Silent witness to centuries of history

In Friar Street, close to the center of Worcester, and a couple of hundred meters or so north of its magnificent cathedral, stands a half-timbered building built around 1480 (the birth year of my 13th Bull great grandfather) that has been a silent witness to some of England’s pivotal moments in history, such as the Dissolution of the Monasteries during the reign of Henry VIII in the late 1530s, and just over a century later when King Charles II (although not yet crowned) was defeated at the Battle of Worcester in 1651, the last battle of the English Civil Wars.

20161214-001-greyfriar-house

20161214-050-greyfriar-house

These photos show the double gateway looking into the garden, and from inside to the street, as well as views of the rear of Greyfriars’ from the garden. Building a half-timbered house was, according to our guide, a little bit like piecing a jigsaw together. Which pieces fitted where? Well, symbols were embossed on matching pieces of timber and these can be clearly seen in one the photos in this gallery.

Greyfriars’ is a late medieval merchant’s house that has survived the ravages of time—but nearly didn’t make it. Greyfriars’ is now owned by the National Trust. We enjoyed a visit to Greyfriars’ House and Garden yesterday, where many of the rooms had been decorated to celebrate Christmas during various times: a Tudor Christmas in the entrance hall, a Puritan Christmas (or lack of it) in one of the main bedrooms, and a wartime Christmas in the library.

20161214-069-greyfriar-house

Just 13 miles of so south of our home in Bromsgrove, Worcester is the county town of Worcestershire. But for one reason or another, and despite having been residents of Worcestershire for over 35 years (albeit with a break of almost 19 years in the Philippines) we have only rarely visited Worcester. I think the last time I was there was in December 2013 when I was called for jury service at the Crown Court (but never actually made it on to a jury).

Since becoming members of the National Trust in 2012, in the lead up to Christmas we have visited one of the Trust’s properties in our ‘neighbourhood’ – Hanbury Hall, Croome Park, Packwood House, Baddesley Clinton or Coughton Court – since there is always a special festive display to enjoy.

This year we decided to visit Greyfriar’s, making the short journey by train, not wanting to have the hassle of finding convenient parking in the city. In any case, it was also an opportunity of experiencing Bromsgrove’s new railway station¹.

We stopped off for a coffee at M&S before walking on to Greyfriars’ and arrived just in time, a little after 11 am, to take advantage of the excellent first house tour of the day. We were just three visitors, and I had full opportunity to use my camera to the full, even though light levels were extremely low. So the set of photos I came away with are certainly not my best, by any stretch of the imagination, but I hope I did capture something of the beauty of this interesting property.

Saved from demolition
Greyfriars’ was destined to be demolished but was saved by members of the Worcester Archaeological Society. In 1943, military dental surgeon M Matley Moore and his sister Elsie took on the refurbishment of Greyfriars’, eventually taking up residence in 1949.

These photos show the main entrance hall, one of the main tapestries, and some of Elsie Matley Moore’s handiwork above the fireplace.

Apparently the house was in a dreadful state when the Matley Moores began their refurbishment project, and this was not something undertaken lightly during the Second World War or its immediate aftermath when building supplies were hard to come by. Nevertheless, they were able to salvage panelling and other decoration from other buildings, in addition to keeping what original features that were still part of the building’s fabric. Elsie Matley Moore was an accomplished seamstress, and lovingly restored a number of the seventeenth century tapestries that are still on display, as well as adding features of her own, such as ceramics and a set of particularly rare Georgian green (from arsenic? – not so) wallpaper panels in the downstairs living room.

These photos show the main bedroom (apparently occupied by the man of the house), the parlour (and its William Morris tiled fireplace), and the library. All the rooms had magnificent grandfather clocks, several manufactured in Worcestershire, and at least one designed with just a single hour hand. In the fireplaces in two rooms were cast iron – and painted – door stops that Elsie Manley Moore collected. These are quite rare today. Above the fireplace in the parlour is some original carved woodwork frieze with carved dragons (there’s a close-up in this gallery), and indicating that Worcester is not that far from the Welsh border country.

Downstairs, the dining room was refurbished in a Georgian style. These photos show the majolica tiles above the fireplace, and one of the green wallpaper panels.

The garden was obviously dormant yesterday, but National Trust volunteers told us that during the summer months the garden is a haven in the center of Worcester (although traffic noise from the close-by ring road did unfortunately intrude as we explored a few of the garden’s nooks and crannies).

