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Work in Progress

A Brief History of Women in the City

In the autumn of last year I was commissioned to write a research paper on women in the City, from the Norman Conquest to 1950, during the whole of which period City women were often unseen (because not looked for). It was a fascinating, though daunting, project, & of course all I could do was examine the tip of the iceberg. But it’s a start, and you can download the result here: Recognition of Women in the City of London Research Paper.

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Farringdon Within Election

My 3-minute ‘speech’ at tonight’s Farringdon Within Ward Mote

Hello, I’m Virginia Rounding, and I was previously a Councillor in this Ward from 2011 to 2017, and would now like to take up the cudgels on your behalf again.

To summarise, and briefly expand on, the pledges contained in my election leaflet:

If elected, I commit myself to being available and attentive to your needs and concerns and, in particular, to help you get answers and navigate your way through what can at times appear like a byzantine system. The Corporation’s website, for instance, hides a wealth of information but it remains difficult to get at it. I will lobby to get that improved – a far more useful, comprehensive and engaging Contact Us page, for example, is needed, with clear links to clear answers and routes to information – but in the meantime, and in addition, I am prepared to provide that route, where necessary. People often tell me that, on balance, they enjoy living and working in the City – it can be and often is, a great place – but it is the accumulation of minor irritants – noise, roadworks, lack of sufficient recycling facilities, sometimes an overall sense of powerlessness to get issues addressed – that gets people down. I aim to improve that situation, including being available to advise and assist with crafting objections, when necessary, to poor planning or inappropriate licensing applications. In the worst case scenario, I do have hands-on experience of helping residents put together the evidence for a licence review. And I must stress that when I was last a Councillor I did this as part of a team of members, and that’s how I would do it again – it’s in working together that we get things done.

I will maintain pressure on City planners to improve the management of what used to be called ‘shared space’ – I learnt from one of the electors during this campaign that that term has fallen out of favour among urban designers – because actually we’re not very good at sharing space, with the competing demands of pedestrians, cyclists and drivers, all of us in a hurry to get to where we’re going. I intend to champion the use of good research about street design and road safety, from wherever it comes in the world – such as that carried out by the Project for Public Space in New York – as well as pressing for more actual physical evidence to be collected here in the City about people’s behaviour at busy intersections – so that we don’t rely on anecdote or theory, but on what actually happens. One place where more evidence needs to be collected, and acted on – even if that just means banging on at Transport for London – is at Ludgate Circus, but that’s not the only place.

The austerity imposed by central government over the last few years has hit local authorities hard, and the City Corporation – in its role as a local authority, if not in all its other activities – is no exception. At a time when everything is being looked at to see if costs can be cut, I will add my voice to the need to maintain not just basic services, but all those strategies and initiatives that lead to people’s wellbeing – from protection from crime and the fear of crime, to the overwhelming need to improve our air quality and to combat climate change, to the provision of adequate healthcare for what is an expanding population of residents in our Ward, to the implementation and monitoring of an improved Homelessness Strategy.

And I add to that that I am politically independent, and passionately committed to equality and diversity, and to teamwork.

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Farringdon Within Election

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.
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Farringdon Within Election

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

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Farringdon Within Election

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

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Farringdon Within Election

By-election in Farringdon Within on 24th July

I am currently standing for election to the City’s Court of Common Council in the Ward of Farringdon Within, and here is my Election Flyer.

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Uncategorized

Road safety in the City – some thoughts of a sight-impaired pedestrian

Road safety is an issue of particular concern to me as a person with a ‘hidden disability’. You wouldn’t know to look at me that I have a sight problem – and, in this, I’m one of many, judging from my fellow outpatients in the Eye Hospital’s waiting areas. But my long-term condition of glaucoma and a recent sudden – and, I hope, temporary – deterioration of vision in my right eye means I have lost some peripheral vision and in consequence don’t always see cyclists fast approaching on my right side. So I get very nervous at those ‘shared space’ crossings, or when negotiating a two-way cycle lane – while to the approaching cyclist I look like any other pedestrian, able to react quickly and get out of the way if necessary.

