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.

Scotland 1: Achnacarry

Lowland – Highland Divide. Author Jrockley Public Domain

In the last week of June this year, Nick and I headed up to the West Highlands of Scotland with our two daughters and grandson for a week at Achnacarry, a site chosen for it’s location in relation to places we wanted to visit.

Fort William within the Lochaber region of Scotland. Author Nilfanion  using Ordnance Survey data Creative Commons

The weather wasn’t particularly hot on the Saturday we drove up there – just as well, considering we had 400 miles to cover – but on our first day there everything changed and we had temperatures of over 30°C for the rest of the week. I’ve been to Scotland lots of times in summer, and never known it to be so hot – especially when weather reports told us that further south, in England, it was much cooler.

We chose to go for self-catering on this occasion and booked a sizeable apartment on the Lochiel Estate at Achnacarry (Achadh na Cairdh in Scottish Gaelic, meaning ‘field of the fish-trap/weir’). Achnacarry consists of a small hamlet, a private estate and a castle, and is located between Loch Lochy and Loch Arkaig in the Lochaber region of the Scottish Highlands (see map(s) above). The estate covers an area of 60,000 acres of beautiful and barren country with abundant wildlife including red and roe deer, foxes, badgers, Scottish wildcats pine martens and otters. Golden eagles, buzzards, peregrine falcons, merlins and sparrowhawks soar overhead and in the rivers and lochs are Atlantic salmon, trout and pike. In fact, the entire Lochaber region is stunningly beautiful, and has become known as ‘The Outdoor Capital of the U.K.

Our apartment was in the old stable block, converted into a number of differently sized apartments. We had one of the two larger ones upstairs (on the right-hand side looking at the front of the building on the first photo below).

There are also a number of holiday cottages for rental on the estate.

Achnacarry has been the ancestral home of the chiefs of the Clan Cameron since 1655. The original castle, built by Sir Ewen Cameron of Lochiel around that date, was destroyed by government forces following the Battle of Culloden, since the Camerons played a major role in the Jacobite rising of 1745. This fact is well illustrated in the little Cameron Museum on the Estate, a short walk from our apartment, which is well worth a visit. The present Chief of Clan Cameron (traditionally known as ‘Lochiel’) is Donald Cameron, who continues to live in Achnacarry.

The castle we see today was built in 1802. It is on private land and not open to the public other than organised groups, so we could only photograph it from a distance. The first of these two photos (the close-up) is from Wikepedia:

During the Second World War, the castle was used as a Commando Training Depot, not only for British Commandos but for U.S. Army Rangers and similar units from other allied nations – a total of 25, 000 men between 1942 and 1945. The extensive estate was used for some very arduous training. The Cameron family retains close ties with the Commandos and an impressive Commando Memorial can be seen at Spean Bridge, roughly 7 miles from Achnacarry. We passed it on several occasions during the week but didn’t manage to stop and take a close-up photo. This one is from Wikipedia:

The Commando Memorial, Spean Bridge near Achnacarry. Uploaded by Jmb at English Wikipedia Creative Commons

We had a brief walk around a small part of the estate on our first evening there – partly to stretch our legs but also to get a feel for the place. It was getting close to dusk by the time we got out and the light wasn’t too great for photos. But we did snap a few interesting features, in between fighting off swarms of midges! The river is the River Arkaig, which connects Loch Lochy with Loch Arkaig. The story behind the row of crooked birch trees is that  Donald Cameron (‘the Gentle Lochiel’) was planting a long row of birch trees in 1745 when news of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s landing arrived. The trees were left to their own devices and grew in odd directions:

It wasn’t until the day before we left that we took time to have a better look at this stunning estate. We had a long drive home the next day, so we decided to spend the day (another sweltering one!) enjoying the scenery and visiting the Clan Cameron Museum. The museum is only small, but interesting nonetheless, with history of the Cameron Clan, Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite uprising, the Commandos and links of the Camerons family to the royal family. The young Lady Catherine, daughter of Donald and Cecil Cameron, founders of the museum, was one of the bridesmaids at the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981. Catherine is the god-daughter of the Prince of Wales and was six at the wedding.

To finish off, here are a few general views from around the Achnacarry Estate. The second set are of the stunning Chia-aig Waterfall, which features in the 1995 film, ‘Rob Roy’, starring Liam Neeson. We spent ages at this waterfall, as did a few other people that day. It’s certainly a lovely spot in which to linger.

