Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Football's queenly fairytale

Anne Boleyn, Queen of England, 1533 - 1536

As it's time as a top flight football destination comes to an end, the Boleyn Ground in Upton Park is making headlines all over the world. Tonight, the Hammers play their last ever game at the place they have called home for over 100 years. It will be an emotional evening for fans everywhere as the famous old ground which shares its name with Henry VIII's second queen calls time on its footballing history.

The Bobby Moore Stand at the Boleyn Ground, Upton Park, is a tribute to one of West Ham's greatest heroes
(photo credit: By Egghead06 (talk) - via Wiki Commons)

The field of dreams, walked by legends like Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst, is at the site of Boleyn Castle and tradition has it that Anne Boleyn either owned or stayed there. There is even a story that one of her servant haunts the area having died there in childbirth. So far, so very late medieval history.

Anne Boleyn, the woman for whom Henry VIII changed his kingdom

But there’s an issue with this tale. Boleyn Castle was built in 1544 and as we all know, poor old Anne lost her head eight years before that – her downfall in 1536 is still one of history’s great talking points but there’s no debate about how it ended as she was executed at the Tower of London on May 19th of that year.  So the Boleyn Castle that dominated what is now Green Street for years can’t have been her doing or have ever seen her wooed by Henry there as other stories claim.

Boleyn Castle was actually called Green Street House to begin with and was built by a man called Richard Breame who was in high favour with Henry VIII. Time wasn’t anything of a healer for Henry so the idea that a man who owed his high living to the much wed Tudor monarch would name his new home after the unfortunate queen  doesn’t hold much water either.  

But for years it was known as the Boleyn and there’s no doubt that royal families, wives and retainers owned a lot of land and spent a lot of time in this part of the world in those heady, medieval centuries that gave way to a new world when the Tudors took power. Across Essex there are references to kings, queens, princes and princesses and Anne Boleyn did spend time in the area. There may well be a romantic association between this Queen of England and Upton Park but it is yet to be fully documented.

The Hammers leave their home to begin playing at a venue with a far more definite link to royalty. The club badge can already be seen on parts of the Olympic Stadium which sits proudly at the heart of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, named for the Queen who marked her Diamond Jubilee in the year that the world came to London for the greatest show on earth.

It remains to be seen how much the Hammers sparkle in their new home but there’s little doubt that even though the links to a certain queen called Anne are just the stuff of romance, the name Boleyn with forever be associated with the history of West Ham United. Farewell, Boleyn.

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