A Visit to Newstead Abbey

Newstead Abbey is a beautiful historic house in Nottinghamshire, UK:

Location of Newstead Abbey within Nottinghamshire

Set in over 300 acres of fabulous parkland and gardens, it was founded in 1170 by Henry 11 and, despite it’s name, it was never an abbey at all but an Augustinian priory called St. Mary of Newstead. The stonework of parts of of the old priory can still be seen today and a useful model helps visitors to visualise what it looked like:

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The cloister of the old priory is the home for several beautiful peacocks. The photos were taken through rather hazy glass:

Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539, the priory was given to Sir John Byron of Colwick by Henry V111 and it was Sir John who started converting it into a house.

Between 1808 and 1814 Newstead was the home of the poet, Lord Byron. Byron was a colourful and flamboyant character, probably best known as much for his wild lifestyle and ill-fated marriage as his writing. Visitors to Newstead can learn a lot about both man and poet at this lovely house, as well as the history of the house itself.

Below are three portraits of Byron from around the house. The middle one shows him wearing Albanian dress, which he acquired while on a Grand Tour of the Mediterranean in 1809. (For anyone interested in Lord Byron’s life but can’t get to Newstead, there is plenty of information online).

Byron’s private apartments can be visited today, including his bedroom which is at the top of a narrow spiral staircase. For financial reasons, Byron only furnished his own private parts of the house, leaving the rest in the sad state of repair it had been when he inherited it. He used some of those rooms for his numerous sporting activities, including pistol shooting practice, fencing and wrestling in the Great Hall, which he hadn’t decorated and furnished. (The first picture below shows how it looks today). But there is much more to Byron than wild living and writing, which can be learned on a tour of the various rooms. He was a supporter of many causes, some of them abroad.

Restoration of the rest of the house was undertaken by future owners, starting with Thomas Wildman, an old university friend of Byron’s, who bought the property in 1818 when Byron was forced to sell for financial reasons. Most of the house today is of a Victorian setting.

The gardens are lovely and include a couple of lakes, one very rectangular one and the other a more natural shape with lots of water lilies. There is a small walled garden and a number of differently themed gardens, such as the Japanese Garden (my favourite) the Spanish Garden, American Garden, Subtropical Garden and so on. There are some interesting statues here and there, too – I loved the one of Pan, and there’s also one of ‘Mrs Pan’. Butterflies flutter and bumble bees buzz in the herbaceous borders and gardens, and close to the house, peacocks appear now and then to delight the visitors. These are just a few of the many photos we took around grounds and gardens last year.

We had a second visit to Newstead Abbey last year in December. The house was beautifully decorated for Christmas, though whether it will be again this year, I don’t know. This year has been dreadful for all of us, and many of our favourite sites (like Creswell Crags, which I posted about a couple of weeks ago) are suffering great financial loss and struggling to survive.

I may well share the Christmas photos sometime in December but, until then, here is just the one from outside:

The Alfred Jewel

The Alfred jewel=

Many – or perhaps most – lovers of early medieval history will probably have heard of The Alfred Jewel. As a writer of novels set in the mid-late 9th century during the lifetime of Alfred the Great, it stands to reason that I should mention this fabulous jewel at some stage. That mention comes in the last chapter of the final book of the Sons of Kings series: King of the Anglo Saxons.

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So what is this jewel, why it is of special interest and why it has been linked to King Alfred, shown in images below?

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An historical mixed media figure of Alfred the Great by artist/historian George S Stuart. Photographed by Peter d’ Aprix
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Alfred’s statue in the Market Place in Wantage, reputedly the town of Alfred’s birth. Own photo.

The Alfred Jewel is a rare and magnificent piece of filigreed gold enclosing a tear-shaped slice of clear quartz over a cloisonné* enamel plaque of green and blue. It is about 2.5 inches long and 1.2 inches wide, its purpose being to hold a pointer that could be attached to a page of a manuscript and moved down to facilitate reading of the text. Such implements were referred to aestels in Anglo-Saxon times.  Several others have been found, all fabulous finds, but none as exquisite, or colourful, as the Alfred Jewel.

The image on the plaque of the Alfred Jewel is of a man with prominent eyes, holding two floriate stems. It could be a picture of Alfred himself, the pope, one of the saints, a figure of Sentient Man or Christ Incarnate. Modern thought favours the last two. The back of the enclosing gold is flattened for smooth sliding over a page (as with all aestels) and is decorated with an intricate design, thought to represent the Tree of Life.