Scarecrows at Rufford Old Hall in Lancashire

This week, Nick and I are enjoying a few days in my home town of Southport, a seaside resort on the Lancashire coast. We’ve visited a few relatives and spent time in nice places while we’ve been over here, so I thought I’d share a few photos we took at Rufford Old Hall.

Rufford Old Hall is a National Trust property near the town of Rufford in Lancashire. It is a beautiful Tudor building, built by Robert Hesketh in the 1530s and was owned by the Hesketh family for 400 years until it was donated to the National Trust in 1936. Only the timber-framed Great Hall survives from the original structure. The Jacobean-style rustic brick east wing was added in 1662. A third wing was added in the 1820s.

The Hall is surrounded by Victorian and Edwardian gardens and woods and flanked by a branch of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.

We took photos of the Hall and gardens but also of fifteen scarecrows, many of which could probably be described as  unusual or even a little bit weird, placed across the grounds. One was hidden indoors, which we only found when we decided to head into the tea shop for a cup of tea.

I believe the ‘Scarecrow Event’ is held annually and the scarecrows are made by members of the local community and Rufford Old Hall staff and volunteers. Participants, mostly children – and being half-term, there were a lot of them there – are given a map with the locations marked on to help them find the scarecrows. They are also given a little bit of information about the origin of ‘scarecrows’, which I’ll summarise here:

In medieval Britain, scarecrows were originally young boys who were given the job of scaring away the birds from the corn fields (wheat, barley, oats or rye). Originally called bird ‘scarers’ or ‘shooers’, they would patrol the fields with bags of stones and chase away any bird that tried to land by waving their arms or throwing stones. The birds were mostly crows and starlings. The Great Plague of 1348 wiped out so much of the population there were just not enough boys for this job left. People started to stuff sacks with straw and carve faces in turnips to make ‘scarecrows’ they could stand against poles. Of course, wherever available, boys would continue to do this job as well, and did so until the early 1800s when factories and mines offered children better pay. Either way, life was not easy for many youngsters – but that’s another story.

I’ll say no more about the scarecrows. Here are all fifteen of them:

I’ll finish with a few more photos of Rufford Old Hall and the lovely gardens in their autumnal dress:

 

The Workhouse at Southwell

Anyone who has read Dickens will have heard of ‘the workhouse’ and the fear it struck into the hearts of some of the poorest people in society. Although the initial intentions of setting workhouses up may have been admirable, stories about just how harsh, strict, austere and, in some cases, cruel, these places were still linger today.

So what, exactly, were these ‘workhouses’, when were they set up and why?

In the early 1800s, the rising cost of caring for the poor and elderly in their own homes was unpopular with ratepayers. It was Reverend Becher in the town of Southwell in Nottinghamshire, who devised a new system to cut these costs.

A network of hundreds of specially designed workhouses, 15-20 miles apart, was set up across the country as part of the most ambitious welfare construction ever attempted in Britain: the New Poor Law of 1834. Workhouses were places where the poorest people in society had to work in return for food, shelter and medical care. Life inside was intended to be basic and dull, so that only those people in real need (paupers) could find shelter there, while those who weren’t destitute wouldn’t ask for help, knowing they’d be sent to the workhouse.

The people who set up the Poor Law didn’t intend to be cruel, only fair and efficient, yet workhouses were an odd combination of care and deterrence. ‘Inmates’ were fed, housed and clothed, but the stigma on those who went there, together with the hard, tedious work and sometimes, corrupt staff, ensured workhouses were places of last resort. They not only catered for the most poor, but also for the elderly without work, deserted wives, unmarried mothers, children without parents and those with physical and/or mental disabilities. They also took in vagrants/tramps and offered them a meal and a bed for the night. Altogether, the Workhouse at Southwell could accommodate 158 paupers.

