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

024

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

 

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

A Visit to Creswell Crags

20190519_121350

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.

20190519_104512

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.

20190519_110959

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.

shutterstock_1726383430

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.

 

Beautiful Bodnant

080This week, I am away from home (with Husband, of course) staying at a hotel in Chester, very close to the Welsh border. This is an ideal place from which I can visit my family in Lancashire and Wales as well as revisiting some of the wonderful castles along the North Wales coast and the Roman and medieval sites around the city of Chester itself.

Oddly enough, our first visit was to somewhere quite unplanned. Whilst visiting my aunt and uncle at Penrhyn (in the county of Conwy) along the coast of North Wales, we decided to take a trip to Bodnant Gardens, nestling in the foothills of Snowdonia, just five miles inland from their house.

Bodnant has been described as one of the world’s most “magical” gardens. The scenery is quite dramatic and there are historic plant collections and awesome trees. Every season presents wonderful species and the changing colours are spectacular.

062

A single post could not do justice to the history and evolution of the Gardens, and even today, expansion and improvement continue. Regarding the history, I will simply summarise things by saying that Bodnant Hall was built in 1792 and was landscaped with native trees:

032

A mill was built down in the Dell (valley) to serve the needs of the estate, but it was not until the Hall was bought by industrialist Henry Pochin in 1874, that the gardens began to really take shape. It was he who planted the giant conifers in the Dell, created the famous Laburnum Arch and built the Poem Mausoleum as a resting place for himself and his family.

Since Pochin’s time the Gardens have considerably grown and new species continuously introduced. Plants were brought back by 19th and early 20th century explorers, including towering American redwoods and gorgeous Himalayan primulas, poppies and lilies.

The Gardens were first opened up to the public by Pochin’s daughter Laura, following her father’s death in 1895. On Laura’s death, management of the gardens passed to her son, Henry McLaren and stayed within that family until 1949 when they were handed over to The National Trust.

We’ve visited Bodnant several times before, at different times of the year, and have always been delighted with the displays. This month, the blooms are spectacular and I’ve never seen the Laburnum Arch look better. My aunt particularly loves the many different varieties of roses.  Here are some photos we took:

On this occasion we didn’t manage to get down to the Dell, as my aunt was having problems with a sprained ankle, so we stayed relatively close to the Hall and the different gardens there. The following photos show some of the displays and views we saw. The Laburnam Arch was absolutely stunning. And yes, it’s me and Husband ambling along inside…

My next post will be about the first of the wonderful Welsh castles we visited. We’ll be back home on Sunday, so the others will be done sometime next week. Well, that’s the plan…

Just Who Was Saint Valentine?

 471px-St-valentine-baptizing-st-lucilla-jacopo-bassanoValentine was a Roman priest during the reign of Emperor Claudius the Second in the third century AD. He is sometimes known as Claudius the Cruel – and is not the Emperor Claudius who was responsible for ordering the building of Hadrian’s Wall across the North of England in AD 122-130.

The story tells us that Claudius believed that married men did not make good soldiers. They worried too much about leaving wives and families behind if they were killed to be truly effective in battle. So Claudius issued an edict, prohibiting the marriage, or engagement, of young people.

Now, Roman society at this time was very permissive, and polygamy was popular. Yet some of the people were still attracted to the Christian faith. Unfortunately for them, since the Christian Church taught that marriage was sacred between one man and one woman, this posed a problem. It was obvious that something had to be done about it . . .

It was Valentine who set about encouraging people to be married within the Christian community, despite the emperor’s edict. Naturally, ceremonies were performed in secret.

Valentine was eventually caught, imprisoned and tortured. A man called Asterius, whose daughter was blind, was called to judge him. Valentine is said to have prayed with, and healed, the girl – which caused Asterius himself to become a Christian. Whatever the outcome of that, somewhere around the year AD 270 Valentine was sentenced to a three-part execution: beating, stoning and eventual beheading. Whilst in prison, awaiting execution, Valentine is said to have written a note to Asterius’ daughter. He signed it . . .

