Almanac – August 24

“If the 24th be fair and clear
Hope for a prosperous Autumn that year”

Of course, nothing to stop you hoping for a prosperous Autumn even if the 24th be wet and grim. It’s St Bartholomew’s day, who was generally supposed to have been flayed alive, and therefore became, with a nice sense of irony,  the patron saint of tanners and leatherworkers.

A lot of traditional fairs were held on this day, but at West Witton in Yorkshire a ceremony called Burning Bartle still takes place on or around this day – a huge straw effigy is paraded through the village to the accompaniment of a traditional chant, then set alight.

The origins of Bartle is uncertain – various theories claim him to be a thief, a pagan harvest god, a giant who lived on a nearby hill or maybe St. Bartholomew himself [he’s patron saint of the village church]. Being burnt may be a pleasent change from being flayed alive.

79 – Mount Vesuvius erupted and buried the towns of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Stabiae ….although it should be noted that this traditional date has been challenged, and some  scholars believe that the event occurred on October 24.

1572 – In France, the beginning of the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, in which thousands of protestant Huguenots were butchered by Catholic mobs, the slaughter being authorised by King Charles IX.

All the streets of Paris rang with the dreadful cry: “Death to the Huguenot ! Kill every man ! Kill ! Kill !” Neither men, women, nor children were spared; some asleep, some kneeling in supplication to their savage assailants.

All that day it continued; towards evening the king sent out his trumpeter to command a cessation; but the people were not so easily controlled, and murders were committed during the two following days.

The large cities of the provinces, Rouen, Lyon, etc, caught the infection, and France was steeped in blood and mourning.

1680 – Thomas Blood died. Irish-born adventurer, best known for his attempt to steal the crown jewels from the Tower of London. He died at his home in Bowling Alley, Westminster, and his body was buried in the churchyard of St. Margaret’s Church (now Christchurch Gardens) near St. James’s Park.

It is believed that Blood’s body was exhumed by the authorities for confirmation—such was his reputation for trickery, it was suspected he might have faked his own death and funeral in order to avoid paying a debt to the Duke of Buckingham. Blood’s epitaph read:

Here lies the man who boldly hath run through
    More villainies than England ever knew;
    And ne’er to any friend he had was true.
    Here let him then by all unpitied lie,
    And let’s rejoice his time was come to die.

Assuming his body was exhumed, Blood’s grave is now alleged to be  in the graveyard of Saint Andrew’s church in Hornchurch, located next to the church building nearest the main road in a grave unmarked  apart from a now faded skull and cross bones.

1814 – British troops burned the White House in Washington DC.

1952 – Linton Kwesi Johnson born.   Jamaican born / UK-based dub poet. In 2002 he became the second living poet, and the only black poet, to be published in the Penguin Modern Classics series. His performance poetry involves the recitation of his own verse in Jamaican Patois over dub-reggae, usually written in collaboration with renowned British reggae producer/artist Dennis Bovell.

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