Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Thoughts

I have my first ghost tour today. It is for a group of volunteers so not the paying public as such but if anyone is likely to know if I’m getting stuff wrong it’s them. So I’m nervous for that.

Where is my shopping delivery? It’s Thursday morning and I want my milk and eggs, goddammit!

I may have sold my soul to moo.com. I can’t get enough of it! Business cards, postcards, business card holders, mini business cards, greeting cards, calendars…. the list goes on and I want five of each!

There is a mug on the table next to me which says Allens Taxis. I don’t know who Allens Taxis are.

The cake is starting to take over my world! I am getting sugar headaches.  That’s not good, is it?

I think the washing machine has eaten my two favourite aprons. That’s right, people! I have favourite aprons. I’m that type of girl.

My vegetables still haven’t arrived.

I’m still nervous.

Here is a photo of some biscuits I made yesterday to liven up this rather empty meaningless drivel.

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Erdigg House

Good morning all. It’s time for Rambler5319 to take over with a guest post. Enjoy!

 

You may remember I went on a two day break to Llangollen a while ago. On our way back home we did call in at this place and as usual the National Trust didn’t let us down. It’s called Erdigg House and was down quite a long stretch of narrow lanes. Its distance away from other houses is probably the reason why the servants all lived in – it was just too far to commute in and out every day especially with the long hours of work expected of them. Built at the beginning of the 18th century it passed into the ownership of the Yorke family in 1733 and remained with them until 1973. It was then given to the National Trust and celebrated 40 years under their control this year. It has won a number of awards over the years and I think it’s worth a visit if you’re around the area. The NT had a special offer on membership so I decided to take the plunge and go for a 6 month trial. I have to visit just 3 places to get my membership cost back so it seemed a good deal.

First place we came to was the bee-keeping section. Not a very posh sign but there was the obligatory grey protective suit hanging on the opposite brick wall.
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And a pic of a volunteer keeper “marking the queen”
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Next is a water purifier.

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The tap is missing from the bottom where there’s just a hole. You should be able to read the manufacturer’s name – Lipscombe & Co and their address 233 Strand (London). I checked up on the company and they seemed to do quite well for a time with branches in a number of UK towns. However in The London Gazette (16th April, 1889) there was a notice of a hearing to take place on 16th May 1889 for bankruptcy. Things had obviously gone bad for them.

This next item is quite interesting as it’s an early form of fridge.

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Here’s a close up of the sign pinned to the inside of the lid

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Have a read about how you had to use it. No opening a door & putting something in and closing it again like we do today. What a rigmarole!

Then there was this. Any ideas?

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It is a knife cleaner. That’s right not a sharpener – a cleaner. You might just be able to see the manufacturer’s name in the largest lettering – VONO. Now if you’ve ever had one of those beds with a metal frame and a metal lattice with springs stretched between the edges they were often made by Vono. There is special tool for screwing & unscrewing the ends of the bed from the metal frame called a “Vono key”. It’s really just a chunky spanner but made especially for the size of the hexagonal bolt heads.

Here’s another interesting photo.

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Can you see how it’s constructed? It’s a sort of enclosed bell shape but the bottom has a hole in and it’s pushed up inside the bell. Apparently it was a Victorian idea of a fly/wasp trap. You put something to attract the insects in the area between the rim of the hole and the side of the bell. The insects fly in but can’t fly out again. Well that’s what they told us. It looks a good idea but it obviously never caught on. I guess it’s the cleaning which is difficult. How do you get whatever you put into the trough area out? Definitely looks tricky to me.

This next photo is really interesting but you might not see why at first.

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There a number of folks stood in front of the window. They are all servants belonging to the house. However if you look at the open window just behind the back row of two people you can see more figures. These are actually the master, mistress & children who owned the house. Quite a reversal of prominence to let the servants take centre stage and have themselves just looking out of the window. The year is 1852.

60 years later in 1912 the then owner re-created this photo with his own family & servants. Great idea! Here’s his version. Did you count the servants – I make it 15 in each pic. One of the notes said there was a servant who was present in both photos but I can’t remember which one except that it was a lady. I reckon the family got their money’s worth out of her!

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Next is another water filter, this time made by Cheavin’s.

