Director’s Diary: Southwark Saves a Colony

This week there are children’s activities and craft workshops each day of the week: see website for details. On Thursday Secret Adventures Cinema with a heady mix of art movie and cocktails in the underground chamber, and on Friday Modulus Quartet return with their own brand of music and light installation. The calendar for the week is below, and as always heritage boat tours and river walks leave every day.
On Friday 6th I fly to Port Canaveral, Florida to join Norwegian Cruise Line as a guest lecturer aboard EpicAt 155,000 tons, Epic is six times bigger than Brunel’s Great Eastern. Coincidentally in 1858 the Great Eastern was six times bigger than anything else afloat. Epic is half as long again as Brunel’s ship, but perhaps the most surprising fact: Epic carries 4100 passengers to Great Eastern’s 4000. Great Eastern’s first government charter was transporting 4,000 to Canada to shore up the frontier during the American Civil War. Next week Epic will cross the Atlantic via Bermuda, Madeira and Gibraltar, before docking at Barcelona, and every day we are at sea, I give a talk. On Brunel and engineering, of course, but also his trans-Atlantic steamers and other celebrated Atlantic voyages, but my first talk is about a famous shipwreck in Bermuda…
‘My story starts at sea, a perilous voyage to an unknown land. A shipwreck. The wild waters roar and heave. The brave vessel is dashed all to pieces…’

This is not just Shakespeare’s Tempest , nor is it only the experience of the Massachusetts Pilgrims in 1620, it is the re-telling of the well documented wreck of the Sea Venture in 1609. The Sea Venture inspired Shakespeare’s play. For the English, the significant date in the founding of America is 1620, and the first permanent settlement is Massachusetts. But the settlement in Jamestown, Virginia 1607 predates Plimouth Rock. The colony at Jamestown struggled, and the investors of the London Company built Sea Venture – England’s first purpose-designed emigrant ship – to re-boot their investment. On 24 July 1609, the ship ran into a hurricane: Sea Venture fought the storm for three days, but in the end was deliberately driven onto the reefs and all 150 people aboard, and one dog, were saved. News of their miraculous survival eventually reached London, and was written about by Sir Thomas Gates in The Discovery of the Barmudas. And the story inspired Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. It is the ultimate feel good story.

They repair the ship and eventually reach Jamestown, only to find all but 60 of the original 500 settlers dead. Jamestown is judged to be unviable, and the survivors board to set sail for England. As they descend the James River, they meet another relief fleet with Lord De La Warre and are forced to land again and re-start the colony.

The Tempest was first performed in 1612, in Southwark, and it is Shakespeare’s last play and ends with his retirement speech:

But this rough magic
I here abjure. I’ll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I’ll drown my book.

Shakespeare is leaving the theatre and London, he is bound for Stratford. For Shakespeare and voyagers alike, the end of the journey is a new beginning: a stranger shore, and an even fiercer testing. This is not the Settlers’ final journey, nor Shakespeare’s, nor Prospero’s. All of them approach a new life, away from clamour and temptation, with a mixture of trepidation and excitement, terror and delight.

Twenty years after the Mayflower sailed, the staging of The Tempest and all plays was banned in London. The Puritans (the ones who who stayed behind, not the Pilgrims and Separatists) declared ‘Public Sports and Public Stage-plays are Spectacles of Pleasure, too commonly expressing lascivious Mirth and Levity.’ Theatre was banned. Ironically, in banning The Tempest they were banning their own story.

Sunday 1st April
10.40 heritage boat trip from Embankment tube offered in partnership with London Walks
10.40 riverside walk from Bermondsey tube offered in partnership with London Walks
Monday 2ndApril
10.40 riverside walk from Bermondsey tube offered in partnership with London Walks
Tuesday 3rdApril
10.40 riverside walk from Bermondsey tube offered in partnership with London Walks 
Wednesday 4thApril
10.40 heritage boat trip from Embankment tube offered in partnership with London Walks
Easter workshops
18.15 riverside walk from Bermondsey tube offered in partnership with London Walks
 
Thursday 5thApril
10.40 heritage boat trip from Embankment tube offered in partnership with London Walks
18.00 Secret Adventures in Film with cocktails and warming drinks in Grand Entrance Hall
Friday 6th April
10.40 heritage boat trip from Embankment tube offered in partnership with London Walks

19.00 Modulus Quartet ’12 Seconds of Light’

Saturday 7thApril
10.40 heritage boat trip from Embankment tube offered in partnership with London Walks
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