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The gold thickens at the base of the ‘tear-drop’ to become a dragon-like head. Inside the creature’s mouth is a cylindrical socket/hollow tube designed to hold a pointer. Most pointers were of wood but other materials were also used, notably ivory. The pointer was held in place by a rivet. Around the edge of the jewel is the inscription, ALFRED MEC HEHT GEWYRCAN, which means ‘Alfred ordered me to be made’.

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The jewel was ploughed up in a field on land owned by Sir Thomas Wroth at North Pemberton in Somerset in 1693. The site is a mere eight miles from Athelney, where Alfred built his stronghold in order to defend his kingdom from Guthrum, and his invading Danes in 878 (Sons of Kings, Book 3, Wyvern of Wessex). We took his photo from an information board at Athelney:

Location of Athelney from a board at the site

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The jewel was bequeathed to Oxford University by Sir Colonel Nathaniel Palmer (1661-1718) and today it is in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford – where it has been described as ‘a matchless piece of goldsmith’s work’ by the British Archaeology Collection at the Ashmolean Museum

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*Cloisonné is decorative work in which pieces of enamel, glass or gemstones are separated by strips of flattened wire placed edgeways on a metal body.

 

 

The Hat – Flash Fiction

The Hat

 The Hat

It was Sunday when Minnie found the hat, just sitting there amongst the daisies and dandelions as though it was part of the parkland scenery. She stared at it, unsure whether she should move it at all, but the hat piqued her interest so she stooped to retrieve it.

On the grass beneath not a single flower grew, which Minnie thought to be rather odd – although it gave a modicum of credence to the idea that the hat was part of the park. The flowers must have been there for a few weeks, at least. But being a sensible girl of sixteen, Minnie dismissed the thought.

Yet still, she wondered… It was a pretty sunhat, and must have drawn the attention of more than a few ladies as they passed by, twirling their fancy parasols. She placed it firmly on her head, loving the feel of its comforting closeness.

I could do anything with this hat on, she told herself. I am invincible. I could swim to the bottom of the sea, or fly down from one of those tall hotel buildings and soar along the Promenade over all of those day-trippers. That would give them something to talk about.

‘What a good idea. Why don’t you try it out?’ a voice inside her head suggested.

Minnie took the lift up to the rooftop restaurant of The Savoy, the tallest hotel in the seaside town, ordered a glass of freshly made lemonade and seated herself on the balcony. The view of the Promenade was splendid and she thought about what she would do once she’d finished her drink.

‘Your hat looks perfectly lovely,’ an elderly lady remarked coming to stand beside Minnie’s table, her parasol in hand. ‘The odd thing is,’ she continued, adjusting her fine silk gown before sitting down, quite uninvited, ‘it looks identical to one a young woman was wearing in here just a few days ago.’

Minnie shrugged. ‘I know nothing about that. I found this one in the park and decided to try it on. Then I came up here for a nice cold drink.’ She paused, absently gazing down at the embroidered tablecloth and wishing this interfering busybody would go away so she could get on with her plans.

But the lady simply smiled and kept up her annoying prattle. ‘The reason I mention this, my dear, is because that particular young lady seemed intent upon doing a very foolish thing. If I hadn’t reached the balcony in time, she would have jumped right off. She really thought she could fly – and I don’t need to tell you how that would have ended.’

Minnie stared at this lady, who was still shaking her head and tutting at such a terrible thought. She looked very sweet, though rather la-di-da to an ordinary working girl from Blackpool. Yet Minnie had the feeling that this old lady could see right into her head. She glanced at the balcony wall. ‘Yes, that would have been a very nasty way to die,’ she said, removing the hat from her head and laying it on the tabletop. ‘I wonder what possessed the girl to do such a thing?’

The old lady flashed that infuriatingly honeyed smile again. ‘I think you know the answer to that as well as I do, my dear. And between you and me, I shall have strong words with my granddaughter for leaving the hat lying around. Cassandra really must test her magic elsewhere in future.’ She heaved a deep sigh, a small frown creasing her already wrinkled brow. ‘But you know what some witches are like… too fond of making mischief and practising their powers on people. She’s not a bad witch, just a little immature, and she must remember to try out her spells on her mice before inflicting them on people. I spent years perfecting my own but, like most young people, Cassandra wants everything done today.

‘I’ll take the hat back to her now, shall I?’ she asked, proffering a white-gloved hand.

