Kenilworth Castle: Part 1

Kenilworth Castle is one of two fabulous castles in Warwickshire we’ve visited several times – the other being Warwick Castle. Although Kenilworth’s fortifications were dismantled (slighted) by parliamentary forces at the end of the Civil War of 1642-49, it is still one of England’s most spectacular castles. It is located in the town of Kenilworth in the county of Warwickshire, UK.

The location of Kenilworth Castle within Warwickshire, UK. Base map of Warwickshire from Nilfanion at Wikipedia.

It is thought that a castle has stood at Kenilworth since Saxon times, though the original structure was destroyed during the wars between the Saxon King Edmund and Cnut/Canute, King of the Danes. Following the Norman Conquest in 1066, Kenilworth became the property of the crown and was a royal residence from the 12th to the 17th century.  During that time it was owned by a succession of well-known historical figures. Each of these played a part in increasing the size and changing the shape of the castle as well as improving its defences and value as a residential home. Unfortunately, the Civil War of 1642-49 put an end to further growth – although it was by no means totally abandoned.

The following plan of Kenilworth Castle was on an information board near to the Entrance and Ticket Office (above). It shows the castle as it stands today. The key to the numbers is beneath it:

From the ticket office and shop, the castle is approached along the Tiltyard Dam, the long path up to the ruins of Mortimer’s Tower, as shown on the plan above. Once inside the Outer Curtain Wall, to the  right can be seen the former Stables, now the Cafe and Exhibition Centre, an important place for all visitors when in need of a drink and/or a snack, or a lunchtime meal, especially if you intend to stay for the day, as when events are held. It is also a good idea to view the introductory exhibition set up inside before heading off to investigate the various parts of the castle.

Kenilworth is a wonderful castle, constructed from local red sandstone and the result of almost five hundred years of continuous development and expansion. The years following its slighting in 1650 saw some restoration and, unfortunately, also some years of neglect.  The plan below shows the stages of development and growth over those first 500 years:

The first part of the castle to be built is shown in red/pink – the Great Tower or Keep.

Following the Norman Conquest, the Kenilworth Estate became the property of the Crown. In 1129, King Henry I gave it to his  chamberlain, a Norman noble named Geoffrey de Clinton, who was Treasurer and Chief Justice of England at the time. The new Norman castle  was built on a low sandstone hill at the crossroads of two ancient trackways. De Clinton built most of the Great Tower/Keep (shown below) and also founded Kenilworth Priory nearby.

The following illustration shows the extent of the early castle, built around the Norman Great Tower started by de Clinton in the 1120s and finished by Henry 11 in the 1170s.

Around 1210-15, the castle was significantly enlarged by King John, who inherited it from his father, Henry 11. John spent enormous sums of money in transforming it into a powerful fortress with two concentric walls. The outer curtain wall had defensive towers at intervals and at the entrance were two stout towers, together called Mortimer’s Tower (a peachy colour in the plan):

King John also surrounded the castle by huge water defences, created by damming local streams. The economic benefits of the mere/lake came in the ready supplies of fish and waterfowl for the castle kitchens, and it also afforded scenic and recreational benefits. But the resulting level of defence provided by the building works and mere together was exceptional, and sufficient to withstand assault by land and water. This was proven in 1266 during the reign of King John’s son, Henry 111:

In 1264, Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, led the barons in revolt against Henry 111’s tyrannical rule. They seized Kenilworth Castle and laid siege for six months – the longest siege in English medieval history. It ended when disease and famine forced the barons to surrender. It is thought likely that it was de Montfort who had the defensive outwork known as The Brays constructed (far left in the illustration) some time before 1265.

The flat surface of the dam built to hold back the mere is likely to have have been used as a tiltyard – a place where jousting tournaments took place – as far back as the 13th century. Edward 1 attended such an event in 1279, along with 100 knights and their ladies. In the late 16th century, during Elizabeth 1’s reign, the dam at Kenilworth was walled both sides in stone and specifically called a tiltyard. By then, tournaments could be viewed from the Gallery Tower, which stood near to where the ticket office is today. The last jousting tournaments in England were held a year before the death of James 1 in 1624

The next major changes to Kenilworth came in 1362 when the dukedom of Lancaster passed to John of Gaunt, the fourth son of Edward 111. In the 1370s, John of Gaunt began to transform the castle into a magnificent royal palace, building the Great Hall and lavish apartments – as shown in this rather shadowy photo of the reconstruction diagram. It also shows the Collegiate Chapel, a private chapel close to the outer curtain wall, built between 1314-22 during the reign of his grandfather, Edward 11, and probably demolished around 1524.

The Lancastrian king, Henry V (reign 1413-22) even built a retreat called the ‘Pleasance in the Marsh’ in celebration of his famous victory at Agincourt. The Pleasance was a luxurious, moated residence at the far north-western side of the lake, hidden from the castle by a spur. As the name Pleasance suggests, the mansion was for pleasure and relaxation. According to a castle surveyor of 1563, ‘kings would  go in a boat out of the castle to banquet there’. Henry V11 also visited the castle often with his queen, and in the 149os he had a tennis court built.

But in 1524 Henry VIII ordered the Pleasance and its surrounding structures and gardens to be taken down. Henry V111 not only removed the Pleasance; during the years of his Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536-39) the priory built by Geoffrey de Clinton was pulled down. By this time the priory had become a flourishing abbey, and evidently, Henry decided it had to go!

However, Heny v111 loved Kenilworth Castle as a place of leisure and retreat as much as his father had done, being particularly drawn to the fine hunting in the well-stocked park. He spent £460 on building works around the castle – a huge sum of money in those days – notably on a range of timber-framed lodgings for family and guests between the keep and John of Gaunt’s  state apartments. He also had a timber-framed building set up in the outer court, probably using materials from the dismantled Pleasance in the Marsh. It can be seen in the reconstruction illustration below, which shows the extent of the castle by about 1540.

In 1563, Queen Elizabeth granted Kenilworth Castle to Lord Robert Dudley, her favourite. The following year she made him Earl of Leicester and Baron of Denbighshire. For a short time in the early 1550s, Leicester’s father, John Dudley, Earl of Warwick and Duke of Northumberland, had held the castle. He made a few new additions, including the building of the impressive Stable, which stands along the outer curtain wall and is used today as a cafe.

A cut away reconstruction showing the possible arrangement of the stables in the 16th century.

The ground floor contained boxes for 30 horses and 20 geldings, while the floor above was a storage place for straw and hay and possibly accommodation for the grooms. Nowadays, only a single storey, the great ceiling can be seen. It was restored in the 1970s.

In the foreground of the stables today are the foundations of the Collegiate Chapel mentioned earlier in connection to John of Gaunt. It was possibly demolished around the same time as the Pleasance and the materials of both used Henry in V111’s  new timber-framed building that was later removed by Leicester.

Robert Dudley made many changes/improvements to the castle, including the erection of a brand new building. In Part 2 of this post, I’ll finish off the story of this awesome castle, starting with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester – and how his relationship with Queen Elizabeth will always be linked with Kenilworth. Both are shown below:

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References:
Guide Book purchased at Kenilworth Castle
Various information boards around the site
English Heritage
Historic UK
Base map for location of Kenilworth Castle from Wikipedia .My own annotations.

