Archive for the ‘History’ Category

King Arthur

Posted: October 21, 2019 in cornwall, Dark ages, History, UK
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Another day of heavy rain forced us to look for somewhere indoor to visit and so we decided to visit the Arthurian centre at Slaughterbridge on the banks of the River Camel. Slaughterbridge stood at an important ford across the river and therefore was an important strategic site. The name of the village gives a good indication that this is the site of a battle, in fact, its two battles. The first was the battle between Arthur, King of Cornwall and Mordred his nephew, who was in rebellion and took place according to records in 537. The second was in 823 when the Anglo-Saxons under Egbert of Wessex defeated the army of Cornwall and Wessex took control of Cornwall. Numerous artefacts of dark-age weapons have been found on the site, showing this certainly was a battlefield.

On the site, there has also been the discovery of a 13th-century village and an 18th-century garden, but perhaps the most controversial finding is a dark-age stone (c540) found by the river which has both Latin and Ogham (ancient Irish language) inscriptions. The latter is almost unreadable due to erosion, but the Latin inscription has been interpreted by some as reading ‘Here lies Latin(us) the son of Arthur the Great’. An alternative translation and interpretation have read as ‘ Here lies Latinus, the son of Macarius’. Neither the less it is an interesting artefact as it is one of the few gravestones found in Britain that have both Latin and Ogham inscriptions together.

The exhibition and information are very good as they do not seek to verify the legends of King Arthur, merely to present what is known from historical and other sources and to let the visitor make up their own minds about what they believe is true and what is fantasy. My personal conclusion, Arthur was a Celtic War-leader, in the period when the Anglo-Saxons began to enter Britain. He fought to protect the western lands of the British Celts and was to a large degree successful as the Anglo-Saxons didn’t finally gain control of Cornwall till many years after his death.

West Country 2019 (4): Boscastle

Posted: October 4, 2019 in cornwall, History, UK

Sue and I went to the picturesque village of Boscastle on the North Cornwall coast. Historically, the harbour was important as it was the only harbour on the north coast for 20 miles. During its active time, it was used to import limestone and coal and exporting slate. The village is at the confluence of 3 rivers before they reach the sea.

On 16 August 2004 a flash flood, caused by heavy rainfall flowing down the rivers meeting a high tide, caused extensive damage as the water rose above the river banks and harbour walls. 50 cars were swept into the harbour and a number of buildings were seriously damaged including a number of the villages historic buildings. Amazingly no people were killed. The National Trust, which owns a lot of the properties and land in the area and other organisations set about restoring the village to its pre-flood condition.

Originally posted in July 2013

Was great to be back at Didcot Railway Centre to see 6023 King Edward II in steam.

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6023 was a king-class heavy express steam locomotive specifically designed for taking express trains over the steep gradients found on Great Western routes in south-west England. 6023 came into service in June 1930 and spent most which working life based at depots in the South West before transferring to Old Oak Common in London in August of 1956, where it worked on the London – Wolverhampton route. In September of 1960 it transferred to Canton depot in Cardiff and until its withdrawal in June 1962 working trains between London and Cardiff.

Most of the King class locos disappeared quickly after they were withdrawn from service. However, 6023 together with 6024 were kept to perform deadweight testing on bridges and subsequently sent to Woodhams in Barry, where, like many locomotives they were left to decay. In fact, 6023 stayed at Barry until 1982 when it was purchased and moved first to Brighton and then to Bristol for restoration. Unfortunately before this work could be completed the funds ran out in 1988. The locomotive was then purchased by the Great Western Society, and arrived at Didcot in March 1990, where restoration recommenced. The locomotive was finally first steamed in public at Didcot in April 2011.

Brilliant to see her in full steam, although I have to say I’m not a great fan of the blue livery, although I’m told this is authentic BR livery from the 1950s. Call me traditional but I’d much rather see her in GWR green or BR green or black. perhaps blue engines remind me too much of Thomas the Tank Engine (Not that I have anything against Thomas, you understand)

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4468 Mallard was built at Doncaster in 1938. The A4 class was designed for the North-Eastern Railway by Sir Nigel Gresley to pull high speed express trains. Mallard remained in service until 1963 working the route between London and Edinburgh. Mallard is the holder of the record for the fastest steam train in the world at 125.88 MPH. This record was achieved on 3rd July 1938 on the Stoke bank section of the east coast line near Grantham. It was a risky business as a curve occurred in the line just beyond the Stoke bank and the engine needed to break heavily to ensure it remained on the rails, During this the engine overheated (a problem that had been foreseen) and the engine had to be removed from service for repairs. Mallard also took part in the 1948 Locomotive exchange trials when locos from different regions of the newly formed BR were trialed on routes they did not usually run. Mallard hauled a train from London Waterloo to Salisbury but failed following the run and was removed from the trial. Mallard also pulled the last Steam hailed flagship ‘Elizabethan’ express from London to Edinburgh on 8th September 1961.