Having no answers to any of this, Minnie handed the lady the lovely sunhat and watched as she turned to walk away and disappear into thin air.

Minnie strolled casually over to the balcony wall, admiring the view in the warm, May sunshine and smiling at the thought that the old fusspot had no idea of the hat’s true powers. Having it perched on her head for a mere few moments had been enough to make Minnie’s confidence soar.

‘Go on then,’ the voice in her head urged. ‘You haven’t come all the way up here for nothing.’

‘No, I haven’t,’ Minnie replied, heaving herself up and teetering on the wall’s upper edge. ‘It’s a good day for flying.’

*****

Picture prompt of the hat is courtesy of Pixabay

This post was partly inspired by the image above, but also from my many visits to Blackpool over the years. I can’t say Blackpool is my favourite seaside resort in the UK. Having been ‘born and bred’ in Southport, a little further south on the Lancashire coast than Blackpool, naturally I’m somewhat biased. But when all’s said and done, Blackpool does have that famous tower… This nice, colourful image is also from Pixabay:

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I wrote a blog post about Blackpool four years ago here but our visit at that time was on a grey day in late February. Needless to say, the seaside town was keeping itself well under wraps at the time.

A Visit to Creswell Crags

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From spring to autumn of most years we have a day out on a Sunday, visiting scenic or historical sites which are close enough to drive to and enjoy in a single day.  We’ve been to Creswell Crags many times and at various times of year, and it’s always worth a visit. So, because we haven’t been able to go anywhere at all this year, I thought I’d show some photos of Creswell from our day out in May 2019 and add a little bit of information about the attractions and importance of the site.

Creswell Crags is a beautiful magnesian limestone gorge situated on the border between Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire in England.

Location of Creswell Crags

It is popular with families, walkers and horse-riders as well as academics interested in the appearance and use of the gorge and its caves in the distant past. The route down to the lake (i.e. the widened stream) from the Reception is a pretty area with delightful trackways with picnic areas, open meadows and children’s play areas.

The ‘YOU ARE HERE’ in the plan below is to the side of the Reception / Visitor Centre.

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The gorge itself is known throughout the world as an outstanding Ice Age archaeological site. It was designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in 1981 and as a Scheduled Ancient Monument in 1985. The caves were seasonably occupied during the Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic periods (from around 11,500 – 6,000 BP) and there is evidences of Neanderthal, Bronze Age and post-medieval activity.  The caves  contain the northernmost cave art in Europe as well and a series of 17th and 18th century witches marks.

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The gorge provided a valuable summer camp for our Ice Age ancestors. It was a place where people could meet, there was food to hunt nearby and caves in which to shelter and prepare for their return to their winter territories across Doggerland to mainland Europe.

Doggerland connected Brtian to Continental Europe at the time when waters of the sea were frozen during the Ice Age
A hypothetical map showing Doggerland connecting Britain to Continental Europe at the time when waters of the sea were frozen during the Ice Age. Author Max Naylor, February 2008 Creative Commons

There are six main caves along the gorge at Creswell Crags in addition to many smaller fissures and solution hollows. Excavations in the larger caves have provided a rich fossil record, “a time capsule spanning thousands of years”. Neanderthals visited 55,000 years ago, as did the earliest, modern humans 29,000 years ago. Remains of various animals have been found. Before the Ice Age, exotic animals like hippopotamus and rhinoceros wallowed in the warm waters of the river that flows through the gorge. As the climate cooled to Ice Age conditions, lions and hyenas used the caves as dens, and were joined by woolly mammoth, woolly rhinoceros and reindeer. Skulls and other bones of various species can be seen in the small museum at the Reception – including lions, hyenas, bears, woolly rhinoceros and mammoth, plus several smaller mammals.

Here are a few photos taken of the caves and general views during our walk around the lake:

Hunter gatherers continued to use the caves long after the end of the Ice Age. Burnt hazel nut shells, cattle bones and small flints have been found. 6,000 years ago the caves were used for burials. Urns have been found as have bronze pins,which were used to hold the burial shroud. A human collarbone was found in Church Hole Cave.

Hundreds of protective marks, known as witches’ marks, have been discovered in caves at Creswell. They date from medieval to modern and are scratched into walls and ceilings over dark holes and large crevices. Originally thought to be graffiti, they are now believed to be the the largest collection in the UK.  Prior to their discovery, the largest collection was held to be in Somerset, with 57 marks. The number at Creswell far exceeds that number – there are hundreds in one cave alone.

