Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Hall Place

Posted: November 27, 2019 in History, London, UK
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Hall Place lies outside the ancient village of Bexley on the south-east edge of London. It was built in 1537 for Sir John Champneys, a wealthy London merchant. It is believed that much of the building material used in its construction was ‘recycled’ from the nearby monastery at Lesnes Abbey, which had been closed following the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII. In 1649, the house was sold to another city merchant, Sir Robert Austin who expanded the building to double its original size. He made little attempt to harmonise his new building with the original style and thus the whole building looks very different whether viewed from the front or from the back.

In the 18th century, the house passed into the possession of Sir Francis Dashwood, a politician who had held the post of Chancellor of the Exchequer. However, for much of the Dashwood family’s ownership, the house was leased out to tenants and at the end of the 18th century was used as a school for young gentlemen. The 19th and 20th centuries continue to see the house let to tenants, the last of whom was Lady Limerick from 1917 until 1943.

In January 1944 Hall Place was taken over by the US Army, where it served as one of the signal interception stations which fed messages into the code-breaking centre at Bletchley Park.

After the war had ended, the Place was used as a school annexe until 1968, when it became the headquarters of Bexley’s libraries and museums service. Today the properties managed by Bexley Heritage Trust and much work has been done in recent years to improve the facilities and the accessibility of this house and its large garden.

Three hours on Alcatraz.

Posted: November 21, 2019 in California, History, USA
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Reminds me of my last visit to SanFrancisco about 12 years ago when Sue and I visited the Island. So close to the city yet there are no records of a successful escape, only 1 prisoner who escaped and was never recaptured, but he is presumed to have drowned in the bay. Despite its location very lonely and very atmospheric.

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No trip to San Francisco would be complete without a visit to Alcatraz Island. Just over a mile offshore it is windswept and battered by swift tides.

Alcatraz was a federal prison that housed some of the countries most dangerous criminals including Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly. Since its closure in 1963 it began to fall into disrepair but this and its location led to its becoming a major tourist attraction.

We caught the ferry from Pier 33 for the short crossing to the island and did the guided audio tour. We were able to look at the very basic cells.

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Outside there was a bare recreation area from where you could catch a tantalising glimpse of the mainland. So near yet so far away.

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It was a fascinating tour. Part history and part Hollywood with clips from the Clint Eastwood film.

But, three hours was quite enough time…

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George Augustus was born in northern Germany in 1683 and was the last British monarch to be born outside of the British Isles. His father, the Elector of Hanover became King George I in 1714 and George II succeeded him in 1727. During the War of Austrian Succession, George became the last British monarch to lead an army in battle.

It was a time of major change in Europe and foreign affairs dominated George’s reign with the wars of Austrian Succession, the Anglo-Spanish war, the war of Polish Succession and the Seven years war being fought to decide who ruled the major countries of Europe. At home, he also faced and defeated the Jacobite rebellion of 1745 which sought to put the Stuart dynasty back on the British throne.

George donated the Royal Library to the nation and it was housed in the British Museum forming the core of the Libary now known as the British Library.

George died in October 1760. His son, Frederick had died 7 years previously and so he was succeeded by his grandson, George III. George was initially regarded as a weak king by writers and historians. However more modern research has challenged this idea and is much more appreciative of his contribution to history.

This statue of George sits in the central area of the Royal Naval College at Greenwich and depicts him in Roman military dress. It dates from 1735.

Elsing Spital

Posted: November 19, 2019 in History, London, Medieval History, UK
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I came across Elsing Spital (Elsing’s Hospital) whilst walking in the City of London during a lunch break in a conference. All that remains of this medieval hospital is the tower of the church, which now sits amongst the concrete tower blocks of the city.

The hospital was founded in 1131 by William Elsing as a hospital for the blind homeless people of London. In 1340 the running of the hospital was undertaken by the Augustinian order, who appointed a prior and canons to live on the premises. Eventually, the number of inmates would rise to around 100.

The priory and the hospital were closed during the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII and the property was granted to Sir John Williams, the master of the King’s Jewels. However, he did not get to enjoy it as within a year fire had destroyed the whole building.

As the city of London grew around it, the land of the hospital was used for buildings and by 1960, the remain buildings of the tower were enclosed by the surrounding buildings to the extent that they were no longer accessible by the public. However, more recent development have created an open plaza which contains the remains.

