This week Patti at Lens-Artists wants to see shadows and reflections in monochrome. So here’s a cloudy-day view of the Mawddach Estuary in Wales: upright and upside down. Intriguing, isn’t it. It’s making me think of a Rorschach inkblot test.
It is said that the Druids faced their final battle with the Roman Army on the North Wales island of Anglesey in 60-61 AD. According to Tacitus, things did not end well for them and their sacred oak groves. [See my earlier post Island Of Old Ghosts]. Early on in the invasion of Britain, the island had become a refuge for resisting Celtic warriors, doubtless assuming that the Menai Strait would present an obstacle to the legions. (It didn’t).
But for the Druids – the seer-diviner-lore-keeper-law-makers of the community, I tend to wonder if it wasn’t the island’s more extraordinary characteristics that they drew on. The quality of the light for one, and especially in winter when the sun over sea and strait and mainland mountains creates some mesmerizing effects, even when caught in monochrome.
And along the board walk at Harlech:
And through the old boat house gate at Borthwnog Hall: the Mawddach Estuary beyond
Well, haven’t the birds tucked in well over the past few weeks. I have to say, though, I rather begrudge the number of pigeons who’ve come scoffing at our little Evereste tree. But still, the blackbirds have had their fair share too.
Here’s how the tree looked in early October, aglow in late-day light:
And in no time at all it will look like this:
And like this:
And so the gyre of life, loss and renewal endures; never mind the doom-mongers.
We came here last week, Monday 2nd January 2023. I’d been here before – the north-easterly corner of Ynys Mon (Anglesey) and to this field above the sea, where there are ruins of a Norman chapel (12th century) and a Romano-Celtic settlement of the late 300s AD.
And with all these chronological markers in place, I should perhaps add one more and say that it was probably 60 years since I was last here. Sixty years. Ye gods! How time does fly.
Back then, we were visiting what my mother mistakenly called ‘a stone age village’. It was one of my big holiday excitements whenever we came to Anglesey.
Above and below are the settlement’s two circular houses, inhabited during the later Roman era, but abandoned by 400 AD when the legions departed. So, mummy dear, not a Stone Age village at all, though unknown to me at the time of those childhood visits, there is in fact an impressive Stone Age monument very close by.
As you can see, the stone houses have massively constructed walls, faced inside and out with huge slabs, and the space between packed with rubble. They probably supported conical, timber-framed and thatched roofs. (A reconstruction HERE)
There are also at least 7 rectangular buildings associated with the houses. Two of these contained several smelting hearths and were probably iron-making workshops supplying the local Roman legions with tools and weapons. The whole site was then bounded by a pentagonal wall, well over a metre thick, and entered via a gatehouse. There were also further house remains outside the boundary wall.
To me it has the looks of a secure unit. Perhaps with workshops under direct Roman control. By the 4th century the locals could well have been growing restive; itching to arm themselves. This is just my hypothesis. Other interpretations are that the outer wall was for keeping cattle in, and that the defences were considered ‘light’.
But now a step back in more recent times and the way things were for the Ashford family circa 1960:
And finally a giant’s leap back – some 5, 000 years:
It’s only a short walk from the Romano-Celtic settlement, and barely a stone’s throw behind a field hedge, but here we have a Stone Age cromlech, the burial place of some thirty Neolithic farmers, men, women and children. Among their remains archaeologists also found animal bones, flint tools and pottery.
The hugeness of the capstone is breath-taking. It’s reckoned to weigh 25 tons and, in consequence, it’s also thought that the stone was already in situ at the time of construction (a handy glacial delivery?) and that the tomb builders excavated underneath, wedging it on boulders to create the chamber. The whole was then probably covered with turves and soil, and as with similar monuments that were in use over a period of time, may also have included some kind of ceremonial forecourt. But however it was constructed, it surely took a massively concerted effort.
Our visit over, we turned back to the car. Back to the present. Across the lane from the tomb was the misty view of the Great Orme on the mainland (named by the Vikings during the next invasion phase). Behind us was the small place called Din Lligwy – five millennia of human history documented in stone.
On my personal time-scale, I’d like to say I’ll be back there in another sixty years, but it seems unlikely. Still, you never know…
Lens-Artists: Looking Back This week Sofia sets the challenge.
copyright 2023 Tish Farrell
Well, it is surprising, isn’t it – to find this Elvis artwork at the head of the grand staircase at Chatsworth House, Chatsworth being one of England’s most prestigious stately homes and the country seat of the Dukes of Devonshire.