Ritualistic protection marks were most commonly found in historic churches and houses, usually near to entrances such as doorways, windows and fireplaces, to protect the people living there from evil spirits. The most common sign is VV, believed to refer to Mary, Virgin of Virgins. The one shown below is not from Creswell. We didn’t go inside the caves last year when the Witch Marks tour was opened for the first time.

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Another common symbol is PM, referring to Pace Maria. Other signs, include diagonal lines, boxes and mazes. Many appear to have been added over time, possibly indicating a need to strengthen protection in periods of unexpected sickness, death or crop failure.

Although closed at present due to Covid-19 restrictions, Creswell Crags is usually open all year. There is no cost to walk round or visit the shop or cafe. Entrance to the exhibition/museum is £3 and cave tours start at £9 for adults and £7 for children. for a single cave.

 

The Photograph Part 2: The Outcome

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Dearest Papa,

I hope this letter finds you well and you continue to enjoy teaching the piano to your eager pupils. Yes, praise for your skills and patience in this pursuit has spread far beyond Mayfield.

As you see, I have sent you a photograph, which I found whilst inspecting the contents of an old chest that had been stored, forgotten, in my attic these past ten years. I hesitated to send it for some weeks for fear of causing unwanted memories to surface, but my darling Arthur assured me that your memory of my mother’s death would have diminished after almost fifteen years, and the photo of the three of us may bring you joy.

I remember that evening so well, Papa. Mother sang like a nightingale; your piano playing enthralled and the applause from the audience made me proud to be your daughter. Later that night Mother broke your heart.

You never believed I didn’t know what Mother intended to do, but it was true. None of us knew she had a lover. My heart was broken two-fold when we found her letter after she’d fled. To see you so distraught caused me far more grief than Mother’s absence.

Rest assured, Papa, my lips remain sealed regarding your journey to Brighton on the day Mother was stabbed in her apartment. Even Arthur knows nothing of that. Mother’s murderer was never found and her lover simply disappeared. Though the man was never located, the police drew the obvious conclusion…

I chose to believe that the knife concealed in your dresser was simply an unwanted gift. I’ll take that belief to my grave. As you will, doubtless, take your secret to yours.

Your loving daughter,

Dottie

*****

I must thank my daughter, Louise, over at An Enchanted Place for the use of her photo, which is one of many taken on a lovely day out we all had to Warwick Castle a few years ago. (I scrounged a photo from Lou because her pics are SO much better than mine!)

I am currently in the middle of putting together another 85 stories for A Second Dash of Flash and hope to publish it later this year. This is one of the stories I’ve already written for the book – which, like Book One, A Dash of Flash, is an eclectic mix of stories of varying lengths and genres. It will make a nice change from writing historical fiction for novels for a while.

Part 1 of this story (originally just titled The Photograph) can now be read here. It was written as an afterthought, some weeks after this one: the reason for the additional information to the title.

King of the Anglo Saxons

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Sons of Kings: Book Four

Following Guthrum’s crushing defeat at Edington, Alfred’s kingdom is enjoying a rare period of peace. Alfred is ageing. Bouts of his old illness are increasingly frequent, and he prays that his final years will be free of Viking raids, allowing him to concentrate on expanding his kingdom’s boundaries and improving its standard of learning. Scholars are summoned from near and far, amongst them a certain Welsh abbot named Asser.

Ongoing peace is no certainty, however, and Alfred continues to improve his defences. An attack on Rochester proves that Wessex is still far from safe… whilst also confirming the effectiveness of Alfred’s newly fortified towns and mobile armies. The arrival of a huge Norse army puts those defences to the test. Its devious leader does not easily give up and the conflict becomes a trial of will and wits between him and Alfred’s staunch ealdormen, one of whom is Eadwulf’s son, Aethelred.

While Aethelred pursues his role as Lord of the Mercians, Eadwulf settles back in Aros. Old friendships are rekindled, new ones are formed, and a situation in al-Andalus takes Eadwulf, Bjorn and their comrades on another dangerous quest across the sea.

But will this new life be enough to stop Eadwulf missing his children and friends back in Mercia?

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5 star review for King of the Anglo Saxons

  • For those, like me, who have followed the story of these two men from the beginning, this final volume is a very satisfying tying up of all the threads. Ms Thom’s knowledge of this turbulent time in history shines through and her characters, as always, come across as rounded, real people. I was very sad to say goodbye to them but their story arcs have all been completed perfectly. Alfred’s reign was not all about the Danish wars and we see again the man, not just the king, as he interacts with his growing family. A fitting end to a fine series. ~ Whitey, Amazon Reviewer

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Vikings at Sherwood Pines 2019

This past weekend saw Viking reenactors from Regia Anglorum groups across the country gather at a place known as Thynghowe in Sherwood Pine Forest Park for the annual event known as ‘The Spring Thing’.