Thomas Hardy was born in 1769 and entered the Navy in 1781 as a captain’s servant. However, he left Naval service the following year and went back to school. He rejoined the Navy in 1790 as a midshipman and served in the Mediterranean. By 1796 he had obtained the rank of first lieutenant in HMS Minerve. This was the flagship of Commodore Horatio Nelson and the first time that Hardy had met the man who was to become his lifelong friend. Harding was captured following a battle with the Spanish while serving as a prize master but was quickly exchanged for the captain of the price ship. In 1797 as commander of HMS Mutine, he took part in the Battle of the Nile and was promoted to captain. He transferred to HMS Vanguard, at that time Nelson’s flagship. Two years later he was appointed as captain of HMS Princess Charlotte and returned to England. The following year he was appointed to HMS San Josef and departed for the Baltic, but soon transferred to take up the role of flag captain on Nelson’s HMS St George. Following the Battle of Copenhagen, Hardy served as flag captain to Admiral Charles Pole. Taking command of HMS Amphion the following year, he returned to Portsmouth where he found Nelson waiting to go to the Mediterranean. Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory, was not ready to sail and so Nelson transferred his flag to HMS Amphion and he and Hardy set off a Gibraltar. They eventually transferred to Victory the following year. In September 1805, he sailed for Cadiz in Spain and the Battle of Trafalgar. During the battle, Nelson was shot by a sniper and Hardy held his dying body. The Admiral asked Hardy how the battle had gone and then instructed him to take care of Lady Hamilton. His final request was ‘kiss me Hardy’ and his lifelong friend obliged. Nelson died shortly afterwards. Hardy was created a baronet, transferred to HMS Triumph and sailed for North America. Transferring into HMS Barfleur, he was flag captain to Sir George Cranfield Berkeley, his father-in-law. In 1815 he was awarded the Knight Cmdr of the order of Bath and the following year was promoted Commodore and commander-in-chief of the South America station. In 1825 he was appointed Rear Admiral and served in Portugal and the Channel fleet. In 1830 he became first Lord of the Navy and was a strong promoter of the introduction of steamships. He resigned in 1834 and became governor of Greenwich Hospital, was promoted Vice-Admiral in 1837 and died at the hospital in 1839. He is buried in the hospital grounds.

The statue and monument are in the chapel at Greenwich Naval College.

Corridor under chapel leading to the skittle alley

In a cellar under the Chapel is a skittle alley. Created in the 1860s to help entertain the retired seaman who lived there. The balls used were practice canon balls.

You can still use it today and Keith and I had a game whilst we were there, which Keith won with a strike (some people are just lucky!).

The Chapel was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and was redecorated in 1779 following a major fire.

The hall was originally designed to be the dining room of the home for retired seaman founded on the site by Queen Mary in 1694, but soon became reserved as a place for ceremonial occasions. The painting took 19 years (1707 -1726) and was overseen by James Thornhill. The work includes pictures of the 3 monarchs: Queen Anne, who had built the Hospital; William and Mary, whose reign saw the beginning of the painted hall project and George I in whose reign it was completed. In fact, 2 other monarchs can also be seen as Princes George (later George II) and William (later William IV) are shown in the family group surrounding George I. It was likely with the political changes that the design was changed on a number of occasions during the painting. The theme is ‘Triumph of Peace and Liberty over tyranny’.

The hall was used for many important events including the lying-in-state of Nelson after the Battle of Trafalgar. The queues are reputed to have stretched for miles.

When the Hospital closed and the Royal Naval College took over, the hall was used as a dining room for the officer cadets until the college moved in 1997. It is now maintained by a charitable trust and the Hall reopened in 2017 following a two-year refurbishment project. During this remains of the old Tudor palace at Greenwich were discovered below the hall

Keith and I took a trip to Greenwich recently to visit the Old Naval College.

The Naval College was built around 1700 as a home for retired and destitute seaman from the navy. However despite its grand surroundings life was pretty rough and ready in the college. It also included a specialist hospital for treating sick or injured seaman. The buildings were designed by sir Christopher Wren but he had to change his design to allow for there to be a river view from the Queens house in the adjacent palace of Greenwich.

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The design had to incorpaorate an uninterupted view of the river from the Queens house (seen between the two wings)

The design had to incorporate an uninterupted view of the river from the Queens house (seen between the two wings)

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The seaman’s home closed in 1869 and the buildings passed to the Royal Navy to use as a training college. They occupied the site until 1998, when it passed to a trust charged with preserving the buildings. The current tenants of the site are the University of Greenwich and Trinity College of Music.

Another wet day and a visit to the Steam Railway at Bodmin.

Due to geographical nature of Devon and Cornwall, the two main lines passed to the North (London and South Western Railway) and to the South of Bodmin (Great Western Railway). So it was connected by a number of branch lines, the first of which connected it to Wadebridge via Wenford in 1834, giving it access to the sea. The second joined it to the line from Plymouth to Falmouth (now the mainline) at Bodmin Road (now Bodmin Parkway) in 1859 and a third which linked the town to Boscarne Junction in1888.

Passenger services to Bodmin Town were halted in 1967, although freight services continued until 1983. There was an immediate movement to restore the line as a heritage railway and the first open day was held in June 1986. the line to Bodmin Parkway was opened in 1990 and extended to Boscarne Junction in 1996.