Here’s more of the art work. It is pretty surreal, however it comes: whether in the original technicolour or in monochrome. (I’m afraid I omitted to make a note of its creator). But now I discover that the likely reason for its presence is that the late Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, otherwise known as Debo to her friends, was a huge Elvis Presley fan and had a fondly kept signed photo of him on her wall.
Also when the Duchess died in 2014 at the age of 94, he was to play a big part in her simple funeral service, held in the Chatsworth estate church. She had chosen his recording of ‘How Great Thou Art’ to play her out as she was borne aloft in her woven wicker coffin stranded with ivy and autumnal hawthorn berry sprays. A surprising soundtrack perhaps in rural gentrified Derbyshire.
Debo was the last surviving Mitford sister, a notorious brood of five ‘gels’, several of whom, in pursuit of love, bolted from deemed acceptable aristocratic marriages in order (between them) to embrace the full spectrum of political persuasion. Jessica was a communist; Diana ran off with fascist Sir Oswald Mosley; Unity pursued Hitler; novelist Nancy was a socialist and left her husband for a protracted affair with a French statesman; Pamela left her husband to live with an Italian horsewoman, while Deborah, in true English gentry style, married a future duke and spent her life developing Chatsworth House as a premier visitor attraction, including the pioneering of heritage shopping and the marketing of local produce.
You can find her final accompaniment ‘How Great Thou Art’ on YouTube.
New Year on Newborough Beach, Anglesey – mainland Wales in the mist
We began and ended 2022 on the island of Anglesey in North Wales. In between there were meanderings to favourite spots in Shropshire and around and about the town of Much Wenlock.So here we have a random selection of a year’s happy moments and things that caught my eye.
January walk on Wenlock Edge – looking down on Much Wenlock
On the Cutlins in February
And finding aconites: first signs of spring
The Linden Walk in early March
And alder catkins in the Linden Field
April over the garden fence
Oil Seed Rape in full flourish in the Corve Valley
May on the Linden Walk
And on Windmill Hill
June on Wenlock’s old railway line
And on the Stiperstones viewing the Devil’s Chair from a respectful distance
June in the garden
And on the Bull Ring, Much Wenlock
July in the garden
And in the Shropshire Hills at Mitchell’s Fold
August over the garden fence
And with the Cutlins MacMoos during the two-day heatwave
And after the wheat harvest on Callaughton Ash
September: harvesting the field beans in Townsend Meadow
Gathering storm clouds, but no rain
Early October and back to Wales: Barmouth Beach
And October’s end in Ludlow
November: windfall quinces at the allotment
And a sundowner stroll on Windmill Hill
December over the garden fence
And on hoar-frosty Downs Hill
And so back to the beach, Lligwy, Anglesey, January 2023
Lens-Artists: Favourite 2022 images John at Journeys with Johnbo sets the theme for this week.
It seemed like a good way for the Farrells to mark the winter solstice – a little wander through Ironbridge town and over the bridge itself. It was anyway a glorious day, and the bridge was looking its festive best in its ochre-red livery.
A fine exemplar of Shropshire’s heritage.
Those of you who come here often will know that this is reputedly the world’s first cast iron bridge, built by Abraham Darby III and opened for the carriage trade and other toll paying traffic in the New Year of 1781.
Of course, as was intended all along, it became the sightseeing phenomenon of the age. Everyone who was anyone had to come, look and pronounce on this pioneering wonder. The Coalbrookdale Company of ironmasters were naturally well prepared. They had also built the Tontine inn, a smart hostelry at the foot of the bridge.
Here it is with its mint green shutters, and still open for business. Also if you squint, you can ‘see’ the church clock is just striking noon. Can you hear the chimes ringing out on the cold December air?
The middle of the bridge is a good spot to stop for views of the Severn Gorge, now a World Heritage Site.
Once, this upstream view would have been filled with busyness. There were boat builders’ yards along the left bank. Then there was the river traffic itself, Severn trows, the great sailing barges up from Gloucester and Bristol, putting in at the Coalbrookdale Company’s warehouse, just visible at the river’s vanishing point. The trows brought in luxury goods: fine glassware, casks of port, Madeira, Spanish wines, sugar, molasses, serge cloth, the latest hats and bonnets, peach wood for cabinet making, blocks of marble, tobacco, salt fish.
On the return voyage the trows took on consignments of pig iron and castings of every kind, in particular the iron cauldrons, latterly known as missionary pots. They came in all sizes from the family porridge pot to large scale containers for industrial processes. They were rarely, if ever, deployed for the braising of missionaries.
