“When I came last to Ludlow…”

P1020333

This week in her Black & White series, Cee gives us a free hand, and says we can post our favourite B & W images. Here is one of mine: Dinham Bridge over the River Teme, with Ludlow Castle above. For those of you who do not know England, Ludlow is a scenic market town in South Shropshire. All looks so tranquil here, and the town itself ever has a sleepy air.

Historically, though, Ludlow was an important border stronghold commanding the Welsh Marches to the west, and repeatedly the scene of bloody battles and political intrigue down the ages.

The castle is almost a thousand years old, having its beginnings on the crest of the hill in around 1075. The outer fortifications were added a hundred years later, and the castle continued to expand and become ever more grand over succeeding centuries.

I’ve mentioned before that one of the castle’s claims to fame is that it was here in 1501 that fifteen-year old Prince Arthur Tudor, son of Henry VII and thus Henry VIII-to-be’s older brother, spent his honeymoon with sixteen-year old Catherine of Aragon, and that Arthur caught a fever and was dead within the year, thus leaving Catherine to be betrothed to Henry.

Nearly thirty years later when Catherine was embroiled in Henry’s ugly attempts to be rid of her so he could marry Anne Boleyn (he demanded an annulment on the grounds that it went against biblical teaching for a man to marry his brother’s wife) she claimed that nothing had happened between her and Arthur at Ludlow; that their marriage was never consummated.

So much for Ludlow-past as a honeymoon destination.

100_6732 - Copy

But the castle has older more grizzly mysteries associated with it. They relate to the Wars of the Roses mentioned in the previous post. Ludlow Castle was one of Richard Third Duke of York’s key strongholds until it was lost to Lancastrian forces in 1459 at the Battle of Ludstone Bridge – the next bridge downriver from the one in the photo. Three years later in 1461, when his son defeated the Lancastrians and became Edward IV, the castle was restored to the Crown, and it was during Edward IV’s reign that both castle and town grew in political prominence.

And it was in Ludlow Castle where Edward IV’s sons, Edward and Richard, spent much of their childhood, and whence they were taken in 1483 to the Tower of London. Their father had died, and Edward aged twelve had been pronounced Edward V, but was not yet crowned. His father’s brother, Uncle Richard Duke of Gloucester, aka Richard Crookback and soon to be Richard III, was Lord Protector.

Then came news that Edward IV’s marriage had been proved invalid. His young sons were declared illegitimate, and Richard quickly had himself crowned. The boys, thereafter referred to as the Princes in the Tower,  were never seen again. Behind them only argument remained – did Richard III have his nephews murdered? Did the two small skeletons, later unearthed in the Tower,  belong to young Edward and Richard? When I think of them in the brooding Tower of London, which incidentally was then a royal palace and not a prison, it still gives me a pang. I sense their feelings of loss and displacement, a pining for Ludlow, ‘the hill beside loud waters’**, the forests and wide Shropshire vistas below the battlements; just the place for growing lads.

If Richard did kill the boys in a bid to secure his claim to rule, it didn’t do him much good. He was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485  after only two years as king. His remains were buried in the church of a Franciscan Friary in Leicester, and in 2012 were re-discovered with much fanfare during an excavation of the site, which by this time lay buried under a city car park. Leicester University scientists then set out to prove the identity of the skeleton, an exciting piece of forensic archaeology and genealogy which is detailed at this link.

After Richard came Henry Tudor who won the day at Bosworth Field, the last significant conflict in the Wars of the Roses. So ended the Plantagenet Dynasty, and so began the Tudor Dynasty with the coronation of Henry VII – which is pretty much where this post began.

These days Ludlow Castle is a prime tourist attraction. It is privately owned by the Earls of Powys, and has recently been subject to much restoration work. If you can’t visit in person, then follow this link to do a virtual tour. But if you do get a chance to go there, the town itself is also a treasure. You will not be disappointed.

100_7941

copyright 2016 Tish Farrell

 

*  “ When I came last to Ludlow…” from A E Housman’s A Shropshire Lad  LVIII

** The name Ludlow is said to derive from the Old English meaning ‘the hill beside loud waters’

~

Related:

My Treat Today In Ludlow

A Five-Hundred-Year Old C.V.

A Five Hundred-Year-Old C.V. ~ And All Kinds Of Timeless Connections…

P1030901

THIS TOMB

IS TO THE MEMORY OF

SIR RICHARD CROFT . KNT .