In the 1980s the engine was restored to working order and after being used for a number of years for pulling railtours become part of the static collection at the National Railway Museum, firstly at York (till 2008) then at Shildon (2008-2010) and subsequently back at York.

The plaque on Mallard commemorating the Stoke bank record

The plaque on Mallard commemorating the Stoke bank record

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Westminster Cathedral

Posted: September 20, 2019 in History, London, UK
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Perhaps it could be described as the unknown cathedral of London – Westminster Cathedral, not to be confused with Westminster Abbey in Parliment Sq, is the mother church of the Roman Catholic church in England and Wales.

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It stands in Victoria on the site of an old prison. After some initial delays, construction started in 1895 and the cathedral was opened in 1903. It is built in the neo-byzantine style and was described by John Betjemen as’ a masterpiece in striped brick and stone in an intricate pattern of bonding, the domes being all brick in order to prove that good craftsmen have no need of steel or concrete’

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I was interested to see that many of the residential blocks which were built at the same time on the old prison site reflect the coloured stonework of the cathedral.

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Mounted guard from Lifeguards

Mounted guard from Lifeguards

A trip into London and some time to kill. I decide to visit the Household Cavalry museum off Whitehall. The museum is located in Horse Guards Parade in part of the stable block for the Guards on duty.

Mounted guard from Blues and Royals

Mounted guard from Blues and Royals

The regiments which now form the Household Cavalry were originally 3 regiments: the Lifeguards were founded in 1660 by King Charles II. Two other regiments, the Royals (Royal Dragoons) and the Blues (Royal Horse Guard) were added to the Household Cavalry in 1820, although they had been founded in the 17th century as independent cavalry regiments. The Blues and the Royals were merged to form a single regiment in 1969. In ceremonial dress the Lifeguards wear red tunics with a white helmet plume and the Blues and Royals wear blue uniforms with red plumes.

Dismounted guard from Life Gaurds

Dismounted guard from Life Gaurds

Dismounted guard from Blues and Royals

Dismounted guard from Blues and Royals

The Museum deals with the history of the regiments over the years and also highlights the two roles that the regiments take in the modern day army. There is the well known ceremonial role – duty at Horse Guards parade and escorting members of the royal family on ceremonial occasions such as trooping of the colour.
What is less well known is the role that the majority of the regiment has as an active mechanised regiment serving around the world as part of the British Army.

One section of the museum enables you to look through into the working stables as the troopers prepare their horses for duty on the parade ground.

Dress uniform of Lifeguards and Blues and Royals. The black plume designates a Farrier

Dress uniform of Lifeguards and Blues and Royals. The black plume designates a Farrier

Dress ceremonial coat of a member of the Regiments mounted band

Dress ceremonial coat of a member of the Regiments mounted band

My favourite story was of the tradition that when an officer left the regiment, he was expected to donate a piece of silverware to the officers mess. One officer wasn’t particularly worried or concerned by such traditions and when reminded of the tradition waved it off saying ‘ oh just buy something and charge it to my bill’. His fellow officers hurt by his indifference to regimental tradition went out and commissioned a large table centre-piece and then presented him with the bill

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A great little museum in a very interesting location,ideally coupled with a visit to the changing of the guard.

Cutty Sark.

Posted: September 18, 2019 in History, Ships
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Cutty Sark. Photo by Paul Hudson (https://www.flickr.com/photos/pahudson/

Cutty Sark is the last surviving example of a Clipper. The ships got their name from the American expression ‘to go at a clip’ meaning to go fast. It became a term applied to any boat with a long narrow hull, a yacht like appearance and a large sail area. They were built for speed.

Hull of an East Indiaman (Top) and of Cutty sark (bottom)

Hull of an East Indiaman (Top) and of Cutty sark (bottom)

In the 1860s the big profitable cargo was tea from China. There was a large premium to be made for the first consignments back in London. From 1860-1870 there were about 280 British ships involved in the tea trade. The fastest passage from Shanghai to London was made by the Harlaw in 1869 at 89 days.

Cutty sark was launched in November 1869 and first set sail to Shanghai in March 1870. She was one of 9 ships owned by John ‘White hat’ Willis a Scottish businessman, who got his nickname because he always sported a white top-hat. She was designed for the tea trade with maximum capacity in the ideal shape for speed. She was made of iron frames. wooden planks and brass sheathing which was believed to be the ideal construction for speed and transporting tea.

