The Miser and the River

On the south side of the Thames is a full size model of the Golden Hind. The original Golden Hind was the ship that Francis Drake used to travel around the world*. When he went around the world in his ship he was the first Briton to circumnavigate the globe and it took him three years. This replica Golden Hind has also been around the world before returning to its mooring place on the south of the Thames.

But it is the dock rather than the ship that I’d like to talk about. The dock is known as the dock of St Mary Overie. And the dock has a story as fantastical as those told about the Golden Hind itself.

On the site of the dock many many years ago lived a man who made his money by transporting people back and forth across the river to their jobs in the City of London. He was a horrible miser who tried to save every penny he could. He was always trying to come up with new schemes to save himself money. And finally he thought he had come up with a really great one he’d pretend to die.

He thought it would work something like this, he would pretend to be dead and his whole family would go into mourning. The best thing about mourning, as far as he was concerned, was that you had in those days to not eat anything for the entire period of mourning. This would save him a whole lot of money as he thought it would mean he wouldn’t have to feed his entire family for three days.

However the plan didn’t work out quite the way that he’d imagined. Instead of mourning when he seemingly died the family were quite happy as they all really hated him. So Mary, his wife, sent for her lover with news to come and join her for a big party that they were going to hold that evening. He was so excited by the news that he might get hold of the Miser’s money that he set off immediately for their house on the fastest horse he could get. Unfortunately he was in such a rush that he failed to pay attention to what was going on around him, his mind was so focused on the money, that he didn’t spot the branch of a tree that the horse (rather more sensibly ducked under) and he was killed instantly.

While all of this scheming and plotting had been going on the Miser had been quietly lying in his coffin thinking of all of the money that he’d been saving, it was only once the party started going that he began to realise that his money saving plan wasn’t working that he jumped out of this coffin and ran towards the party.

What he hadn’t quite realised was that his one virtuous daughter was sitting in the room with him praying for his eternal soul when he had jumped up out of his coffin. So convinced was she that she had just seen the devil’s work that she grabbed the nearest shovel and whacked her father on the head with it repeatedly until he really was dead.

Mary was so distraught by what had happened that she realised that she had to change her ways. Her husband and her lover had been killed and her daughter had become a murderess all in the pursuit of money. So Mary decided to give it all away, and became an incredibly charitable woman who worked tirelessly for the poor of London. She founded a nunnery which was known as St. Mary Overie. The nunnery was destroyed in the reformation but the church part became the church known as St. Saviour. Then in the 1900s the church became Southwark Cathedral.

* When the ship left England it was actually known as the Pelican but was renamed during the voyage. Drake renamed it just before reaching what was imagined to be the really treacherous part of the journey: the straights of Magellan. In fact that bit was relatively easy for the ship, it was the pacific ocean which was a big problem some months later. Those on board must have been especially pleased at this point as they had not been told when they left England that circumnavigation was on the cards. They thought they were going to Africa. Some people complained about the whole round-the-world thing but Drake killed them.

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