At 3,300 acres, Sherwood Pines is the largest park in the East Midlands of England. Lying close to the historic village of Edwinstowe in Nottinghamshire, it is a part of the ancient Sherwood Forest and was originally known as Clipstone Heath. It was acquired by the Forestry Commission in 1925 and replanted with pine trees as part of a response to a shortage of wood following the First World War. Today, activities are offered throughout the year, including cycling, mountain biking and segway, camping, walking, jogging, a park run, orienteering and bushcraft, a children’s adventure trail, tree climbing and ranger activities. There is also a Robin Hood hideout and Kitchener’s Trail, a café and visitor centre, and the site is perfect for a family day out – even when no event is scheduled (which in addition to the Viking Spring Thing, include various concerts and musical events as well as outdoor activities).

So, why is this spot in Sherwood Pines a perfect site for Viking gatherings and reenactments every year, and what is Thynghowe?

Thynghowe, meaning ‘thingsite’, is the name given to an important Viking Age open-air assembly place situated at the top of Hangar Hill on the western edge of Sherwood Forest, so is very close to the site where this event is held. It was (re)discovered in 2005. Vikings met at such sites for their annual ‘Thyng’ – which generally lasted for several days – during which time disputes were settled, laws were signed, punishments for crimes decided upon, marriages arranged and such like. Each community had its own Thyng/Thing/Althing, most likely dominated by a local, powerful family or families. Thyngs were often festive affairs, with tents, stalls/booths set up so goods could be bought and sold, including plenty of ale and mead.

Several such sites are known across the Viking world, including the famous Thingvellir in Iceland and Tinwald in the Isle of Man, both of which I’ve visited, plus others in the Faroe Islands, the Shetland and Orkney islands, the Scottish Highlands (Dingwall), the Wirral in England… In other words, wherever Vikings chose to settle.

The gathering at Thynghowe was an equally festive affair, with lots of tents and stalls set up to demonstrate the Viking way of life, including cooking methods and a number of important occupations and crafts. These are a selection of photos we took around the camp as we walked round:

Here is a very short video we made of the wood turner, who was making spokes for cartwheels, while the stall next door made the actual wheels.

The stall holders/reenactors were only too happy to answer questions and chat in general. The happy-looking man in the picture below spent some time explaining not only about how Viking shields were made, but about the fabulous reenactment goup, Regia Anglorum.

This delightful, hard-working lady below also deserves our thanks for taking the time to explain and demonstrate how she was creating bast from lime wood for use in rope making. Rope made from lime bast fibre was not only important for many things around the village, but the fact that it didn’t shrink when wet (unlike rope made from hemp) made it perfect for use in the building of ships. In the photos she is stripping the bark off lime tree trunks to obtain the strands of fibre behind. After a good soaking in water, the bast is rendered soft enough to twist and plait together to make rope.

And this Viking warrior was obviously having a bad hair day. His hairdresser/friend was giving his hair a good comb, while he complained about his unruly, frizzy hair. Oh, the vanity of men! Naturally, I just had to have a feel of such frizz.

In the morning we were treated to preparatory bouts and skirmishes before the big battle planned for the afternoon. The commentary was excellent throughout, with explanations of the moves and battle tactics of the warriors, weapon use and so on. In the afternoon, there were three arena events to watch. The first was a demonstration of horsemanship.

The second an archery competition and finally, the actual battle.

To finish off, here’s a cute mini-warrior who made me smile:

*****

A Night at the Pantomime


One of the Christmas traditions we still hold on to in the UK is that of the yearly pantomime – or ‘panto’, as it is often called. Last year, we decided to make our first visit to the pantomime in many years, and headed into Lincoln to see Aladdin at the New Theatre Royal.

