Newsletter 10

Welcome to the early Summer (June 2008) issue of our occasional newsletter.

Latest Expedition

Funchal, Madeira, at dusk.
Funchal, Madeira, at dusk.

Our latest expedition was quite an exotic one: a Mediterranean cruise. What made it exotic was the fact that we joined the ship in Florida. We had been invited to sail as guest lecturers on board an American cruise ship that was crossing the Atlantic for the start of the cruising season in the Mediterranean, and since we had never crossed the Atlantic by sea before, we willingly accepted. Our job, along with a host of varied entertainers and lecturers, was to keep the passengers occupied during the ‘at sea’ days, but when the ship was in port we were at liberty to go ashore. As you might imagine, we gave talks on aspects of maritime history and on archaeology, including the launch of our ‘Jack Tar’ talk! A trip on such a large cruise ship (over 3,000 passengers) was something we had never before considered, because we always thought that it would be chaos at the ports with so many passengers disembarking. In fact, everything was exceptionally well organised. We were also spoiled because the Atlantic crossing was very smooth and surprisingly warm for late April.

The first stop was Funchal in Madeira and after that we sailed to Cadiz in Spain, moved on to Gibraltar and then to Cagliari in Sardinia. From there it was up the coast of Italy to Civitavecchia (which is now the port for Rome), Livorno and Marseilles. Having been immersed for so long in research of the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars (most recently on Jack Tar), these were of course familar ports. Livorno is a name that can be confusing, because at that period it was known to the British as Leghorn. We disembarked at Barcelona and flew home from there. The trip took 17 days, and overall it was a very enjoyable working holiday that gave us some early summer sunshine.

Houses and fortifications at Cagliari, Sardinia.
Houses and fortifications at Cagliari, Sardinia.

The ‘Chester’ Place Name

As well as the town of Chester itself, many other towns in Britain incorporate a version of the name ‘chester’, although this might not be immediately recognisable: towns such as Manchester, Lancaster, Gloucester, Exeter and Bewcastle all contain a version of this name. The name ‘chester’ derives from the Old English ‘ceaster’, which in turn is derived from the Saxon ‘castar’ meaning ‘a Roman walled place or fort’ that was probably derived from the Latin ‘castrum’, a word whose meaning covers ‘camp, fort, town’ and even ‘city’. Because of this, the ‘chester’ part in any place name is generally a reliable indicator that there was once a sizeable Roman settlement at that place, and usually that settlement started life as a military camp or fort.

There are pitfalls, however. The element ‘castle’ in names such as Bewcastle is not derived directly from the Old English ‘ceaster’. Instead the French name ‘castel’ has been substituted for ‘ceaster’, leading to ‘castle’ rather than ‘chester’, ‘cester’ or ‘caster’. This can then cause confusion with other names with ‘castle’ in them, such as ‘Newcastle’, which is a straightforward name indicating ‘a new castle’ that is likely to be a medieval or later settlement around a castle.

Where a place does have a Roman origin, its name may carry additional clues. For example, Chesterfield, meaning ‘open land or field by a Roman settlement’, indicates that the modern town probably lies to one side of the Roman settlement. Even though the town may now have spread over the Roman area, it was not originally built on top of it, as happened with places like Exeter (meaning ‘fort on the River Exe’). Other place-name elements also betray the Roman roots of modern towns and villages, such as ‘font’ meaning ‘spring or well’ (from the Latin word ‘fons’), which occurs in names such as Fonthill and Fontmell: it also occurs as ‘vant’ in names such as ‘Fovant’ and ‘Havant’. ‘Port’ (in Portsmouth, Portchester and Portland) denotes a Roman harbour, while ‘wick’ originated in the Latin ‘vicus’, meaning ‘small settlement’. Later on, the place-name element ‘wick’ took on a wider variety of meanings, covering ‘port, harbour, saltworks, dwelling, camp, farm and town’.

Place names have to be used as historical evidence with great care, but they can be valuable indicators of the origin of towns and villages. As such they are an aid to reading the landscape. The element ‘ham’, for instance, usually indicates ‘homestead’, and Nottingham (Snottingham until the name was changed in the medieval period) is derived from the Old English name for ‘Snot’s people’s home’, while ‘don’ or ‘down’ often means ‘hill’, as in Hillingdon, meaning ‘Hilda’s hill’. Names may also give a clue to the date of the settlement, so that whereas Silchester is Roman, names with ‘ing’, such as Reading or Hastings, are often Anglo-Saxon foundations. Further north, ‘by’ (as in Grimsby – ‘Grim’s settlement’) indicates an early medieval foundation of Scandinavian origin. Knowing the meanings behind place names can bring the landscape alive, and travelling with a book about place names can be entertaining. It might even keep the children quiet on those long car journeys to school – at least for five minutes.