SHERIFF OF HEREFORDSHIRE

1471-72-77-86

FOUGHT AT MORTIMER’S CROSS 1461

TEWKSBURY 1471

M.P. FOR HEREFORDSHIRE 1477

GOVERNOR OF LUDLOW CASTLE

CREATED KNIGHT-BANNERET

AFTER THE BATTLE OF STOKE 1487

DIED JULY 29 1509

ALSO OF ELEANOR HIS WIFE

DAUGHTER OF SIR EDMUND CORNWALL BARON

OF BURFORD SALOP

WIDOW OF SIR HUGH MORTIMER OF KYRE

P1030883

Sir Richard Croft (born 1429) lord of the manor of Croft Castle in Hereforshire was advisor to Edward Duke of York during the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross in 1461. The Duke was eighteen years old and had recently succeeded his father, Richard third Duke of York, to the title. Richard had been killed in the previous year at the Battle of Wakefield. Lady Eleanor Croft’s first husband had also also killed in that battle. These were Wars of the Roses times wherein the Houses of York and Lancaster vied bloodily for the British crown. The Battle of Mortimer’s Cross was fought on Croft land not far from the castle (and in the English Midlands nowhere near either York or Lancaster) and was a turning point in the conflict for reasons I’ll get to in a moment.

First I should say that this week’s theme at Paula’s Black & White Sunday is TIMELESS. And the reason I’ve chosen these photos is because there is quite another timeless connection – i.e. the words of William Shakespeare whose 400th memorial anniversary is being celebrated this year. In Henry VI pt 3  Act II scene i,  he makes reference to a strange meteorological event that occurred before the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross, although the actual battle does not feature in the play.

This is Shakespeare’s version of what was seen, expressed in an exchange between brothers, Edward 4th Duke of York the soon-to-be Edward IV, and Richard, Duke of Gloucester, the future Richard III:

Edward: Dazzle mine eyes, or do I see three suns?

Richard: Three glorious suns, each one a perfect sun; Not separated with the racking clouds/But severed in a pale clear-shining sky. /See, see: they join, embrace, and seem to kiss,  /As if they vowed some league inviolable./Now are they but one lamp, one light, one sun.  /In this the heaven figures some event.

*
The phenomenon described here was a parhelion or sun dog, a refraction of the sun’s rays through ice that created the impression of three separate suns rising simultaneously. According to historical accounts Edward decided that this extraordinary vision was a great portent promising victory, while his opponents were filled with terror. Thus inspired with holy certainty, Edward’s army won the day. A few weeks later Edward was crowned king. The sun thereafter featured as part of his personal emblem.
I’m afraid I have only one sun in my photo of Croft Castle and the chapel where Sir Richard and Lady Eleanor have their magnificent tomb, but then there are other interesting signs in the sky. Incidentally, Sir Richard served in his various official capacities (quoted in the memorial plaque above) under four successive monarchs, including Richard III.

Also to coincide with this year’s Shakespeare celebrations, the BBC is currently airing its own ‘Game of Thrones’ version of Shakespeare’s War of the Roses history plays, The Hollow Crown; proof of the timeless quality of good yarns, even if a few liberties have been taken with the playwright’s text. But then ‘the bard’ was nothing if not a past master at recycling other people’s tales and historical accounts, and giving them his own particular gloss; even during his own time players of his works apparently changed the words. It was ever thus with the art of good storytelling…

copyright 2016 Tish Farrell

The Tale Of A Hidden House That Once Hid A King

100_9663

It’s something of a puzzle. When you first encounter Moseley Old Hall with its Staffordshire brickwork you feel sure you are looking at a Victorian building. And what’s more, rather than saying historic country manor, its looks suggest something urban and industrial, as if this might have been the home of some nineteenth century mill or mine owner.

Take another look from a different angle:

P1030952

Now consider the side elevation coming up next. There’s an important clue here that all is not what it seems (a bit like Peter Greenaway’s film The Draughtsman’s Contract):

100_9677

Yes, here beside the house we have a restored knot garden of the 1600s. So what’s going on?

Time to put on the reading specs, and study the next three images:

http://www.historywebsite.co.uk/articles/oldhouses/oldhouses2.htm

Fig. 1

Source: Allan Fea Secret Chambers and Hiding Places

Now look at the photos again, and you have it. Moseley Old Hall, a timbered building of 1600 has been encased in a brick skin. This apparently happened in the 1860s, presumably as the easiest means of preserving the building. These drawings date from around 1850 before the cladding operation. Even though I have stared at the evidence, I still find it hard to accept that these are the same building. It’s like a variation on a ‘spot the differences’ puzzle. But just look at the placement of windows, eaves and bays. They are all pretty much the same whether in brick or half-timbering.

And now for the hiding of a king – and the year of 1651 when the house in timbered form played its part in British history, and sheltered Charles II after his disastrous defeat at the Battle of Worcester on September 3rd.

You can download the whole story in a free book at the following  link: Allan Fea The Flight of the King 1908  But the gist of the tale is this.

Moseley Old Hall is on the outskirts of Wolverhampton in the English West Midlands, and around 30 miles north of Worcester. After his army was crushed, Charles fled with a group of officers, and was guided to the Boscobel estate, not far from Moseley, by Colonel Charles Gifford who owned Boscobel. His properties there were in the care of servants, the five Penderel brothers.  This area on the Shropshire-Staffordshire border was a Catholic stronghold, and therefore most families were supporters of the king, although not necessarily brave enough to help a fugitive monarch. The stakes were far too high. Death being the likeliest outcome.

