One Tower, Many Stories

Exploring England #38

London’s skyline is dominated by skyscrapers and towers; some are famous and are visited by thousands of tourists each year. At a height of 27 metres the White Tower, part of the Tower of London, was the tallest building in London at its completion  in 1098. Standing at a far more impressive 306 metres and completed in 2012, The Shard is the tallest building in the UK.

Another tower, less well-known but claiming an equally significant place in English history, is the Jewel Tower, located behind the Houses of Parliament. Dating from the 14th century, the tower is one of only two buildings to have survived the 1834 fire which destroyed the Palace of Westminster.

Built in 1365 on the orders of Edward III, the tower was originally known as the ‘King’s Privy Wardrobe’. It housed his personal collection of jewels, silverware and luxurious wall-hangings. To protect the king’s belongings, the ground floor had no windows and 18 locks were placed on the doors. A moat surrounding the tower, filled by water from the River Thames, added extra protection.

The tower later became known as the Jewel Tower because of a misconception that, in medieval times, it had housed the Crown Jewels. From 1580 to 1864, it was used as a storage facility for the official parliamentary records of the House of Lords. Documents including Acts of Parliament and the death warrant of King Charles I were filed by the Parliamentary Clerk, who lived in a small house next door.

Occupancy of the tower changed again in 1869 when the newly-created Standard Weights and Measures Department took up residency. With its thick stone walls, the tower was the perfect place for testing delicate instruments and creating standardised units of weight and measure. It was here the imperial system of measurement was developed. The Department continued its important work until 1938, when it was found that vibrations caused by an increase in passing traffic affected the precision of the instruments.

In 1987, UNESCO declared the Jewel Tower and its surrounding land a World Heritage Site. It is also protected as an Ancient Monument and Grade I listed building. Today, English Heritage has custody of the tower, which is open to the public every day. Exhibitions on all three floors showcase the different roles the Jewel Tower has played over the years, with replicas of King Edward’s silver plate, copies of historical documents and 19th century measuring instruments on display.

The Jewel Tower may not be imposing or beautiful, but it’s worth spending a couple of hours learning more about this unique building and its fascinating contents.

Hidden Treasures

Exploring England #37

London is full of historic sites commemorating people and events from the past. Many are famous and teeming with visitors, while some are almost unknown. On our way to the Museum of London, we discovered a small green square containing two hidden treasures.

The dilapidated ruins of a medieval gate, built on top of the original Roman city wall, fill the front of the square.  Even when dwarfed by  the surrounding modern buildings, the 13th century bastion is imposing. The Roman wall, constructed in the 2nd century AD, was fortified with 21 bastions added in medieval times.

Behind the bastion are more remnants of the city wall and, tucked into a space between the wall and the Barber-Surgeons’ Hall, is the Barbers’ Physic Garden. Created in 1978, the plants are representative of those used for medicinal purposes from medieval times to the present; they were all listed in a botanical book published in 1597 by John Gerard, Master Barber-Surgeon.

Each plant is accompanied by an explanation of its medicinal benefits. Some have been in use for centuries but, with modern research methods,  others have been found to have unhealthy side effects.

Many of the plants are familiar to us. They grow just as happily in Australian gardens as in this hidden garden in the centre of London.

 

Meeting James and Jo

Exploring England #36

The list of notables who come from Yorkshire is long. Through the centuries many English inventors, entertainers, artists and writers along with those who have excelled in their chosen sport and those who were saintly have been Yorkshire born and bred. Explorers feature prominently. Helen Sharman, the first British astronaut, and Amy Johnson, the first woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia, are on the list.

In a single day we met two of Yorkshire’s famous wanderers; the 18th century navigator and cartographer Captain James Cook and the lovely lady known to many of us as Restless Jo.

Our first contact with James Cook was at the the Captain Cook Memorial Museum in Whitby.

He lodged in this 17th century house as a merchant navy apprentice from 1746 to 1749. Here he learned the skills of navigation, trigonometry and astronomy he would later use in his explorations in the Pacific Ocean. The museum’s extensive collection of Cook memorabilia includes letters and maps detailing his three great voyages of discovery. Of most interest to us was his first voyage, from 1768 to 1771 in HMS Endeavour, when he circumnavigated New Zealand and mapped the east coast of Australia. We imagined a young James Cook looking out over Whitby Harbour from the attic window, dreaming of future adventures on the high seas.

We found Captain Cook again, at the top of North Terrace in Whitby, gazing out over the North Sea. Depicted with his nautical mapping instruments, the statue pays homage to his status as one of history’s greatest cartographers.

We met Jo and her husband Mick in Great Ayton, the town where James Cook lived as a boy and attended the Postgate School from 1736 to 1740. The original building no longer exists but another constructed in 1785 in the same materials now houses the Captain Cook Schoolroom Museum. Near the School on the High Green is a statue of Cook as a school boy.

Of course, cake and a walk are obligatory when spending an afternoon with Jo.

We shared a delicious afternoon tea at Stamps Coffee Shop before driving out of town to Gribdale Gate. Here a wide path led up onto Easby Moor to another monument to Captain Cook. Erected in 1827, this towering obelisk looks across the heather to Roseberry Topping where Cook often walked as a young boy, his thirst for exploration already evident.

There was one big difference between our travel-loving group and Captain Cook and his crew. Unlike James, who relied on artists to make detailed drawings of all he saw on his journeys, we waylaid a fellow sightseer and gave her our cameras. Memories of an adventure shared were captured in an instant.

Join Jo for Monday Walks

At the Top of the Cliff

Exploring England #35

High above the town of Whitby a Benedictine abbey stands in ruins, another victim of King Henry VIII’s 16th century dissolution of the monasteries. Perched on East Cliff, Whitby Abbey overlooks the North Sea and the hills and dales of North Yorkshire.