The Temples of Paestum

After Naples, Pompeii and Herculaneum, one of the main tourist attractions of Southern Italy is the Costiera Amalfitano – the Amalfi Coast. Amalfi itself is now the largest town on this stretch of the coast, which is famous for its spectacular scenery, and to the south are the equally spectacular ruins of the temples of Paestum. Paestum was originally a Greek colony, founded in the 7th century BC when the Greeks were the dominant power in the Mediterranean. A century later the colony was reorganised as a planned town, with residential areas flanking a central arrangement of public buildings, including temples. These areas were divided into smaller blocks by parallel streets running north-south and east-west to form a grid. This is a simple street-plan that has been echoed in other towns through the centuries, from the Roman town of Arausio (modern Orange in Provence) to the 1970s new town of Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire.

Paestum was known to the Greeks as Poseidonia: the City of Poseidon, who was the Greek god of earthquakes and the sea. The colony was a flourishing coastal town by the time the Romans captured it in 273 BC. They renamed it Paestum. After the heyday of the Romans, the town went into a gradual decline. The population dwindled because of the spread of malaria by mosquitoes from the nearby marshes, and after an attack by the Saracens the town was finally abandoned in the 9th century AD. The site was largely ignored until the upsurge of scientific enquiry in the 18th century, despite the very visible ruins of the three massive temples. These were built in the 5th and 6th centuries in the plain Doric style of Greek architecture.

At the time of their rediscovery, the ruins were remote and dangerous, in the heart of marshland that was notorious for brigands. One of the early visitors to the site was Jean-François Champollion, the Frenchman who deciphered Egyptian hieroglyphs. He saw the ruins in 1825 by travelling from the nearby town of Eboli, and he recorded what he saw:

Temple of Neptune (actually dedicated to Hera).
Temple of Neptune (actually dedicated to Hera).

‘After three and a half hours of walking, thanks to my carter who lost the good road in order to keep to the foot of the mountains, in the middle of rocks, I finally caught sight of the ruins of old Poseidonia, scattered in a desolate plain … Nothing is more simple than the architecture of its buildings, but it is impossible to give an account of the effect and to convey the profound impression that one experiences at the sight of three Greek temples in an astonishing state of preservation and which without any doubt date back to the most ancient time of prosperity of the Greek colonies in Italy … I maintain that there is nothing more beautiful and imposing in Italy, and emphasize that I even include Rome when I pronounce this sentence … There is no other noise in this enclosure than the cries of crows or buffalo, which seem to give a marked preference to the beautiful temple of Neptune. Some crows flit about in its forests of capitals, or perch on the cornices, while others rest in the shadow of the robust columns of the peristyle. I will never forget such a picture, and of all my excursions it is that from which I will keep the deepest memory.’ We tell this story about Champollion’s visit to Paestum in our book The Keys of Egypt.

The temples were originally mis-identified, and labelled as ‘The Basilica’, ‘The Temple of Neptune’ and ‘The Temple of Ceres’, but in fact two of the temples were dedicated to the Greek goddess Hera, and the Temple of Ceres was actually dedicated to the Greek goddess Pallas Athena.

Monument of the Month

The British Cemetery at Livorno in Italy.
The British Cemetery at Livorno in Italy.

Livorno receives many foreign tourists, as they arrive via the cruise ships. Most of them visit nearby Pisa or else Florence, but it is well worth spending some time in Livorno itself, with its canals and old fortifications. We wanted to see the British Cemetery, but it is difficult to find and is not generally open to visitors. We were very lucky because we managed to find a keyholder who was happy to let us wander round by ourselves for as long as we wished. The cemetery is somewhat overgrown, but we did spot many interesting monuments. One of those that is easily overlooked is the flat gravestone of William Broughton, because the stone is broken and the inscription largely illegible. This inscription once read:

