Archive for January, 2012

A – Z of the UK: D for difficult or maybe Dunnottar… and Dover another day.

I have had a bit of trouble with ‘D’. I can name several villages but I feel it is the big towns that folk are more likely to be interested in so I am going to take a quick look at Dover from a historical point of view. Before that there is one place that I have to mention; a place that I visited several years ago with my family and one that stirred up the novel that is rough drafted and sitting in my desk drawer. This place is a castle in Scotland, near Stonehaven and is the most amazing place I have been to, surpassing Edinburgh Castle just by its situation.

Dunnottar Castle was one of the places I have been that made such an impression in me that my mind instantly built a picture of what it might have been like. Its situation totally blew me away and I could have stayed there forever, had it not been a ruin of course. Perched high on the cliffs the ruined castle has sea on all sides apart from one, the way in. This entrance was a long winding pathway down steps hewn in the rock for the most way, through what seemed to be a cave of an entrance. There are pictures on the following website and a lot of details about the castle. Because of copyright laws I cannot publish any pictures from that site so the link is the next best thing.

The only other entrance to the castle is by boat and a hefty climb up the path in the castle cliffs. The bottom of the path can be seen in the picture on the left to give you some idea of the difficulty there might be to get to the top and making Dunnottar castle practically impenetrable but even so it is an important site in Scottish history and many  sieges took place there. The history of the site goes back to sometime between 5000 BC to 700 AD, but there is no exact known date. As I am giving several links to information sites and I haven’t done enough research on it I will just mention my thoughts on this amazing place.

The atmosphere is completely awesome, and by awesome I mean it in the true sense of the word. I defy anyone visiting there to come away without a sense of wonder and carrying a few ghosts from history in their minds. It gets you that way. As you stand and look out of the windows the fresh sea air tosses your hair and takes your breath, sea birds dive and soar past the deep stone ledges of the windows as they swoop to rest on the cliffs below. A look out of the window has to be the most breathtaking view ever. I have been up in mountains, in valleys and on wonderful coastlines but nothing compares to this view for me.

The cliffs are a sheer 160 feet and the sea crashes onto the rocks below. The castle is built into the cliff so close to the edge that no one could ever escape from those windows, nor the castle itself. Although most of the castle is ruined there are some areas that have been renovated and the ‘Drawing Room’ can be used for that very special meal I believe, though I cannot imagine caterers taking food all the way down that path. The keep and vault are well preserved and even a picture leaves one with that sense of awe so do look at the linked site.

Far from being just another ruin, the castle is also used for Weddings. The ceremony can be held anywhere in the castle from the Smithy to the Chapel but I guess the guests must all have to be fit to walk the pathway into the castle as access by wheelchair must be impossible, but what a perfect place for a special day .

Another reason to enjoy the castle, and I don’t just mean the historical re-enactments that take place throughout the year, is the amazing variety of wildlife around. There are boat trips that take you round the cliffs beneath the castle where you can see caves and observe sea birds like the guillemots, razor bill and kittiwakes that breed on the cliffs. Although fewer than the first three I mentioned you can also see puffins, shags and herring gulls too. Of course the sea has it own attraction in the seals and dolphins that appear from time to time.

Dunnottar is one of the most memorable places I have visited. I should love to go back there one day but these days difficulty in walking won’t allow me to climb the rocky pathways and uneven floors but, I live in hope. Meanwhile the feeling that the place leaves you with has been such inspiration for my writing, just thinking about it has rekindled that excitement, so all is not lost.

I haven’t given up on Dover because the history there is also amazing but because I struggled with it I shall revisit at a later date, meanwhile on to ‘E’.

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Armchair travelling.

I am really enjoying the research and history of the UK in my A – Z of the UK. Not only that I am getting to read blogs on the same vein from far away places but I am learning probably more than I would if I visited the countries. I would get so awed by the beauty and architecture I would forget to look at the things I was supposed to. Everything I saw would be through an artists eye and I would miss real stuff. Seeing countries through someone else’s eyes and from the comfort of my arm chair helps keep me focused.

It reminds me of what it was like to read as a kid, how I loved those old books, Pinocchio, the original version, The Water Babies, poetry by Georgina Rosetti. I even memorised one of GR s poems and I can still recite it to this day. By the time I finished degree my six years ago that included literary history, I had lost something really special. I no longer read a book for the sake of losing myself in the story. I could no longer watch a film, drama or play for the same reason. I was taught to analyse everything from a writer’s point of view and that knowledge leapt in first and I was no longer a reader… I had become a reader. I had got so excited about the learning I never really felt it creeping over me.