Each year Greyfriars’ is host to Shakespearean players who perform in the garden. I think we should look out for that event for 2017.

_____________

¹ After the Rio Paralympics 2016, the Bromsgrove station signs were all painted gold, recognising the rowing gold medal won by local sportswoman Lauren Rawles.

20161214-067-greyfriar-house

Half price books, full value history . . .

Most of my reading consists of history or biography, and I have written a number of posts in this blog about some of the books I have read and the periods of history that particularly interest me. In recent months, however, when I have not been able to get to the public library in Bromsgrove, I have returned to the Barchester novels by Anthony Trollope – with much enjoyment – that have sat on my bookshelves for several decades.

In recent years I have expanded my own history library through purchases of second-hand books in St Paul, Minnesota. And yesterday, being a bright and sunny Minnesota early autumn day, Steph and I walked the mile from Hannah and Michael’s new house to Highland Village in the Highland Park neighbourhood. Along Ford Parkway, near the corner with Cleveland Avenue, Half Price Books (a chain of 120 stores nationwide) offers a fantastic array of books of all genres and subjects (as well as second CDs and DVDs).

hpb

 

Over the years that we have visited Hannah and Michael we have always made a beeline for HPB. For my historical interests, and particularly for books about the ‘Wild West’ or the American Civil War, HPB has a much better selection than I have ever been able to find through Worcestershire County Library in the UK. Of course not everything that I have bought at HPB relates to American history. If a book takes my fancy, then it usually finds a place in my library. And I’ve often found many interesting books about British or European history that I’ve never come across back home.

This year has been no exception, and I came away from my visit to HPB with seven paperbacks for under USD60. There are several university campuses close to HPB: St Catherine University, University of St Thomas, and Macalester College. I reckon that many of the books I acquire must be cast-off course texts. Students’ loss, my gain!

So what’s on my reading list this year?

I’m particularly looking forward to delving into Amanda Foreman’s tome about Britain’s role in the American Civil War. The biography of Elias Ashmole, founder of the Royal Society in the UK is not something I would have contemplated had I not seen it on the shelf. And the social histories of the Renaissance and Industrial Revolution England could be good reads.

I’ll post some reviews once I have waded through them. The Foreman book alone is over 950 pages.

 

2015: a great year for National Trust and English Heritage visits

Steph and I have been members of the National Trust for five years now. We even qualify for the Seniors discount from January! And we’ve been members of English Heritage for just a year.

But we will be renewing our membership of both organizations in 2016. Why? Because they both offer excellent value for money, and certainly give purpose to our trips out, whatever the weather. Be it a visit to a stately home, a ruined castle, a country park, or a beautiful garden, there are so many properties to visit and experience so many aspects of our cultural heritage.

Looking back on our 2015 visits we have certainly had our money’s worth, and annual membership has more than paid for all the entrance fees we would have had to pay in any case. And much more!

So here is a pictorial summary of our great visits this past year, beginning in early April and ending just last week when we visited Charlecote Park to see the Christmas decorations. And there are links to individual posts about each visit.

NATIONAL TRUST

Lyveden New Bield (9 April)

20150409 092 Lyveden

Brodie Castle (National Trust for Scotland – 29 May)

Brodie Castle

Culloden Battlefield (National Trust for Scotland – 29 May)

Scotland 082

Inverewe Garden (National Trust for Scotland – 1 June)

Scotland 312

Arduaine Garden (National Trust for Scotland – 7 June)

Scotland 877

Rufford Old Hall (8 June)

The main entrance in the seventeenth century wing.

Tredegar House (18 June)

Tredegar House, near Newport in South Wales

Chirk Castle (1 July)

20150701 147 Chirk Castle

Hawford Dovecote (9 July)

20150709 010 Hawford dovecote

Wichenden Dovecote (9 July)

20150709 022 Wichenford dovecote

Hardwick Hall (12 August)

Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire

Newark Park (28 August)

20150828 031 Newark Park

Croome Park (12 October)

20110328046 Croome Court

Charlecote Park (16 December)

The entrance hall.