The cavalier officers who had been accompanying Charles left him in hiding at White Ladies Priory on the Boscobel estate, and carried on to Newport in Shropshire. It was thought the king would be safer travelling alone, and it was left to the Penderel brothers to effect the monarch’s disguise and scout out an escape route. The king wanted to get to London, but the roads east out of Boscobel were blocked and Cromwell’s militias were everywhere. He decided instead to head west into Wales where he had strong support.

Being over six feet tall, way above average height at the time, Charles was something of a challenge when it came to disguises. The Penderels cut his hair short, gave him coarse labourer’s gear, patched stockings, and a ‘greasy’ tall hat to wear. The shoes had to be cut to fit the king’s feet. These last were to cause the monarch much agony and multiple lacerations. Finally, after some lessons in local dialect and labourer gait, he was mounted on a farm horse. This beast was also to cause him much grief, and almost did for him when it stumbled. After that Charles had to walk cross-country tortured by the ill-fitting shoes.

The attempt to cross the River Severn into Wales failed. The crossings were all guarded, and Charles was forced to return to White Ladies. This was extremely dangerous. There were soldiers searching the woods all round, and Charles had to spend one whole day hiding inside an oak tree (the now famous Boscobel Oak). Meanwhile the Penderels were out searching the district for safer quarters.

So it was that Moseley Old Hall came to provide a safe haven. At the time it was lived in by Thomas Whitgreave and his widowed mother. Thomas was a Royalist but had not fought at Worcester due to ill health. Other occupants of the house were Father John Huddleston, a Benedictine priest, and his three pupils, who included two of Whitgreave’s nephews. The hall also had a priest hole, a relic of the earlier Catholic persecutions.

Charles was brought exhausted, and with bleeding feet to the hall where Father Huddleston set about tending to the king, and giving him fresh clothing and sustenance before showing him to a  comfortable bed. Meanwhile everyone else in the house was charged to keep a look out for the militias. (Can’t you see glimpses of those fearful faces peeping from every window around the hall?)

Thomas Whitgreave describes what happened next:

“In the afternoon [the King] reposing himself on his bed in the parlour chamber and inclineing to sleep, as I was watching at the window, one of the neighbours I saw come running in, who told the maid soldiers were comeing to search, who thereupon presentlie came running to the staires head, and cried, ‘Soldiers, soldiers are coming,’ which his majestie hearing presentlie started out of his bedd and run to his privacie, where I secured him the best I could, and then leaving him, went forth into the street to meet the soldiers who were comeing to search, who as soon as they saw and knew who I was were readie to pull mee to pieces, and take me away with them, saying I was come from the Worcester fight; but after much dispute with them, and by the neighbours being informed of their false information that I was not there, being very ill a great while, they let mee goe; but till I saw them clearly all gone forth of the town I returned not; but as soon as they were, I returned to release him (the King) and did acquaint him with my stay, which hee thought long, and then hee began to bee very chearful again.

“In the interim, whilst I was disputing with the soldiers, one of them called Southall came in the ffould and asked a smith, as hee was shooing horses there, if he could tell where the King was, and he should have a thousand pounds for his payns… This Southall is a great priest-catcher.”

After this episode the king no longer felt safe at Moseley. Another refuge had to be found and the means to get him there safely. It was at midnight, one week after the defeat at Worcester, that Thomas Whitgreave led Charles into the orchard of Moseley Old Hall where it had been arranged that Colonel John Lane would meet him with horses, and thence escort him to his home of Bentley Hall near Walsall.

This next stage of the escape was safely accomplished. Over the following weeks, and using various stratagems and much subterfuge, Charles dodged his enemies. Many attempts to find a boat and passage to France proved fruitless as he moved through Devon and along the south coast. There were even days when he hid at Stonehenge. Finally, on the 15th October, after six weeks on the run, he set sail from Brighton for France. It would be another nine years before he returned to claim his throne.

Now for more views of Moseley Old Hall. Another visit will be required before I can show you the interior. When we went on Sunday the weather was far too glorious to go indoors. So please enjoy a stroll around the gardens while imagining a battle-weary king with very sore feet arriving here secretly one September night. Look out, too, for Cromwell’s militia!

 

I’m linking this to Jo’s Monday Walk

 

 

 

 

 

 

They call it the Slave Grave, but who was I.D.?

P1020124

 

Here lieth the Body of I. D.

A Native of Africa

who died in ths Town

Sept 9th 1801

 

God hath made of one Blood, all nations of Men. Acts 17 ch. ver. 26

*

Our recent outing to the Bishop’s Castle Michaelmas Fair (see Summer came back on Saturday and took us to the fair) wasn’t all giant bubbles, stilt walking and steam traction engines. In the graveyard of St John the Baptist parish church there is a mystery. In the north east corner, and well shadowed by English ivy, holly and hazel is the finely carved gravestone dedicated to an African whose only identity is indicated in the letters I.D.  Also, unlike the other memorial stones, the inscription is sited on the western rather than the eastern face. It is hard to read now, and even harder to photograph.