This downstream view suggests unchanging tranquillity, but think again. Come the February flood season, the force of water rushing down from Wales and through the Gorge can be devastating. Even these days, with flood defences in place, there can be extensive overflow. The Great Flood of 1795 saw every Severn bridge damaged or taken out. Only the Iron Bridge remained unscathed.
Times of drought brought other perils. Large sandbanks formed and well loaded barges could find themselves grounded, often for weeks at a time. Such eventualities were catered for by a string of inns along both banks. And these were not only places of respite for the stranded. The riverside taverns were also said to be the haunt of industrial spies, out to gather company secrets over a jug or two of ale.
On Wednesday noon, 21st Dec. 2022, the Wharfage slumbered in the winter sunshine. There was barely a sign of a Christmas shopper. No coach and horses clattering up the hill to the Tontine. No carts unloading and loading precious goods in transit. No crowds of merchants’ clerks checking the cargo lists, or shouts of boat masters cajoling their crews. Or the pounding of the steam hammer at the riverside ironworks, that caused the men who worked it to grow deaf; the thud and thud and thud rebounding down the Gorge. Some things change for the better.
Happy New Year One And All
And whatever our beliefs, or lack of them, a strong prayer for more sanity and truth will not come amiss
Finishing the year with a photo that began it, taken during our New Year break at Aberffraw on the North Wales island of Anglesey. It’s a place you can always rely on for some stunning light effects, even in winter. Last January did not disappoint, though we had some gales too. Here are some of the more peaceful on-the-beach moments.
Here’s wishing you glowing horizons, whatever your outlook.
This week Tina gives us the opportunity to post any 2022 photos of our choice, though not ones previously posted for this challenge. Please take a look at her lovely gallery of photos.
Oh the thrill of finding a will and household inventory belonging to a long-dead ancestor. This particular find lists the possessions of one William Fox, a farmer, who died in Great Hucklow, Derbyshire in December 1710. The village itself is little more than a hamlet and sits below Hucklow Edge between Tideswell, Bradwell and Foolow. It is a sparsely peopled land of pasture, dry stone walls, bleak moorland, ancient trackways, Neolithic burial mounds and lead.
The lead vein both outcrops and then runs deeply into Hucklow Edge and has been mined since at least the 1300s when the area was ruled by monks. Many of my Bennet ancestors worked (and farmed) on this lead field from at least the 17th century. The Fox family, too, like most High Peak farmers, also had interests in or connections with lead mines.
This particular great uncle (if the Fox hunt sleuthing is on the right track) is one of too many William Foxes in my Derbyshire ancestry. Evidence suggests he was born in 1667, son of William and Elizabeth Fox who were tenant farmers at the Oaks, an isolated farm on the Highlow Estate near Hathersage. He had an elder brother, Robert Fox, a yeoman farmer and lead miner in Foolow, between Great Hucklow and Eyam, a few miles from the Oaks.
In 1689 William married local lass, Mary Hoyle. The record at Hope Church says they are both ‘of Highlow,’ as do the baptismal records for their first and second/third child: Sara (1690) and George (1693). It is impossible to know from these vague references whether William stayed at the Oaks after his marriage, or took up the tenancy of another Highlow farmstead. But by 1699, when Robert is born, the family is at Callow Farm and the christening is in Hathersage rather than at Hope. Then there is a gap in definite records until 1707 when William, the couple’s last child is born at Callow. Somewhere in between, Mary and Martha (possibly a 1702 baptism at Hathersage) were born. Also in 1707 Mary Fox’s widowed mother dies at Callow.
That’s a lot of family in one farmhouse. And that’s possibly not all. I also suspect William’s niece Mary, and nephew William could have been living there too. In his 1699 will (written in 1690) Robert Fox of Foolow had entrusted the care of his four children to his ‘well beloved brother William Fox the younger of Oaks’ and brother-in-law, Thomas Mower.
In any event, some time shortly after 1707, it looks as if William and Mary Fox moved to Great Hucklow, leaving William’s nephew, William Fox (5th great grandfather) to take over the tenancy at Callow. In 1711 the Callow William then married and had his first child, also named William, and so began the Fox dynasty at Callow farm.
But back to the will and inventory. What can they tell us about the lives of William and Mary and their six children after they moved to Great Hucklow (actual home location unknown apart from the use of a barn and grazing on Stanley Moor)?
