Cityread: London 1583 – Spies. Suspicion. Murder.
As another fantastic Cityread London festival draws to a close we are tired but triumphant here in Richmond upon Thames Library Services. We have put on 11 successful Elizabethan themed events around our borough libraries during the festival month and sold out 97% of all the available tickets! Nearly 400 people booked for our events and almost another 400 people read the Cityread book Prophecy as part of one of our affiliated reading groups.
Cityread London is an annual citywide reading festival, a celebration of literature and London which aims to bring the whole city together to read – and talk about – the same book. Taking the chosen novel as a starting point, a programme of events takes place in libraries and indeed all over the capital. This year’s chosen book was Prophecy by SJ Parris (otherwise known as journalist and literary critic Stephanie Merritt). It is an exciting spy thriller set in 1583 when Queen Elizabeth I was on the throne and plots against her abounded. The hero is ex monk and scholar Giordano Bruno, who flits between the French Embassy and the Queen’s Court as he attempts to solve the strange death of a maid of honour, visits with Dr John Dee in Mortlake and meets with spymaster Francis Walsingham.
Richmond Libraries have also hosted a sold out historical writing workshop with acclaimed author Imogen Robertson, several talks about Elizabethan London with our old favourite Nick Dobson and a fantastic Elizabethan themed quiz with a fish and chip supper. The Twickenham Library Cityread quizzes are always a favourite with local people and competition is fierce – both to get a ticket and to take home the prizes!
Author Gabriel Chanan brought along his amazing Kingometer device to help us understand Shakespeare and Elizabethan politics, and was closely followed by Dr Susan Kay-Williams from the Royal School of Needlework at Hampton Court who guided us through the mysteries of embroidery in Elizabethan times, and explained the links between cloth, the way it was decorated and the power and consequence of those wearing it. Particularly interesting was hearing about the famous stitchers Bess of Hardwick and Mary Queen of Scots.
Professor Glyn Parry from Roehampton University shared with a sell-out audience at East Sheen Library his latest findings about Thomas Digges, the best and possibly most criminal student of Dr John Dee. Dr Dee is well known in the local area as he had his house in Mortlake, where he conducted strange alchemical and astrological experiments. I hadn’t heard about his apprentice Digges before however, so listening as Professor Parry revealed the depths of his genius and his villainy was really one astonishing revelation after another. I believe a new book on Digges is in the works!
Some of the highlights of this year’s Elizabethan themed festival in Richmond have been learning about the Elizabethan Food cooked at Hampton Court Palace with State Apartment Warder Ian Franklin, though he didn’t thankfully light a big fire in the library for his talk as I’m not sure fire and books are a good combination…
We rounded off the celebration in the borough with something a little different – blind storyteller Giles Abbott kept the adult audience at Ham Library on the edge of their seats with a selection of Elizabethan tales. He told comic stories of greedy monks but also the rather more spine tingling story of Lady Margaret and Mr Fox, which apparently frightened Shakespeare himself… Finishing up with a version of Faust this really was tales for the grown-ups. Giles has a mesmerising voice and great presence and the whole audience were laughing and gasping in horror with him as he drew us into the stories. Several members of the audience said they had never listened to a storyteller as an adult before but had enjoyed it so much they wanted to know when he’d be coming back!
Richmond Libraries were not the only ones putting on amazing Cityread events – there were some really innovative events held more centrally as well, including a gin tasting (which the Reading Manager did feel obliged to attend – hic!) which involved trying some of the rather odd precursors of modern gin. There was a quiz held below decks on Francis Drake’s ship the Golden Hinde, a supper club with food cooked by a celebrity chef, and four weekends of immersive theatre performances at the Charterhouse based on Prophecy. All in all we barely had time to rush from one exciting Elizabethan extravaganza to another and eat our Easter eggs in between!
If all this has whetted your appetite and you are thinking ‘how on earth did I miss all this stuff?’ then fear not. Cityread will be back next April and you can ensure you hear all about the events in time to get tickets by signing up for the Cityread newsletter at http://cityread.london and to the library newsletter mailing list for the local events at www.richmond.gov.uk/events_in_libraries
Until next year…
[Cheney Gardner, Reading Manager]