100_7350

There seems to be some strong indication (see the quote below) that I.D. stood for John Davies. ‘I’s’ were often used interchangeably with ‘J’s’ in old records and inscriptions, and the only burial record for around the date on the gravestone 9th September 1801, is for one John Davies on the 12th of that month. There is apparently some original annotation in the church record that links this name to the gravestone.

So what can be deduced from this scant evidence? Clearly whoever undertook to bury the African did not spare any expense. The stone is beautifully carved. The Bible quotation also indicates their disposition towards equality in a line that was also quoted by slavery abolitionists such as Dr Joseph Priestly. I.D. may not have been a slave at the time of his death, but a free man and/or the servant of a rich landowner. It was usual for slaves to be given their masters’ names. Yet the elegance of the stone itself indicates someone who had attained high status, and was very highly regarded.

In an interesting article in the  South West Shropshire Archaeological Society no 19, 2008, Judith Payne discusses the evidence. Firstly, she says no record can be found of a John Davies living in the town of Bishop’s Castle. However, this does not preclude his being a slave or servant – perhaps to gentry who owned a house locally as well as elsewhere. It had long been the fashion for wealthy Britons to have black servants.

She also suggests that he might have been travelling with someone connected with the abolitionist movement, since abolitionists were active and had much support in Shropshire. A 1790s petition against slavery delivered from the county was nine and half feet long, and in November 1793, Thomas Clarkson, a prominent campaigner, was known to be visiting Bishop’s Castle.

Another possibility is that I.D. belonged to the household one of the land-owner politicians who around 1801-2 was attempting to end  the Clive family’s political control of the town. Bishop’s Castle was a notorious rotten borough.  Payne also posits that the reason for the simple I.D. instead of the full name, was because whoever buried him, knew that this was not his true name. That he was placed in a Church of England graveyard further implies that he was a Protestant.

I also had the notion that whoever had I.D. buried, might not necessarily have known him. They were perhaps some local benefactor with a passion for abolition, someone who wished to make reparation for the shame of slavery by giving some poor itinerant black man a decent burial.

And there we have it. The mystery remains. But the stone itself has been listed by Historic England. Here is what they have to say:

 We have no absolutely certain information about the person commemorated by this headstone. However, the burial register records the internment of John Davies on 12 September 1801, and contains an historic annotation linking Davies with the I.D. tombstone. Shropshire is not notable for its links with the West Indies and the slave trade, but it seems likely that ‘I. D.’ came to Bishop’s Castle or to one of the country houses hereabouts, at least initially, as a servant. The quality of the headstone, with its elegant inscription and decoration, suggests that the person commemorated held a certain status, whether as a servant or not. The biblical quotation is one sometimes employed by abolitionists, and its levelling sentiments suggest that the person responsible for erecting the memorial was sympathetic to the movement. The positioning of the tomb is very curious, it being turned away from the other graves in the area. This headstone faces west, towards an ancient yew tree; the inscription is therefore hidden from general view.

Historic England listing

 

100_7362

We are not ones for religious dogma in the Farrell household, but as we left I.D.’s grave, and walked away from this picturesque English churchyard, we were heartened by this small monument of human compassion with its fierce sense of justice. Why in the name of the universe does skin colour matter? Why should people be judged superior on the basis of whiteness. Why do many still look down on people of colour because they were once enslaved? If the palaeontologists are correct, we are all Africans under the skin. And if Africa is where we evolved, then everyone’s ancestors would have been some shade of brown.

But this unsolved mystery is not the end of this particular story. At the top of Bishop’s Castle’s steep main street that leads up from the church, we came upon a current and timely expression of human compassion. Someone had placed a notice in the window of their house:

100_7236

Written in response to Ailsa’s Travel Theme: letters – and commemorating a visit to Bishop’s Castle where different ‘letters’ came together to form powerful messages of common humanity.

 

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

Alan Turing Revisited

100_5249

Alan Turing Memorial 1912-1954, Sackville Gardens, Manchester: sculptor Glyn Hughes

*

Over at Travel Words, Jude’s October Bench series calls for shots of benches with someone or something on them. This reminded me that I hadn’t posted these photographs of the Alan Turing Memorial, taken on a bright and early April morning in Manchester. I like the way someone has placed a cherry blossom behind his ear – symbolic perhaps, but affectionate too. I feel that if he had been alive now, living in world that is rather more enlightened about sexual mores, he would have enjoyed the gesture.

I have written a little about Turing’s life in an earlier post – An Intricate Mind. His is a mind we could have well done without losing before it had reached the natural conclusion of its great thought processes. And since no opportunity should be lost to counter any lurking bigotry, I’m repeating here what I said in that post:

 

Here is the statue of man whose decoding of German Enigma Code is credited with shortening World War 2 by two years, and so saving thousands of lives. After the war, working in Manchester, he played a key role in developing ‘Baby’, the first digital computer. He had the brilliance of intellect and foresight that should have been considered a national treasure. Yet in 1952 he was charged with engaging in homosexual acts, tried and convicted of gross indecency. The penalty was prison or chemical castration through the administration of oestrogen. He chose the latter. But because homosexuals were considered security risks, he forfeited his security clearance. In 1954 he was found dead. At the inquest the coroner concluded he had committed suicide by taking potassium cyanide. He was forty two.