From your Valentine

. . . thus inspiring today’s romantic cards.

shutterstock_246610336

*

Some interesting points about Saint Valentine:

  • Like many stories set so long ago, this one is often questioned. The main problem stems from Valentine’s true identity. According to the Catholic Encyclopaedia, there were at least three different St. Valentines, all of them martyrs. A second one was a bishop of Interamna (now Terni, Italy) and the third, a martyr in the Roman province of Africa. It is possible that the first two are the same person. However, the confusion surrounding Valentine’s true identity caused the Catholic Church to discontinue liturgical veneration (public worship) of him in 1969, although his name remains on its list of officially recognised saints.
Valentineanddisciples
St. Valentine of Terni oversees the construction of his basilica at Terni. Attribution: Public Domain Wikimedia Commons
  • Valentine’s flower-adorned skull is on display in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome. Excavation of a catacomb near Rome in the 1800’s yielded the skeletal remains, and other relics, now associated with St. Valentine. As is customary, various bits of these remains have been distributed to reliquaries around the world: Czech Republic, Scotland, England, France and Ireland:
382px-St-valentine_110921-01
Shrine of St’ Valentine at Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin. Attribution: blackfish
  • No record exists of romantic celebrations on Valentine’s Day prior to a poem written by the medieval poet, Geoffrey Chaucer, in 1374.  It is called ‘Parliament of Foules’. In this, he links a tradition of love with the celebration of Valentine’s Feast Day. The poem refers to February 14th as the day on which birds (and humans) come together to find a mate:

For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day

Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate…’

*

I won’t go on about the ways in which Valentine’s Day is celebrated today. There are lots of posts out there with little poems and stories. I’ll just finish off with a few pictures appropriate to a few of the things we associate with the celebration today.

shutterstock_125184527

(Header image: 1600’s painting of St. Valentine baptising St. Lucilla.  From Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.)

Forsooth, Sir, Canst Thou Not Speak More Plainly?

shutterstock_217997104
Egads, mistress, art thou addressing me?

The style of language to adopt when writing historical fiction is a topic that keeps authors continuously arguing. Readers, too, have their own strong opinions as to whether a novel’s language is suited to the period in question. The main issue, of course, is whether or not the words sound too modern for the time. We hear comments like, ‘People in sixteenth century England would not have used those words.’ And in some cases, they are correct. We only need to check the derivation of the word to find out.

It’s very easy with everyday items. We all know, for example, that cars, trains and planes should not make an appearance in the sixteenth century. Nor washing machines, duvets or a million other things that we take for granted today. Not to mention electricity pylons across the countryside!

shutterstock_102673817
An sight unknown on the ancient landscape

But when it comes to general word use in a story, things are not as simple as that.  Language is constantly evolving. New words are added as technological advances are made. Other words become obsolete. And, of course, populations evolve. Immigration and emigration are nothing new. The English language is basically composed of a mixture of Celtic, Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Norman. But during the last seventy years in particular the massive scale of immigration into Britain, for example, has added many other words to the language – as indeed it has cultures. I know the United States can claim the same.

When all’s said and done, novelists are out to tell stories – and those stories must be accessible and interesting to readers. A novel set in Tudor times littered with thees, thous, wilts, hasts and forsooths and so on, would soon become . . . well, in my opinion, absolutely comical. We have many TV comedy sketches to back that up.

Naturally, this doesn’t mean that the writer should resort to phrases such as, ‘What yer playin’ at buster?’ or, ‘Henry looked a right charlie in that hat.’ Gross exaggerations, of course, just to make a point, but such phrases would look no more out of place in a novel about Henry VIII than a string of egads and forsooths. 

shutterstock_130331855
Old language must be translated to be understood

What I believe most writers of historical fiction aim for is something close to a happy medium. A sprinkling of skilfully placed authentic historical terms will not appear ridiculous, whereas too many would do. Perhaps it’s all a question of style. A writer must set the correct tone for the period yet still move the story along in an engaging manner that modern readers can relate to.

Some years ago I read a short article by Michael Jecks, who’s written many historical fiction novels, many of them murder mysteries. Most are set in the Middle Ages. In the article, Jecks discussed criticism he’d had from reader(s) who considered the language used in his books to be inaccurate for the time. His answer was excellent. He simply pointed out that in the Middle Ages, the language used was totally different to that of modern times (basically Anlglo Saxon with a sprinkling of Celtic, Latin, Norse etc: in other words, Middle English) which today, only scholars of the period would understand.

More recently I found a YouTube presentation by Michael Jecks on the same theme. Here’s the link for anyone interested.