A Couple of Lovely Victorian Parks

Southport in Merseyside is an Irish Sea coastal resort about twenty miles north of the city and port of Liverpool. It’s the town in which I was born and where I lived until I was twenty-one when I moved away to take up my first teaching post near Doncaster.

Location of Southport in Merseyside

The town grew rapidly in the mid-nineteenth century, soon becoming popular as a seaside resort known for its extensive coastal dunes and invigorating sea air. I intend to do a full post about Southport soon but, for now, I just want to focus on two lovely, Victorian parks in the town that draw many visitors every year, namely Hesketh Park and Botanic Gardens.

Locations of Hesketh Park and Botanic Gardens in SouthportHesketh Park is located at the northern end of Lord Street, Southport’s most famous street, and just a mile away from the town centre. It was created in 1868 by Edward Kemp on land donated by the Reverend Charles Hesketh of Meols Hall, which I’ll be talking about in my post on Southport in general.

These are some photos of features inside some of the entrances to the park.

This is of a photo of a fountain at the south entrance to the park. It was taken in early November 2019.

Like Botanic, Hesketh has many Victorian features and landscape designs. The central feature of both parks is a lake, around which all of the other attractions are situated. Both parks have undergone alterations and refurbishments in relatively recent years  to restore the splendour of the original Victorian work. Amongst other things, Hesketh boasts an observatory, a small cafe, a play area for kiddies, crazy golf, a small waterfall, a floral clock and a Victorian gate house at two of the four entrances, both lived in by park keepers. There are nature trails, exercise machines in some of the little niches and a large conservatory, once full of exotic plants. In 2007 the plants were removed and the building was restored on the same site. The beautiful lake has a small island in its centre for wild birds that breed in the park.

The following are photos taken in Hesketh Park on a few of our visits at different times of year. First are a few from a visit in August 2015:

These are some photos taken in Hesketh in November 2019. I always loved this park in autumn.

Botanic Gardens is in Churchtown, once a delightfully pretty village in its own right, which is now a suburb of Southport. Botanic is situated on the opposite side of Bankfield Lane to Meols Hall and its estate, the main entrance to which is shown in this photo:

Botanic was founded in 1874 by a group of working men known as the Southport and Churchtown Botanic Gardens Company, who acquired the land from the Reverend Charles Hesketh at Meols Hall – the same person who had donated land for the creation of Hesketh Park a few years earlier. As at Hesketh, the lake is the central feature. It was formed from a stream called the Otter Pool that flowed through it from Meols Hall. The lake is now known as the Serpentine and is crossed by two ornamental cast-iron bridges. At the south end of the lake was a boathouse and when I was a child we could hire little boats and row ourselves around the winding lake.

There are a number of attractions just inside the main entrance gates to greet visitors on arrival, including a former museum and cafe. These three photos  are from February 2o17:

Unfortunately, the museum (central photo above) closed in 2011, and I believe some of its exhibits are now in the Atkinson Art Gallery and  Museum on Lord Street in Southport, including this fabulous dugout canoe, dating from AD535. It was found in a field near Crossens (just north of Churchtown) in 1899, close to what once was the northern shore  of Martin Mere (‘mere’ being the name for a lake). I remember seeing this canoe many times on my visits to Botanic  in earlier years.

Dugout canoe dated AD535. Author: Small town hero: Public Domain

I also recall rooms full of stuffed animals and birds which, as a child, I hated. I still hate the idea of taxidermy, though I suppose it takes some skill, and it was extremely popular in Victorian times. Like the canoe and other local exhibits, the taxidermy section is now housed in the Atkinson Museum.

On the opposite side of the entrance to the museum and cafe is the aviary, which always delights the children. There are various bird species including peacocks (not averse to fanning their tails to impress appreciative audiences) parrots and budgerigars, to name but a few. There are also a couple of ‘runs’ with rabbits and guinea pigs. We’ve taken lots of photos of these in the past but, unfortunately, right now I’m at a loss to find them! Duh…

These are a few of the photos taken in  August 2015 and 2016. We visited in the rain in 2016. The different floral displays of each year are also evident:

Other attractions of Botanic include a bowling green, mini-golf, a children’s playground and brass bands in the summer.  A fernery houses a unique collection of ferns from around the world and is all that remains on a former huge glass conservatory that was built in Victorian times and eventually demolished in the 1930s and 40s. This is a photo of it from Wikipedia, which shows two Edwardian ladies in front of it.

Southport Botanic Glasshouse, taken during the 1920s. Author unknown. Public Domain.

It stood where some of the flower beds are today, with the front entrance facing the museum. In the  photo below, the fernery is at the back of the flower bed:


To finish with, these are a few  photos taken in Botanic in February 2017. There are no bright flower beds at this time of year and there are fewer people about, but it’s still a very pleasant place to walk, especially when the first hints of spring are evident.

The Great Orme Copper Mines

The Bronze Age Copper Mines located in Llandudno on the Great Orme headland are one of Britain’s most important archaeological sites. Excavation began in 1987 and since then over 5 miles of tunnels dated between 1860BC and 600BC have been surveyed. The mine was opened to the public in 1991, enabling visitors to see the great complex of tunnels and old surface workings. We have visited three times now, the last time being in 2017, so I thought it was about time I wrote a post about it.

Great Orme Location Map

The Great Orme headland, or peninsula, is a massive chunk of limestone, rising to 207 metres /679 feet out of the sea. Its name, Great Orme, is of old Scandinavian origin, Ormr meaning serpent and hofuth meaning head. So the headland was called Serpent’s head, and it isn’t hard to see why.

Llandudno_&_Great_Orme anotated
1024px-Conwy_UK_location_map
It is possible that the site of the mine was already a special place before anyone realised that the green copper ore could be turned into metal. It is thought that the 5,500-year-old Neolithic/Stone Age burial chamber only 100 metres from the mine was constructed there because the area was a closed, dry valley in which water disappeared down a sink hole.

Entrance to the mines is through Reception with a friendly piece of advice about wearing suitable shoes:

Entrance to the Great Orme Mines

Notice at the entrance to the site

The first part of our visit was around the large area of surface/opencast mining, which was all buried underground until excavations began in 1987.  The first opencast mining started approximately 4,000 years ago in places where the green malachite ore was visible at the surface. The malachite would probably also have been useful to the people for its colour as a pigment, perhaps for paint or eye make-up.

Open Cast Mining 2
Artist’s impression of the opencast workings as they may have appeared

Opencast mining probably continued for around 200 years, during which hundreds of tonnes of ore was extracted. When surface deposits were exhausted miners had no other choice than to follow the tunnels below ground. The little Bronze Age man on some of the photos was our guide through the mine, keeping us updated with interesting snippets of information.

The route through the tunnels for visitors has been carefully excavated since 1990. It reveals openings to previously unknown areas of the mine – many of which are too small to walk through.