My point here is not to invoke special pleading for myself, but to try to increase awareness that we all need to take greater care – both of ourselves and of other people – when negotiating our crowded and fast-moving City streets and walkways.

We shouldn’t take risks with our own or others’ safety – by crossing when the lights are on red, whether pedestrian or cyclist, or by ignoring cycle lanes or cyclists’ priority areas if we’re driving a motorised vehicle.  But, equally, in order to lessen risk-taking behaviour, traffic planners need to implement systems that cater to users’ actual needs and behaviour, rather than basing layouts and traffic-light phasing on unrealistic expectations. It is maddening to stand waiting for the pedestrian lights to change to green when you can’t see the reason for them being on red. There’s been a recent trend to remove the kind of traffic lights that enable the pedestrian to see what the drivers and cyclists can see, and this seems to me to be a mistake. It may make a junction look less cluttered, and planners may want pedestrians to stand waiting obediently for no apparent reason, but in real life we like to make our own minds up, using all the available evidence. And people take risks when they’re impatient, when the indications are unclear, or when they don’t believe the ‘stop’ message being given to them.

So traffic planners need to take more account of pedestrian behaviour and cater to it, rather than always trying to dictate it. They need to take account of desire lines; they need to make it possible for pedestrians to get across a whole intersection without having to run; and they need not to tell us we can’t go when we manifestly can.

And all those of us who use the roads and pavements need to look out for one another a bit more, and remember that a minute lost in waiting or in slowing down is better than a life lost through an avoidable accident.

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The Burning Time

THE BURNING TIME Some more from the Introduction: Setting the scene

             

Of the burnings which took place in England between 1529 and 1558 by far the largest number occurred in one small area of London – the area known as (West) Smithfield. Just outside the City walls though still within its bounds, not far from Newgate prison, ten minutes’ walk from both the Guildhall and St Paul’s Cathedral on Ludgate Hill (the old pre-Fire of London cathedral, over 600 feet in length and with a spire rising to some 500 feet), this was a convenient place to take people to die, with space enough to erect viewing stands from which ‘the great and the good’ could watch the spectacle. Smithfield, originally known as ‘Smoothfield’, had been a place of public execution for over 400 years; many witches and heretics had been burnt, roasted or boiled alive there. 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 there, 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.

Of the 288 people estimated to have been burnt for heresy during the five-year reign of Mary Tudor, forty-eight were burnt in Smithfield. The next-highest numbers were eighteen in Lewes in Sussex, seventeen in Stratford-atte-Bow (now Bow in East London), fourteen in Canterbury and seven in Maidstone (both these latter in the county of Kent). Some seventeen people had suffered the same fate in Smithfield under Henry VIII, as had two ‘Anabaptists‘ (extremists whom even Protestants regarded as heretics) during the brief reign of Edward VI.

However interesting and harrowing, the lives and deaths of individual ‘martyrs’ (and the meanings of that emotive word will be considered in due course), my hope is that this book will be more than a compilation of biographies. During the time I have been working on it, the questions that the stories of the Smithfield martyrs provoke have become ever more pertinent, the need for answers (if any exist) ever more urgent. What is it that makes people kill other people in the name of religion? Why are some people prepared to die – or kill – for their beliefs, while the rest of us are content to muddle along with compromise and uncertainty? What led to this ‘burning time’ in the history of England? Could it have been avoided and how was it overcome? Could it happen again? And, most importantly, is there anything we can learn from this dark period in our history to help bring an end to today’s deathly religious conflicts – or are we doomed to go on repeating the same mistakes, in different parts of the world, until we finally succeed in annihilating humankind altogether? The instances of heroism that emerge from the stories of the martyrs, the occasional glimpses of a different kind of light from that produced by flames, suggest it is worth struggling on …

Read more in The Burning Time.