‘Sacred to the Memory / of William Robert Broughton Esqre / Captain in the Royal Navy of England / and Colonel of Marines / His professional Career was honourable to himself / and beneficial to his Country / in two voyages of Discovery / he traversed the Pacific Ocean / with the Perseverance, Intrepidity and Skill / of a British Seaman / on the intricate coast of Java as Commander in Chief of the English Squadron / he steered his fleet to victory / and secured that valuable island to / his Sovereign / after having braved and overcome danger / for forty seven years in the service of his Country / on the 12th of March 1821 / in the 59th year of his age / he died suddenly at Florence / in the bosom of his family / to whom he was endeared / by those qualities which ameliorate the evils / and enliven the joys of domestic Life / it is now the Consolation as it was the happiness / of his afflicted widow and children / that to the character of a brave and gallant officer / was united in the object of their Sorrow that of / a good Christian.’

Captain Broughton’s Gravestone.
Captain Broughton’s Gravestone.

William Broughton did indeed traverse the Pacific, because he sailed as Commander of the tender Chatham that was in support of Captain Vancouver’s voyage of exploration. Vancouver had sailed with Captain Cook on two of his exploratory voyages, and in April 1791 Vancouver set sail in the Discovery, accompanied by the Chatham. Their route took them round the Cape of Good Hope and the south-west coast of Australia to New Zealand. They then crossed to the Haiwaiian islands and continued on to the coast of California. Here they headed north, mapping the coastline of western Canada, giving names to the various islands: most notably, Vancouver Island. They then returned to the Haiwaiian islands to continue their survey before sailing north to Alaska. The ships finally returned to England in May 1795.

Broughton had also carried out survey work during the voyage, discovering various islands and having Broughton Island and the Broughton Archipelago named after him. These are situated in Queen Charlotte Sound between Vancouver Island and the coast of British Columbia in Canada. His survey was published independently of Vancouver’s in 1798. In 1793 he returned to the Pacific in the Providence to carry out a survey of the coast of Asia and the islands of Japan. In 1797 the Providence was wrecked, but fortunately all the crew were saved and taken to Macau. On his return to Britain he published an account of the voyage. His later career was a straightforward military one. He served first in the Channel fleet and then, in 1811, led the spearhead of the assault on Dutch-held Java. Controversially, he was out-ranked and relieved of command when Rear-Admiral Stopford arrived and took over control of the invasion. His subsequent career was uneventful, and in his later years he retired to live in Florence, where he died and was then buried at Leghorn (modern Livorno). Sadly, there is now barely enough of the inscription left on his gravestone to be able to match it against the record of the inscription that was published in 1906.

Our Publications – Latest News

As we said in the last newsletter, our book Jack Tar: Life in Nelson’s Navy is now finished. We have checked the final lot of proofs, and have seen the jacket design. It will be published in the UK on 2 October, 3 days after the 250th anniversary of the birth of Nelson. In the US, we have an article being published this summer in the Military History Quarterly, and on 29 July the paperback version of our book The War for All the Oceans will be published in the US by Penguin, price $17 – perfect timing for that holiday reading (though more than a year since it was published in paperback in the UK). The book has many stories related to the war at sea between Britain and the US, including surprising events when the war spilled over on land, such as the burning of the White House by British seamen and the massacre of US prisoners at the prison on Dartmoor. The month afterwards, in August [now moved to September!], a completely revised edition of The Handbook of British Archaeology is being published by Constable & Robinson worldwide – it has been thoroughly overhauled by a team of experts, with new illustrations. We’ll have more news on all these books in the next newsletter. The August issue of the BBC History Magazine will be a ‘naval special’, and we have written an article on the harsh life of the seamen for that. We will give updates on our books and talks in the Latest News section of our website.

Competition Results

The competition in the last newsletter was a question of which of the following towns had never been a Roman fort: Winchelsea in East Sussex, Chesterholm in Northumberland, Lanchester in County Durham, Ribchester in Lancashire or Pevensey Castle in East Sussex. The answer was Winchelsea in East Sussex. This town at the mouth of the River Brede began as a Saxon coastal settlement, but it suffered from coastal erosion and was completely lost to the sea during storms in 1287. Before this final destruction of the earlier town, Winchelsea had been resited nearby, and a planned town, laid out on a grid of streets, was already under construction. Modern Winchelsea is a shrunken version of this 13th-century ‘new town’, which was larger and more important in the medieval period than it is now.

In the Next Issue

The Greeks in Egypt, Brean Down and regulars like Monument of the Month.