Information poster at the entrance to the underground mines

Carbon dating in the Great Cavern in the central section of the mine suggests that it was mined in the middle of the Bronze Age, 3,500 years ago. It would have produced an enormous tonnage of copper metal. It is a huge cavern and so dark that it is illuminated by bright lights further in.

Early Bronze Age miners would have had a number of tools available to them. Around 3000 stone hammers have been unearthed since 1987. These were made from some of the hardest rocks, like dolorite, diorite and basalt, most lumps of which would have been found washed up on the beach. Battered markings on the hammers give evidence to the fact that the rock being worked was also fairly hard. When it was too hard to be worked with tools, a process called fire-setting was used. A fire was lit against hard areas of rock, causing it to crack. As with the use of animal fat lamps in the tunnels, fire-setting was hazardous as it burnt valuable oxygen.

Later in the period, tools were made of bronze:

Over 35,000 animal bones have been found at the mine, including cows, sheep, pigs, deer, dogs and rodents. Some of them would have been used for food, others by the earlier miners as chisels and scrapers in the mines.

The only Bronze Age smelting site in Britain was on the Great Orme.  As shown in the images below, copper ore was first broken into small fragments with stone hammers  before being fed into the kiln fuelled by charcoal, which burns at a much higher temperature than wood. The ore was changed into metal by heating it at temperatures around 1,100 degrees centigrade – which they wouldn’t have been able to measure, so I imagine they would simply get the furnace as hot as they could. The process is called smelting. Miners soon realised that on its own, copper ore is soft, and that by mixing it with 10% of tin they could produce the harder metal, bronze. The molten metal was poured into moulds and used to create a variety of objects.

As well as tools and weapons of all types, including spears, daggers, swords and shields, bronze could be made into many things, such as cups, cauldrons and the items named in to image below:

The many uses of bronze

This next image shows how broken or damaged metal implements were re-melted and re-cast into new ones:

There is plenty of evidence to show that an extensive trade network was in place during the Bronze Age.  The nearest source of tin needed to make Bronze on the Great Orme was Cornwall, 300 miles away. During the mid Bronze Age (3,500 years ago) a distinctive type of axe was made in North Wales. Hoards of these axes have been found in France and it is believed that the Great Orme copper was the main source of metal used. The metal has also been found in artefacts across Europe, stretching from Brittany to the Baltic.

Bronze Age boats found in Britain  suggest that trade was conducted by sea. The boats were capable of carrying cargoes of up to 2 tonnes and would have been able to cross the English Channel to France or Holland.

Bronze Age Travel
The mines on the Great Orme would have brought wealth and power to those who controlled them and the people of the Great Orme flourished with them.

Copper mines brought wealth and power to those who controlled them

Bronze Age copper mining on the Great Orme finally stopped when they reached the water table, by which time iron was the new material and the demand for copper declined. After a very long lull in interest, during which the mine seems to have been almost forgotten, there was a renewal during the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries. Water was pumped out and shafts were sunk down to 470 feet (sea level). But eventually, Llandudno became known more as a popular Victorian seaside town than a mining town. The mines were covered over by spoil at the end of the 19th century and once again forgotten.

Although a great deal of excavation has already taken place since 1987, archaeological work will continue on both the surface and underground workings for decades. Tens of thousands of mine waste still cover large areas of the early mine workings and who knows what else will be discovered about this amazing site.

Visitor Centre
The Visitor Centre provides plenty of information about the site, including a short introductory film, a model Bronze Age village, rock and ore specimens area and colourful posters around the walls to explain all about Bronze Age life on the Great Orme and working in the copper mines. The latter were the source of the snippets I’ve used in this post.

This year (2020) the copper mines re-opened on July 25, working to guidelines from the Welsh Government, including social distancing, a one-way system and face masks when viewing underground. Entry fees are £8 for adults, £5 for children and under 5s free. In 2005 the Great Orme mines was awarded the title of ‘The Largest Prehistoric Copper Mines in the World’ by the Guinness World Records Team and I can say that it’s well worth a visit.

References:

The Great Orme Bronze Age Mines Guide Book, purchased at the site

Information boards in the visitor centre and around the site

The Great Orme Copper Mines, Llandudno, Wales – Historic UK

Base map of Conwy, North Wales from Nilfanion at Wikipedia

Aerial photo of Llandudno and the Great Orme from Harvey Milligan at Wikipedia

 

A Visit to Conisbrough Castle

As with many of my recent posts about interesting places we’ve visited, our trip to Conisbrough was last year. It was my second visit to the site, the previous one being in 1969, when the castle wasn’t managed the way it is today. Being a local-born lad, my husband had been many times as a child and teen in the 50s and early 60s, but was happy to go and see what changes had been made now that it was managed by English Heritage.

English Heritage flag atop the keep 3

Conisbrough Castle is located on the north-eastern edge of the town of Conisbrough in South Yorkshire, UK. It is  approximately 6 miles south-west of Doncaster and 7 miles north-east of Rotherham:

Location of Conisbrough Castle in South Yorkshire
Base map of South Yorkshire, UK from Wikipedia. Source: Ordnance Survey OpenData. Author: Nilfanion. Creative Commons

The name Conisbrough comes from the Anglo-Saxon word Cyningesburh, which means ‘the king’s borough’. Although Conisbrough was already an important town before 1066, little is known about the actual site of the castle before that time. In 1066 the ‘Honour’ (or Lordship) of Conisbrough was given to William Warenne, a trusted supporter of William 1 – also known as William the Conqueror.  Warenne acquired land over thirteen counties  and became known as the Earl of Surrey.

349px-Coa_England_Family_Warren_of_Surrey.svg
Coat of arms of the Warenne Earls of Surrey. Author: Madboy 74  Creative Commons

It was probably Warenne who built the first fortress at Conisbrough, which is thought to have comprised an earthwork enclosure with a wooden palisade along the top, with timber buildings inside. There could also have been an outer bailey. It occupied a strategic position on a large knoll (hill) along a ridge of magnesian limestone.

On the death of the third earl in 1147, having no sons as heirs, the castle passed to his daughter, Isabel de Warenne, William Warenne’s great granddaughter. The stone castle, the ruins of which we see today, was built by her husband, Hamelin Plantagenet, the legitimate half-brother of Henry II.

Aerial_view_of_Conisbrough_Castle_-_geograph.org.uk_-_639358
Aerial view of Conisbrough Castle in 2007 geograh.org.uk  Author :Richard Bird Creative Commons

The stone castle consisted of an outer and inner bailey.

The outer bailey would have protected the inner bailey and contained structures needed for the management of the castle and the supply of those living there. Domestic buildings included quarters for servants, maids and farmworkers, workshops, stables and and other livestock stalls, and storage areas like barns and sheds. The barbican shown on the diagram below (which is from an information board at the site) wasn’t added until the middle of the 13th century:

Bird's eye view of the 15th century castle+

The inner bailey would have contained a number of domestic buildings behind a stone curtain wall. At Conisbrough these included:  A: solar block B: great hall C: kitchens and pantry D: keep and stairs  E: barbican and gatehouse F: chapel – as shown on the diagram below:

Plan_of_Conisbrough_Castle,_early_13th_century.svg
The inner bailey at Conisbrough Castle, early 13th century.  Author:User.Hchsc2009. Creative Commons

Today, only the foundations of these buildings can be seen.

