saw himself as what we might term a ‘whistle blower’, telling Cromwell in his letter of 18 February 1533:

[Forest] says that he will labour to the King to get out of your hands all such letters as I and others have written about him, that he may get us punished, though we have written nothing but truth. Our fathers have made a law that whoever shows any act done secretly in the religion, or makes any complaint of any in the religion to secular persons, shall be grievously punished.

Lyst continues in a superior, self-righteous tone, as he tells Cromwell how he means to point out to Forest the error of his ways:

I wish you to burn all my letters, for I intend to write a long ‘epistle’ to Father Forest, containing all his faults and transgressions among us, for which he has always avoided punishment. I shall remind him of them, that in this holy time of Lent he may be sorry for them, and make some amends to God and the religion. I shall mention his unfaithful and indiscreet conduct towards the King and you, and will show you a copy of the letter, if he take it not well secundum evangelium, to which, I think, his perfection will not extend.

Lyst’s tone is that of every lay person who has ever written in indignation to their bishop to complain about the vicar. He reported that Forest had been unpleasant towards him personally, which is hardly surprising in the circumstances:

Since you first rebuked him for his indiscreet words about you, of which I gave you knowledge, he will never speak to me, nor show any tokens outward that he is in charity with me.

There had also recently been some scandal concerning the Greenwich friary, involving the death in prison of one ‘brother Ravenscroft’. Lyst had made this fact known to Cromwell and the King, referring to Ravenscroft’s death as ‘suspect’ and somehow implicating Forest, in the hope that it would furnish them with an excuse to investigate the Observant Friars and come down hard on them.

The horrifying fate of Friar John Forest is recounted in my book The Burning Time.

18 February 1516: Birth of Mary Tudor

Mary-I-Hans_Eworth_Mary_I_detail2On this day in 1516 a child was born to Henry VIII and his first wife Katherine of Aragon who would become known to history as ‘Bloody Mary’, the scourge of English Protestants, ultimately responsible for the death by burning of scores of her subjects with whom she had profound disagreements over matters of religion.

Of the 288 people estimated to have been burn for heresy during Mary’s five-year reign (1553-58), 48 were burnt in London’s Smithfield. Originally known as ‘Smoothfield’, this had been a place of public execution for over 400 years; many witches and heretics had been burnt, roasted or boiled alive here. It was here that the Scottish hero and patriot, Sir William Wallace, was hanged, drawn and quartered in 1315, and where Wat Tyler, the leader of the Peasants’ Revolt, was fatally stabbed by the Lord Mayor in 1381. Many tournaments had also taken place here, royal jousts having begun in Smithfield in the reign of Edward III (1327-77). The other activity for which the area was (and is) famous was the craft of butchery, meat having been traded in Smithfield since the tenth century.

Adjacent to the open space of Smithfield was the great Augustinian Priory of St Bartholomew, one of the City’s most important monasteries. The annual Bartholomew Fair was held on the priory’s land, attracting all manner of people – cloth merchants from all around Europe mingling with jugglers, acrobats, innkeepers and pickpockets. It was also an area which drew the poor and the sick, the monastery’s sister-foundation, St Bartholomew’s Hospital (still world-famous as ‘Barts‘), offering relief for the body while the prior and canons (as the members of an Augustinian community were known) offered prayers for the soul.

Accounts of the lives and deaths of many of those burned in Smithfield during the reign of Mary Tudor can be found in my book The Burning Time.