There have various theories about his death: that he staged it to look like an accident; that it was in fact an accident; that he was assassinated. In any event we can only guess at the scale of his future contributions to the domains of science, mathematics, and computer technology had he lived. In 1950, concluding his article in the journal Mind, Computing Machinery and Intelligence, he himself said:

 We can see only a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.

In 2013 Turing was granted a royal pardon, and British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, expressed his regret at the way the eminent mathematician had been treated. Today, Turing’s great-niece, Rachel Barnes is lending her support to the campaign Turing’s Law that wishes to see 49,000 others given posthumous pardons. She says that while the Turing family was delighted by Alan Turning’s pardon, they felt it unfair that it was not extended to others similarly convicted.

Turing relative demands pardons for gay men convicted under outdated laws

And all I can say is: see where bigotry takes us. And if you want to see what kind of funny, humane man Alan Turing was, and discover something of his intricate thinking, then read the article Computing Machinery and Intelligence at the link above. It begins with the words:

 I propose to consider the question, “Can machines think?”

100_5253

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

Inside Much Wenlock’s Council Chamber: can the past cost too much?

100_6652

This is not the sort of chap you expect to find at a town council meeting (lion or devil, I’m not sure which) but then Much Wenlock’s council chamber is no ordinary place. It was built in 1577 as an extension on the 1540 civil courtroom. The two chambers on the upper floor of the Guildhall thus became the judicial and administrative centre for the 70 square miles that had once been ruled by the Prior of Wenlock. Underneath was the town lock-up, and an open space for a corn market.  Behind is the churchyard, and next door, Holy Trinity parish church. The hub of the town then.

100_5540 - Copy

But perhaps the most surprising thing about the council chamber is that it is still in use today, although anyone sitting through a council meeting may well be left with distinctly unfavourable impressions of the past, and physically too: the seating is a torture on both knees and nether regions. I guess it was designed to keep everyone awake.

I’m afraid these upcoming interior shots look a bit woolly because of the spotlighting. On the other hand, they perhaps convey some sense of the antique residue that pervades the place.

100_6640

The panelling around the walls is 17th century, and was bought from elsewhere and installed in Victorian times by the town’s doctor and benefactor, William Penny Brookes, he who invented the modern Olympic Games (a fact I may have mentioned a few times.). The mayoral and officers’ chairs are especially awe-striking, and the said august personages truly do need to have on all their robes , wigs and paraphernalia if not to get lost inside them. These days this usually only happens on Mayor Making Day, once every four years.

100_6646

 

100_6645

Here’s a closer view of the panelling behind the officers’ chairs. (There’s another scary entity up in the top right hand corner). Then coming up is the panel above the fireplace. Something to do with the Garden of Eden perhaps:

100_6650

And now for a glimpse of the Church Green, along with the grave of William Penny Brookes. The blue painted surround is comprised of Olympian victors’ garlands. The Green is the venue for all the town’s fairs.

100_6649

This next shot is taken from the Green. It’s hard to capture both the Guildhall and the church at one go:

P1000406

Of course the question that has doubtless surfaced in many of your minds is does the antiquated setting of the council chamber affect the quality of the thinking that goes on in there, and likewise the kind of decisions arrived at?

A few years ago I would have said that it certainly did. Some of the councillors back then had served for fifty years. These days, though, we have some very hardworking representatives. They are not paid either, since the once impressive Borough of Wenlock with its two members of parliament is no more, and the current town council has no more status than a parish council. But paid or not, our councillors still have some pretty big headaches to wrestle with, one of them being the continued upkeep of the Guildhall, including the roof over their own chamber.

It is perhaps a good example of the past becoming a public burden. Doubtless it is an amazing relic, and full of history, but it is no longer functional in modern terms. For one thing, there is no access for anyone with disabilities, or for the elderly who simply might have difficulty mounting the handrail-less stairs. As a listed building, the cost of installing some kind of lift would be astronomical, even if it were actually feasible. This situation immediately excludes quite a segment of the town from the democratic process. The uncomfortable seats probably do for the rest.

As to who foots the bill for running costs, then it is ultimately us, the council tax payers of Much Wenlock. If we did not pay to keep it going,  it’s hard to know what anyone else would do with such a building. So here we have it – listed, listing, leaking energy, and generally not fit for purpose.

Attempts to raise some revenue by charging a  modest fee to visit the old court room and council  chamber did not work. Few people wanted to pay to go in. Now the court room is a small museum and art gallery, and entrance is free.

All of which leaves us with an impossible, but fascinating building, and one that probably no one in Wenlock would wish to be without. It gives the town its identity, and so maybe, at the end of the day, it’s only right that its citizens continue to support it, whatever way they can. At least the old corn market is still well used, and much for the purpose it was originally intended.