I’m sure that most historical fiction authors already do work along the lines Jecks outlines here. I know that I have tried to do so in my own two novels, Shadow of the Raven and the soon to be completed, Pit of Vipers.

One of the funniest things I’ve read on this subject was in a ‘Writing’ magazine back in the nineties. The author of the article was an editor, who told of the worst example of historical inaccuracy he’d ever come across in a work submitted to him in hope of publication. The novel was about Mary Queen of Scots. Although my wording may not be absolutely accurate (I read it a long time ago) it is certainly very close. In this scene, Mary supposedly says to her husband, Darnley:

‘Darnley, honey, let me fix you a chicken sandwich.’

Any comments on this fascinating subject would be very welcome.

*****

The City of York – a gem of a place for historical fiction writers

022

Last Tuesday, my husband and I had a trip out to the wonderful old city of York. We’re regular visitors to the city itself, which is roughly eighty miles from where we live, but on this occasion our main purpose was to  revisit the Jorvik Viking Centre. We hadn’t been to Jorvik since the early 1990’s and the whole place has been considerably updated since then, although the basic layout of the Viking streets was much as I remembered it.

JOR30-red-1024x284
Jorvik Viking Centre is 30 years’ old!

York itself is a magnet for tourists from many parts of the world. Cameras are out wherever you go in the central areas, aiming to capture as many of the beautiful or quaint old buildings as possible. Others aim for more specific periods of history, because York is one of those places that display a veritable journey through time.

To quote from Wikipedia:

The history of York as a city dates to the beginning of the first millennium AD but archaeological evidence for the presence of people in the region of York date back much further to between 8000 and 7000 BC.’

In the first century AD, the town was called Eboracum, and was one of the major Roman cities – their ‘capital’ in the North of Britain. Prior to that, the region belonged to Celtic tribes, the most well know of which were the Brigantes. There’s abundant evidence for the Roman occupation around the city, from the town walls and gates . . .

028
Section of the Roman Wall
020
Bootham Bar – the main , northbound gateways in the Roman wall
Micklegate Bar
Micklegate Bar

. . . to columns and plaques signifying what once stood on particular sites, as well as umpteen artefacts in The Yorkshire Museum.

014
Roman column
021
Plaque at Bootham Bar

Following Roman withdrawal from Britain, the whole country was left open to raiders from across the sea – notably at this period, those we call the Anglo Saxons. The map shows areas on the Continent from which some of these peoples came:

anglian-homelands
Where the Anglo-Saxon peoples came from

It was the Angles who mainly settled in Northumbria, the Saxons being much further south. The Angles called the city, Eorforwic (in some texts Eorferwic). The favoured building material of the Anglo-Saxons was wood, which, unfortunately for archaeologists and historians, does not endure through the centuries. So, little remains of Anglo-Saxon York other than general artefacts, like this 8th century helmet found on Coppergate, which also happens to be the the main street in Viking York.

coppergate-walk-sign-1024x151

Coppergate-Helmet
The Coppergate Helmet – Coppergate also happens to be the main street in Viking York.

The Vikings (mostly Danes) first subjugated York in 866, a year after the arrival of what we call the ‘Great Heathen Army’ in East Anglia 865. Danish settlement in the area would doubtless have taken place gradually, but by the time of the establishment of the Danelaw (following a treaty between Alfred the Great  and the Danish leader, Guthrum, in 886) the Anglo-Saxon name of Eorforwic had become the Danish name, Jorvik.

danelaw
The Danelaw

Here are some illustrations  and artefacts from the Jorvik Viking Centre website. As in most museums, flash photography is forbidden (which meant that our camera was banned) so if photos are wanted, visitors need to remember to carry something with a built-in flash. The marketing manager, Mr. Paul Whiting, very kindly suggested I use the photos from their website. Here’s the link -Jorvik for anyone who’d like to have a look for themselves:

Woodturner
howdidtheylive
Fisherman working on his net
howdidtheylive2
Viking woman in traditional dress
timbers-300x160
Jorvik building timbers

The Jorvik holds several events over the year, which cover the whole period of Viking York up to the time of the Norman Invasion in 1066. After that date the tale of Medieval York begins – for which there is boundless evidence all over the city . . . And so on through to more recent times. The ‘veritable journey through time’ to which I referred earlier can be seen through the strata meticulously displayed in the Jorvik Centre.

image517-300x225
Ready for the shield-wall
Amber
Arm-rings
Leather-Shoes
Leather shoes
Padlock
Padlock
Pan-Pipes
Pan-pipes

York has been like a honey-pot to settlers since ancient times. The River Ouse, which flows through the city and out to the North Sea, would have provided a natural route inland for settlers and raiders alike.