Hull construction of metal frame. wooden planks and brass sheath

Hull construction of metal frame. wooden planks and brass sheath

In fact Cutty Sark made only 8 trips to China and her fastest time from Shanghai to London was 109 days. She would carry general cargo’s out to China and then on the return leg could carry around 600,000 kg of tea on each journey.

Tea chests in hold

Tea chests in hold

The opening of the Suez canal in 1869 was to mark the end for sailing ships in the tea race. They were unable to navigate it and so they were at a great disadvantage to steam ships which could now do the journey in around 60 days.

The two routes from Shanghai to London once the Suez canal opened in 1869

The two routes from Shanghai to London once the Suez canal opened in 1869

Cutty Sark was switched to transporting Wool from Australia and for many years she was the fastest ship in the wool trade. On every trip she could carry 5,000 bales of wool, each bale containing the wool from 60 sheep.

Wool bales

Wool bales

In 1895 she was sold to Ferriera and Co of Lisbon, who renamed her ‘Ferriera’. She carried general cargo to South America, Africa, the USA and Britain. In 1922 she sailed into Falmouth harbour in the south west of the UK. She was recognised by a retired Captain, William Dowman who set about raising the funds to buy the ship. She was moored in Falmouth and restoration began, She was used as a sail training ship and as a visitor attraction. In 1938 she was moved to Greenhithe on the River Thames where she became part of the Thames Nautical Training College. Eventually in 1954 she went on permanent display at Greenwich. In 2007 during renovations she was damaged by a fire. Thankfully all the artifacts and fittings had already been removed and the only thing that was seriously damaged was the decks (which were mostly 20th century anyway) although some buckling of her metal framework can be seen today. The ship re-opened to the public in April 2012.

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Being a history buff, the British Museum is probably my favourite of the many museums in London. The collection dates back to the middle of the 18th century when the physician and naturalist Sir Hans Sloane bequeathed his collection of over 71,000 objects on the condition that it was not broken up. The government accepted this and the British Museum was founded. In 1757 King George the second donated the Royal library to form part of the new collection. The first British Museum was housed in a 17th-century mansion in Bloomsbury on the side of the current building and the open for public viewing on 15 January 1759. In the early years the annual attendance was about 5000 people per year. The museum continued to acquire important pieces related to world archaeology and cultural studies. These included the Rosetta Stone, which was the key to understanding Egyptian hieroglyphics amongst other ancient languages, classical sculpture and, perhaps rather more controversially, the Parthenon sculptures from Greece. In the mid-19th century, the existing building was expanded and the natural history collection was moved to its own location in South Kensington (now known as the Natural History Museum). The collection continued to expand and the late 20th century saw new developments to enable more, and better, display of the collection. This included a complete reworking of the centre of the museum building and the removal of the British library from the site to a new purpose-built library near St Pancras. This work continues today and a brand-new set of galleries, together with new conservation facilities will be opened in 2014.

Further details and vistor information can be seen at http://www.britishmuseum.org/visiting.aspx?ref=header

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Detail from the portico over the main enterance

Detail from the portico over the main enterance

The Museum in the 18th century

The Museum in the 18th century

The new conservation and exhibition building

The new conservation and exhibition building

By the middle of the 19th century it was becoming evident that the British Museum collection was outgrowing its home in Bloomsbury. It was therefore decided to create a new museum to exhibit the natural history component of the collection. The site chosen was the site of the 1862 exhibition building in South Kensington (this had been labelled as one of the ugliest buildings ever built). Ironically, the architect chosen to design the new museum was the same one as had designed the 1862 building. However, shortly afterwards he died and was replaced by Alfred Waterhouse, who designed the building, which stands today and is reckoned by many to be one of the most attractive buildings in London.

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Natural History Museum London
Photo by Jancsi (http://www.flickr.com/photos/26831835@N00/)

The museum opened to the public in April 1881.

William Wallace (engraving of the late 17th or 18th century)
Source: http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c20690 (Public Domain)

William Wallace was a member of the lower Scottish nobility. He was born in 1270 and fought in the wars of Independence against England. After leading the Scottish army to victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297, he was appointed the governor of Scotland, a post which he held until his defeat at Falkirk the following year when he resigned in favour of Robert the Bruce. Wallace is believed to have left Scotland and travelled for several years around the courts of Europe, pleading the Scottish case against the King Of England.

By 1304, he was back in Scotland, fighting the English invaders. In August 1305 he was captured by a Scottish Lord, who supported the English King and handed over to the English forces. He was brought to London and tried for treason and war atrocities. He responded to the charge that he could never have committed treason as he was not a subject of the King of England. He was found guilty and was executed at Smithfield.

This memorial was unveiled in April 1856 near the site of Wallace’s execution.