My favourite combination – historic place and historic textiles… reblogged from my stitchy blog…

Dreaming In Stitches

In which even the persistent rain couldn’t spoil the pleasure of a visit to the home of my historic hero, bess of Hardwick…

It won’t surprise anyone who comes here often, that Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire exerts a powerful allure for this particular history junkie, combining as it does the attractions of a seriously grand Elizabethan great house, with an unsurpassed collection of historic textiles.

2015-06-13 16.27.19 Hardwick Hall – more glass than wall – as they say…

And perhaps adding the real cherry on top, is the fact that both the building and the textiles exist here today, due to the efforts and vision of one truly remarkable Elizabethan lady – the redoubtable, Bess of Hardwick.

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I don’t need much encouragement to go along to Hardwick, so when an opportunity came up at the weekend, off I went!

Hardwick Hall is…

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Medieval faces…

The medieval faces at All Saints, Soulbury…

Dreaming In Stitches

I’ve been having a few churchy days lately, courtesy of the bell-ringers in the family.

On Monday, I spent an hour at our local church, All Saints, Soulbury. I’ve been there so many times, but I still love to wander around, it’s a fascinating place. But in all the hours I’ve spent in that church, I’d never previously realised there was a little medieval treasure waiting to be found…

Have a good look at this chancel window…

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Now, the chancel windows, on either side, each has that colourful glass border. I’d never paid it any attention on other visits. But while I was there on Monday, I took a closer look.

And it appears that each of those coloured sections is a fragment of medieval stained glass – presumably from the pre-Reformation days. Most of the fragments are difficult to identify, although I spotted a few architectural features, and some fabric…

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Three Castles in a day – oh joy!

A couple of weeks ago, this history junkie had the pleasure of visiting Goodrich, Skenfrith and Grosmont Castles, all in one day – to say that I was in my element would be putting it mildly…

Having grown up in Worcestershire, and with parents willing to drive me all over Herefordshire and the Welsh Marches, my love of ruined castles started at an early age. And the castles of this area are, without doubt, the ones I love most.

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Skenfrith Castle

As long as I can remember, I’ve been entranced by their strong, dominating presence – even those where little now remains, have left an imprint on our imaginations of their once powerful influence.

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Grosmont Castle

The castles of this region were built primarily to dominate – to oppress, to make it clear to the local population, who was now in charge. Some were later adapted for more stately living, but in the main they are business-like buildings, sending out a message that is still obvious today, nearly a thousand years since they were introduced by the Norman invaders of the eleventh century.

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Goodrich Castle

Every time I see one of the castles of the Marches, I debate with myself, why is it that as someone whose natural tendency is to side with the Anglo-Saxons, gets such a thrill from castles, which would surely have been viewed as an unparalleled outrage by the Welsh and Anglo-Saxon population when they were built. I’ve never really found the answer, – perhaps I’m really of Norman descent?  All I can say is, whenever I walk up to one of these brooding beasts, I break out into a massive smile… 

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Windows – interior tower – Grosmont Castle

All three of the castles I visited recently are early examples – castles built to defend and dominate their surrounding area – the Monnow valley – which was an important route between Hereford and Monmouth. Skenfrith and Grosmont, together with White Castle, are known as the Three Castles, and were mainly under the responsibility of the same governor, for most of their active history. But while Skenfrith and Grosmont were largely abandoned and left to ruin by the sixteenth century, Goodrich, which is significantly larger, went on to see action in the Civil War.

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Courtyard interior Goodrich Castle

I’m not going to go into the individual histories of each castle here – there are excellent Wiki pages with links at the bottom of this post if you want to learn more about them.

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Courtyard – Grosmont Castle

The aspect which captivates me, is being able to recreate in my mind the nature of the buildings and to try to put myself in the shoes of the people who actually used them all those centuries ago. I like to look out of the arrow slits or the deep window seats and wonder who else sat there – what were they doing? What were they looking for? Imagine being on watch on the battlements, imagine the sights, sounds and smells of life within those massive stone walls.

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So much stone! – Grosmont Castle

For me, the whole romance of these places is the closeness of the past – I put my hand on the stone as I walk up the spiral staircase, and immediately think about all those other hands that touched exactly that spot…

And I feel transported.

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Skenfrith Castle

Easy isn’t it, to see why they inspire poets, playwrights and painters…

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For more information…

Skenfrith Castle – history

Grosmont Castle – history

Goodrich Castle – history

Skenfrith and Grosmont are free to visit at any reasonable time. There is a charge at Goodrich. The cafe at Goodrich is excellent – try the cheese scones!


Cultural overload at Ely Cathedral…

Here’s a question for you. What happened at Ely Cathedral 693 years ago, on Friday 13th February 1322?

OK history buffs – you’re right, the central tower fell down.

And by pure coincidence, I made my first ever visit to Ely cathedral on the very day of that anniversary – Friday 13th February 2015.

Fortunately for me (and everyone else), there was no repeat of the events of 1322, and instead, I had the most marvellous time, exploring the many attractions of this fantastic cathedral – including a trip up to the famous wooden Octagon tower, which was built after the 1322 disaster, and which is now perhaps the cathedral’s crowning glory.

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The day  was intended to be something of an artists day out, especially a visit to the RSN ecclesiastical embroidery exhibition, but there was much more to set your creative juices flowing. So much so, that by the time I came away, I really felt that I’d been well and truly topped up.

Whenever I visit cathedrals, I like to absorb their atmosphere – they vary so much. Ely I decided, was intent on making me smile. From the very start, entering through a small door, inset inside a larger pair, and finding yourself emerging into a breath-takingingly long nave, and then as you move from the austere Norman architecture, into the octagonal centre, I simply defy you not to be overwhelmed by the sheer beauty and magnificence.

Then there was the exquisite Lady Chapel, the intricate carved niches standing testament to their brutal treatment during the Reformation, the stained glass windows, drenching you in rich jewel colours, (the cathedral is also home to a superb Stained Glass Museum), the confection of the Gilbert Scot organ case – and on it goes. I loved the way a new wonder unveiled itself at every turn.

And of course, the Octagon Tower itself – a medieval wonder in every way.

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If you’d like to see the photos I took and read a little about the history of Ely Cathedral, then follow the link here to my Ely Cathedral page.

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But if you have the opportunity – go and see it yourself. I can’t wait to hurry back!