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.

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.

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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.

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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

 

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.

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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:

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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.

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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’!

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.

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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

A Visit to Newstead Abbey

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

Location of Newstead Abbey within Nottinghamshire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Visit to Creswell Crags

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

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

Location of Creswell Crags

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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