In the model of the Southwell workhouse below, we can see how the ‘wings’ to either side of the central section separated the men women and children – something so hard for most families to bear. The central area largely provided accommodation for the Master and Matron, with the children’s dormitory and schoolroom on the very top floor. Later on, a new schoolroom was built attached to the workhouse and can be seen to the far left of this model. Men were housed in the wing to the right of the front door (blue in the model) and women in the (yellow) wing to the left:

The plan below shows the layout of the site and the notes explain a little about different areas:

The workhouse staff was headed by the Master, who reported to elected Governors who were answerable to the taxpayers. The Master, who was often seen as cruel and corrupt, had responsibility for the day to day running of the house. The most important woman in the workhouse was the Matron, who would simply have been the Master’s wife in the earlier years of the system, with no formal qualifications. As nursing standards rose, things changed, and later matrons were expected to have the necessary nursing qualifications.

The Schoolteacher’s job was not an enviable one and the turnover of teaching staff was high. Schoolteacher’s were badly paid and of low status, despite high standards being expected from them by the school inspectors. It was usually a live-in job which involved supervising the children throughout the day as well as instructing them in the classroom. The Guardians abolished the Workhouse school at Southwell in 1885, and children were sent to local schools instead.

On entering the Workhouse, all new inmates were bathed and given the workhouse clothes/uniform to wear:

    Inmates were also categorised, with future treatment and daily workload in mind:
  • Able bodied (separate groups for men and women)
  • The old and infirm (also separate groups)
  • Children

1. Able bodied men and women were called ‘idle and profligate’ or, ‘the undeserving poor’. These people were considered to be physically capable of work but were not employed due to their own idleness, incompetence or lack of training – although it was often due to the general levels of unemployment and scarcity of work and not their own fault at all! Consequently, jobs in the workhouse for these people were hard and were what gave the workhouse its name. One of the jobs for able-bodied men was splitting rocks (or old bones for fertilizer) out in the men’s  yard at the back of the workhouse. They could also be given decorating duties, turning a mill handle and digging in the gardens.

Able bodied women generally came to the workhouse due to loss of a husband, or because the husband was out of work or she and a low-paid husband could not afford to keep a large number of children. These women did all the everyday housework, including cleaning the building and scrubbing stone floors, meal preparation and back-breaking clothes washing – which was done in buckets or bowls at the pump in the yard at first, then inside the ‘wash house’ once it was built:

Women also did needlework (e.g. lace-edged doilies for selling) and knitting.

2.  The old and Infirm were also called the ‘blameless’ or ‘deserving’ poor. They were people who could no longer work due to age-related disabilities. Younger people with disabilities were also in this category. Any elderly who were able to work could be given the task of picking oakum (old tarred rope) which was then sent to be made into caulking for ships. Oakum picking was a job that any groups could also be assigned to and was very hard on the fingers.

3. While the adults were working the children would be ‘educated’, which involved 3 hours a day in the schoolroom followed by what was called ‘industrial’ work: boys often worked in the gardens while girls did needlework and cooking. Children were allowed time to play in the little playground of the schoolhouse, and a large number of hoops were recorded as being ordered. Other toys came from local benefactors.

The main meal of the day at Southwell was dinner at midday, for which inmates were given one hour. This meal consisted of boiled meat, peas and potatoes on most days with soup on others. On Saturday a simple suet pudding was served. Although bland, the food was better than what these people would have had before they came to the Workhouse. Weekly and daily allowances/rations of different foods were strictly observed as lists around the kitchen areas show:

Food allowances chart 2

The Workhouse rules were strictly adhered to and anyone who broke them was punished. Punishments were different for different offences, but often involved limiting food rations, offenders typically being given potatoes, bread or rice instead of the usual meat. Repeat offenders were given solitary confinement for 24 hours and severe cases of injury to others for example, were sent to the magistrate.

These are some of the many photos we took of different areas outside the Southwell Workhouse (including a couple taken through upstairs windows):

And these are just a few of the dozens we took inside the workhouse:

By the late 19th century the focus in workhouses had changed from that of deterring the able-bodied to providing shelter and nursing for those who could never be in work. Consequently, the numbers of  inmates and staff changed. In the earlier days at Southwell, the ratio between the two was an average of 4 members of staff to 135 inmates. By 1900 it had become fewer than 80 inmates to the 135 staff, plus a porter, a nurse and assistant nurse. Seamstresses, laundry maids cooks and gardeners soon followed – all doing jobs formerly done by inmates. New, more comfortable  furniture was brought in, chamber pots replaced earthen closets, and eventually flushing water closets. A new infirmary building was added in 1871 and  by 1905 children were being housed in separate homes or were boarded out. In 1913 workhouses became ‘institutions’, though most adopted less stigmatised names: the workhouse at Southwell, for example, became Greet House, named after the river that runs below it.