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The company was founded in the late 17th century by John Dwight who, with Robert Hooke, had worked in the laboratory of Robert Boyle. Hooke was a natural philosopher, architect & polymath. He also did many surveys in London after the Great Fire (over half). Irishman Boyle is most famous for Boyle’s Law (PV=k) but he was also a natural philosopher, chemist, physicist, inventor and writer in theology. (He was the 14th child born into his family!)

Cheavin’s and their relatives & descendants remained in control of the company until 1864 when it was sold and went out of the family. Then in 1889 it went bankrupt. 1889 was not a good year for water filter manufacturers was it – remember Lipscombe’s?

The whole water filtering idea is a reminder to us of how risky drinking or even just using ordinary water could be in days gone by. Today we think nothing of turning our taps on and drinking it. We no longer fear infection & disease coming to us that way. Our cleaning and treatment of water before it gets to our homes is a tried & tested & trusted method. Just think of how disconcerting it would be if you had to filter all the water that comes out of your tap.

Another name in the water filter market was Doulton; many UK residents will know that name from their manufacture of domestic toilets! (We definitely had one when I was younger). Their motto “Making Water Fit for Kings, Queens & Presidents Since 1827. Isn’t it Time You Had One?” And they’re still going today selling over a million filters a year around the world.

That’s a good place to stop. Part 2 next week.

Gradbach Mill (day 2)

This is day 2 of a trip to a Youth Hostel (which opened in 1984) called Gradbach Mill. It seems like an odd name to me. Looking up the history tells us the name possibly comes from a Henry Gratebach mentioned as living in the area in 1374.

We decided on the full breakfast to start us off: orange juice, grapefruit, cereal, big fry-up, toast, & tea. We set off walking up the hill. Initially on the road we soon came to a turn off and began the cross country stuff. OS map in hand we were making for a village I’ve mentioned in a previous post but will keep it as a surprise for now. Here’s a narrow bridge over a stream

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Then just a bit further on a TV aerial attached to a drystone wall. We couldn’t immediately see which house might be using it but closer inspection revealed the wire to it was broken. It does show how difficult it is to get reception in the area and the lengths people will go to to try and get a signal. (You might remember I mentioned that the hostel didn’t have any for TV, phones or PC.)

After crossing a few more fields we were onto tarmac for a short while. The road had been resurfaced recently and there was a 10mph speed limit sign. Here it is.

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This gentleman had obviously fallen over. We deduced he had probably been running and therefore exceeded the speed limit causing him to end up flat on the road. (He seems to be pointing at the sign to warn us.) We thanked him and moved on. There wasn’t time to help him but we hoped he was ok.

Across a few more fields and we were nearing our target. Here’s the sign

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Yes, it’s the sign for a village called Flash. If you remember the post from 10.4.13 (I is for interesting) you will know that this is the village whose height above sea level has been measured and found to be the highest in England and in fact the whole UK. We wondered what to expect but set off on the 1 mile to get there indicated by the sign; not surprisingly it was all uphill! The edge of the village is some way out from the houses and here’s the sign. Shortly after, a cyclist went past us and we almost felt as if we should be cheering and running alongside like they do in the Tour De France and maybe shouting Allez-allez. We didn’t.image

And a little further on in the village itself we saw this sign on the wall of the pub

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Yes that’s right – the highest pub in the British Isles. If you need an edge that’s not a bad one is it? After 2 hours walking across fields, up hill and down dale we were ready for a quick stop: a drink in the highest pub in the UK would be nice. We knocked on the door and were told that it didn’t open till 4pm! (It was 10.58am.) There are some who believe the term “flash money” comes from the alleged counterfeiting of banknotes in the village. It’s a nice idea and seems to fit but it’s probably an inference made from a novel (Flash) written in 1928 by Judge Alfred Ruegg rather than historical facts.

The next building was the old schoolhouse.

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And a little bit further

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Of course there’s no “new” police station.

We carried on and came to the local primary school. Here’s the sign.

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Now read that motto under the logo at the top: ‘Reaching Ever Higher’. Remember where we are – the highest village in the UK! I liked that. However after a bit of research and a conversation with a local person we found out that the school was actually closed. Apparently, in Sept 2012, the school roll fell from 7 in 2011 to zero pupils and the school closed at the end of Dec 2012. The local council said that in the last 10 years only one child had been born in the catchment area. Property prices also meant it was difficult to attract younger families to the area. The village had had a school for over 250 years (since 1760) so very sad it could not continue. (The Ofsted inspection in April last year gave a figure of over £22,000 funding required for each pupil; a comparable figure for my local urban primary school is £3,700 per pupil.)

