The Rotherhithe Archive

A Westminster Abbey gardener’s notebook

Rotherhithe Archive #P4862

PoL notes:

Lovers of old books, turn away now.  At some point in the 20th century, a Westminster Abbey gardener took scissors to a rare copy of The Herball, or the Generall Historie of Plantes by John Gerard (published 1597), and stuck the soil-marked cuttings into their dog-eared gardening journal.

On the upside, these annotated extracts provide a horticulturalist’s insight into the weird history of a plant for which the evidence is otherwise mainly anecdotal.

In his landmark work, John Gerard (a 16th Century botanist) writes of a ‘strange kinde of woodbinde’… ‘a thing that I would not beleeve’. 

Next to a woodcut of a fearsome looking creeper, our gardener adds some equally gruesome common names for the plant: ‘snarlweed, wightbind, drag-below, slough maker, strangler’s friend’

The plant, according to Gerard, ‘groweth by the famous river Thames, not far from a peece of ground called the Divil’s neckerchiefe neere Redriffe by London… and in many other barren and waste places’.

But it is the gardener’s final emphatic annotation that earns the diary’s place in the Archive. They assign the plant a name that is familiar to PoL: Alconbury’s Curse.

From what we know of that plant, its ‘leafe that is biting, and doth mightily blister’ is the least you would have to worry about.

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