My favourite historical places: Professor Laura Gowing

The banks of the Thames at Wapping

AE8AP9 The Prospect of Whitby pub on the bank of the River Thames in London England

As part of our new weekly series, Professor Laura Gowing from King’s College, London, picks out her favourite historical places to visit

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Q: What is your favourite historical place in Britain?

A: The banks of the Thames at Wapping. Every building in Wapping is testimony to generations of transformations that have taken place there, and the peculiar current of the Thames means the shore is full of fragments of clay pipes and pottery from the 17th century onwards. It’s a great place to imagine the early modern world of sailors, and the women who kept the community and the economy going in their absence.

Q: What is your favourite historical place overseas?

A: Most recently, a mountain village in the South of France, where the besieged Protestants lived and hid in the ‘desert’ years after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. Relics of the time were still being found in the 1970s – there are tiny Protestant prayer books that were hidden in walls, and pulpits that cleverly folded into beer barrels. The Musée du Désert in Le Mas Soubeyran has a stone from the prison where some of the captured women were held, inscribed ‘RESISTEZ’.

Q: Where would you most like to visit?

A: I have a record of a woman who ended up in London in the 1620s after being captured by pirates in the Azores, and was sold as a slave in Algiers to a man who later married her. Even fragments like this cast a little light on the transnational routes and transactions of the early modern city. News and letters travelled surprisingly effectively; eventually her relatives tracked her down in Seething Lane, near the Tower of London. I’d like to trace her back to the island of Santa Maria in the Azores, where she came from.

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Laura Gowing is a professor of early modern history at King’s College, London, and the author of Gender Relations in Early Modern England, published by Pearsons Education