The 20th century saw huge changes in the ways the poor, the elderly and people unable to work were treated. The Welfare State, which came into being in 1948, brought financial benefits and healthcare to many people. Many former workhouses were taken over by the new National Health Service as state hospitals, and at Greet House elderly patients were moved out of the old, Victorian building into the two infirmaries – one for men, one for women – while the old building housed staff and provided kitchens for cooking residents’ food. Until 1977, the former ‘women’s wing’ of the workhouse was used as temporary ‘bed-sit’ accommodation for homeless mothers and children awaiting more permanent housing. The last residents moved out in the 1990s when a new home was especially built. This is how the ‘bedsit’ looks today:

The Work house at Southwell was left derelict for some time and fell into disrepair until 1997 when the National Trust recognised it as being ‘the best preserved workhouse standing in England and well worth saving’.

“Oliver Twist” by Charles Dickens, 1838. Public Domain. Illustration shows Oliver saying “Please, sir, I want some more”.

Refs: Most information taken from the book purchased, free leaflets and the information boards at the Workhouse in Southwell.

A Visit to a Japanese Garden

Last Friday afternoon, my blogging daughter, Louise (at thestorytellersabode) and I decided to drive out to the Japanese Garden, located at North Clifton, near Newark in Nottinghamshire. It’s a mere 6.4 miles from where I live, so it took no time at all to get there. I hadn’t visited the Garden since 2008, and Louise had never been before, so it made a nice change for a gloriously sunny day.

The Garden has been described as ‘One of the Inspirational Gardens of the World’ (AA) and as ‘The Best British Garden’ (ITV). It covers a relatively small area but is packed with all the traditional features of a Japanese garden. Water features and ponds with Koi carp, winding paths, bridges, moss, bamboo, pagodas and stone lanterns all blend with a sprinkling of English plants:

There is also a Crystal Garden – an indoor garden consisting of rocks, crystals and different marbles:

The Meditation Centre and Garden were created by a lovely man called Maitreya, who is often around the Garden. This is a summary of how it all came about from the information leaflet we were handed on entry:

Maitreya (Koji Takeuchi) was born in Handa, near Nagoya in Japan. In his teens he began a search for the truth. He was first led to Christianity but found it did not give him the direct experience of Jesus he wanted. So he turned to meditation and attended an intensive meditation course at a Zen monastery – and had the experience of ‘enlightenment’.

Aiming to become a meditation master, Maitreya went on to complete an MA degree in Buddhism and lived the life of a Zen monk for a time – a life he found too harsh and rigid, and out of date. After travelling and teaching meditation in Thailand, Nepal and India, on the invitation of a friend, he eventually came to England. After staying at various universities around the country, teaching and lecturing, he came across a property for sale in North Clifton, Nottinghamshire. This became the base from which he taught meditation: ‘Pure Land’ came into being in 1973.

In 1980, Maitreya began transforming a flat, 2 acre field – a ‘wilderness’ – into a Japanese garden. His aim was to create a peaceful area which guests to his Centre could enjoy. He had no previous gardening experience, but he set about creating small ‘hills’ in this flat place that would remind him of his mountainous homeland, Japan. The material for these came from the earth dug out to create the ponds. The large stones placed around the ponds came from a quarry in Derbyshire and the winding paths were determined by the positioning of the stones.

Refreshments are available at a Japanese Tea House, which is also where payment is made on entry ((£7 for adults). A variety of teas are offered, including Japanese and English tea and various fruit teas. (I couldn’t say whether coffee is available as Lou and I asked for tea). People can either sit inside the very small place, or outside in the garden, as we did.

An extra feature every year is that of the ‘Lantern Lit Evening Garden’, which can be enjoyed every Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights during August and September.

There are a few reviews of the Japanese Garden online but not all are favourable. It’s undoubtedly a pretty site, but it is small. The main criticism about it is the price – that £7 is too much for such a small place. Admittedly, it’s possible to walk round quickly, but most people tend to linger and spend time sitting at various nooks around the place or in the tea garden. We also walked around more than once in order to catch things we may have missed or overlooked the previous times. It isn’t cheap, but I suppose it depends what you want from a visit to a place like this.