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The Burning Time

THE BURNING TIME Introduction: Setting the scene


Anne Askew was burnt at the stake along with John Lascelles (a lawyer and Gentleman of the King’s Privy Chamber), John Hadlam (a tailor from Essex) and John Hemsley (a former Franciscan friar), on 16 July 1546. A great stage was built at Smithfield for the convenience of Chancellor Wriothesley, other members of the Privy Council and City dignitaries, to watch the burning in comfort. Anne herself, having been broken on the rack, was unable to stand, and was chained to the stake in a sitting position. John Louth, the Archdeacon of Nottingham, who witnessed the execution, described Anne as smiling throughout her torment and looking like an angel, and insisted that, at the moment of her death, there was ‘a pleasant cracking from heaven’. Whether that was the sound of the flames, or summer lightning, or merely a figment of the imagination, cannot now be determined; nor can we know how, or if, the witnesses could actually have identified the precise moment of death.

So what was the terrible crime that Anne was deemed to have committed and that led her to this appalling end? Why was being a ‘Protestant’ or ‘reformer’ considered so heinous, and what was this ‘heresy’ with which she was charged?

A word deriving from the Greek, ‘heresy’ originally meant merely ‘choice’, but by the Middle Ages it had come to mean ‘wrong choice’, especially in matters of religion. In Europe, and particularly Spain, the ‘Inquisition’ had been set up to identify heretics, with the aim of their contaminating heresy being cut out of society, like a cancer. Heretics were given one chance to ‘abjure’ or ‘recant’ – effectively, to make a public confession that they had been wrong, to accept some kind of ‘shaming’ penance (such as standing in front of a church congregation wearing a white sheet or being paraded through the streets on a cart), and to agree to follow ‘orthodox’ belief (‘orthodoxy’ meaning both ‘right doctrine’ and ‘right worship’) from now on. If a heretic, having recanted, fell back into his or her old ways, there was to be no second chance. They were to be handed over by the Church to the civic authorities for punishment – which meant death by burning.

But the nature of what constituted heresy kept changing, particularly in England during the tumultuous years of the mid-sixteenth century. There were several types of possible heretical belief under the respective reigns of the three monarchs which constitute the burning time (the period which saw the greatest number of burnings for heresy) in Tudor England – Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary I. Some were based entirely upon interpretations of religious doctrine; some hinged on changes in society and questions of authority and were linked to the increased availability of the printed word; others were dictated by the whim of the individual monarch …

Read more in The Burning Time

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Uncategorized

Life goes on…

despite the City elections.  Over the last couple of weeks, my activities as a Common Councilman have included a visit to The City Academy Hackney where I’m one of the City-elected governors. As someone with a languages background (my BA degree was in Russian Language & Literature), I take a particular interest in the teaching of Modern Foreign Languages, & so I sat in on parts of two Spanish lessons & one French, all with Year 9 students. The lessons seemed a lot better designed to get the students talking than when I was at school, & there was a strong emphasis on the value of learning foreign languages for future career options. There was an element of humour too – I loved the way the student deemed to have made the most effort in the previous French lesson was rewarded by being given a string of garlic & a red beret to wear! Then in the evening I was back at the Academy for a governors’ meeting.

Otherwise, apart from the Court of Common Council meeting on 7th March (the draft minutes of which can be found here), this month has been kept relatively free of committee meetings – partly so that we can have some time to devote to our election campaigns. But I have managed to write up & circulate the minutes of the most recent West Area Police Community Forum meeting.

It is of course very difficult to do diary management at the moment, as every entry to do with the City Corporation has to have the caveat: ‘if I’m re-elected’.

And otherwise, in addition to e-mailing & leafleting, I’ve got on with the rest of my life – from proofreading a Ph.D thesis on the National Program of Public Works under the Rojas regime in Bogota, via reviewing a new biography of Rebecca West (West’s World: The Life and Times of Rebecca West) for the Daily Telegraph, to making preparations for the Spring Dinner of the Guild of Public Relations Practitioners to be held at Armourers’ Hall in April.

Tomorrow it’s the Ward Mote (12 noon at Cutlers’ Hall), and then the elections on Thursday.  And I am rather looking forward to them being over, whichever way the voting goes.