Having enjoyed it so much, we decided to see if this year’s production, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, was as much fun. We weren’t disappointed. Unfortunately, as last year, we weren’t allowed to take any photos once the production had started, but we were told it would be okay to take photos from around the theatre once all the spectators had left. This photo of the stage screen (for want of the correct name) was taken before the show started, and because it doesn’t show any people, I decided it should be okay:

These are a few more  photos from around the theatre and foyer:

The New Theatre Royal is a very special place to the people of Lincoln. The Victorian theatre was built in 1893 on the site of a previous theatre built in 1806 which had been destroyed by fire. (The old, 1806 theatre was, in turn, a rebuild of an even older Lincoln  theatre built in 1764 – though not on the same site.) The 1893 theatre was falling rapidly into a state of disrepair when the current owners bought it in 2016. After extensive refurbishment and modernisation, this Grade II listed building now looks fabulous.  Snow White is the third pantomime produced here since the theatre was restored – the interior design created to resemble the 1893 interior as closely as possible. We didn’t take any photos of the outside, but I found this one on Wikipedia:

Frontage of the New Theatre Royal, Lincoln. 2 Feb. 2017. Source/Author: New Theatre Royal

We were also told we could take photos from the brochure, so here are three of the cast – a mix of professional actors and comedians, resident stars and local groups.

So, what exactly is a pantomime, and what can we expect when we go to see one?

The actual word pantomime is formed from two words: panto+mime, which means ‘all kinds’ of ‘mime’. It is a type of musical comedy designed for family entertainment. In many countries outside of Britain, pantomime usually refers to mime alone, whereas here it includes songs, bawdy jokes, slapstick, topical humour and dancing, all wrapped around the telling of a story, loosely based on a well-known fable, fairy story or folk tale. Some of the most popular stories include Cinderella, Aladdin, Sleeping Beauty, Dick WhittingtonJack and the Beanstalk, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Babes in the  Wood and Peter Pan. They are performed over the Christmas and New Year season in many towns and cities across the UK, as well as a few other English speaking countries and France. Some of the larger, city theatres employ professional actors, but there are many pantomimes produced by smaller theatres and amateur dramatic societies.

Pantomime has a long history in Western culture, dating back to the classical theatre. It is generally accepted that British pantomime stems from the masques of Tudor and Stuart times. In the 14th century, masques were performed in the large houses of the rich and were either spoken dramas or musical mime. The timing of the British pantomime at Christmas – with the principal  boy played by a girl and the Dame by a man – may have originated in the Feast of Fools in Tudor times. This was presided over by the ‘Lord of Misrule’ and involved much drinking and rowdy merrymaking.

Hare chasing, riding a dog. Medieval tile found at the Friary Derby, UK. Source: The Reliquary, vol 3 no.2 Oct 1862. Author: Llewellynn Jewitt. Public Domain

The idea of the selection of the Lord of Misrule himself is thought to have originated in the days of mighty Rome, when masters allowed servants to be in charge for a while during the mid-winter festival of Saturnalia. The result? Chaos reigned.

There is so much more to the history of pantomime than I have outlined here – from the days of Roman pantomime at Saturnalia to the origins of a 17th century French comic genre called the Harlequinade. The latter is the part of a pantomime in which the characters of the Harlequin and Clown play the main parts. Until the 19th century, the harlequinade was an important part of British pantomime. For anyone interested, there are many online sites to delve into.

Pantomime F Warne & Co. 1890. Author: User Wetman on en Wikipedia. Public Domain

Pantomime contains certain key elements that spectators expect to see in every performance. In addition to a strong story line, slapstick (custard pies, silly costumes etc.) and music and dance, a few of those elements are:

        • Audience participation. This usually includes the audience booing the villain every time he/she appears, shouting out ‘He’s behind you!’ when a wolf or villain arrives on stage and taking part in the two-way argument: ‘Oh yes he is!’ .  . . ‘Oh no it isn’t!’
        • Goodies and baddies – and the villain is always defeated by the end of the show. Baddies include characters like Captain Hook in Peter Pan and the Wicked Queen in Snow White. The goodies all live ‘happily ever after’.
        • A group of juveniles, generally as singers and dancers, but not always. It the version of Snow White that we saw, youngsters played the seven dwarfs, although there were a few older ‘teenagers’ amongst the dancers.
        • Comical fights and chases, during which the audience warning shouts of ‘He’s behind you’ come into play.
        • Role reversal/gender-crossing actors – men dressed as women and women as men. Examples of men dressed as women are Widow Twankey in Aladdin , and the Ugly Sisters in Cinderella. Also in Cinderella we have a woman playing a male called ‘Buttons’.
        • A key, gender-crossing character in every pantomime is the ‘Dame’, a man outrageously dressed as a woman and whose performance is exaggerated and extravagant. Widow Twankey in Aladdin and  and Nurse Flossy in Snow White are examples, as is this ‘large’ female from an 1887 production of Babes in the Wood. I’ll make no comment regarding the appearance of the ‘child’ other than, ‘Oink, oink’!
          Dan Leno and Herbert Campbell in costume for the 1897 pantomime, The babes in the Wood at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Source: The Sketch, Illustrated London News, 19 January 1898. Public Domain.
          • The Dame is generally played by an oldish, unattractive man who interacts with the two principal characters and is instrumental to the plot and the happy ending. It is thought that role reversal may have also evolved from the ‘Feast of Fools’ of Tudor times, in which the Lord of Misrule created an unruly, raucous event involving role reversal, a lot of drinking and noisy festivities. As I mentioned above, the whole idea probably originated in the Roman festival of Saturnalia.