*

Bodnant Garden Revisited

Bodnant is a world famous garden, situated in the county borough of Conwy in North Wales, with wonderful views of the Conwy Valley and the Carneddau Mountains of Snowdonia. It is owned by the National Trust and visited by 190,000 people every year.

Bodnant is a perfect place to visit at any time of year – as my aunt and uncle, who live almost on its doorstep, will confirm. It’s open for 362 days every year, closing only on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. The 80 acre garden is magnificent and has become a perfect venue for weddings. It is “home to the National Collection of Champion Trees”.

Yet there’s much more to Bodnant than trees.

The last time we visited Bodnant was on a lovely sunny day in early June, 2015. Due to my aunt’s mobility problems at that time, we stayed in the Upper Gardens, close to the Entrance and Garden Centre, as well as Bodnant Hall (which I’ll say more about later on). There’s plenty to see in this area alone, without heading down into The Dell (valley), including the Italianate Terraces and the many shrub borders edging the pathways and expansive lawns. The famous Laburnum Arch is also in the Upper Garden – which we were fortunate to see in flower in June 2015. Delightful ponds add to the tranquility of the setting. Roses of all descriptions were also in bloom in June 2015, so in late July this year we were treated to completely different displays of foliage and colour:

This fabulous garden was founded in 1874 when Leicestershire man, Henry Davis Pochin, bought the estate. He employed a local apprentice named Edward Milner and together they landscaped the hills and valley and planted American and Asian conifers on the banks of the River Hiraethlyn. The stream banks were reinforced to create woodland and water gardens and there is an unusual bridge across the stream called Waterfall Bridge:

Pochin’s daughter, Laura, married Charles Mclaren, the First Baron of Aberconway, and the Hall has been in that family ever since. It took successive generations of the Mclaren family to create Bodnant as we see it today, and although the gardens were given to the National Trust in 1949, the Hall remains the possession of the present Lord Aberconway and is not open to the public. However, Lord Aberconway and his family are still actively involved in the Garden’s management and improvement.

On our way down to The Dell it started to rain (no surprise there!) so we spent a while sheltering under the trees. But we still had some great views of the Old Mill:

At the furthest end of the valley, and Bodnant as a whole, is a large pond called the Skating Pond. I can only imagine it got its name because it froze over in winter and was used (literally) as a skating pond. But it’s a pretty pond anyway, with a boat house to one side and edged by trees, including a few huge willows.

Car parking at Bodnant is across the road, but pedestrians reach the gardens via an underpass. There are four places at which to find refreshments. One of the cafes, which serves actual meals, is next to the car park and one that serves snacks and sandwiches is by the Entrance. The other two small places for light snacks and drinks are down in the Dell – one close to the Old Mill and another, which we’ve never used, is by the Skating Lake.

To finish with, this is a photo of the famous Laburnum Arch. If you want to see it in flower like this, June is the time to visit.


Music and Fun at Woodhall Spa’s 40s Festival 2017

Last Sunday, July 16th, we headed into rural Lincolnshire to the village of Woodhall Spa, considered to be one of Lincolnshire’s most attractive villages. It has an Edwardian character and is set in lovely pine woods. From our Nottinghamshire village on the Notts-Lincs border, we had a drive of 27 miles. I won’t go into the history of Woodhall Spa on this occasion, but yes, it was a spa town in the past. Its history during WW2 is also interesting. Like so many places in ‘flat’ Lincolnshire on the eastern side of the country, it was once an RAF base. (The pine woods were of utmost importance for concealing aircraft and ammunition supplies and such like).

Map of Lincolnshire to show location of Woodhall Spa. Base map from Wikimedia Commons, Author Nilfanion. Creative Commons

Woodhall Spa’s 40’s Festival is a free event – meaning there are no entry fees –  run entirely by volunteers and held over both days of the weekend: July 15 and 16 this year. It aims to spotlight ‘Life on the British Home Front’ i.e. Britain during WW2 – and it delivers on every count. This was the festival’s 6th year and its popularity has grown so much it has become one of Lincolnshire’s most popular attractions. 2016 saw 40,000 visitors over the weekend and this year it rose to 45, 000.