Next building of interest was this one

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It looks like a large square house but originally it was a Wesleyan Chapel built in 1784 (and rebuilt in 1821 according to the date stone). There were 60 members of the Methodist Society which grew to 90 by 1790. In the 1851 Census there were 180 attending the evening service. It closed in 1974 and, as with many old chapels, is now a private house.

We walked on. Although a fair way out of the village we came to a place called “Flash Bar Stores And Coffee Shop”. We got some food here as it was almost lunch time. As we sat outside this vehicle pulled up in the parking area next to us.

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On the top right above the windscreen you might be able to see “Your Library”. Yep that’s right in these more isolated places there is no local library so the villages depend on a mobile one. I spoke to the driver who told me he covers quite a large area. Each stop has a scheduled time so people know when to expect him. While we were there a couple of folks came; one lady had an armful of books. I do hope this service will keep going as it’s a big help for those who can’t get to the town libraries often miles away.

After lunch we walked all of 20 feet (6 metres) across to the Traveller’s Rest for a drink. The place had a bit of a theme of “ye olde England” with the toilets being labelled – Knights & Damsels.

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Soon it was time to head off as we were only half way round on our walk and it had taken 4½ hours so far. (Lunch and drink though had taken longer than we had anticipated!)

On a lane we came to one of those stalls left unattended with an honesty box for stuff you buy. Although we didn’t buy anything there was a note hanging on it

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I think you can probably read it. Imagine that a colony of Wallabies once existed in the Staffordshire Moorlands.

This next pic looks simply like a stone bridge.

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Could be anywhere? No, this is quite a special place called “Three Shires’ Head”. It’s the point on Axe Edge Moor where the borders of 3 English counties meet: Cheshire, Derbyshire & Staffordshire. It’s an 18th century packhorse bridge over the River Dane; remember that’s the river that our Youth Hostel in its original incarnation used to drive the big water wheel that powered the mill machinery.

The rest of the route back had one difficult part. We came to a field of cows and of course we needed to be the other side. When you get close up to cows you realise just how big they are and how easily just 2 or 3 could cause you a lot of damage. You don’t mess with cows, you will lose! (Same for horses by the way – when our kids were younger we were walking across a field and a herd of horses surrounded us. Unsure of how to react, and being townies, we tried to push our way through. Man versus horse – another one you’re not going to win. Fortunately something took their attention and a small gap appeared so we could make our escape.) We skirted the herd of cows keeping close eye on them. Heads came up and a few started heading towards us. We took a bigger sweep out onto a farm track behind another wall before coming back into their field and heading for the stile at the other side.

And soon we were back at the hostel. Then it was evening meal, more backgammon & head off to bed for night 2. We liked this place.

 

Will there be any history left?

When I think about my trip to Ightham Mote the other day, part of it’s attraction was how they didn’t definitely know who’d built it, they didn’t definitely know if Henry VI had visited, they thought that probably the new chapel was built as a guest bedroom.

They had done some cool dendochronology thing where they had managed to work out the date of origin for each part of building. There were lots of theories about when the ceiling in the new chapel had been built and painted. Had it been built for another building? A ceremonial outdoor thing for the king perhaps? But the exact same proportions as the roof in the room at Ightham Mote? They worked out eventually it had been built for the room and painted in situ.

There was a lot of mystery, a lot of research. I often wished, when reading history books, that we knew exactly what had happened, exactly what kind of people they were, exactly what they were thinking. But I also recognised that if I did know all those things, the mystery and intrigue would be gone. I’d probably go, “I wish I knew what they were really thinking at that moment? O, here it is. She was a bit bored. Ok, then. Ummm.”

And this is my worry. Are we making our history boring by recording everything? There’s no mystery. If someone in a few hundred years wanted to know what the World Famous Writer/Baker/Farmer Laura Maisey was thinking about at 7:26am on September 24, 2013, it’s all here. I’m going on about making history boring.

