Round And Round The Circle In Bishops Castle With A Few Squares And A Steam Roller Thrown In

Bishops Castle is another favourite Farrell destination – a sleepy rural town in the Shropshire-Welsh borderland. It is full of quirky and ancient houses, though this one at the top of the town must surely take the prize for being the most smile-inducing. I thought this pared down photo would tick all Becky’s boxes (square ones naturally).

But I was sure you would like to see the full picture too:

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And the houses at the bottom of the town, sporting their Michaelmas Fair-Steam Rally banners:

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And a taste of the Steam Rally:

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You can see more about Bishops Castle at Summer Came Back On Saturday And Took Us To The Fair

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March Square 8

All Gold On All Hallows’ Eve In Bishop’s Castle

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The Shropshire Hills lay in a golden haze on the last day of October. Not only that, it was warm and still, and in Bishops Castle, where we went for my birthday outing, all was drowsing. We were drowsing. Lunch at the Castle Hotel was long and leisurely, and the food unassumingly delicious, and we spent the afternoon drifting around the streets, looking in the windows of shops that were mostly shut. It did not matter. It was Monday, and clearly the proprietors of most of the town’s establishments had better things to do on Mondays. We simply made a mental note to return when we were more alert, and they were more alert, and on the kind of day when it didn’t seem too bothersome to open one’s purse and shop.

Here then are scenes of Bishop’s Castle. It is a town with a very long and steep high street – a handsome church at the bottom, a fine town hall at the top, and ancient hostelries  brewing their own ale at either end. And from every quarter, whenever you look down a main street you can see out to the countryside beyond. The best of all worlds then. I’m leaving the photos to speak for themselves, apart from saying, look out for the crocheted fairy cakes: they almost look good enough to eat. Oh yes, and there’s a shot of me with my best and only sister, Jo, in the garden of the Castle Hotel.

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copyright 2016 Tish Farrell

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I’m linking this to Jo’s Monday Walk. So if you want more than the amble I’ve given you here, pop over there for a proper walk. It’s in Portugal too.

Blowing Big Bubbles In Bishop’s Castle ~ Thursday’s Special

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There screams of delight when Tall Will The World’s Tallest Bubbleologist began his magic. In fact it was rather like a bubble-version of the Pied Piper. As long as Tall Will was making bubbles the children were in hot pursuit. Everyone wanted to catch their own bubble. Of course I ran after him too. Never was more high-octane joy created than from Will’s bucket of agitated soap solution.

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These photos were taken at Bishop’s Castle’s Michaelmas Fair last September. There were all kinds of magic there: it’s that kind of place, with or without the fair. You can see more at Summer Came Back On Saturday And Took Us To The Fair.

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Paula’s theme this Thursday is ‘inflated’. Please pay her a visit. You won’t be disappointed. Promise!

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

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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

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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.

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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

 

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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:

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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

Bubble-heaven or alien invasion?

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Following on my last post about the Bishop’s Castle Michaelmas Fair I thought more bubbles were called for. Because, well, everyone loves good bubbles, don’t they? They are not something you ‘grow out of’. Also the joy on the faces of the children was a pleasure to behold. With bubbles cascading every which way, the kids were in danger of bursting themselves, so brimming with excitement were they. Clearly hi-tech toys and expensive computer games can’t hold a candle to this kind of high-pitch, high-squeal-n-dash fun. Besides, what can be more magical than rainbow spheres filled with sunlight, and all emerging from something as mundane as a piece of soggy netting and a bucket. (My take on the Daily Post’s photo challenge GRID)

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Tall Will The World’s Tallest Bubbleologist is the man casting his net filled with soapy water. (He’s six feet ten inches tall by the way). I think he’s a magician. He’s also a mean stilt-walker.

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Where’s My backpack travel theme: move

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Summer came back on Saturday and took us to the fair…

 

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…to the Bishop’s Castle Michaelmas Fair, to be precise. And not only did summer come back to us after a week of dreary coldness, it was warm, and bright and stayed ALL day.