Mind you, I have that same excitement at the moment as I look for places and towns to blog about. I have to admit that it is the history that captivates me, more the social history than the political although there is often little to separate the two. How great it is to look at a place, find out the ancient history and see what life is like today because of that history. My mind immediately paints a picture, or activates one of those fast forward films as I watch the generations that have molded and changed a place. How language has influenced place names and why. How spelling has developed leaving little smatterings here and there to remind future generations of their origins.

So yes, I am enjoying reading other writers views on how they see different places, probably, no definitely, a much clearer vision than my own. I am not a traveller and have never left the UK so it is really special to get to know some of the rest of the world through another travellers eyes from the comfort of my armchair.

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A- Z of England: C for Chichester.

A – Z of United Kingdom: C – for Chichester

Chichester has to be one of the oldest cities in the UK, no doubt my research will prove me wrong but the information I have so far says it predates recorded history.. Now that’s old! All the little flint tools I pictured on my first A – Z were found in the Chichester area so there must be some truth in it.

I lived in three of the outlying areas surrounding Chichester for several years, only one of the villages was a large place. I say that because Rowland’s Castle has shops and a more regular bus route and a train station whereas Compton and Stoughton had very little apart from a Church and a pub. Well Compton had a village shop and a Playgroup that my children went to. I loved the rural life and I still miss it every day.

However, Chichester as the city to go to for shopping and transport is a remarkable place with a bonus – evidence everywhere of its historic past. In fact the whole city tells a tale in its architecture. Just on the outskirts of Chichester is Fishbourne, I know little of the village apart from the wonderful Roman Palace, complete with skeleton. The Palace was discovered by accident in 1960  during the digging of a trench for water pipes and it has since been completely excavated. The mosaics on display are some of the oldest in Britain and has some the only ones ever to be seen anywhere. Fishbourne Roman Palace has also become a source of hands on history for schools and visitors alike when the museum puts on several Roman based workshops throughout the year.

And I was going to talk about Chichester, I should have kept Fishbourne for ‘F’ in my A – Z. Chichester is an ancient Market City and there are many examples of the history of both the City and surrounding areas. In the year 895, Danish invaders landed at Chichester and there is a wonderful story of the forest surrounding Kingley Vale – now a nature conservation area. It is said that the Yew forest, the oldest living thing in Britain, is haunted and that each of the trees represents a fallen warrior.

I was lucky enough to live below Bow Hill in the shadow of the forest and the atmosphere is amazing. I remember taking a group of my teenage daughter’s friends up the hill to the forest for a Halloween party and not one of them would enter the forest because of its spookiness. It is almost impossible to find the same tree twice and we were sure they did actually come to life and move during the night. The cottage here is where we lived and you can see a very tiny part of the yew forest in the background.  Below to the left, again the forest in the background on a winter’s day where the forest seems to have crept much closer to the house.

In 1091 the building of Chichester Cathedral began and in 1353 Chichester was one of three towns to be granted the status of a ‘Staple Port’ and the wool trade was the most important export. Fulling mills along the river Lavant and weavers and dyers in the town  along with needlemakes and a tannery were all part of the wool and leather industry. There were markets and fairs during the middle ages and to this day the City hold a ‘Sloe Fair’ in Northgate Fields, a right that was granted by the Bishop Ralph de Luffa in 1108. The original so named, so they say, because of a sloe tree growing in the middle of the field.

The Merchant’s Guilds owned underground vaults and catacombs where perishable goods were kept. The vaults are still in existence and it should be possible in theory to walk from the public house at the top of North Street underground all the way to the Cathedral. The town also had a mint which would indicate its wealth and the market status would have helped boost the coffers.

Chichester was developed as a market town because of its situation near both the downs – livestock and farming- and the sea – export and import. Today there is still a market in Chichester, very different from times past when its prime commodity would have been livestock. Another indication of the wealth of the Bishops of the time is right in the centre of Chichester. In 1501, Bishop storey had Chichester Market Cross built for the smaller market trader to stay out of the wet as they sold goods like eggs and butter. As a market town the livestock would have been herded from neighbouring farms and towns, like Petersfield,  into Chichester and penned up along North and East streets and when full, occasionally along West Street too. However the beast market proved to make the streets into the Chichester shops impassable. Imagine mud roads and all those cattle and pigs! So the better dressed were advised to avoid Chichester. The streets were paved for the first time in 1578  after an Act of Parliament. Eventually the market was moved to, yes, you’ve guessed it, the Cattle Market. This Cattle Market closed in 1990 but retained the name and is the main car park today.

