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.

 

The Collingham May Fair (May 2)

The Collingham May Fair has been going for years – long before we moved to this area 20 years ago. For many years it was held in the area of the village green, and since the green itself is so small, this involved the road being closed to traffic for the day. The ‘green’ is just beyond the houses to the right of the road in the second picture below:

For the past few years the Fair has been on Collingham Cricket Ground – a nice large area for all the stalls and activities. Yesterday, May Ist, Nick and I went along to share in the fun. On Sunday I wrote a general post about May Day celebrations in the UK, so now I want to share a few photos from a typical village May Fair.

I used this poster advertising the list of events for this year’s show on my last post, but here it is again:


We arrived at the cricket ground at 12.15 pm, so not too many people were there. We walked around, looking at and photographing the various stalls while more people filed in. As you can see from these distant shots, the stalls were around the edge of the ground:

These are close-up versions of various stalls and activities on offer:

At one o’ clock we had the crowning of the May Queen. Traditionally the young woman chosen would have been one eligible for marriage, which in the past would have been a girl of perhaps fourteen upwards. Today’s May Queen was  a cute little girl of eight. I suppose it makes sense, considering that it’s the primary schools who usually organise both the maypole dancing and crowning of the May Queen nowadays. Anyway, here is a photo of the ‘Queen’ and her little attendants as they watched the Morris dancers:

Straight after the crowning of the May Queen came the Morris dancing, performed by the same troop who were here last year – Rattlejag Morris. As it says on their website, they are a mixed troop, formed in 2002, who use recently collected material from East Yorkshire as well as their own material from local research into dancing in Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire.Their aim is to revive and develop their own locally based dance tradition. The troop performs broom dances, bacca pipe dances and sword dances, as well as many others unique to their group, and are continually developing new dances. On this occasion we didn’t video anything, but here are a few photos…

…  and this is one of  Rattlejag’s several videos from other events, this one uploaded in 2014. It shows one of the dances the troop performed yesterday in Collingham. It’s called The Rufford Poachers and is based on real events. As it says on the YouTube site, it is a dance “to record the events in Rufford Park in 1851,when the Rufford Park gamekeepers had a battle with the local poachers, resulting in the death on a gamekeeper.”

In the video, the four dancers in the middle represent the gamekeepers and the four outer ones are the attacking poachers.

Rattlejag Morris performed several dances, including one with swords, and their routine was thoroughly entertaining.

Unfortunately, we were unable to stay more than a couple of hours as we were needed elsewhere, so we didn’t get to see the Nottingham Ukulele Orchestra or the Collingham Singers. We’ve seen the Singers on several occasions  so we weren’t too bothered about that. All in all it was a pleasant visit and the weather wasn’t too bad at all. Although it was a bit too windy for my liking, at least it didn’t rain. There were some interesting exhibits and demonstrations – the wattle and daub fence making and the pizza making particularly so. The van with the pizza oven inside was something different and I’ve never seen so many items of crockery smashed to bits as on the plate smashing stall! In my experience, it’s usually coconuts we aim for. 🙂

Before we left we headed over to the most important place on the site…the ice cream van. How could we leave without having a Mr Whippy?