William was around 43 years old when the will was made. The content is notable for the lack of standard clerical waffle. Unusually, it also omits William’s station or occupation in life, e.g. husbandman, yeoman, miner, gentleman etc. In fact he may have written it himself. He certainly signs and seals it, thereby leaving all his goods to his wife and executrix, Mary, on the ‘condishon’ she will pay all his debts and manage the funeral arrangements. He then leaves the equivalent of £25 to each of his six children, to be received when they reach the age of twenty one. It perhaps reflects on his state of health that he initially omits son Robert from the list of his children’s bequests, and pops him in right at the end.
Now for the inventory. The appraisers were usually two or more neighbours, and inventories were made for the purposes of proving wills.
To begin with, it should be said that William Fox was not exactly a poor man. His clothes and money in his purse amounted to £4, around £400 in today’s values. He was quite well turned out then. Also his household goods and farm stock were assessed at £135 10s 5d which according to the National Archives currency converter was equivalent in value to £14,000 – or 1500 days’ wages for a skilled tradesman.
The inventory also gives us an idea of the sort of house the family was living in (and I’m assuming the house and farmland were rented from some big landowner e.g. the Bagshaws). Four specific rooms are mentioned: the house, which is the main living area or hall in the medieval sense of the word, the parlour, and the two upstairs chambers. So we are basically talking about a yeoman’s dwelling of the ‘middling sort’, two large rooms downstairs, and two rooms above, probably stone built as most High Peak houses are. Or if it was an old cottage, possibly half-timbered atop low stone walls.
The furniture listed in the house/living room includes a cupboard, 3 tables, 2 benches, 2 dozen cushions, 8 chairs, a long settle, and a small table, three trestle tables. There is a cooking hearth with a range and two spits, 4 iron pots, a brass pot, a kettle, skillet, saucepan and a warming pan, scales and weights and a lantern. The family had 20 pewter dishes, 5 plates and 18 spoons for eating. There were assorted tankards and beakers for the drinking of ale (most probably brewed at home).
The parlour served as both a place for private business and as the master bedroom. This was customary into the 18th century. William and Mary’s parlour includes a bed with bedding, four tables and, most fascinating of all – ‘a frame for weaving of stockings’. This would have been a highly valuable item and its presence perhaps surprising in an isolated Derbyshire community.
The stocking frame
The stocking frame was invented in 1589 by Nottinghamshire vicar, William Lee – apparently to save his wife the labour of hand knitting this most essential foot wear (worn by both sexes and all classes). He tried to patent his revolutionary device, but successive English monarchs, including Elizabeth 1, to whom he gave a personal demonstration, and James 1, would not countenance putting the hand-knitters out of business. Lee tried his luck in France, but the enterprise failed. He died in 1610 and the frames were repatriated and sold in London. It wasn’t until late that same century that frame knitting took off, first in London, but later back in Nottinghamshire where the technology began.
The frames, being costly items, were usually bought by wealthy businessmen who hired them out to knitters, while also providing the yarn and buying back the finished product.
But it seems the Foxes owned their own frame since it appears on the inventory (?). Three pairs of stockings at 5 shillings are listed among the upstairs goods. That’s about £9 a pair. So it seems likely that this was more than the means of domestic self-sufficiency, but a significant family business. It was usual too for the women of the house to spin wool and then weave cloth for family use; 14 yards of woollen cloth (‘stuff’) is also listed along with the stockings.
The chamber over the house looks to have been the Fox childrens’ sleeping quarters, and a place for household storage. There are four beds with coverlets and a ‘bed hilling’ (quilt or eiderdown); 6 pairs each of blankets and sheets plus pillows, towels and other linen. There is ‘one great ark’, i.e. a large storage chest, and 5 cheeses. (Cheese and oat cakes – an oatmeal pancake made from fermented batter were staple Derbyshire fare). There is also a cloak bag, used by travellers on horseback, and a pillion seat.
And here it is the pillion seat that particularly caught my attention. Further down the inventory we can see that the family had two mares, essential means of transport in the Derbyshire uplands before the advent of turnpike roads. The pillion was a padded saddle, either used by a wife riding on the same horse behind her husband, or for riding alone. Either way she would of course be riding side-saddle. From at least Elizabethan times, the pillion included two pommels for hooking the legs securely and enabling the rider to jump obstacles.
