About This Project

The idea is simple enough: to investigate the area of London known as Alsatia, and other similar ‘outlaw’ areas, their history, context and meanings. There are many tantalising references, but nothing substantial on the subject, so it offers challenges and rewards.

Of course, I could just do some searching, some reading, and perhaps write an article or suchlike. But keeping track of all the fragments, questions and resonances requires some organization, and that in turn requires some tools.

Perhaps historians used to keep their notes to themselves – reproduction and circulation may have had considerable overheads – but with the internet that no longer seems inevitable, or even preferable. The computer in its many dimensions has changed the game, both technically (a concordance can be built in minutes, not lifetimes) and socially (collaboration across great distances and outside the academy is a snap). Furthermore, history is nothing without source material, and the publication of it and the data generated from it are required to test and prove a thesis.

So along with an intriguing subject, I also have new methods and techniques to try out. There are possibilities of building maps and timelines, manipulating text and presenting findings as accessibly (in all senses) as possible. The social aspect is even more important, as it is through sharing, both giving and receiving, that community develop.

Besides, who wants to simply read alone, and not talk about their enthusiasms? Hence this site.

Why a blog?

I began using a  CMS (Content Management System) to build this site, but abandoned it as being overly structured, pre-empting the twists and turns of research. Consequently, I turned to WordPress, the very flexible open-source blogging platform, as a way of allowing for the unpredictability of this project. If the lack of narrative is confusing, that is because the narrative remains to be written. Here we explore the alleys one by one, and see where they lead us.

About The Author

I’m John Levin, hacker, historian, Londoner. You can contact me at: john [@] anterotesis.com

This site opened to view on August 26th, 2009.

11 replies on “About This Project”

  1. roy says:

    My fathers family come from whitefriars, temple lane and have strong links to st brides, this is fascinating stuff,

  2. I very much enjoyed your blog, Alsatia: The Debtor Sanctuaries of London. I am working on a history book-blog of my own, which can be seen at [one word] theoryofirony.com, then clicking on either the “sample chapter” or “blog” buttons at the top. My Rube Goldberg brain asks with an odd, well-caffeinated kind of logic: Why is there an inverse proportion between the size of the print and the importance of the message? Art. Literature. Science. Military. Religion. I call this eccentric thinking the Theory of Irony and if your busy schedule permits, give a read, leave a comment or create a link. In any event, best of luck with your own endeavors.

    P.S. It involves Classical, Medieval and Modern eras.

  3. Will White says:

    Very interesting material. Could you do a graphic mapping the historical boundaries if Alsatia onto a modern London map?

  4. Ian Gillespie says:

    In the early ’90’s, I was an avid reader of the Aubrey-Maturin historical fiction novels by Patrick O’Brian. In one of the novels, Jack Aubrey experiences a financial crisis and is on the run as a debtor looking to find sanctuary in one of London’s liberties. I couldn’t recall the name of it and found your website while trying to track down the reference. I suppose it was Whitefriars, but perhaps it was one of the others. It’s an interesting piece of legal history, and I’ll check back periodically to see your progress on the subject. Good luck!

  5. Amanda says:

    I’m reading The Standard Bearer by Peter Verney about Charles Ist’s standard bearer in the civil war, he died at the battle of Edgehill. His half brother brother Francis had a sevant who died in a brawl in Alsatia in 1604.

  6. Nigel Walley says:

    Am reading the first Brother Athelstan story (by Doherty) Nightingale Lane and it mentions the Whitefriars monestary and the network of evil smelling streets around it. I Wikipedia’d White Friars and it mentions Alsatian which led me to this blog.

  7. Paul Thomas says:

    The position of the weavers of London with regard to the transition from custom and perquisite to wage indicates a deeper rebellious culture, as you indicate John. This is all gloriously and painstakingly commentated upon by Peter Linesbaugh in his remarkable London Hanged. Thanks for the brilliant work. Endlessly fascinating elements of our continuous political and social evolution. Seems we have not moved that far forward.


    See THE WHISPERING SWARM (Gollancz 2016) by Michael Moorcock. Scott (Fortunes of Nigel) and numerous 19th c ‘bloods’ etc etc.

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