The French Revolution had brought lots of change to France. In July 1989, the state prison Bastille was assaulted and the feudal system was abolished. In 1792, King Louis XVI was deposed and France was turned into a Republic. The National Convention first met in September 1792. In January 1793, the former king was beheaded by means of the guillotine. After Louis XVI’s execution, a period of violence dawned: terror took reign over France.
In the spring of 1793, France found itself in an economic and political crisis. Poor laborers, called sans-culottes (for they did not wear the knee-breeches, culottes, that were common in the noble circles), blamed the Girondins for this crisis. The Girondins were a group of delegates in the National Convention that belonged to the upper middle class. Their name was derived from the department Gironde in the southwest of France, where many of the members came from. Their opponents in the Convention were the Montagnards, whose members were mostly Jacobins, a club of politically left-orientated anti-monarchists. People were frustrated that the social equality the revolutionaries had aimed for was not yet established. The Montagnards accused the Girondins of fighting for their own benefit only and not pursuing the goal of the revolution, and they even believed the Girondins would be willing to cooperate with royalists in order to remain their power.
In one of my former blogs, I wrote about the Dutch creating ‘polders’ by draining lakes. This even went so far that the twelfth province of The Netherlands, Flevoland, was entirely created by reclaiming land from the former Zuiderzee.
The mastermind behind the Zuiderzee works was Cornelis Lely (1854-1929). During his terms as Minister of Transport and Water Management, he developed plans to enclose the Zuiderzee – a huge bay of the North Sea covering about 5,000 km2 - and create large polders in the area. He strongly advocated his own ideas, but it needed severe floods along the Zuiderzee shores in 1916 before his plans were finally approved.
The implementation of Lely’s project started in 1927 with the closure of the Zuiderzee by building a 32 km long dike between the provinces of North Holland and Friesland, resulting in a giant lake: the IJsselmeer. The construction of the Afsluitdijk was finished in 1932 (see image above).
On the left in the image above, you can see two schemes for the Wieringer Polder and the Hoornsche Polder, probably drawn in the early 1920s. The sketch of the Hoornsche Polder was the first plan for what would become the neverending Markerwaard project. The Wieringer Polder was completely drained in 1929, enlarging the province of Noord-Holland.
The next image shows an updated plan. The Wieringer Polder is called NW Polder in that, the Hoornsche Polder is enlarged and now called ZW (South West) Polder, and plans for a NO and SO (North resp. South East) Polder have appeared. The area of the Noordoostpolder was first reclaimed; the drainage was finished in 1940. Works on the ZW polder started the year after by building a 2 km long dike north of the small island of Marken, but the works had to be interrupted under the German occupation in World War II.
The beginning of the 17th century still was a period of religious unrest in France. The Wars of Religion had come to an end with the Edict of Nantes, which was issued by King Henry IV in 1598, but the relationship between Catholics and Huguenots remained to be tense. But while people sought to find the right way to worship God, there were plenty who were curious for his antithesis. This curiosity could go so far that it lurked Parisians into the depths of the city - into the caverns of hell.
Their curiosity could be cured indeed. A charlatan, or maybe he was just a clever businessman, only known by the name César, offered people to have an encounter with the devil himself. In the south of Paris there were many quarries, and one of the entrances was placed in the Rue D'Enfer: Hell's road. When someone wished to see the devil, César would demand 40 to 50 gold coins (pistoles) and a promise of secrecy. The customer had to pledge not to utter any religous phrases nor to invoke God at any moment while being underground.
César took the visitor down while singing magic phrases and gesturing cerimoniously. Infernal sounds slowly reached the ears of the visitor and his guide. A red glow of burning thorches lighted the passage, and the sound of rattling chains drew closer. At this point, César asked if the visitor feared to go further. If the tourist answered yes, César would escort him to the surface, but of course keep his payment since he, as he argued, cured the visitor from his curiosity. If the visitor still wanted to continue, they would resume their descend. Césars exclamations grew more and more outrageous as they draw closer - until they entered a cavern, lighted by raging fire. Terrifying screams and grunts were produced by Césars accomplishes, who wildy rattled chains, howling frightfully. In the middle of the cave, a furious bull stood pounding and snorting furiously. The bull, was held by numerous chains were painted so they seemed to be red-hot. This bull, César said gravely, was Satan itself. The visitor, who was most likely to be petrified by fear, was then beaten half dead by Césars accomplicies, so that César had to carry a lifeless back onto the surface, and teached him that the wish to see the devil is dangerous temptation. Indeed, none of the visitors would ever come back a second time.