The inner bailey with its magnificent great tower/keep is reached by crossing the outer bailey from the visitor centre to what remains of the barbican (a fortified entrance) and gatehouse through the inner curtain wall.

Approaching the barbican through the outer bailey

Built around 1210, the inner curtain wall would have provided effective defence against attackers, especially once the barbican was constructed. The wall would originally have been topped with battlements, from which lookouts and archers ensured that no attackers sneaked up unseen. Five small, solid towers were positioned on the wall’s exterior on the east, south and western sides. To the north the steep drop provided ample defence. The wall itself was not as well built as the keep, consisting of roughly dressed coarse stone with a rubble core.

The outside of the inner bailey wall

These are a few photos of the inner bailey, showing more of the crumbling curtain wall and the remnants of some of the buildings listed above:

The great tower was  built of high-quality, local magnesian limestone and is one of the best examples of an ashar-faced structure in the UK. (Ashar facing means sawed or dressed square stone used in facing masonry walls.) The tower is over 78 feet high with a circular core and flanked by six wedge-shaped buttresses of 90 feet in height that extend beyond the rooftop.

Conisbrough Keep 1
Inside the tower are five levels (the rooftop being the fifth). This rather unclear photo of a diagram at the castle may give some idea of that:

Plan of keep +

The lowest level is the ground floor or basement, with a well used to bring water into the rest of the building. The basement has no windows or doors and is accessed only via a ladder through the hole in its vaulted ceiling. It was probably used for storage.

The entrance to the tower is on the first floor, twenty feet above the court, and was originally reached by an exposed external timber staircase with a timber drawbridge leading into the tower that could be dismantled for defence. Nowadays a concrete staircase has been erected.

Stone steps up th keep entrance
This first floor had no natural light and, like the basement, was probably used for storage. These photos show the well cover and modern safety grid and railing:

A wide, well-lit stone staircase takes us up to the great chamber on the second floor:

Steep stone steps in the keep

The room would have been used by the de Warenne lords when they were staying in Conisbrough. It looks cold and bare today, but it would once have contained a number of fine objects and silverware, painted furniture, beds with feather mattresses with colourful rugs on the floor and tapestries on the walls to keep out the cold. A long trestle would have been used for meals, feasts and banquets and so on.  A wide fireplace, with a joggled lintel and possibly a colourful hood, would have thrown heat into the room. A door leads into a latrine and there is an alcove with a window overlooking the entrance to the tower:

The stairs leading to the third floor are narrower than the lower ones. This floor consists of the bedchamber, where the lord and his family could rest and sleep. It would have been beautifully decorated and have a comfortable bed, cushions, a large basin for washing and a latrine. A window alcove faced towards the town, with stone benches that would have been cushioned so people cut sit and rest or chat. A fireplace provided heat. It was the Lady de Warenne who told us all about this room:


A chapel within one of the buttresses on the east of the tower opened from the bedchamber. The de Warenne family would have attended Mass here in private, and the priest, who would have lived at the castle, would pray for their souls. The chapel’s most noticeable feature was the beautiful vaulted ceiling. The two wash basins (piscinas) are on opposite walls – which is unusual, as in most chapels from the 12th century onward the two were side-by-side.

The rooftop forms the fifth floor. Originally it looked quite different to how it looks today. It is thought that at some time there was a room surrounded by an enclosed wall passage, as part of the wall and a door jamb survive. Of the six buttresses that extended above the battlements as turrets, two of them were solid. The other four seem to have functioned as two water tanks, a bread oven and a dovecote.

Rooftop buttresse 1
Views of the surrounding countryside are excellent from the rooftop, especially as the castle is on hill on an already raised ridge. These are a few of the photos we took:

Conisbrough Castle has had an interesting history over the centuries and had a variety of owners. I won’t go into detail here, but a short word will be useful to bring the castle up to the 21st century.

After the death of the last Earl Warenne in 1347, the castle reverted to the Crown.  Edward III settled the Warenne northern estates on his fourth son, Edmund Langley, who later became the Duke of York. The castle became embroiled in the Wars of the Roses (1455-85) after which it was abandoned and fell into ruin. By 1538 the keep had lost its floors and the gatehouse and part of the curtain wall had collapsed. At the end of the Civil War (1642-51) there was no need for it to be further slighted (cannoned down) by Cromwell – as so many other Royalist-held castles were – since it was already in a ruined and unusable condition.

The castle remained a popular tourist attraction until the early 20th century and in the 1950s its management was taken over by the Ministry of Works, who made a number of major repairs. But by the 1980s visitor facilities were declared unsuitable and in 1984 the castle passed into the care of English Heritage.

Together with Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council and a local charitable trust, the great tower was re-roofed and floored to protect it from the weather and improve public access. A new exhibition centre was built. In 2007, Conisbrough Castle became totally under the management of English Heritage, which does an excellent job in the castle’s upkeep and makes it a wonderful place to visit. Some visitors come with the sole intent of seeing for themselves the place that, in 1819, Sir Walter Scott chose to set parts of his famous novel, ‘Ivanhoe’.

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Refs:

Conisbrough Castle Guide Book (from English Heritage)

Information boards around the site

Various online sites including:

English Heritage

Conibisbrough Castle:A Comprehensive Guide of the Castle

Wikipedia

Visit Doncaster

Welcome to Yorkshire Yorkshire.com

Wikipedia

The Canal Pond and Emperor Fountain at Chatsworth

The Canal Pond is set in the South Lawn at Chatsworth and was dug in 1702-3. It is set a few inches higher than the lawn, creating the illusion that the house rises out of the water when viewed from the far end of the canal.

chatsworth-house-736070_1920
Image by Johnnie Shannon from Pixabay

There had been a fountain at the north end of the canal since the pond was completed. Originally named the Great Fountain, it is flanked by two reclining river gods, created by the sculptor Nadauld. The gods can just be seen in this photo, one of them behind a lady photographing the dog structure:

Canal pond showing 2 gods and dog structure

When it became known that Tsar Nicholas 1, Emperor of Russia, would visit Chatsworth in 1844, the Great Fountain was replaced by the Emperor Fountain. Commissioned by the 6th Duke and created by Joseph Paxton, it was so named as a welcoming gesture to the tsar. Unfortunately, Tsar Nicholas never did make that visit but the fountain kept the name anyway.

Tsar Nicholas of Russia
Portrait of Emperor Nicholas 1 by Franz Kruger (1797-1857). Housed in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg. Creative Commons/Public Domain

Although the original Great Fountain had been the highest in the country, the new Emperor Fountain exceeded its reach and is on record as having reached 90 metres/295 feet. It was powered by the pressure of water dropping 297 feet through a 16 inch cast-iron pipe. It was the tallest gravity-fed fountain in the world for 160 years.