A wide variety of events take place at various areas of the village. A number of living history groups /re-enactors are involved and there are outdoor concerts and live music. Vera Lynn songs blasted out from one area, Glenn Miller music, and Scottish pipers from others. People danced and got into the spirit of the occasion whilst others watched and clapped:

Food and drink stalls were everywhere, including a few ice-cream vans. Of course, I just had to have a nice big cone! (What else are days out for, when all’s said and done?)

There were several little cafés, as well as pubs and hotels offering meals to suit all tastes. And before I plough on, I have to say that dressing in 40’s costume is encouraged. Next year, we may well do what the organisers suggest and take ourselves off to a charity shop, or suchlike, and grab some 40s gear! This smiling young lady looked lovely in her ‘get up’:


One of the first things to watch was the parade, primarily (re-enactors) of 1940s servicemen, as well as military vehicles from a variety of living history groups.

Along the village streets were so many vintage cars, motorbikes and military vehicles, I had a hard job moving (husband) Nick along to look at other attractions!  He was totally besotted with the old motorbikes in particular. These are a photos of just a few of  the  many vehicles:

Visitors in 1940s dress really made the day. They brought the whole 40s theme to life. Here are some photos of a few of the many people we passed on our walk about. Re-enactors mingled with the crowds, so  it wasn’t easy to differentiate between the two!

And this was a regular sight up and down the main street. One way of getting around to the various  parts of the village:


And to add to the authenticity of the event was the fly-past of Spitfires and Hurricanes from RAF Coningsby, less than 5 miles from Woodhall Spa, and home to the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. Nick assures me the Hurricanes are the ones with more rounded-tipped wings, so I’ll take his word on that. It was overcast and grey as they flew over, as the photos show:

I later learned that a Lancaster bomber also flew over. We left about 3 pm, having been there since 10 am, and the Lancaster obviously graced the skies later than that. I was disappointed to know we missed it, but, when all’s said and done, I’ve seen Lancasters flying over this area before, so I shouldn’t moan. We’d had a lovely day out and, other than a few spits of rain in the morning, the day was fine. Still, some sunshine would have been nice…

Oh. look. Doctor Who just arrived in his/her Tardis! (i.e. 1940s police phone box):

Some Well-Dressed Wells in Derbyshire

Well dressing involves the dressing, or decorating, of wells and springs with flower petals, and, as such, it is sometimes known as well flowering. The custom is an ancient one and seems to be unique to England. It is particularly associated with the limestone villages of the Peak District of Derbyshire and parts of Staffordshire (which I’ll say more about in the next few posts) although one or two other areas also practise the tradition.

Map of the Peak District National Park, UK. Source: Office of National Statistics Geography. Ordnance Survey OpenData. Author: Nilfanion, created using O.S. data

The origins of the custom are still uncertain. Some maintain it could have developed from a pagan custom of sacrificing to the gods of wells and springs in order to ensure the continuing supply of fresh water. As many other traditions, it was later adopted by the Christian Church as a means of giving thanks to God for supplies of drinking water. A tradition of well dressing in the Malverns (a range of hills in Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Gloucester) dates from the 12th and 13th centuries.

Some sources hold that the practice began following the Black Death (plague) of 1348-9. A third of the population of England was wiped out at that time, although a few of the villages were untouched.

The Danse Macabre (Dance of Death) by Michael Wolgemut in 1493. Public Domain

The people of those fortunate villages attributed their luck to the clean fresh water supply from their wells and started dressing them as a way of giving thanks. Still other people believe the custom arose during a prolonged drought of 1615 when people celebrated their own wells’ reliability. Then there are those who attribute the custom to the time of another plague – the Great Plague of 1665 – during which time many Derbyshire villages, including Eyam, were decimated. Yet some villages had remained untouched, like nearby Tissington, and the people gave thanks at their wells for their deliverance.

Whatever its origins, well dressing seems to have disappeared for some time in most Derbyshire villages, with only a few still celebrating it in the 19th century. The main one of those villages was Tissington, as mentioned by Ebenezer Rhodes in his book ‘Peak Scenery’ in 1835. The custom was introduced in the town of Buxton in 1840 and was  recorded as being followed in Wirksworth in 1860. With the arrival of piped water supplies, the tradition was extended to include the dressing of not only wells, but taps, too.