100_6020 (2)

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

 

This week at Thursday’s Special, Paula is inviting us to post traces of the past. Please visit her blog to find out what she and others have come up with.

The Leaning Tower of…er…Bridgnorth?

100_6830

100_6829

At 15 degrees this castle has ‘more lean’ than the leaning Tower of Pisa, although all that remains of this 900-year-old Norman castle is this blown up tower. It is now now a feature in the sedate Castle Gardens  in Bridgnorth, Shropshire, my nearest market town.

The ruins have been in this state since Britain’s Civil War in the 1640s, when Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentarian forces laid siege to this key Royalist stronghold. The Royalists meanwhile had set fire to the town before retreating into the castle. The fire then reached the Roundheads’ gunpowder store just outside the castle wall. This duly exploded, and the upshot of all the firing and blasting was that the Royalists surrendered, and Oliver Cromwell ordered the complete destruction of the castle. As you can see, the tower defeated the demolition gang, and so there it stands, apparently defying gravity for the last 368 years.

IMG_1870

Below is the view over the River Severn that you  might once have had from the castle keep. When Charles I first visited the place, he is reputed to have pronounced it “the finest view in all my Kingdom.” Sadly for him, he did not live too much longer to enjoy either the view or the kingdom.

100_6848

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

 

This week at Paula’s Thursday’s Special, she is inviting us to share Traces of the Past. She has a truly impressive castle to show us, one that was being built at much the same time as the Bridgnorth stronghold.

5 Photos 5 Stories: Hidden Wenlock #5

100_3612

For the final post in this Hidden Wenlock series I thought I’d show you Ashfield Hall, one of the most impressive houses on the High Street. Yesterday I said how many of the town’s ancient timber-framed buildings had become hidden within later stone exteriors. With this house it was rather different.

The left-hand wing with the arch was built some time between 1396 and 1421 by one William Ashfield, a town resident. The impressive timbered wing was added in the 1550s for Richard Lawley. He and his brother, Thomas, were members of a leading local family, and it was they who, after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, bought the Priory and its estate from Henry VIII’s physician, the Venetian, Augustino Augustini.

Augustino seems to have been a slippery type, always short of money. He had been Cardinal Wolsey’s physician before Wolsey lost royal favour. He then became embroiled in the intrigues of King Henry’s ‘fixer’, Thomas Cromwell, who had also been  a Wolsey retainer. One of Augustino’s missions was to go to Germany to lobby support for Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon. The Priory was thus his reward for services rendered. He wasted little time in selling it off, and the Lawleys paid him £1,606 6 shillings  8 pence for it. On the proceeds of the deal he then headed home to Italy.

In the 17th century Ashfield Hall became the Blue Bridge Inn, named after the bridge that crossed the malodorous stream, the town’s open sewer that ran down the main street, and was known for good reason as the ‘Schet Brok’.

Despite the insalubrious quarter, legend has it that King Charles I stayed at the Blue Bridge in 1642, en route for Oxford and the Battle of Edgehill. Thereafter, the place went seriously downhill, and became a lodging for itinerant labourers.

But there are earlier stories than these relating to Ashfield Hall. The High Street used to be called Spital (Hospital) Street, and it is believed that the archway probably gave access to the Hospital of St. John whose existence is first documented in 1267. In 1275 an appeal went out for the Master and Brethren of the hostel “to which lost and naked beggars are frequently admitted for their relief, the house being in great poverty.” Merchants coming to town with grain and other goods to trade were called on to give some assistance. By 1329 the Priory was taking over the premises, although it is not known if they continued to run the charity.

This reminds me, though, of a statistic I read years ago in an economic history of Medieval Europe. It shocked me at the time, but it seems it was the norm pretty much everywhere in the Middle Ages for 20% of the population to be beggars (professional or otherwise) and living off lordly charity. Giving to the poor was apparently an important means by which the rich got over their guilt at being rich, and so gained grace. It was how society worked.

100_4920

By the 18th century, we have a different story. Much Wenlock has some of the most comprehensive pre-1834 English Poor Law records still surviving. The dismal picture they paint is more about local bureaucrats trying to save the town from the expense of supporting any more poor than it absolutely has to.  The destitute were mostly women and children. The women, often no more than girls who had been sent off as apprenticed labour and returned, impregnated by their overseers and masters, were subjected to pre-birth, and post-birth bastardy examinations to determine their right to stay in the parish. If churchwardens and overseers found against them, they were subject to removal orders. Pauper children were sent as indentured apprentices to anyone in need of cheap labour. I have a copy of a Much Wenlock churchwardens’ indenture of 1805 which places

Thomas Williams aged eight years or thereabouts, a poor Child of the said Parish ~ Apprentice to James Barker of Madeley Wood, Whitesmith…with him to dwell and serve…until the said Apprentice shall accomplish his full Age of twenty one years ~

In return, James Barker is to train the lad in the business of a whitesmith (tin working), and give him “sufficient (the quantity is unspecified) meat, drink, apparel, lodging, washing and other things necessary and fit for an apprentice.”

