John Clark, formerly curator of the medieval collections at the Museum of London, investigates the origins and significance of the two figures of giants, known as Gog and Magog, that stand in the medieval Guildhall in the City of London.
In recent years, London’s Lord Mayor’s Show each November has included two large figures made of basketwork, representing heavily-armed giants. They carry pennants with the names Gog and Magog. In the City’s medieval Guildhall there are two massive carved wooden statues of the same pair of giants, made in 1953 to replace earlier figures destroyed in the Blitz in December 1940. And two giants had welcomed Queen Elizabeth I on a visit to the City in 1559. But who were Gog and Magog, and how did they come to be regarded as symbols and guardians of London?
Our story begins in the 1130s, when Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote a fraudulent ‘History of the Kings of Britain’, which tells how Trojan settlers, fleeing after the destruction of Troy by the Greeks, arrived in an island then called Albion, and found it inhabited by giants, whose leader was ‘Goemagog’…
John Clark, for many years curator of the medieval collections at the Museum of London, has long been interested in byways of medieval history, and in particular the way ‘real’ history relates to and interacts with legends and folklore. He has a book in preparation on the subject of his previous lecture, which has the working title: The Green Children of Woolpit: Strangers in a Strange Land.
Your curator and host for this event will be the writer Edward Parnell, author of Ghostland: In Search of a Haunted Country. Edward lives in Norfolk and has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. He is the recipient of an Escalator Award from the National Centre for Writing and a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship. Ghostland (William Collins, 2019), a work of narrative non-fiction, is a moving exploration of what has haunted our writers and artists – as well as the author’s own haunted past; it was shortlisted for the PEN Ackerley 2020 prize, an award given to a literary autobiography of excellence. Edward’s folklore-strewn first novel The Listeners (2014), won the Rethink New Novels Prize. For further info see: https://edwardparnell.com
Don’t worry if you miss or can’t attend the event live on the night – the next day we will send ticketholders a recording that will be valid for two weeks.
[Image: the two statues of Gog and Magog in London’s Guildhall.]