The stuff that’s most interesting for me in Ham House is the stuff that they don’t know for definite yet or the stuff that has numerous different stories attached to it.

And there’s Time Team to think about too. I mean, what will Baldrick do if he doesn’t need to dig sections of soil up anymore? People will have been rabbiting on about their new houses and gardens and there will be no need to try and establish where the outside walls of the castle were anymore. He’ll be able to just Google it.

Is that ok? That we are turning future historians into Google lovers? Maybe we should kill the internet briefly in a hundred years or so and start afresh, erasing everything and so creating some mystery for the poor bored historians of the year 2500?

Show me the Old Stuff

“Wow, is this the original table that was here in the chapel in 1330?” I asked the room guide in the Old Chapel at Ightham Mote.

“It is definitely of that period. You can see it was quite stylish for the time because….”

“Yeh, but is it the actual real table from 1330? From here?”

“Well, it has been acquired by the Trust to replicate what would have been here but it’s not the original from this room, no.”

“Ah.”

And I wandered off, looking for some actual old stuff. I found one of the sitting rooms and a lovely little fireplace.

“Is this an original fireplace?” I asked the room guide, all excited.

“Yes, it was built in the Victorian times.”

Pfft! Victorian times! Whatevs. I need medieval or nothing.

When I reached the kitchen, I found out the sink had been built in 1330 and I just stood looking at it going, “O wow. What an old sink.” I wanted to get my Indiana Jones on and start having an archeological adventure but the truth is, I’m not equipped with the historical knowledge to really draw any fascinating conclusions about the development of sink building by looking at the sink.

Actually, after about 30 seconds of going, “O, wow,” the people I was with had moved into the next room so I just walked off.

There is the same thing when I am demonstrating in the Ham House kitchen. People always ask which bits are the oldest. Once they’ve looked at the table, I tell them that the mantelpiece thing over the range is original.

They go up to it – it’s a peice of painted wood on the wall – and they look at it really closely and they go “O wow.” Then they walk off.

I could understand it if I was going to do a bit of dendochronology and start dating the origins of the room by looking at the wood. But once my insatiable need to see The Old Stuff has been met by something old, I just go, “O wow, it’s so old,” then walk off.

What is this Old Stuff obsession about? Is it a bit of one-up-manship?

“I’ve totally seen older stuff than you. I saw a kitchen sink built in 1325. Beat you!”

Of moats and medieval knights

On Friday, it was Away Day at Ham House. The great thing about working or volunteering with the National Trust is that Away Days are spent at other fabulous National Trust properties (none of them as good as Ham House, of course, but they’re still nice).

This year’s Away Day was to Ightham Mote in Kent (pronounced Item Moat).

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And yes, it is surrounded by a moat. This is the view of it from one of the windows in the house.

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It was built in, are you ready for this, 1325! Isn’t that mind-blowing? Almost 700 years old. It had lots more bits and pieces added over the next five centuries but the original buildings are from 1325.

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This kitchen is from original build, as is the Crypt…

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In one of the upstairs rooms, there is a glass panel in the ceiling so that you can see through to the original oak beam roofing.

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The house has been owned by medieval knights, sheriffs, MPs, generals, businessmen and many others. In one room, the wall on my right was built by Isolde Inge (they think) in 1330, the wall on my left was part of a later addition built by Sir Richard Clement in 1530 and the motifs on the window are someone else’s addition but they don’t know the exact year.

As opposed to the extreme grandeur of Ham House, this house was a place I could imagine myself sitting down in, perhaps reading a book, perhaps lingering by the warm fire in the billiard room. One of the rooms actually, the Oriel Room, has been made back into a sitting room so guests can have a little sit down part way around. (Ham House is still better though, our stuff is sparklier.)

The New Chapel at Ightham Mote is an interesting room, mainly for this fantastic ceiling, painted in situ in the early 16th century.

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Another interesting thing is the way over-the-top Jacobean fireplace in the Drawing Room, which they actually had to lift the ceiling in order to fit in. Anyone else might just make a smaller fireplace. But not the Selbys (whose ownership of the house spanned 300 years). They got hold of the ceiling and pushed it upwards, for the fireplace must be put in and it must be huge.

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We then saw some rooms furnished as its last owner had them. He was an American businessman from Portland, Maine and his ashes are in the Crypt. Interestingly, his relatives traced his ancestry back to medieval knights.

