Last night we began to watch a TV series on Britain’s Most Historic Towns. It’s now series 3 but somehow we appear to have missed this. It’s presented by professor Alice Roberts and I can thoroughly recommend it. She looks at a town in a particular period, aiming to tell the real story of it and its people. We began with Plymouth in the Elizabethan Period, that of Drake and Hawkins.
At first, I was fascinated because, other than crossing the Tamar Bridge into Cornwall, I don’t know Plymouth but now I can’t wait to visit. It has historic buildings in abundance, a fabulous coastline and stories to tell. Deeper into the programme, I began to realise the resonances we have with today. Drake, the hero who saw off the Spanish fleet in 1588, had been defrauding the public purse making himself rich while the poor of Plymouth suffered. Drake and Hawkins were effectively the first British to get involved with the slave trade, stealing from the Spanish with impunity to make Elizabeth and themselves rich. Here we have the monarch of England putting two fingers up at the most powerful country in Europe, encouraging the plunder of the third world in the name of trade while not caring a fig about the poverty of its citizens. Sound familiar?
We then watched the one on Medieval Lincoln, the county town of our birthplace. Another town we drive through or avoid because of seemingly continuous roadworks, but don’t know. I visited the cathedral as a child, even attended meetings in my first job there but I have never explored it, I am ashamed to say. Another fascinating programme which taught me so much. The second battle of Lincoln in 1217 was so important that had it not been won, it is likely that we would have become a French nation yet again. How sad that we learnt nothing in school of the heroism of Nicola de la Haye, the Castellan – a strong, determined, important and local woman who held the castle until William Marshal arrived to take the battle to the French.