To provide enough water to power the new fountain an 8-acre lake, aptly named Emperor Lake, was dug up in the surrounding moorland of the Peak District. (This was in addition to the three existing lakes already providing the immense volumes of water needed by the house and its surrounding grounds.) Emperor Lake was finished in only six months in 1844.

The following painting, which I used in my earlier post on Chatsworth House, gives some idea of the height of the land behind the house and grounds:

Chatsworth_from_Morris's_Seats_of_Noblemen_and_Gentlemen_(1880)
A late 18th century oil painting by William Marlow. It emphasises the romantic aspects of Chatsworth’s setting on the edge of the Peak District. Public Domain

If you look closely at the hillside, you will spot a small building. That is the hunting lodge, situated in Stand Wood on the edge of the hills and moors of the Peak District. Emperor Lake can be seen from the lodge, should visitors choose to wander up there.

A two and a half mile channel was dug across moorland to gather rain that fell on the high ground. As mentioned above, the fountain was powered by the pressure of water dropping 297 feet through a 16 inch cast-iron pipe. In places, trenches up to almost 15 feet deep were cut through the rock to maintain the gradient.

In 2014 two new nozzles were made for the fountain. One is the same diameter as the original nozzle and the other is a little narrower, the aim being to create a column of water similar to the one that Paxton achieved. With the new narrower nozzle and a new debris grid in Emperor Lake, which supplies the water, the fountain can still reach 62 metres/200 feet on a still day.

Although this may not be the most attractive fountain in the world, the height it reached so long ago and the story about Tsar Nicholas, certainly make it interesting.

***

This is the second part of a post I wrote a few weeks ago about Chatsworth House in Derbyshire. The first part was already rather long, so I thought I’d leave this short piece for another time.

A final note: Writing this has set off a discussion in our house about the spelling of tsar. I’ve always spelled it this way, but my husband argued that if should be czar. Well, after looking it up it seems there are three spellings of the word: tsar, tzar and czar. So it seems to be a case of ‘take your pick’!

Steampunk Festival 2019

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Over the Bank Holiday weekend last year (August 23-26) the world’s biggest Steampunk festival returned to Lincoln for the 11th time. Held along the cobbled streets of the Cathedral Quarter, in the grounds of Lincoln Castle and in parts of Bishop Grosseteste University, the festival celebrates the steam powered world of the late nineteenth century and attracts people from all over the world. A number of events keep visitors entertained over the three days.

This was our first visit to the festival and we didn’t realise what a fun event we’d been missing. In fact (being from the Stone Age ourselves) we weren’t entirely certain what steampunk was all about. So for anyone else similarly uncertain, here a a few definitions:

First, from The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences: http://www.ministryofpeculiaroccurrences.com/what-is-steampunk/

Steampunk is an inspired movement of creativity and imagination. With a backdrop of either Victorian England or America’s Wild West at hand, modern technologies are re-imagined and realized as elaborate works of art, fashion, and mechanics. If Jules Verne or H.G. Wells were writing their science fiction today, it would be considered “steampunk.”

Second is this one from: Steampunk Avenue blog: https://steampunkavenue.com/en/blog/what-is-steampunk/

Steam is a central element of steampunk. The technology featured in this universe is generally just as advanced as that of our modern world, but it uses steam as its energy source instead of electricity, gas or oil. As a result, steampunk technology takes on a retro look reminiscent of the Industrial Revolution era. As Douglas Fetherling so aptly put it, “Steampunk is a genre that imagines how different the past might have been had the future come earlier.”

We saw some interesting looking machines and vehicles in and around Lincoln Castle that day. These are just a few of them:

What about the punk in steampunk? This explanation is from the Asylum Steampunk website: https://www.asylumsteampunk.co.uk/what-is-steampunk/

Can you still call it steam-PUNK?  Punk in the seventies was a rebellion against contemporary society.  We are most definitely rebelling but we are making a stand against: throwaway society, poor manners and antisocial behaviour, homogenisation and commercialism.  We are punks who are polite, friendly, care about the environment and the past and encourage creativity.

Steampunk style decoration on a stall

The costumes are terrific and so creative, and in Lincoln – as I imagine there are in many cities and towns – there’s at least one shop that sells ready-made costumes for steampunks. Several people we chatted to had made their own costumes. With temperatures of 31-33 degrees (Celsius) it must have been unbearably hot inside some of the costumes, especially for those wearing gas masks and other weird head coverings, or items of clothing such as thick cloaks and coats, long boots or tight corsets!

We also saw this character wandering around chatting to everyone. By golly… it’s Captain Jack!

There were plenty of stalls selling steampunk clothing and other items, in both the castle grounds and around the Cathedral and the top of Steep Hill:

One of the main events of the day was the Parade, featuring a very young Queen Victoria and a variety of individuals and groups, including nurses and soldiers – even some mounted on their trusty steeds (i.e. dinosaurs). Visitors lined the road through the castle grounds to watch the procession walk there and back – and guess who we spotted amongst the spectators:

We were hoping to go again this year, but unfortunately all events are cancelled. I can only hope things are back to normal by August 2021.

Parasols out on a hot day

 

Chatsworth House

Chatsworth House is probably the best known of the stately homes in Derbyshire and has been voted Britain’s favourite country house several times. It is situated nine miles west of Chesterfield and three and a half miles north-east of Bakewell.

Location of Chatsworth House in Derbyshire

The house stands on the east bank of the River Derwent, looking across to the hills between the Derwent and the Wye valleys.

1197px-Chatsworth_Bridge
The river bridge and the house at Chatsworth,  Author: Rob Bendall

The magnificent yellow-stoned house, set in expansive parkland and backed by wooded, rocky hills rising to heather moorland, is the seat of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and has been passed down through sixteen generations of the Cavendish family.

The original Tudor House was built in 1552 after the estate was acquired in 1549 by Sir William Cavendish. Sir William died in 1557 with the house partly constructed and it was left to his formidable wife, Bess, also known as Bess of Hardwick, to complete it. Little of that original house remains today.

Elizchatsworth_edited
17th century painting of the west front of the Elizabethan Chatsworth. 1680s or earlier. Artist unknown. Pubic Domain

Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned here at various times between 1569 and 1584, and although the rooms of her apartment have since been rebuilt, two rooms are still called the Scots Apartment.

330px-François_Clouet_-_Mary,_Queen_of_Scots_(1542-87)_-_Google_Art_Project
Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-87) painted by François Clouet (1510-72) Public Domain

After Bess’ death in 1608, Chatsworth passed to her second son, also named William. In 1618 he was created the first Earl of Devonshire and in 1694 the fourth Earl was created the first Duke of Devonshire. (For anyone who doesn’t know, a duke/duchess is higher in the ranks of nobility than an earl/countess. A duke/duchess comes after prince/princess who is second to king/queen).

Between 1686 and 1707 the first Duke rebuilt Chatsworth in Classical style and between 1720-64, the park was landscaped by the fourth Duke. The famous ‘Capability’ Brown was hired to reshape the then formal gardens to how we still see them today. The stables and the bridges over the Derwent were also added in the 18th century.