After wandering out of the house, we saw these buildings opposite.

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It turns out they were built in 1457 and are currently being let out as holiday cottages… New cool weekend away destination, maybe?

We then lunched (not after I snuck into the kitchen to chat to the chef for a bit!) and I had the difficult choice between joining a garden tour for my last 45 minutes or raiding the shop for cookery books.

Guess which one I chose?

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Getting spooked in Ham House

A few days ago, I expressed an interest in becoming a tour guide at Ham House. As luck would have it, the very next day there was a training session on how to guide the ghost tours.

I jumped at the chance so the following morning, the training was due to begin at 10am. The house is generally kept quite dark, to avoid light damage to any of the delicate things in the rooms. This makes the whole place a bit spooky. My plan was to go into the house at 9.30am and have a little look around for some ghosts while the place was still quiet and dark.

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I went and stood in the chapel, where the Duke of Lauderdale’s body lay for a week after his death and where a woman dressed in black has been seen kneeling by the altar and where a handprint was found in the dust one morning, at the Duchess’ pew. I stared into the darkness and my heart beat fast and eventually I lit up my phone to scan the room for ghosties but didn’t see one.

Next I went to to the Round Gallery where, in the book I recently talked about, one of the main characters sees some ghosts. While I am not claiming this book is based on anything factual, I still thought I might come across something, given all the portraits on the wall.

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Nothing.

Back downstairs, I went into the Duchess’ bedchamber. This is the room where she spent the last years of her life, ridden with gout and feeling trapped. I can’t remember the exact quote but she writes about feeling imprisoned in her beloved Ham House. There have been ghostly sightings by room guides here, who’ve been so scared by what they saw, that they have been unable to return to the house.

I lingered around, looked in the mirror, looked at the portrait of the Duchess as a young woman and waited.

Nothing.

Undeterred, I went into the White Closet, a beautiful little room that was one of the Duchess’ private closets in which she entertained only her closest friends.

As I stared at a painting of the back of Ham House and the gardens, I remembered someone saying that this painting contains most of the people at Ham House who have been seen/heard as ghosts. So I started looking for them in the painting. And I heard a noise…..

Whirrrrrrrr…..

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Oo! Oo! It’s the ghosts! Through there! Up there! In the next room! I snuck along following the noise, with a beating heart, and found….

One of the staff members hoovering the floor in the Long Gallery.

Ah. Yes. Of course that was it. Silly me. Ghosts don’t whirr, everyone knows that.

I did tell him off, though, for hoovering while I’m looking for ghosts. How can they walk around or say hi to me if he’s busy hoovering them up? It takes them bloody ages to get back out of that hoover so I wouldn’t see them until much later in the day.

By this time, it was 10am and the training was starting so I went upstairs and complained about the lack of ghost sightings. We talked a lot about how a tour should run, then a few of the experienced guides did a sample tour for us around the house.

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I still didn’t see any ghosts on this tour but not for lack of looking.

Anyway, the training finished and I left, clutching my notes and dreaming about being the Best Ghost Tour Guide The World Has Ever Seen, and ran into my manager from the cafe, who told me about a name scratched into the kitchen window in one of the house steward’s flats upstairs in the house.

The story is, briefly, a young man called John McFarlane was at the house. He was in love with one of the kitchen girls but she was in love with the butler. He was super distraught about it and threw himself out of one of the upstairs windows and died. But not before scratching his name into one of the window panes – John McFarlane 1790.

So we went to see this name scratched in. I was really having to restrain my excitement. People have photographed this window before and seen an orb in the photo! I attempted to take a photo of the name but my phone was like, “There is no more space for photographs on your phone.”

Humph.

So I deleted some photos to make space and tried again. Same thing. I deleted some more and eventually I got one but I couldn’t take any more. After walking through the front room into the hallway, we decided to look around upstairs.

As we approached the stairs, Sarah said to me, “There are stories of a little boy ghost on these stairs,” then she turned the light on…

And the light popped and the bulb threw itself out of the socket and it hurtled down the stairs towards us and smashed on the ground, only just missing us. I tried to photograph the smashed glass but the phone was having none of it. Sarah checked the fuse box but nothing had blown….

Make of it what you will, my friends. Make of it what you will.