My only photo of Callow 2nd great grandmother, Mary Ann Fox, shows her pillion-equipped and wearing a rather smart riding habit. Legend has it that 3rd great grandfather George, confiscated her pony because she persistently disobeyed him by jumping the five bar gate at the end of Highlow Lane instead of stopping to open it. Here she is some time in the late 1870s/early 1880s.
Mary Ann Williamson Fox born at Callow Farm in 1863
Moving on to the chamber over the parlour we find a motley collection of possessions, including 66 trenchers. These were the square wooden plates that most people ate from before pewter came along for those who could afford it. It’s interesting that they are being kept. There is also a desk, another storage chest and 3 more cheeses, a salting vat and several lids and measures, scales and weights, corn and coal sacks.
Now out on the farm.
The first items on the list are ‘3 stocks of bees’.
Traditional bee hives or skeps. Public domain image Wikipedia
This item provides several insights into the Fox family’s household management. Bee keeping was a highly skilled activity, and therefore not as common as might be supposed. The swarms were kept in baskets called skeps. It’s important to note here that the inventory was taken at the end of December, and that the presence of ‘three stocks of bees’ implies live bees. However, at the time it seems that only highly competent bee keepers kept their swarms through the winter since to do so involved the painstaking and likely painful operation of moving the swarm to a new skep so that the year’s store of honey and wax could be harvested from the old skep.
Due to the hazards involved, it was more usual for keepers to kill their bees (by digging a pit and placing the skep over burning sulphur paper which gassed them). The skep contents could then be drained, strained and stored, and a new skep prepared in hopes of capturing a passing swarm the following spring (also a hazardous pursuit).
Crops and animals
There seems to be a considerable stock of oats in a barn on Stanley Moor, around £2,000 worth in modern terms. Also a good amount of hay. There are 4 cows, 2 bullocks, 2 pigs, 4 calves on Stanley Moor, 2 calves at the farmstead (presumably to ensure the cows kept producing milk), and 30 sheep.
Farm equipment includes a cheese press (an essential item), 3 carts with harness, ‘all husbandry gear’, and ‘all hustlements’ which is a handy (if annoying) term covering ‘the usual odds and ends’ not considered by the appraisers to be worthy of individual listing.
Finally there is list of debts owed and payments due.
There is nothing obvious in the inventory to suggest William Fox was engaged in lead mining, though he does have three carts and two lots of weights and measures. On the other hand, his brother was a yeoman farmer-miner in nearby Foolow, and owned the rights to several lead rakes at the time of writing his will in 1690. Farmers, as free miners, operated under the jurisdiction of the barmote courts, which were answerable to the monarch under the auspices of the Duchy of Lancaster, and they often had claims to mineral rights on or near their farms, working them in the winter months when there was no other farm work. Some farmers also provided transport services, shifting ore to local smelting mills.
Otherwise, these brief documents of William Fox’s worldly possessions give a picture of busy and enterprising farming life – not rich by any means, yet with all necessities well covered; the potential to live well enough and maybe make some money too.
And so what happened to Mary and her family after William’s death in 1710?
Skimming the Hope parish records provides a few glimpses, the first being another sad event following William’s death. In April 1711 George died. He was 18 years old. Then in September 1712 there’s a marriage between Sara Fox and Joshua Marshall, and in 1714 in Great Hucklow this same couple have a son, Thomas. This could well be Mary’s eldest daughter. Robert, the last remembered in his father’s will, married Sarah Bagshaw in June 1724 at Bakewell (both of Great Hucklow) and then lived a long life, dying twenty years a widower at the age of 86.
I’ve found no further records relating to Mary and Martha after their mention in the 1710 will, but the youngest brother William appears in a legal document drawn up by his mother Mary in 1731, not long before her death. In it she hands over to William all her worldly possessions in return for a yearly annuity of £5 paid to her at Michaelmas and on Lady Day. The agreement is signed and sealed by Mary, and proved by the delivery of a napkin to William. It’s annoying there isn’t an inventory accompanying this property transfer.
Presumably Mary continued to live in the family home with William. (He in fact only got married in the month following her death – a breach of decorum perhaps). And of course I’m itching to know more of her domestic circumstances after twenty years a widow. Was she the careful bee keeper in the family? Was it she who worked the stocking frame? Or rode the mare to Hope or Hathersage markets, taking the latest batch of stockings, carefully stowed in the cloak bag? We’ll never know. She died in Great Hucklow in November 1733, aged 67, and was buried some miles away in the quietness of Hope churchyard along with a host of ancestors and the rolling Derbyshire uplands all around.
copyright Tish Farrell 2022