1200px-ChatsworthMarlow
A late 18th century oil painting by William Marlow. It emphasises the romantic aspects of Chatsworth’s setting on the edge of the Peak District. Public Domain

The library and north wing were added to the house by the sixth Duke between 1790 and 1858.

Chatsworth_from_Morris's_Seats_of_Noblemen_and_Gentlemen_(1880)
A view of Chatsworth from the south-west circa 1880. The stables can be seen behind the house and the Hunting Tower is visible in Stand Wood. Public Domain

On entering the house through the North Entrance, we made our way to the Painted Hall and Great Staircase. There were a lot of people in the room, but we managed a few photos during a relatively ‘quiet’ time. This is a magnificent hall, the artwork on the walls and ceiling being particularly stunning. Our photos don’t do it justice due to the glare from the many lights.

We continued along the Chapel Corridor, with lots of sculptures, paintings and other items of interest to  look at…

Chapel corridor with various sculptures and ornaments (2)

…which, unsurprisingly, took us to the Chapel. This is another fabulous room, richly ornamented with a colourful ceiling.

Next to the Chapel is the Oak Room. No prizes for guessing why it is called that:

Though it lacks the colour of many of the rooms, the Sculpture Gallery contains some really beautiful pieces.

Other rooms in which we managed to take photos include the Great Dining Room, the State Music Room,  the Library, the State Bedchamber and one of the Guest Bedroom. I’ve added a mix of these rooms to the gallery below, including a few of the many paintings on display. The images showing wallpaper are included because, as in a few other stately homes we’ve visited, many wallpapers were of a Chinese design and hand painted. I believe the imitation European versions were called Chinoiserie, and although the first were seen in Europe in the 16th century, they were particularly popular in stately homes in the 18th – 19th centuries. A dictionary definition of Chinoiserie is: a decorative style in Western art, furniture, and architecture, especially in the 18th century, characterized by the use of Chinese motifs and techniques.

Last year (2019) Chatsworth was celebrating all things ‘dog’. It was officially titled, The Dog: A celebration at Chatsworth. It explored the Cavendish family’s enduring love of dogs. Around the site are a variety of dog sculptures, paintings, drawings and photos, some from the Devonshire collection and others on loan from public and private collections. These are just a few of them:

Surrounding the house, the extensive parkland, farmyard and playground would take more that a day to fully explore and we had little time to see much of it during our visit. What we did see was impressive, but we would have loved to have got down to the Arboretum and Trout Stream. In the afternoon, we spent some time wandering around the immediate lawns and kitchen gardens. We had planned another visit this year – but I think that will now have to wait until next year.

These are some of the many photos we took around the immediate grounds and gardens:

There are plenty of places to eat at Chatsworth, and a number of talks and activities are available. Chatsworth is a place for family days out as well as for couples, singles, and anyone who loves a good dose of history or lovely scenery. Chatsworth is not a National Trust property and entry prices for both house and grounds are not cheap and can be as much as £17.50 per adult for last minute bookings – as was ours. However, many local families come to just enjoy and picnic in the grounds, which is considerably cheaper. All I can say is that Chatsworth is a truly fabulous place and, at very least, well worth a visit. This amazing fountain has a history all of its own. But I’ll leave that for another post.

Canal Pond and Great Fountain 2

The Deep

mangrove swampThe Deep is a public aquarium in the city of Kingston-upon-Hull (often referred to simply as Hull) in East Yorkshire, and it’s a great place for a family day out.

Location of The Deep in Hull
Base map of East Yorkshire courtesy of Wikipedia

The building was designed by world class architects, Sir Terry Farrell and Partners and opened in 2002. Perched right on the confluence of the River Hull and the Humber estuary, it still looks pretty modern today. It’s 5 minutes walk from Hull Marina and a short distance from the city centre.

Our visit to The Deep was on a rainy day last year and we’re very glad we went when we did, especially as we’d been considering going for some time. Unfortunately, like so many museums, parks and historic sites we like to visit, the aquarium has been closed since March this year due to Covid-19. We can only hope this wonderfully educational resource can survive financially to continue in the future.

Ocean knowledge

The journey through the aquarium begins with taking either the scenic lift or the stairs – eight flights of them – up to the third floor, where the main cafe (Castaways) is located. We chose the stairs (and my knees will  never forgive me). The ‘scenic lift’ is very very popular and queues to get in it were quite long when we were there.

The winding route down takes us through over 4 billion years of ocean history.

Looking down at the visitors The first display is The Awakening Earth, which comprises hands-on activities and 4D screens showing creatures that would have been swimming around in the oceans up to 400 million years ago. These included Dunkleosteus (370 m years ago) Ichthyosaur (240 m years ago) and Xiphactinus (80 m years ago).

There are also living starfish to see, a species which appeared on Earth around 450 m years ago. Starfish typically have five arms but some have up to forty! Those we saw all had only five:

This freshwater creature was also around almost 400 m years ago. It is called a tiktaalik and it grew to 3m in length, had sharp teeth and looked like a cross between a fish and a crocodile. It was, however, technically a fish and it lived on a continent called Laurentia, which was around the equator and had a warm climate.

Ancient seas 2

The Lagoon of Light is a lovely display, being an open  stretch of  blue, tropical water filled with aquatic life found in a mangrove lagoon. Hundreds of colourful, tropical fish, rays and small sharks delight all visitors and are particularly popular with children.

There are information boards along the route, some specifically aimed at children, others for older visitors. They are all so useful and informative, like these about the importance of mangrove swamps:

There are also smaller tanks with living sea creatures of all types from specific environments of today, including Coral Reefs.

Coral 11

Lovely and colourful, and home to 25% of marine life on Earth, the variety of life on coral reefs is equal to that of the Amazon rainforest. It includes tiny plankton to predatory sharks  – all of which depend upon each other for survival. Worryingly, coral is very sensitive to environmental change, pollution and overfishing and the future of these fabulous reefs remains severely threatened.

The Kingdom of Ice is intended to give visitors a glimpse of  life in the polar realm and its importance to the ocean food chains, global warming, ocean acidification and so on.  The Gentoo penguins proved popular with adults and children alike and it was difficult to get close enough to the glass to take photos. We managed a few in the end.

There are so many different ocean environments as well as displays of some species in the Amazon Flooded Forest to visit. To show them all here would mean a very long post, so here are a few random photos, including a few information boards. There are tanks full of clown fish for all Nemo fans to enjoy, but the little fish must have been hiding in the anemones when we were there. Not surprisingly, another name for them is anemonefish. (The photo of the information board below is rather blurred, unfortunately.) At feeding times, the hiding clown fish readily emerge from amongst the stinging tentacles.

The main tank, called The Endless Ocean, fills the centre of the building, extending from the ground floor to the top, and can be viewed through large ‘windows’ on several levels, including an underwater viewing tunnel. The tank is filled with 550,000 imperial gallons of water (660,000 US) and 87 tons of salt. A variety of sharks can be seen, including White tip, Grey reef sharks and Zebra sharks, rays, and the only pair of Green sawfish in the UK. Turtles and rays swim past regularly, too. And although it wasn’t feeding time when we took these photos, we caught a glimpse of a diver in the tank, too.