It’s a sobering glimpse of life for the powerless and underprivileged. It shows, too, the disparities between rich and poor, the respectable and socially unacceptable in a small, but  largely prosperous town like Much Wenlock.

Which rather brings me back to the Schet Brok, the town’s once infamous open sewer. In fact it was not until Victorian times that the stream was finally enclosed and culverted, and a proper sewerage system installed. These improvements were down to the town’s good physician, Dr William Brookes, he who also masterminded the Wenlock Olympian Games and inspired the modern Olympic  movement.

The brook still causes the town problems, even though (mostly) we can no longer see it. Come heavy storms on Wenlock Edge, and the culvert has been known to cause terrible flooding, the last event being in 2007. But that, as they say, is another story, although I’ll leave you with some pictures courtesy of Much Wenlock’s Flood Action Group. It is a good example of how the doings of the past, hidden though they may be, can be very much with us.

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

collagehighst[1]

 

5 Photos 5 Stories Challenge

Pauline at Memories Are Made of This nominated me to take up this challenge. The idea is to  “post a photo each day for five consecutive days and attach a story to the photo. It can be fiction or non-fiction, a poem or a short paragraph, and each day nominate another blogger for the challenge”.

So today I would like to nominate Anke at Life in Baku. She has been living and working in the capital of Azebaijan since 2012. Her blog is an on-going quest to reveal in words and photos, places and people, their ways of life. Join her on this fascinating journey. 

P.S. To those who are taking up my challenges, I gather from Jo at Restless Jo (who is also doing it this week) that it should be ONE photo. Oh well.

Hidden Wenlock #1

Hidden Wenlock #2

Hidden Wenlock #3

Hidden Wenlock #4

 

Reference: W F Mumford Wenlock in the Middle Ages

5 Photos 5 Stories: Hidden Wenlock #4

100_7003 - Copy

As I’ve been writing these pieces about the less obviously seen quarters of my home town, I’ve been aware that there is a danger of casting all in a glow of antique glamour.

It’s true that these days Much Wenlock is a very attractive place to visit. For a small town, the range of architecture (representing as it does a thousand years of continuous human habitation), is fascinating. There are grand medieval mansions, and  small stone cottages, and many quirky vernacular details. The magnificent timbered Guild Hall glimpsed below, and dating from 1540, is still the town’s council chamber, and with seats that feel like the rock of ages to those of us who have sat through many a council meeting.

P1000406

But this is all very well. For centuries, life for the labouring people of Wenlock must have been pretty grim, and one of the grimmest places to work must surely have been in the town’s many quarries, known locally as ‘the Rocks’, which I think says it all.

I’ve explained elsewhere how the town sits beneath the twenty-mile limestone scarp of Wenlock Edge, an up-thrust fossilised, tropical seabed. I’ve written, too, of how the limestone has been exploited for centuries, and at least since Roman times. Milburga’s Saxon monastery, parts of which survive beneath the parish church, was built of local stone, as was the grand Norman priory that superseded it. Later, after the Dissolution, much of the stone was re-purposed in many of the town’s buildings, and often used to clad earlier  timber-framed buildings. So it is that many of the town’s oldest surviving dwellings, including a medieval hall or two, are quite hidden from view behind much later stone facades.

100_5025

Other key uses for the quarried limestone were as a flux in the growing iron industry (i.e. from at least the late 17th century) and for lime burning to make fertiliser and building mortar.

For centuries quarrying would have been a manual task with heavy hammers, rammer bars, stone rakes and barrows as the quarrymen’s main tools. The use of black powder explosives, and then gelignite for blasting, was a much more recent practice, and not without its own serious hazards.

Lime-burners also had their kilns near the quarries, but operations were seasonal, and lime-burners did not appear to make much of a living despite the demand for their products.

The quarry featured in this post is Shadwell or Shady Well Quarry. It lies directly behind Windmill Hill, and is the nearest one to our house.

100_6671

P1000654

Workings here seem to have begun only in 1849 when Francis and John Yates of Ironbridge took a 14-year lease of a new quarry in Windmill Hill field, later called Shadwell Rock. They expected to dig 9,000 tons a year ( Glyn Williams Much Wenlock’s Limestone Quarries). In the 1860s the arrival of the railway plus the provision of a dedicated siding, saw Shadwell develop into an industrial operation. The South Wales & Cannock Chase Coal & Coke Company took over the lease, and in 1873 despatched 22,500 tons of iron fluxing stone to the Black Country in England’s industrial Midlands.

The quarry continued to be worked until 1996. Since then it has been left amid growing desolation. A few years ago there were plans to open a diving school with fifty cabins in the woods below the windmiill, but nothing came of it. The water has a strange blue-green hue which makes me think of Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Solaris. The pool is said to be over 70 feet deep and, from time to time, daft young men who have had too much cider, film themselves diving off one of the cliffs. There have been a few near misses survival-wise.

But at least some life forms have been making good use of the cliff faces. Since the blasting stopped peregrine falcons have begun to nest here. The same is apparently true for the other abandoned quarries along the Edge. There are ravens there too, although not yet at Shadwell. Perhaps they will come. It’s a pleasing thought: a case of positive re-purposing.