The custom of well dressing rose and fell in popularity over the following years. Then, in the 1930s, the Shinwell family of Tideswell made considerable efforts to revive it. Well dressing has since been restored in many villages and small towns and, throughout the summer months, it is one of the attractions that draws people from all over the world to Derbyshire.

Today, the first well dressings are in May, with Tissington village being the first. Naturally, the flower petals don’t last for long, so the villages follow a regular calendar each year. While we  were in Derbyshire last week, we managed to visit four of the five places with newly dressed wells for that week.

Our first view of well dressings was in Buxton, a spa town which has the reputation of having  ‘the highest elevation …. of any market town in England’. These are a few ph0tos of the three ‘dressed’ wells in the town:

The next well dressing we visited was in the busy village of Hathersage. (Little John of the Robin Hood stories is said to have been born in Hathersage and buried in the churchyard there.) These are photos of the well we found. The theme of this one, as can be seen on the board itself, is ‘Give Peace a Chance’.

Peak Forest was the third of the well dressing villages we got to. It’s a small village and its one ‘well dressing’ was beside a tap. The theme was a very rural one:

On the last day of our stay in Derbyshire we headed out to the small town of Chapel-en-le-Frith (which translates from the Norman French as Chapel in the Forest). We found seven well dressings here, all with the theme of ‘Famous Britons’. Some had been created by children’s groups.

The construction of a well dressing is a long and skilful process which can take up to ten days. It often involves the whole population of the village. First, wooden frames are constructed and wet clay is spread to a depth of a couple of inches across the wooden backing board. The required design is sketched out on paper and ‘pricked out’ onto the wet clay.  The picture is then filled out with natural materials such as flower petal and leaves, entire flower heads, moss, sheep’s wool, wheat or barley straw, berries and nuts e.g. beech nuts, as on the Buxton Children’s well, and even immature fruits like the tiny apples on the Isaac Newton well dressing in Chapel-en-le-Frith. Coloured (or painted) stones, pebbles and gravel are sometimes used, too.

Throughout the well dressing season, some of the villages hold festivals or galas and decorate the streets with colourful and fun models. These are a few we came across in Hathersage:

It was very enjoyable visiting all these wells and looking at how they’re constructed. I think next year we’ll try to get out to Tissington in May. It’s a very quaint village, only a couple of miles from where we were staying, and we met some lovely ‘locals’ there. We’re looking forward to going back.

A Visit to Beamish Museum: Part 2

There is so much to see at Beamish Museum in County Durham that I’ve had to split my post about it into two parts. Part 1 was an introduction to the museum in general and a look at the first of the four main areas on the site: the 1900s Town.

In this post I’ll show the three other main areas of the site: the 1900s Pit Village, the 1940’s Home Farm and finally the 1820s Pockerley Hall. Between them, the four sites give visitors a good overview of the life and work of people in the North East of England over the centuries.

The Pit Village naturally sits alongside the Colliery. It is opposite the town and is the closest of the sites to the entrance on the above map. As most villages, it catered for the immediate needs of the people who would, perhaps, take trips into the Town for goods that couldn’t be bought in the village, or go to the bank, or to visit professionals such as the dentist or solicitor. For a special treat they may well head to the Town Park on a Sunday to listen to the brass band play.

These are a few photos of the Pit Village, the biggest attractions there being the old school, the Wesleyan Chapel (in which Sunday School was held) and the Village Hall. One group of visiting primary school children were dressed up in period costume for their lesson with a rather strict schoolmistress.

And these are a few views of the colliery:

We didn’t go into the drift mine on this occasion, or into the winding engine house and adjoining heapstead building where the coal was weighed and the large lumps separated from the  fragments and dust. Time was ticking on and we’d been in these places a couple of times on previous visits.

Next we moved on to Home Farm, which represents farm life in the area during the 1940s. and, of course, WW2. In the photos below, the bedroom shown had two single beds to accommodate two land girls. In one of the outside barns was a cafe for visitors to buy tea, coffee and small snacks, decorated as cafes had looked during wartime.

We then hopped on another tram and headed to Pockerley Hall, which represents the house of a well-to-do tenant farmer in the 1820s. The lands around the hall that he would have farmed can be seen on the plan above. A house has stood on this slight hilltop since 1183, and its defensive location suggests there could have been an Iron Age hill fort there long before that. I won’t go into the history of the families who have lived in this hall, except to say that it was linked to the de Pockerleys in the 13th century, as well as several other families over the years. A tenant farmer lived in the hall until 1990 when it became part of Beamish Museun. After restoration work, the hall opened to visitors in 1995.