A church has stood on the site since 657 AD; these ruins date from the 13th century. After the dissolution, the monastic buildings and the surrounding land became the property of the Cholmley family. The Abbot’s house was extended in the 17th and 18th centuries and is now the visitor centre and museum.

Where monks once lived a life of devotion and prayer today’s visitors stand in awe, gazing upwards at what remains of the ornate stonework. A light breeze whispering through the cloisters echoes songs of worship from the past.

So Much Yarn!

Exploring England #34

Some visitors come to the North Yorkshire market town of Skipton to immerse themselves in history; Skipton castle, surrounded by 12th century stone walls, was once the home of the aristocratic Clifford family, while the beautiful Parish Church of Holy Trinity houses their resplendent tombs.

Others enjoy Skipton’s natural beauty or use it as a base for exploring the hills and woodlands of the Yorkshire Dales. On Thanet Canal, pretty houseboats compete for space with families of swans and ducks.

But on one weekend in September, people come from far and wide to see something else altogether – yarn!

Celebrating creativity, colour and “all things woolly”, Yarndale brings together producers, designers and textile artists in a festival dedicated to yarn in every imaginable form.

More than a kilometre of crocheted bunting decorates the ceiling inside Skipton Auction Mart, where exhibitors display their yarns in all the colours of the rainbow.

Beautiful finished works create a collage of colour and texture. It’s an Aladdin’s cave of treasures for any crafter, and the possibilities are only limited by their imagination.

Even the creatures who provide the yarn are represented!

Yarndale 2017 takes place on 23rd and 24th September.

Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Collage

Visiting Brideshead

Exploring England #33

In the 1981 television adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, Brideshead Castle is home to the fictional and fabulously wealthy Flyte family. In reality, the magnificent building which stars in the series is Yorkshire’s Castle Howard, one of the largest country houses in England. Belonging to the Howard family since the 18th century, Castle Howard is not really a castle, but a stately home built where a military castle once stood. Filled with statuary, paintings and a wealth of precious objects, the house is one of the ten Treasure Houses of England.

Ticketed entry to the house allows us to wander at our own pace from one elegant room to the next, where friendly household staff tell us stories about this beautiful home. In the Antique Passage, we see treasures collected by generations of the Howard family while on their grand tours of Europe. We marvel at the workmanship in the Chapel, the collection of family portraits in the Turquoise Drawing Room and the dome of the Great Hall, restored after a devastating fire in 1940.

Castle Howard is surrounded by 1, 000 acres of lush parkland, ornamental lakes and fountains, gardens and woodlands. Gilded gates lead into the 18th century walled garden where roses, fuchsias and an abundance of annuals grow alongside beds filled with edible plants destined for the family kitchen.

Beyond the garden we stroll along the shaded Lime Walk to the Atlas Fountain, where gods of the sea serenade Atlas as he holds up the sky.

At South Lake, the Prince of Wales Fountain plays elegantly over the water while the Shepherd Boy keeps watch.

At the end of Temple Terrace stands the elegant Temple of the Four Winds, while in the distance New River Bridge leads to the private family mausoleum.

In Ray Wood, sunlight shining through the trees dapples the wide path. Birds sing but remain unseen as they stay hidden in the leaves.

At the Boathouse Café, we enjoy a delicious lunch on the shores of Great Lake.

All the time we’ve been at Castle Howard I’ve almost expected to meet the family; not the Howards but the Flytes – Julia, elegantly lounging by the fountain, Cordelia sitting quietly in a window seat or Sebastian, with his teddy bear, Aloysius. They’re nowhere to be seen, but I’m sure I feel their presence.

A Walk Around York

Exploring England #32

On our first day in York we had one goal – to visit The Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Saint Peter in York, more commonly known as York Minster.

Dating from the 13th century, the church is the second largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe. To make the most of our visit, we took a guided tour around the vast interior. With our enthusiastic leader, we learned the stories behind the medieval stained glass, Gothic carvings and ornamented ceilings inside the church and marvelled at the intricate stonework outside.

It would have been a mistake for us to think, once we’d seen the minster, we were finished with York. We spent the rest of the day exploring beyond the minster and found a wealth of historical buildings with their own stories.

Described as the best preserved medieval street in the world, The Shambles is  lined with haphazard half-timbered buildings. Each storey overhangs the one below until, at the top, they almost touch. Once filled with butcheries, the street now bustles with artisan stores, cafés and souvenir shops.

Until King Henry VIII’s reformation of the churches in the 1500s, the Treasurer’s House was the official residence of the Treasurer of York Minster. It was given to the Archbishop of York in 1547 and now belongs to the National Trust. Built over the top of a Roman road, the house is said to be haunted by a group of Roman soldiers who march in formation to an unknown destination.

The Abbey of St Mary was another building forever changed by Henry. Once the richest Benedictine Abbey in England, it was closed during the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. Much of the stonework was reused on other buildings; today only the north and west walls remain. The gardens of the nearby Yorkshire Museum enhance the jagged beauty of the ruins.

In contrast to the ancient buildings of York, the museum is relatively new. Opened in 1830 by the Yorkshire Philosophical Society, it was one of the first in England specially built as a museum.

We came across many more wonderful buildings on our walk. We did not know their history but we were entranced by their appearance.

After wandering the streets, we found a different way to view the beautiful architecture of York. The city wall, complete with medieval gates and defensive towers,  gave us another insight into the past.

It also provided us with excellent vantage points to appreciate once more the glory of York Minster.

Join Jo for more Monday Walks