The Endless Ocean can also be viewed from the Tunnel, which is 10 m below the surface. The tunnel is made is 6 inch thick acrylic and can take the weight of three elephants. It was very hard to take photos through, so the few we took aren’t very clear:

The Deep is a wonderful place for a day out, or for anyone on holiday in the East Yorkshire area. Children are fascinated by it and spend lots of time on the hands-on activities. There are cafes and picnic areas (some outside for when the weather is good). On rainy days the aquarium does get quite packed but it all adds to the fun. We had a great day there and learned a lot about the oceans and some of the hundreds of species that live in them.

Endless Oceans Viewing Window

The following quote from the ‘Welcome to Yorkshire’ website sums up the objectives of The Deep:

The Deep is an environmental and conservation charity, not run for profit, and is dedicated to increasing the knowledge and interest of the world’s oceans through its participation in vital research and conservation schemes around the world.

 

Saltaire

Built between 1851 and 1876, the Victorian model village of Saltaire is located in Shipley, a commuter suburb and small town in the City of Bradford Metropolitan District in West Yorkshire, UK.

Location of Saltaire in West Yorkshire
Base map courtesy of Wikipedia

The name Saltaire is derived from the surname of industrialist, entrepreneur and philanthropist, Sir Titus Salt, who had the village built, and the River Aire which flows through it.

Every year, hundreds of visitors come to Saltaire to visit the village itself, and/or take a look round Salts Mill, the woollen ‘supermill’ that Titus Salt had built in the town. To do justice to both village and mill ideally takes (at least) a whole day. There is much to see and plenty of places where visitors can buy drinks, snacks or meals when required – both around the village and inside the mill.

Saltaire is situated by the River Aire, the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and the Airedale railway line, all ideal for the import of raw materials for Salt’s woollen mill and export of the manufactured goods.

Plan of Saltaire
Map photographed from a information board in Saltaire

Titus Salt cared about the welfare of the workers for his planned new mill on the edge of Bradford. He wanted to create a community in which they could live healthier and happier lives than they had in the slums of Bradford, where cholera epidemics were frequent. Saltaire was 3 miles from central Bradford and surrounded by open countryside with plenty of fresh air. In addition to these evident health benefits, Salt installed the latest technology in his mill, intending working conditions for his workers to be far better and safer than they were in mills elsewhere in the country. Undoubtedly, such improvements would also benefit output from his mill.

Salt employed local architects Henry Lockwood and Richard Mawson to design his new village. The first building to be finished in 1853 was the mill itself, while building work on the rest of the village continued until 1876.

When the mill opened in 1853, on Titus Salt’s 50th birthday, he threw a huge party for all his workforce. It was the biggest factory in the world, four storeys high and the room known as ‘The Shed’ measuring 600 feet in length. The mill employed 3000 workers and had 1200 looms. Over a period of twenty-five years, 30,000 yards of cloth were produced per day. The noise from the machines would have been deafening and the workplace very hot. Yet working conditions for employees in Salt’s Mill were still far better than in most other textile mills.

The following photos of the working mill  were taken from a video playing inside the mill:

Salt’s enormous success in the textile industry was partly due to his use of the wool from alpacas. He combined it with other materials to create new varieties of worsted cloth. Wool worsted cloth as well as wool/cotton and wool/silk worsted cloths already existed for making men’s suits. In Salt’s day it was fashionable for ladies clothing. Most ladies would have wanted (but many couldn’t afford) expensive silk – and Alpaca made a light, smooth fabric with the lustre of silk, but was more affordable.

alpaca-2907771_1920
Alpacas, courtesy of Pixabay

Architecture in the village was of a classical style, inspired by the Italian Renaissance. The rows of neat stone buildings were all terraced, arranged in a grid pattern. All streets were named after members of his family, such as Caroline Street after his wife. In total there were 823 houses, shops, a school, two churches, a school an adult education institute, park, hospital, and almshouses for the aged. The streets also had gas lamps.  Each house had its own outdoor toilet – a luxury for the working classes in of the nineteenth century.

Salt also had a wash house and baths built in the village, the wash house because he objected to seeing lines of washing hanging in the back yards. Dirty washing could be brought to the wash house on Mondays to Thursdays. There were six washing machines powered by steam engines and four rubbing and boiling tubs using hot and cold water. Clothes were put through the wringing machine and dried in a drying closet before being mangled and taken home. The whole process took an hour.

Wash House Interior
Photo taken from and information board at the community garden in Saltaire

There were 24 baths for public use with separate entrances for men and women. There was even a Turkish bath. The baths were open every day but Sunday from 8am to 8pm. Salt’s care for the health of his workers is evident but, unfortunately neither wash house nor bath house was popular and the building was converted into housing in the late 19th century. The houses were demolished in the 1930s and replaced by garages which were demolished in the 1950s. The site is now a small community garden.

Saltaire Congregational Church (now the United Reformed Church) was one of Lockwood and Mawson’s finest works and is set in a spacious landscaped garden. Salt was a staunch Methodist and insisted his workers attended chapel on Sundays. He also frowned upon gambling and the drinking of alcohol. A mausoleum beside the church is where Titus Salt was buried.

The Victoria Hall is also worth a look inside:

Robert’s Park, alongside the River Aire is a pleasant, open space to spend a little time. The alpaca statues are a reminder of the importance of their wool to the continuing success of Titus Salt, whose statue is also in the park.

 

Salts Mill closed as a textile mill in 1986 and was bought the following year by Bradford entrepreneur, Jonathan Silver who had it renovated. Today it houses a number of business, commerce, leisure  and residential concerns. The main mill is now an art gallery, shopping centre and restaurant complex. There is a fish restaurant and Salts Diner, a cafe which serves a variety of dishes.029

Eating inside the mill

The 1853 Gallery takes its name from the date of the building in which it is housed and it contains many paintings by local artist David Hockney. A bust of Titus Salt welcomes visitors through the door.

Today, Saltaire is a popular place to visit, as an educational experience or simply e a lovely village in which to spend some time. Families come for many reasons, and boat rides along the canal seemed popular on the day we were there. Oddly enough, one of the boats was called Titus. I wonder why…

Boat rides on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal

World Heritage status was bestowed upon Saltaire in 2001. It is described on an information board in the village:

World Heritage status from a noticeboard in Saltaire

Our visit to Saltaire was three years ago now. We had planned to go back again sometime this year. But as they say, ‘All the best-laid plans of mice and men…’  Perhaps next year, then…

Refs:

  1. Information boards around Saltaire
  2. Wikipedia
  3. My Learning

The Plague Village of Eyam

Eyam is a village in Derbyshire, U.K. and lies within the Peak District National Park:

Location of Eyam in Derbyshire
The village was founded by the Anglo-Saxons and, as in many limestone areas of the Peak District, lead had been mined in the vicinity since Roman times.  In the early and mid-17th century, the industry employed many of Eyam’s inhabitants.