The following picture shows how Pockerley New Hall (red-brown roof) was built to adjoin Pockerley Old House (right hand side of photo).


These are a few more photos of  the 1820s hall and gardens:

The adjoining Old House is a medieval strong house, dating back to the 1440s. It would have been a place of refuge during conflict and raids (border reivers) and boasts very thick walls and small windows. It was very dark in most of the rooms inside so I’m afraid some photos aren’t very clear.

And finally we headed over to the 1820s Pockerley Waggonway. It represents the year 1825, when the Stockton and Datlington Railway opened.

The first waggonways opened in Britain around 1600 and by the 1800 they were common in industrial areas. The North East was Britain’s biggest coal producing area and coal was taken to rivers like the Tyne and the Wear by waggonway. After 1800, iron rails and steam engines started to replace horse or gravity powered ones: the modern railway had arrived.

We saw replicas of three different early engines there, including the famous Puffing Billy. The engine in use for pulling the little train on the day we visited was the Steam Elephant.

A Visit to Beamish Museum: Part 1

‘Tiny Tim’ the steam hammer at the entrance to Beamish Museum. A very autumnal photo from Wikipedia. Public Domain

Last week we were up in Yorkshire again for a short break. Needless to say, we visited some great sites to add to my ever growing list of posts to be written up. The site I’ve decided to write about first is one we’ve already visited three times in past years, and it wasn’t exactly one ‘just around the corner’ from our hotel. Nor was it in Yorkshire. But it’s a great place, with so much of interest to people of all ages., and well worth the 77 mile drive from our hotel near York.

So where am I talking about…? Why, BEAMISH of course!

Set in 300 acres of beautiful countryside in the county of Durham in North-East England…

….Beamish is described as a living, working museum. It includes a number of distinct areas, each very interesting in its own right. The four main areas are: the 1900s Town, the 1900s Pit Village, a 1940s Farm, and Pockerley Old Hall, dating from 1820. This photo of a map on one of the information boards at the site shows the location of these. Unfortunately, it isn’t too clear:

The buildings used to create the various areas of the Museum have been collected from across the north-eastern region, the primary aim being to present visitors with a realistic experience of the region’s past.

The various areas are spaced out around the site, so a number of trams and omnibuses are available for transporting visitors from one place to another. Most people choose to ride in the old vehicles, some for the experience of it; for others who would find the walking too difficult or just too much, the vehicles are a necessity.

Children find them great fun. In fact, on the day we were there, there were several groups of primary children enjoying a day out as the SATs exams had just finished. There were also a couple of groups of older students – all armed with questionnaires – probably studying the Industrial Revolution,or some topic related to one or more of the four sites.

At each of the sites, costumed staff and volunteers work hard to bring their roles to life. We can simply watch them carrying out their everyday tasks, or become involved in conversation and learn about the work they do and the goods or produce they are handling. They are impressively knowledgeable as well as helpful.

So, onto the 1900s town which was our first port of call after hopping onto a tram close to the Entrance:Beamish Town is somewhere we could have spent so much longer looking round. There are lots of interesting buildings and areas of the town that deserve more than a fleeting glance. This very long gallery shows some of them:

On walking along the town’s main street, you can’t fail to notice the Town Park with it’s welcomed greenery. In the 1900s, parks were important places in which townspeople could unwind and enjoy some exercise and fresh air after work in summer and at weekends all year. Sundays would see the many of the community coming together to hear a brass band entertaining them from the band stand.

Before we made our way along the road to the railway station on the edge of town we had a quick look at the livery stables across the road from the park:

We continued walking along the road heading towards Rowley Railway Station on the edge of town. The station was moved to Beamish from the village of Rowley, near Consett, County Durham. The guide book tells us that the North East led the way in the development of the railways. and by 1880, the North East Railway had a network of lines across Northumberland, Durham and North Yorkshire. Rowley Station was built in 1867 and it represents the Edwardian period at Beamish.

And to finish Part 1 of my Beamish post, here are a few photos of the Funfair on a field across the road from the station. To be honest, it was by no means the busiest area of the museum. Most people were far more interested in soaking up the history of the place.