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Introducing Tulip

May 4, 2023

As early as the 11th century London was an international port, goods came to and from lands across the sea.  Markets like Cheapside, Smithfield and Billingsgate were in existence.  Wool became an important commodity from late Saxon times traveling down the Thames to London and then to the continent. Then into the Middle Ages malt, grain, and timber, then into 1800s metals, manufactured goods and even cheese was passing through ‘my’ imagined village near Reading down the canal and river.  Coming up the river and continuing north or turning west along the Kennet and Avon canal to Bath and Bristol were cargos of sugar, coal, tobacco, rum, cotton, dyes, tea, and mahogany etc. Much from Africa and India and some less far and less exotic, fertilizer for the growing market gardens that had moved out of the city. The fertiliser was made from human waste that had been treated so that it be handled and spread on the soil to encourage fruit, flowers, and vegetables to grow and flourish for home and foreign market. It was a by product of the industry that was created to clean the streets and the river of London that become badly polluted. 

In my story the Shepherd had a younger brother who owned a cart, a valued tool that proved to be a vital part of his business and that of the community. He and the cart would often be found on the towpath or at the Quay Side near the lock where the Canal met the Thames, unloading goods to be delivered to local industries like the biscuit factory or brewery from the barges and narrow boats that were coming and going to London, Bath, Bristol or Lechlade.

It was here that the Carter met Tulip.  He learned later that she had ‘history’ her father was a lighterman in the docks in London and may or not been involved in smuggling and Tulip had been unfairly implicated so escaped up river to find work and lodgings.

Lightermen were considered the most characteristic groups of workers in the docks.  Lighters were flat bottomed vessels that were used to transport goods from the ships moored in the middle of the river. It was an extremely skilled job.  While the lighter was unpowered the lighterman had to rely on his intimate knowledge of the river, its tides and currents and it demanded muscle power and paddles for steering.  However, with all this experience the working conditions were as poor as the wages. So, it is little wonder that a father who had to a large family to provide for might take risks that may lead to imprisonment. Tulip was working in Covent Garden Market, now on the run and needed work and a home.  The man with a cart had recently been widowed and was looking for a carer for his young family and the rest is history. Tulip, whose name refers to the flowers or at the least the bulbs that came from Holland bound for the market and gardens in and around London and along the Thames to Sutton Seeds that was founded on 1806. She was a good girl but not used to country life. She had the ideals of a city girl and didn’t take kindly to rural ways and traditions. Nonetheless, she bought colour to the somewhat drab surroundings and her stories of the big city, market and dockland were enjoyed by those who took the time to listen. 

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