Buildings like Pallant House, 1712, The Butter Market, 1808, and The Corn Exchange Market, 1833, are still there as an example of the architecture from their respective years of being built. Places like the present day Dolphin and Anchor pub and the Nat West Bank ( The Swan) were once a coach inns ( Coach ran Chichester to Charing Cross – departure 6 am, arrival by 4pm, 4 inside seats at 18shillings and outside 10 shillings). Stories of hauntings are rife in these places. Waterstone’s the bookstore, opposite the Cathedral, has a wonderful feel as you enter inside and walk on the old flagstone floors and there are many shops and places to visit where you can get in touch with history, really long time ago stuff, in Chichester.

The notorious and vicious Hawkhurst gang operated in Chichester where smuggling of silk, lace, jewellery, spices, coffee and tea were rife and I have included a link to blog on them at the end. A walk round the town also holds a key to the trades that were prominent from the middle ages and forward. The Crooked ‘S’  was once The Shambles, a row of slaughter houses from where the offal was slung into the street – mm nice!-  Little London where merchants from London stopped while on their business, Parchment Street, Leatherbottle Lane, Clay Lane, Tannery Close, Needlemakers Street all give an idea of what might have been there in their time.

In the 18th Century Chichester had a good share of craftsmen who had their own workshops and apprentices: Carpenters, bricklayers and glaziers, saddlers, taylors, cobblers and shoemakers, coopers, wheelwrights and blacksmiths. Other services were brewers, bakers, grocers, gunsmiths and clay pipe makers. I wonder how many of those were in the above mentioned street names. By the end of the century I imagine the Needlemakers might have been sad to leave their shops when the industry died out. At least their memory is preserved in the street name.

The market town/city of Chichester is still a thriving place and there is far too much history for me to write about here but I hope I have given a feel of the City and just a small amount of its history. It is a must to visit but you will need a long holiday to find out and explore everywhere including the surrounding villages who were just as much a part of it all. Then of course there are other places nearby to visit like the Trundle ( East Lavant)where there is evidence of, amongst other things,  an iron age fort and a chapel before the reformation; The Weald and Downland Museum where many of the original timber framed buildings from Chichester, having been carefully removed, were rebuilt into a village. Brilliant for hands on, back to the past, activity days. The Devils Humps in Kingley Vale – burial mounds and barrows and from where you can see down to the harbour.  In fact almost every village surrounding Chichester has a story and something else to see and learn about. I do recommend a google search and some exploring, Chichester is another town where anyone interested in social history will not be disappointed.

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A – Z … Bristol: Skeletons in the closet.

I thought Bristol as the next town on my list would be easy, not so. In fact it has been really hard. I have only visited Bristol once as a ‘sightseer’, you know where you spend time actually wandering round and finding things. I did take some good pictures too but as I began to research Bristol I discovered that there are so many things to tell. Bristol has connections dated back as far as Saxon times and was originally known as ‘Bricgstow’. Not difficult to see how the name changed to become Bristol when you know the wonderful local accent. Bristol was believed to have been founded sometime between 577 and 978 AD, I say believed to be founded because  it is not mentioned until a while after documented evidence proves that Bath, Cirencester and Gloucester were involved in a battle that Bristol had no mention in. However Bristol was there in 1063 when Harold Godwinsson had ships commissioned in Bristol to fight a successful battle against the Welsh, you might know him better as King Harold II who perished at the Battle of Hastings only three years later.

The evidence of a bridge across the Avon is captured on a decorative motif on a modern building, the old bridge was taken down in 1761 so that a new bigger one could be built on the same foundations.

      The photo on the left is of Christmas Steps and a plaque on the wall there states that the steps were finished in 1669, before they were built it would have been a steep muddy path. I have read about ghosts haunting some of the shops there and I feel sure that the fish and chip shop that has been there for over 300 years now could well be one of the building that might well have a spook or two.