Although César required secrecy of his customers, his dark business was revealed one day. He was arrested and incarcerated in the Bastille prison. During his imprisonment, he would write about his business. Therefore it is possible that he maybe he did even kill his visitors to ensure that they would keep their mouths shut, and that he only passed down a weakened version of the events. Whatever might be the truth, the story goes that the devil himself came to visit César in his cell and enstrangled him on the 11th of March, 1615. Playing with the devil always is a dangerous game...
Well, that is not exactly true, of course there were carriages as well. But as The Netherlands is a water country, goods and passengers moved over the water by means of a trekschuit. This means of travel was faster than by foot (about 7 km an hour), and more comfortable than by coach - if this was at all an alternative. A typical trekschuit could carry about 30 passengers, and was drawn by a horse which stepped on a narrow towpath next to the canal.
The first trekschuit operated between Haarlem and Amsterdam in 1632. The canal it sailed in, called trekvaart, was dug especially for this use. It was an immediate success. The service was extended to Leiden, and an evening service was opened as well.
By the turn of the century, all the important cities in the west provinces of the Netherlands were connected with canals and a trekschuit service. When railway traffic became common in the mid-19th century, the trekschuit traffic became less popular, though it still remained a cheap alternative to the fast train connection for a couple of decades. I remember a movie from the 1940s where my grandmother's family transported their harvest by the means of a trekschuit.
Chapbooks were small booklets that were sold by travelling peddlers or “chapmen” from the 17th to the 19th centuries. They were usually printed on a single sheet folded into small books of 8, 12, 16 or 24 pages and often illustrated with crude woodcuts.
The paper quality was rather bad, the type was often broken and it was no exception when the illustrations had no relation to the text. Therefore, the chapbooks were very cheap (costing one penny or less). Since printing matter was expensive in the 17th - 19th centuries, the target group of chapbooks, the working class people, usually didn’t care much for the poor quality – they were happy enough to be able to buy any amusement they could get their hands on.
The chapbooks covered a broad range of subjects – from manuals to romances, from crime stories to poems and from nursery rhymes to biographies of famous people. Few publishers created books especially for children.
The popularity of the folded books declined from the 1860s onwards. In that time, the offer of affordable printed material had expanded extremely. The chapbooks were not the sole option anymore and lost their popularity.
If you have to be moralistic and are stringed by rules and regulations the whole year, it's only fair to be able let the beast out on one single day a year. At least that's how the clergy reasoned in the late Middle Ages. The day they picked for their debaucheries was New Year's Day, and they called it the Feast of Fools.
The Feast of Fools had its origins in Northern France and was not very widespread. It was a known festival in Britain and England, and was also celebrated in Germany in some cities at the Rhine. The festivities took place on or about January 1st; when a new year was about to begin. The new year was full of questions and uncertainties: will the soil be as fertile as needed, will the harvest be good, will we not lose our sons in battle? The religious festivities of Christmas, a period of fasting and stringent rituals, were just over, and people, not in the least the churchmen, were more than longing to let the beast out.
The nature of the feast was most probably a Christian adaption of the pagan Saturnalia; festivities in honor of the Roman God Saturn, during which social roles were reversed - masters turned to slaves and vice versa. The same inversion of social status was seen in the New Year's festivities of the Middle Ages. A boy from the lower-ranking clergy was elected to be bishop for a day. This Boy Bishop went by several names like "Abbot of Unreason" in France, "Lord of Misrule" in Britain, or "King of the Bean" in England. The latter name derives from the English tradition that the boy who would find the bean that had been hidden in a piece of cake, was to be the King during the festival.
Nicolas Flamel is one of the most famous alchemists that have ever lived, but it is not even proven that he was one. All we know of his alchemic doings, we know from a book that appeared in the 17th century. It is unclear whether he wrote his quest to the Philosopher's Stone himself, since there were never found further indications suggesting he has ever dealt with alchemy. His person has found interest ever since. Victor Hugo mentioned him in the Hunchback of Notre Dame, and he is referred to in best sellers like J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code. Who was this man, actually?