The New Theatre Royal continues to be a popular venue in Lincoln. There are shows during the year, and in 2019 they kick off with The Variety Show on January 26 and The Wizard of Oz over the Easter period (April 13-23). And next Christmas, we can look forward to the pantomime, Robin Hood, for which bookings can already be made! Yes, pantomime continues to be a popular as ever in Lincoln – and by no means is the New Theatre Royal the only place to see one – but it is nice and comfortable, and full of old world charm…

A Celebration of Christmas Trees at Doddington Hall

Doddington Hall is situated in the Lincolnshire village of Doddington, about seven miles from the city of Lincoln. It was built between 1593 and 1600 by Robert Smythson, one of England’s most renowned architects.  The Hall has a large estate on which Christmas trees are grown and a careful programme of planting/replanting is carried out. We have bought our tree from here for many years now.


For the past six or seven years Doddington Hall has opened its doors for the Christmas season, this year from November 25 to December 23. The rooms are decorated to a particular festive theme each year, this year ‘s being simply, Christmas at Doddington. Last year the theme was Christmas in Wonderland, which can be seen here  and the previous year’s was A Fairytale Christmas, here. Both were a delight to see.
Christmas trees were first planted at Doddington 60 years ago and this year’s theme in is celebration of that, with decorations inspired by the carol O Christmas Tree. A great selection of Christmas trees adorn the rooms and hallways, all different in size and shape, and each decorated differently by using an incredible array of objects and materials. Some of the ‘trees’ are actual trees, others are created from either natural vegetation or seasonal/festive items such as drinking glasses and wine bottles. It’s all very colourful and in keeping with the Georgian ‘feel’ of the hall – the period in which Doddington was refurbished in the style it still looks today. And once through the front door, passing a tiny ‘tree’ decorated with good old Brussels Sprouts!. . .

. . . we’re straight into the large dining room. Here are some photos of how it looks this year. Most of the small ‘trees’ are along the dining table, others sat on smaller tables or window ledges:

By the entrance to the hall from the dining room is a little room in which we found another ‘tree’ made of bottles, these containing varying amounts of liquids – presumably of the original wine, spirit or liqueur:

Also on the ground floor was the parlour, an interesting room, in keeping with Victorian  entertainments and parlour games, as played following the popularising of the Christmas tree by Prince Albert in 1840.

Waiting in the hallway at the bottom of the stairs was a very smiley and welcoming ‘Head Elf’. . .

. . . who we had a little chat with before heading up the impressive staircase. . .

. . . to reach the first and second floors – with Christmas trees hanging on the landings between:

On the first floor landing itself was… yes!… another tree! A real spruce this time:

 On this floor there were three rooms open to the public, although we took no photos in one because it was too dark, and we assumed flash photography wasn’t allowed. One room was a small child’s bedroom, in which was a Scots Pine Christmas tree:

The other room on this floor served is the drawing room (or, withdrawing room) – to which genteel ladies would retreat after dinner, leaving the men to talk politics – or whatever! This room was very unusual, in that a number of ladies’ dresses had been created out of… yes, again!… Christmas trees (real ones), along with other bird-inspired decorations:

Eventually we got to the second/top floor, passing on the landing en-route a Christmas tree hanging from the ceiling to display its roots!

There are two rooms on view at the ‘ top’. One was decorated to show the inside of an Egyptian tent – a real one, too. The tree was lovely, displaying colourful roses, made of  thin card, as far as we could tell. We wondered whether the ‘roses’ were to represent  ‘sand roses’ found in desert environments:

This is a little bit about the actual tent (not the roses) from a much longer piece in the room:

The tent was made around 1880 in Cairo, where similar tents are still used today for weddings, festivals and fairs. It was given to Doddington by Viscount Harry Crookshank, who was MP for (nearby) Gainsborough for over 31 years, until 1961. He was born in Cairo, where his father was Surgeon General and the tent was part of his father’s ‘Eastern Curiosities’.

