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Open Features: Never Rile A Redhead

...I have walked across Westminster Bridge at least a hundred times and she never fails to take my breath away. I have seen her glow with dark majesty in the sunshine and found her an inspiration when it’s raining and the world seems a dreary place. But she is at her most impressive when a November fog engulfs her or Old Father Thames gives off a soft summer mist at the start of a warm day...

To find out the identity of this redheaded lady you really must read this inspirational column by Mary Pilfold-Allan.

I have walked across Westminster Bridge at least a hundred times and she never fails to take my breath away. I have seen her glow with dark majesty in the sunshine and found her an inspiration when it’s raining and the world seems a dreary place. But she is at her most impressive when a November fog engulfs her or Old Father Thames gives off a soft summer mist at the start of a warm day. Then, like the great warrior she was, she appears as if the curtain of two millennia is drawn back, Boudica, Queen of the Iceni, astride her magnificent war chariot drawn by its galloping horses, defying the passing of time.

Commissioned by the London City Council in 1902 when Britain was still an Imperial power, the bronze statue by Thomas Thornycroft commemorates one of the great legendry leaders of this island, a woman who took on the disciplined might of the Roman Empire and almost routed it into historical shadowland. Appropriately, the bronze is positioned so that Boudica has her back to The City, signifying that even the great Londinium could not halt the Iron Lady!

Boudica, or Boudicea as she was known until recently, is a particular favourite of mine. She and her tribe inhabited my home counties and there are reminders of that still to be found, even in the next village just half a mile down the road - Iceni Way. As I journey through the village, if I close my eyes and allow my imagination to run free, I can conjure up the clamour of the men, women and children who made up her warriors, the sound of chariot wheels and horses thundering over the heath and at the head of it all, the woman who refused to bow to Rome. It is said she was ‘huge of frame, terrifying of aspect and with a harsh voice; a great mass of bright, red hair fell to her knees.’ What a woman!

Boudica has been the subject of many a documentary and film but nothing quite adds up to the true story. When Prasatugus, the ruler of the Iceni died, he left half his fortune to the Roman Empire in payment for the security of his throne so that Boudica, his wife could rule in peace. Unfortunately for the tribe, and for Boudica, the Romans wasted no time in attempting to take the other half by force, flogging Boudica and raping her two daughters in the process.

Perhaps Boudica is the origin of the expression ‘never rile a red head’ and rather than sitting and letting it happen, she gathered her forces and led them against the strongholds of Colchester, St Albans and finally London, looting and burning as she went.

Her spectacular success couldn’t last against the great Roman Legions with their skilled leaders. Under the command of Suetonius, Boudica and her people were eventually subjected to a terrible defeat around 60AD, possibly near Atherstone in the Midlands. It is thought that as many as 80,000 of her tribe were massacred in a day, while as few as 400 Romans died.

What happened to Boudica? According to history she took her own life rather than be captured but quite where she lies enriching the soil of England is not known. Some believe she made it back to her home counties, whilst others with a more flamboyant streak, think she is buried under one of the platforms, possible 9 or 10 at King’s Cross Station. If so I am sure she doesn’t mind the daily tramp of feet over her resting place. These particular platforms handle the travellers from the East of England!

Wherever she rests, I like to think that her spirit has come home to the vast skies and endless horizons of East Anglia, where the reeds sway and dance in the marshland and the fierce winds that chase across the rich farmland in winter are a fitting vehicle for the rousing cries of the Warrior Queen’s message to her army: “If you weigh well the strength of the armies, the causes of the war, you will see that, in this battle, you must conquer or die.” (Tacitus’s report of part of Boudica’s rallying speech to her people before the last battle.)


Mary Pilfold-Allan
January 2009

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