Born in 1330 in Pontoise near Paris, Nicolas Flamel was a successful notary and bookseller. In his life, he has founded fourteen hospitals, built three chapels and generously donated to seven churches. His contemparies already must have wondered how a simple bookseller without any heritage could have earned so much money with his work, and this question kept people busy long after. There was no other logical explanation but that Flamel must have found other ways to gain his fortune. In the 17th century, a work called The Book of Hieroglyphic Figures was ascribed to Flamel. In the introduction of this work, Flamel sets out how he got hold of a very old, guilded book for the price of two guilders. The cover showed engravings of curious diagrams and characters. The pages were not of paper or parchment, but of the bark of young trees instead. The first leaf revealed the author of the book: Abraham the Jew; prince, priest, levite, astrologer and philosopher. That same page was filled with curses against every reader that is not a scrivener or a priest. As a notary, Flamel argued, he should be allowed to read the book without fear. Moreover, he had dreamed that an angel had handed him the book, and so he figured that he was destined to receive it. In the introduction of his Book of Hieroglyphic Figures, Flamel describes the mysterious book into its finest details:
"...a guilded Book, very old and large. It was not of Paper, nor of Parchment, as other Books be, but was only made of delicate rinds (as it seemed unto me) of tender young trees. The cover of it was of brass, well bound, all engraven with letters, or strange figures; and for my part I think they might well be Greek Characters, or some-such-like ancient language. Sure I am, I could not read them, and I know well they were not notes nor letters of the Latin nor of the Gaul for of them we understand a little. As for that which was within it, the leaves of bark or rind, were engraven, and with admirable diligence written, with a point of Iron, in fair and neat Latin letters, coloured. It contained thrice-seven leaves, for so were they counted in the top of the leaves, and always every seventh leaf was without any writing; but, instead thereof, upon the first seventh leaf, there was painted a Rod and Serpents swallowing it up."
In the 19th century, books were still very expensive and a privilege only the mid- and upper classes could afford. But there were alternatives for the working class. Penny dreadfuls (originally called penny bloods ) were immensely popular in the United Kingdom that were first published in the 1830s. They were printed on cheap wood pulp paper and typically were eight pages. The text was divided in two columns and often accompanied by illustrations. The penny dreadfuls were serial literature, as it was common in that time (Charles Dickens, for example, published his books on serial basis as well, but the magazines he wrote for were much more expensive), Pages were filled, which meant it often happened that the last page ended with a half-sentence - and the reader had to wait a week to be able to continue reading.
The name of these prints is self-explaining: they cost a penny, and typically had sensational topics such as crime, ghosts of the supernatural. Popular stories that first appeared as a penny dreadful were Sweeney Todd or Varney the Vampire. The most popular series was written by George W. M. Reynolds, who drew his inspiration from the London slums. His Mysteries of London took a time span of 12 subsequent years; 624 numbers were published, selling up to 250,000 copies a week.
See more at British Library.
From the industrial revolution until the 1920s, British people paid "knocker ups" to wake them. These were a common sight in places where people worked in shifts or at unusual times: when the own sense of time was overstrained to rouse by themselves.
When the profession just began to evolve, knocker-ups used to rap or ring at the doors of customers. But neighbors complained – they were aroused unwantedly!
To avoid this kind of disturbance, knocker ups then started using a long stick to tap on their clients' bedroom windows: loudly enough to wake those who paid them, but silently enough for the people living nearby to stay asleep.
An interview with a female knocker up appeared in The Huron Expositor May 22, 1978. She tells she earned 30 to 35 shillings a week by serving around 30 houses or more a day.
As Mrs. Waters explains, knocker ups were also employed by people who did own an alarm clock – but just like today, people got used to the sound of it and either slept through it or just switched it off and continued sleeping.
L'Ossuaire Municipal in Paris holds the bones of about 6 million people. A small part of the 321 km long tunnel network has been a popular tourist attraction since 1874, but this subterranean museum was not exactly planned as being one. Rather, two threats for the city of Paris made it inevitable to create that what we know as the Catacombs of Paris today.
To explore the history of the catacombs, we have to travel way back to the first century, when Paris was occupied by the Romans and still called Lutetia. The Romans found there was limestone in the soil of the left bank of the river Seine, which is of perfect use for building walls. Up until the High Middle Ages, the limestone was acquired in open quarries outside the city walls. Then, in the 12th century, mining was replaced to underground workings. This had several advantages: deeper deposits could so be reached, and on surface level the soil could still be used for agriculture. When the city continued to grow in the 16th and 17th century, new underground quarries were developed and the old quarries were abandoned. Buildings, streets and neighborhoods of the expanding city were built over the quarries, that subsequently fell into oblivion.
But not for long. The Parisians again became aware of the existence of these underground galleries when houses and streets started to collapse in the late 18th century. These collapses were the result of the cave-in of the roofs of the 30 meter deep subterranean galleries, resulting in a chain reaction within the different layers of soil. The crumbling worked its way upwards and resulted in a collapse of the buildings on street level.
The most catastrophic collapse of this kind occurred in 1774 in the Rue D'Enfer, which ironically means 'Hell's street'. Indeed, the cavity which measured 30 meter in length as well as in depth reminded of a gaping entrance to hell. Pavements, buildings, even carriages and horses were swallowed by the gap. The limestone from the houses' walls returned to where it had come from.
Since the mining galleries where everywhere beneath the city, Paris was threatened to be go under completely...