Today the pretty Derbyshire village attracts visitors from around the world, not only due to its location within the National Park, but because of its fame as ‘the plague village’. In addition, hundreds of visitors flock into Derbyshire from spring to autumn each year (though not this year!) to see the fabulously ‘dressed’ wells in many of the villages, Eyam being one of them.  I did a post about Well Dressing here

The plague that hit Eyam in 1665-1666 is referred to as ‘The Great Plague’. It was not ‘The Black Death’ – the outbreak of plague that reached England in 1348. The plague that occurred in both periods was basically the same bubonic plague, the different names denoting the different times in which it struck. In the 300 years between the two, numerous other outbreaks of plague occurred across the country and some small settlements disappeared altogether.

Bubonic plague is a disease carried by several rat species, most commonly the black rat, also known as house rat or ship rat.

Plague ratThe fleas that live in the rat’s fur are carriers of plague bacilli and when they feed on the rodent’s blood they leave the bacilli in its body, causing rapid death. If the number of rats plummets, infected fleas will take the blood of humans or other small mammals.

Plague Flea 2

In London alone in 1665-6, almost 70,000 deaths were recorded during this outbreak of plague, though it is thought the real number was closer to 100,000. Many towns and villages across England also suffered. In Eyam, 260 of the estimated population of 1,000 died.

The plague in Eyam is believed to have been caused by fleas that had got inside a bale of cloth brought to Eyam from London for a travelling tailor’s assistant named George Viccars who was lodging with Mary Hadfield and her family. When he unfolded the cloth it was damp, so he laid it out to dry – and the plague-carrying fleas jumped out.

George Viccar with his bale of cloth

George became the first man to die of the bubonic plague in Eyam. More deaths soon followed and within days, the disease had spread through the village, affecting many households.

The most well-known effect of bubonic plague are the buboes, the massive, tender swellings which form in the lymph nodes, generally in the armpits or groin:

Plague_-buboes
Plague patient displaying a swollen, ruptured inguinal lymph node, or buboe. Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Image Library. Public Domain

There are various other effects, too – fever, vomiting, headaches and delirium being just a few of them. The lungs can also become infected, causing pneumonic plague. This is less common but much more dangerous, due to the ease in which it can spread through sneezing. A third form of the disease is believed to be septicaemic plague, a life-threatening infection of the blood.

Having no scientific knowledge enabling them to account for the outbreak of the plague, to the villagers the disease could only be explained in religious or supernatural terms. The wrath of God inflicted upon sinful people could only be pacified by prayer and repentance. Many devout villagers refused to take preventative measures for fear of angering God further. Others relied on herbal and other age-old remedies. Between the September and December in 1665, 42 villagers died.

Remedies 4

Remedies 2

There is no record of how many villagers actually left Eyam and it is now believed the number was higher than originally thought. But it is known that most were wealthy landowners and mine owners – all of whom would have had somewhere else to go.

Wealthier people fled from Eyam

A few families sent just their children away to safety, as did William Mompesson, the recently elected reverend, and his wife, Catherine:

Children being sent from Eyam 1

Few of the poorer, tenant farmers and labourers could abandon their livelihoods and just pack up and leave, but in a bid to escape almost certain death, a few  poor people chose to try their luck elsewhere. Some built makeshift homes on nearby Eyam Moor or in fields or on hillsides.

Some poor people also fled

There is also plenty of evidence of poorer refugees of the plague being barred or violently driven away from their chosen places of refuge. The people of the city of Sheffield, approximately 15 miles away, erected barriers and posted guards. The picture below shows an Eyam woman being chased out of the nearby village of Tideswell as she attempted to mingle unnoticed with shoppers at the market.

Woman from Eyam being chased out of Tideswell

Mortality rates over the winter 1665-66 saw a drop, primarily due to the rats nesting in warm places like thatches on the roofs. There would also be ample foods for the rats in the unhygienic homes of the times. Comfortable, warm rats would provide plenty of food for the fleas, so they would have no need to seek out alternative sources of blood.

Nevertheless, death rates were still well above the normal winter average, and since the villagers knew that plague was a summer disease, the number of deaths was expected to increase with the rise in temperatures in the spring of 1666. After a slight lull in casualties in the May, a sudden and dramatic increase occurred in June, and it became clear to the newly appointed reverend, William Mompesson, that something needed to be done. Together with a former rector of Eyam, Stanley Thomas, a three-fold plan was devised.

Firstly, there would be no more organised funerals and church burials. Families would be responsible for burying their own dead in their gardens, orchards or fields.

Carrying out the dead

Secondly, the church would be locked and future services held in the open air.

030

The third part of the plan was the greatest and toughest of them. A ‘cordon sanitaire’ would be imposed around the village in an attempt to stop the disease spreading further afield. In other words, the village would be quarantined – a condition to which all villagers needed to give their consent. Quarantine would mean that, shut away from the world, many people in the village would meet the inevitable end.

Mompesson promised to do all in his power to get essential foods and medications into the village. A boundary stone was erected, separating Eyam from the nearby village of Stoney Middleton. The stone had specially made holes in its top, which were filled with vinegar, which acted as a disinfectant.  Eyam villagers could put their money into these holes in exchange for supplies. The stone is still in its original place today and visitors can find it by following the signs around the village. 

Boundary stone 2

In addition, in exchange for their promise of obeying the cordon, the Earl of Devonshire from nearby Chatsworth House, freely donated foods and medications to the people of Eyam. These were left at a place known as Mompesson’s Well. 

Collecting food from Mompesson's Well 2

The highest number of deaths was recorded in August 1666, as many as 5 or 6 deaths per day. In the heat of the summer, the fleas were more active and the disease rapidly spread. Households became deserted, communal tasks left unfinished and cattle wandered unattended. Nevertheless, few people attempted to leave (only 2 known). Elizabeth Hancock buried her husband and six of her children, though she remained unaffected herself. Their graves are known as the Riley Graves, after the name of the farm on which they lived.  Like the boundary stone, these graves can be visited today.

Burial close to own home 2

William Mompesson’s wife, Catherine, worked tirelessly, visiting the sick until falling victim to the plague herself in late August, 1666.  Her tomb can be seen in the churchyard.

Catherine Mompesson's tomb

By Christmas 1666, after 14 months and the deaths of 260 people, it was all over. Life in the village slowly began to return to normal. In an effort to stop further outbreak of the pestilence the following summer, there was ‘a great burning’ of everything in Eyam that could have harboured the ‘plague seeds’. Mompesson set the example by burning everything of his own except the clothes he was wearing.

Great burning after the plague at Eyam 2

To finish with, here a few photos we took around the village. With the exception of the one buboes (which is from Wikipedia) those shown above were all taken in the little Eyam Museum, which is well worth a visit.

Also of interest, with plenty of information about the Great Plague at Eyam, are Saint Lawrence’s Church, and the Plague Cottages.  Eyam Hall – which is a 17th century, grade 2 listed historic house – is also well worth a visit. In the churchyard are Catherine Mompesson’s tomb and a fabulous Anglo-Saxon Cross dating from the 8th-9th century.

Inside the church, there is a famous stained glass window depicting scenes connected to the plague and a record of those who died from the disease.

Plague window inside Eyam Church