The fair was to be found in every quarter of the town, from St John the Baptist Church at the bottom of the hill to the Three Tuns Inn at the top of the hill, and with here-and-there enclaves in between.

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This shot of the High Street looking towards the church was taken from the window from the Town Hall. This handsome civic building (coming up next) has recently been refurbished and doubles up as the town’s market. This year it is celebrating its 250th  birthday…

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Wending on upwards past the Town Hall, and bearing to the right, you come to the Three Tuns Inn. It is one of Shropshire’s real ale treasures. They’ve been brewing beer there since 1642, so they must be doing something right. It’s apparently the oldest licensed brewery in Britain, but…

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…it is not the only  micro-brewery in this small town. For those who don’t care to climb hills for a pint, you can sample the Six Bells’ Cloud Nine, a piece of real ale heaven, down on the corner of Church Street.

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A nice set of wheels, chaps?

Which brings me to another big excitement of the day – the Michaelmas Fair Parade. Not only did we have beer, bubbles, folk songs, indie rock, ballads and wall to wall bonhomie, there were also classic cars, tractors, and steam powered vehicles. But before all that we had…

Oh ye, oh ye. Make way for the Bishop’s Castle Elephant…

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He’s called Clive, and was created by local maker, Bamber Hawes, with help from the town’s Community College students. Bishop’s Castle artist, Esther Thorpe designed Clive’s ‘skin’, and the primary school children did the printing. And if you want to know why Bishop’s Castle has an elephant on parade, I’ll explain later.

For now, watch your toes, here comes a huge steam roller…

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…and Peterkin the Fool on his stilts. He nearly trod on me…

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…and then there were tractors (I remember when farmers had these)…

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…and cool types in classic cars…

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Then there were owls to hold, alpacas with socks to sample, more bubbles from the world’s tallest bubbleologist. We were so excited we had to resort to the Church Barn for soothing tea and brownies. After all, no good English ‘do’ is complete without afternoon tea…

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And now as promised, a bit of a yarn about Clive the Elephant. It’s a tale of dirty dogs and political shenanigans of 250 years ago. These were the days when Bishop’s Castle was a notorious Rotten Borough. There were two Members of Parliament, and only 150 people with the right to vote. How people cast their vote was a matter of public record, and this meant voters could be intimidated into supporting particular candidates.

Enter Shropshire-born Robert Clive, aka First Baron Clive aka Clive of India.  He was on a mission to build political power, and had the money to buy it. He had used his position in the (also notorious) British East India Company not only to found the British Empire in India, but also to return from the Sub-Continent with shiploads of loot. He then set about buying votes for the  men he wished to have as MPs. As part of his scheme of self-aggrandizement he added an elephant to his coat arms. It symbolized India, and his personal power. Today, a stone carved version may still be seen in Bishop’s Castle’s old market place…

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The reason Clive wanted power was so he could set about reforming the East India Company, and get rid of corruption in the administration. This did not come to much. Pots and kettles come to mind here. He died at the age of 49. All sorts of allegations were made as to cause of death – that he stabbed himself, cut his throat with a penknife, died of an opium overdose. It seems he suffered from gallstones, and was using the drug to deaden the pain. A more recent interpretation of events concludes he died of a heart attack due to the over-use of opium.

However you look at it, this is not a good elephant story. Far more heartening is the fact that during World War 2, a circus elephant was looked after in the town, and  lived quietly in the stable of the Castle Hotel.

Finally a few more scenes of fun and jollification. I should also say that if I didn’t live in Much Wenlock, Bishop’s Castle would be the place I would most like to live – no longer a rotten borough, but a place bursting with community good spirits…

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

Even though it was a Saturday, I’m linking this to Jo’s Monday Walk

Please visit her blog. There is no better place to be inspired to get out and about with your camera.