024
River Ouse

The river’s confluence with the smaller River Foss provided the requisite natural defences for the early city, and the surrounding fertile and flat land was ideal for crops.

Since my Sons of Kings trilogy is set in the mid-late 9th century, it’s the Anglo-Saxon and Viking evidence that presently draws me to York. But I also love all things Roman and medieval. After the end of the Wars of the Roses in 1487 my interest tends to wane, but it sparks right back up again with the onset of the Victorian period and the First World War.

But right now, I’m even dreaming of Anglo-Saxons and ‘Vikings’ – and King Alfred’s almighty struggle to keep his kingdom . . .

Vikings! Who Were They – And How Did They Get That Name, Anyway?

shutterstock_150508262

The definition of the word ‘Viking’ in the Oxford Dictionaries is as follows:

Any of the Scandinavian seafaring pirates who raided and settled in many parts of North West Europe in the 8th and 9th centuries.

According to many films, TV series (not documentaries) and novels, the hiss of that single word, ‘Vikings!’, stuck terror into the hearts of peoples across North West Europe – especially the inhabitants of coastal or riverine settlements. But, from what I’ve deduced from a variety of texts, the word was not generally used at the time.

The origin of the word is still open to debate, but it’s undoubtedly an ancient word, as it appears on rune stones of the Viking Age. In some cases it refers to a person who travels, or an adventurer, and it is possible that even at this time the word applied to raiders. Yet, according to David Wilson in his book, ‘The Vikings of the Isle of Man’, the term was not in general usage in the English language until the mid nineteenth century.

Referring to the Hurstwic website:

In the Norse language, vikingr means a man from vik, where vik may have the sense of a bay, or the specific bay called Vikin in the south of Norway. Perhaps the name was applied because the first Viking raiders were from Vikin, or perhaps the raiders waited in sheltered bays for their victims.

shutterstock_167851352

No one can doubt that such raids took place but, at the time, the marauders, and later on, settlers, would collectively have been referred to as ‘Northmen’, or ‘Norsemen’ – men from the north.

In the ninth century, the Northmen / Norsemen who raided and eventually settled in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms (which did not become known as England until the tenth century) would have come primarily from the area we now know as Denmark and from Norway. Most of the Swedes tended to head east, up river valleys into the heart of Eurasia. Like England, the names of Denmark, Norway and Sweden did not exist either, and the entire region would have been called the Norselands.

shutterstock_117777481

When writing fiction, this becomes quite problematic, and it is often easier to use the names we know today – which I have done in places in my own novels, Shadow of the Raven and Pit of Vipers (the latter should be on Amazon soon).

I know I’m not alone when I say I find the Viking world fascinating. Norse mythology is both complex and colourful, the multiple gods and goddesses and their entire universe a trigger for the imagination.

shutterstock_56714761
Odin, the All Father, with his two ravens, Hugin and Munin (Thought and Memory)

I realise that certain aspects of the Viking culture leave some people shouting utter condemnation – the blood sacrifices to the gods and the barbaric raids in particular. But what we have to bear in mind is that moral standards of the period were so vastly different to those of most modern-day cultures. Many such practices were based on the need for survival throughout the harsh winter months. Raids gained the Viking people silver, or goods to trade or sell in order to buy basic requirements of everyday life, including food. Today we may well see their actions as monstrous, but it’s simply how it was.

And let’s not forget, the Vikings were only one group of the many such raiders, including the Anglo-Saxons, who, by the time of the first Viking raids (as on the monastery at Lindisfarne) were well established Christians. I’m sure you could list a whole lot more.

One of my earliest encounters with Vikings was in the 1950’s film, aptly entitled, ‘The Vikings’. I’m sure even those amongst you who hadn’t even been born then, have heard of it. Well, in 1959, at the age of eleven, I loved it. I was on holiday with my family in the Isle of Man – and what wet and cheerless weather we had! So we had an afternoon at the cinema. Now, of course, the film is too dated and corny to interest real Viking fans, like me.shutterstock_123315433

*****