Lastly is the largest upstairs room, This year it displayed models of a village and nearby railway on a Christmas Eve.

Doddington  Hall at Christmas is a delight for people of all ages to soak up the historic, Christmassy atmosphere. At £11 per adult and £5.50 per child (under 3 years free and  family entry £29) it isn’t particularly cheap. But for the time and energy that the staff put into these displays, it’s well worth a visit. Bookings can also be made for children to visit Father Christmas in his grotto on certain days.

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Vikings at Whitby Abbey

We spent the August Bank Holiday weekend up in North Yorkshire, primarily to attend yet another Viking encampment and battle. This one was at Whitby Abbey, a site we’ve visited several times in the past, but never for a reenactment. The event was staged from the Saturday to Monday (August 25th – 27th) and as the best weather report was for the Saturday, that was the day we chose to attend. And what a good thing we did! Although very windy, Saturday was a lovely, sunny day, whereas it poured down for much of Sunday, when we visited Scarborough Castle further down the coast.

Whitby shown within North Yorkshire. Source: Ordnance Survey OpenData Author: Nilfanion. Creative Commons.

The encampment itself was educational and very interesting, with demonstrations of various Viking crafts and skills, including  favoured foods and methods of cooking them, as well as displays of  a number of goods in leather, wood and metal, and features of general lifestyle. All in all, it was great family fun as well as a learning experience. The lyre player was excellent … lovely music… and two different woodturners were also great to watch. These are a few of the photos we took around the camp:

There was also a reenactment of the death of a local Saxon thegn at the hands of the invading heathens/pagans, i.e. the Vikings. His cadaver was transported from the (supposedly) nearby village by a number of monks up to the abbey for burial – and the nuns were warned of a likely attack on the abbey. Needless to say, the nuns were outraged and terrified by the thought of pillaging and raping Danes. But the corpse was blessed and arrangements made for Saxon warriors to defend the abbey:

In the morning we watched the two armies warming up and practising their battle techniques, and the actual battle was in the afternoon. It was difficult to take photos during the battle, when the warriors were half killing each other close to the lines of tape encircling the battle site. Of course, the tape is vital for safety, but it meant that I have so many photos with green tape across the middle that are are unusable! (One of the hazards of being a ‘shortie’ is not being able to get my camera up higher. Still, I found that most of my photos could be cropped to make good headers, as the one above. But, then again, how many headers can I use in one post…?) 😀

Raids were common along the east coast of England during the Viking Age and monasteries, abbeys and such like would have been prime targets. So much plunder, in the form of gold or silver cups, crosses and chalices would have been irresistible to marauding bands. And the poor nuns would also have been seen as easy rape victims. Whitby Abbey itself was destroyed by Viking raiders in 867. Incidentally, the name Whitby means White settlement in Old Norse.

As with most Viking and Saxon battles, action starts with the shield wall formation of the opposing sides, during which time the warriors hammer on their shields with their swords, spears or battleaxes, generally making a great racket and yelling profanities at each other. All this is intended to intimidate and terrify their opponents. Then a number of missiles are hurled, including spears, rocks and stones – some via catapult – or arrows, if there are archers present. Once all these preliminaries are over, the two shield walls come together in an almighty clash and stab and slash out at each other in a effort to get through the wall of shields and kill or maim as many of the enemy as possible. And as men fall, so the shield wall breaks up and the one-to-one fighting takes place. On this occasion, we were treated to an excellent display of swordsmanship. We did video it, but the quality is so poor, I’d be ashamed to put it on YouTube. The fight was fast and furious but, unfortunately, that doesn’t show on a single photo. A new camera is on my Christmas list, so I hope Santa will be generous.

So here are some of the ‘usable’ photos we took:

It was a very enjoyable day, and I can only thank the various Viking and Saxon groups from around the country who came together to produce this event. The members obviously love what they do and are very proficient at doing it. Thanks must also go to English Heritage, who manages the fabulous ruin (courtesy of Henry VIII) of Whitby Abbey.

Whitby is a lovely, quaint, old seaside town and fishing port, and is packed with visitors for most of the summer, even without any events being on. The town and abbey are well worth visiting and I have many photos from the various times we’ve been there. I’ll get round to doing a post about it at some stage.