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

 

Related:

Sun setting over Wenlock Edge: Or did the earth move?

Old stones of Wenlock: repurposing the Silurian Sea

 

5 Photos 5 Stories Challenge

Pauline at Memories Are Made of This nominated me to take up this challenge. The idea is to  “post a photo each day for five consecutive days and attach a story to the photo. It can be fiction or non-fiction, a poem or a short paragraph, and each day nominate another blogger for the challenge”.

So today I would like to nominate Hanne T Fisker. She takes stunning photographs. Her blog is called Simplicity of Being, but her compositions brim with textural drama, and the light-and-shade complexities of the natural world. Please take a look at her work.

5 Photos 5 Stories: Hidden Wenlock #3

P1000386

Saint Milburga’s Well is my choice for Day 3 of Hidden Wenlock. (Again thanks to Pauline at Memories Are Made Of This.)  It can be found just off Barrow Street, not far from the back gate to The Abbey which featured yesterday.

There are many strange myths associated with this particular saint, and her affinity with wells and springs: remnant (or not so remnant) pagan beliefs interwoven with notions of Christian miracles. But first some facts.

St. Milburga was a Saxon princess, daughter of the Mercian King, Merewalh, who held sway over much of the English Midlands during the 7th century.  These were turbulent times – the spread of Christianity going hand in hand with securing territory. And Merewalh was a man with a plan. Instead of arranging dynastic marriages for his three daughters, he made them rulers of new religious houses across his kingdom. In this way Merewalh consolidated spiritual and political prestige, commanding both bodies and souls.

According to Milburga’s contemporary, the historian Saint Bede, she was educated for her religious life at the monastery of Chelles in Paris. Then around 690 AD she returned to England and took charge of an abbey in Much Wenlock. It was a community of both monks and nuns, although they worshipped separately. There Milburga presided for the next thirty seven years, ministering to the people of her extensive domain lands.

As I said, there are hosts of legends about her, her healing powers and her ability to strike springs from the ground, and bring winter-sown barley from seed to harvest in the course of one day. There are also tales of her fierce resistance to male suitors, and rivers rising up to thwart her pursuers. After her bones were rediscovered in 1101, the cult of Milburga continued to grow over succeeding centuries. It was said, among much else, that she brought several people back from the dead.

The water from her well was also supposed to have very special powers, curing even blindness. Something of this belief persisted into the last century. Lady Catherine Milnes Gaskell, chatelaine of The Abbey until 1935, relates a conversation with a Wenlock girl, Fanny Milner. Her granny had sent her to fetch some water from the well  so she would be able to read her Sunday scripture, “glasses or no glasses”. This is what Fanny tells Lady Catherine:

“It be blessed water, grandam says, and was washed in by a saint – and when saints meddle with water, they makes, grandam says, a better job of it than any doctor, let him be fit to burst with learning.”

 

Lady Catherine also relates how the well  had once been long associated with rather less sacred pursuits:

It is said that at Much Wenlock on “Holy Thursday”, high revels were held formerly at St. Milburgha’s Well; that the young men after service in church bore green branches round the town, and that they stopped at last before St. Milburgha’s Well. There, it is alleged, the maidens threw in crooked pins and “wished” for sweethearts. Round the well, young men drank toasts in beer brewed from water collected from the church roof, while the women sipped sugar and water, and ate cakes. After many songs and much merriment, the day ended with games such as “Pop the Green Man down”, “Sally Water”, and “The Bull in the Ring”, which games were followed by country dances such as “The Merry Millers of Ludlow”, “John, come and kiss me”, “Tom Tizler”, “Put your smock o’ Monday”…

Catherine Milnes Gaskell Spring in a Shropshire Abbey

*

 

These days it is hard to imagine this gloomy and mysterious well being the focus of so much racy celebration. The well’s spring has anyway been capped, so there is no longer any holy water inside. But it might be nice to throw it a good party and wake it up, though I’m not sure about beer brewed from church roof water. Mm. Essence of mossy slates and lead guttering at the very least.

Now here’s a photo of the church in question. It stands on its green in the heart of the town. It was originally part of the Priory, and is said to be on the site of Milburga’s nuns’ church. If you look hard, you will see the plastic owl on the tower parapet. It’s there to discourage the pigeons, although I’m not sure if it works. From what I have seen of them on my allotment, Wenlock’s wily pigeons would know a plastic owl when they saw one.

IMG_1338

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

 

5 Photos 5 Stories Challenge

The idea of this challenge is to  “post a photo each day for five consecutive days and attach a story to the photo. It can be fiction or non-fiction, a poem or a short paragraph, and each day nominate another blogger for the challenge”.

So today I would like to nominate Janet Weight Reed at My Life As An Artist. For one thing she is a magical water colourist. For another, she is so very generous with her artist’s knowledge and techniques. One of her specialities is humming birds. Go and see. Believe me, they will fly out of your screen.