There are so many other brilliant buildings to see each with a long history and story to go with it but there is another kind of history that Bristol is famous for and a history that was the reason for so much of the lavish architecture. Georgian England saw a many buildings being built as a result of the successful trading of the time. Sugar and tobacco imports were a big part of Bristol’s success but  by the 18th century, that success also rode on the back 0f slaves from Africa and the Americas. It was from slave trading that wealthy merchants built many of the grand buildings that can be seen around the city today. I have included a couple of links on the history of Bristol for those interested but I want to look at one historic building in particular and for a very special reason.

The Georgian House is situated in Great George Street and, now belonging to the City Council, has been renovated and furnished in the style that it would have been in John Pinney’s time. There is a lot of information on the Pinneys and indeed the slave trade so I am not going to include any here apart from to say that I am delighted to say that John Pinney was a reasonable master compared to some. The story of his slave, Pero, can be read in the book of the same name. ‘Pero… The Life of a Slave in 18th Century Bristol’ by Christine Eicklemann and David Small ( ISBN -1 904537 03 0  ) is well worth a read and at the back of the book shows a picture of another piece of architecture, Pero’s Bridge. The bridge was named after the slave Pero in 1999, many years after his death as a free man at the age of 45. Today pero’s Bridge represents the music the slaves brought with them , symbolised by the great horns used as a balance so that the bridge can be raised for ships to pass, and most of all to remind us that ‘not a brick in the City but what is cemented with the blood of a slave.’ (

I mentioned earlier that I was pleased that John Pinney was a reasonable master for one particular reason. That reason also explains my title ‘Skeletons in the Closet’. John Pinney is a direct ancestor of mine. My great grandmother was Agatha Louisa Pinney. I was appalled when I first found out that I was related to someone who was involved in the barbaric slave trading, it took me a long time to accept that John Pinney was just one of the traders in England and it was a fairly widespread practice but I still feel that part of my ancestry is nothing to be proud of.

On the note of skeletons, there is another story my mother delights in talking about and it does involve a skeleton. At Bettiscombe Manor there is skull, reported to be that of a slave that died in this country. His master, Azariah Pinney, promised he would honour the wishes of his dying servant and return his body to his native country. When he didn’t problems arose with the skeleton…. The link below will tell the true story… well, and the result of modern research. See what you think.

Bristol is a fascinating City, with plenty to see and do and the one day I spent there just didn’t do it justice but the I hope the little I found out, along with the family history of course, will encourage you to look at the links and learn more about this amazing place and its origin.

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An A – Z of the UK – ‘ARUNDEL’

   The UK is rich in well documented history and in my A – Z of the UK I am going to look at, not just the towns but the wonderful history that is still in evidence today. The pictures of random stones are of Stone Age tools, dug up in places we have lived or found in the garden around the rural Chichester area. These relics triggered off many a happy ‘hunting expedition’ when my children were young and opened up the wonderment of discovering evidence that primitive man lived in the very same places many hundreds of years before us. Burial mounds, Roman Villas, historic forests, medieval villages and museums, we have lived amongst them all. There is nothing I love investigating more than the history of towns and surrounding areas and trying to imagine how these people lived. Having lived on the south coast all my life there are many towns I am familiar with along that route but I have visited many other places too.

My first town in the A – Z of the UK is going to be Arundel. Driving west down the A27 at night, I have often commented on the castle nestled in the town and the majestic cathedral towering over the town. Both are lit to show off their magnificence at night and I am ashamed to say that, because we were usually on our way home from a family trip at Hastings, we never stopped to visit. However, since doing some research I think we might just make a point of exploring Arundel.

The castle is a Motte and Bailey fortress built around the early twelfth century. Badly damaged twice by first Royalists the later Parliamentarians the medieval buildings were either rebuilt or encased by Charles Howard who also formed the Ducal residence in the late 18th century. Today it is still the ancestral home of the Dukes of Norfolk and Edward Fitzallen Howard is the present Duke of Norfolk. The castle is a centre-point for many activities throughout the year, there are open air activities, including Shakespearian plays to be enjoyed. It also boasts a cricket ground.

Arundel is a town, despite my understanding that towns with a cathedral held city status. Other snippets about Arundel are: In 2004 the town gained Fairtrade status; it has the one of the oldest scout groups having been founded only weeks after scouting began; if you are born in the town you are known as a ‘Mullett’; festivals include music, art, open air theatre; there are also firework displays, a hot air balloon glow – depending on the weather of course, street entertainers and ghost walks. The other most prominent feature is of course the Cathedral.

The cathedral was built and dedicated as a parish church in 1873. As you drive west along the A27 French Gothic architecture, a design popular with the Dukes of Norfolk in the 1400s, dominates the skyline north of the town. It only became a cathedral in 1965. Something unique lies between the cathedral and the castle in the Parish Church of St Nicholas. This church is the only building in England that houses two churches, one catholic the other Anglican. They are divided by a glass partition and an iron grill.

On a religious note there is also a Convent of poor Clares in Arundel, who are sisters sharing a prayerful life along with the ‘work, laughter and struggles, living accordingly to the Form of Life drawn up St Clare of Assissi in 1253.’

Another must visit site is the old jailhouse. Built in 1836 and situated beneath the Town Hall at the end of a passage, it once housed the inmates who had been tried and convicted in the court room above in the Town Hall. To enter you pass through an iron cell and there is reported to be a lot of paranormal activity. Many paranormal investigations have been carried out there. During the day there are ghost tours but at night the jailhouse becomes an underground club where patrons can share a cosy drink, from the fully licensed bar, sitting in one of the cells with friends or enjoy some of the best music, comedy or theatre on the South Coast.

In 1963 the undercroft of the Town Hall – the prison cells – also housed the original museum. The museum has moved several times but is now, as far as I know, being permanently housed, thanks to lottery and other funding, opposite the lower castle gate on the previous site of St Nicholas Hall.

There is a long history of brewing in Arundel dating back from 1738 when beer was safer to drink than water because it had been boiled for at least an hour and a half.

There is a whole lot more to Arundel apart from the history and as I have yet to visit and explore the town, and its wonderful architecture, I shall save any more details until I have done so. Meanwhile, and another ‘A’ place, I must mention nearby Amberley Museum. Some years ago I did visit the wonderful museum with my children. It was a fantastic experience of stepping back in time,  36 acres of everything you can imagine in an open air museum ‘dedicated to the industrial heritage of the south-east.’ You can travel on vintage transport to visit each of the exhibits from transport based collections to industry based workshops that home resident crafts people who work in traditional methods. This is one museum that kids will love, with space to run about too.

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GRRRRR… where did that go?

Today I was hoping to post my first entry for the challenge, A to Z of the UK… as I plan to look at the history of towns round and about the UK. I started with photos and info on Stone age Britain and moved onto my town for the letter A, Arundel. I know Arundel by passing through so I decided to do a little research and it has some wonderful history so I wrote what I thought was a nice piece of work. Then I hit the wrong button, tried to recover it and lost it completely… It was a lot of work so now I am back to square one but at least I know where I am going with it.. more than I do with my lap top, the mouse pad has stopped working… got plenty of gremlins today!

I have got an external mouse so that’s sorted but my first post will have to be tomorrow until then the picture on the left is one of several interesting artefacts we dug up in our garden in the village near Chichester some years ago. It is, I think, a scraping knife and fits the hand beautifully in two different ways. The UK has some wonderful ancient history and I intend to explore and research it all, along with the more modern stuff of course, so till tomorrow …

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Our amazing world

When I got up this morning and looked across the rooftops there was a dusting of frost over everything, the first frost this year. The sun lit the facets and they sparkled like tiny stars and I remembered the wonderful times we had living in the village. We walked a mile to school each morning, winter and summer alike, through rain and shine and magical frosty mornings. They were the best and we made up stories as we went along. I kept a diary back in those days and wrote about every single thing so that I wouldn’t forget. Even today, we look at our world and see, I mean really see, just how many wonders there are that often go un-noticed.

The pictures on here were taken by a young friend of my daughter, Sabrina Thomas, how I love it when I hear of young people with that special gift of watching the world. The snail is my picture, well I couldn’t leave him out now, could I?

There is a beautiful world out there and despite now living in the town there is definitely still so many things to wonder at. I miss the birds here but we get to watch those amazing geometric dances of the starlings at dusk before they all disappear beneath the train platform. Bronze coloured foxes yap and call during the night, so brave they are in the town. In the country the sight of a person would send them vanishing into the undergrowth, here they sit and look at you as if saying ‘and you want what?’

There are badgers that come out at night and so many bats in the summer and of course my wild plants.. or weeds as Harry would say, but just looking at the dandelion clock and the wonderful designs in its form. I tell him a weed is just a flower growing where it isn’t wanted.. sad, I hate pulling them out just as I hate getting rid of the snails and bugs. I think I should have stayed in the country, my garden there was big enough for everything to co-exist. Ah well.

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