ENGLISH HERITAGE

Rushton Triangular Lodge (9 April)

Rushton Triangular Lodge, Northamptonshire

Stokesay Castle (14 April)

Stokesay Castle, Shropshire

Wroxeter Roman City (14 April)

20150414 130 Wroxeter Roman city

Kenilworth Castle (21 April)

cropped-20150421-023-kenilworth-castle.jpg

Goodrich Castle (21 May)

Goodrich Castle, Herefordshire

St Mary’s Church, Kempley (21 May)

20150521 135 St Marys Kempley

Witley Court (9 July)

20150709 091 Witley Court

Hardwick Old Hall (12 August)

Looking down six floors in the Old Hall. And the magnificent plasterwork on the walls.

Wenlock Priory (18 August)

20150818 043 Wenlock Priory

Ironbridge (18 August)

From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ironbridge

All families have their problems – some more than others

51JzLs8XVHL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Well if you think that your family has its quirks and secrets, just take a look at the family of George III, his queen, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, and their large brood of dysfunctional princes and princesses.

And that is what Janice Hadlow (former Controller of BBC2) has done in her excellent book, The Strangest Family, published by William Collins in 2014 (ISBN978-0-00-716519-3). It’s a mammoth tome, 617 pages (and another sixty plus pages of acknowledgements, notes and index).

Born in 1738, acceded to the throne in 1760 following the death of his grandfather George II, married in September 1761, George III was father to 15 children (nine boys, two of whom died very young, and six daughters). And although George entered marriage with the aim of not repeating the ‘errors’ of his great-grandfather (George I), his grandfather, and father Frederick, Prince of Wales (who died in 1751), the ‘Hanoverian curse’ did not by-pass his family.

It seems George III remained faithful to Charlotte—unlike his regal predecessors who all took a string of mistresses. And although family life in the George III household seems to have started well, and George was reportedly a loving father to his young family, divisions began to develop as the older boys struggled under the strict and moral lifestyle imposed on them by their father. Soon the relations between George and Charlotte and their elder sons George, Prince of Wales, Frederick, Duke of York, and William, Duke of Clarence had become as sour as those between George I and his son, George II, and him and his son, Frederick, Prince of Wales.

The six daughters of George and Charlotte were not spared either. Their parents were controlling and implacable when it came to them marrying and moving on beyond the family. With selfish parents like George and Charlotte it’s hardly surprising that their children grew up rebellious or forever denying that their parents had ever loved them. Three daughters eventually did marry: Charlotte, Princess Royal, Elizabeth, and Mary, but not until they had reached middle age. Two remained spinsters, Augusta and Sophia, and Sophia is widely believed to have borne an illegitimate boy. Amelia, who was George’s favourite, died unmarried (although deeply in love with one of George III’s equerries) at 27, from tuberculosis and an acute bacterial infection of the skin, erysipelas (or St Anthony’s Fire).

Hadlow’s is a thorough and entertaining account of the life that George and Charlotte built for themselves, during a remarkable period in history, the second half of the eighteenth and early part of the nineteenth centuries. Remarkable? This was a period of great social change from a largely rural to urban living, a time of great conflict (the Seven Years War with France came to an end in 1763 but saw the UK evolve as the major world power), the loss of the American colonies during the War of Independence, the French Revolution, and the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte and the two decades of conflict in Europe that came to an end at the Battle of Waterloo on 18 June 1815 with the defeat of the French. George’s reign also saw significant scientific and engineering developments such as vaccination against smallpox or the digging of the first canals. And not long after Waterloo, the first railways were built. George and Charlotte certainly presided over interesting times.

Janice Hadlow’s book is particularly interesting in the first 100 pages or so, and also in the latter part of the book. She spends time detailing the reigns of George I and George II, and how their familial relations were to impact eventually on George III. These pages give a contextual framework for George III’s reign that I hadn’t come across before. And of course, much of the familial dysfunction of George III was due in no small part to the periods of ‘madness’ he suffered from the later 1780s onwards, until he finally became totally incapacitated and his son, the future George IV became Regent. It split the family asunder, and Charlotte became increasingly irascible and hostile to her daughters. It’s no wonder they desired to seek the haven of marriage, even if it would be an arranged marriage to someone who they did not know nor could ever love.

Several years ago I had come across another book, published in 2004, by Flora Fraser, and from the princesses’ perspectives. Princesses – The Six Daughters of George III is also worth a few days of your literary time.

Herefordshire’s Goodrich Castle . . . yet another castle slighted

Two days ago, after a couple of weeks of really cold, wet and windy weather, it was bright and warm enough to contemplate an outing. Thank goodness, as cabin fever had begun to set in. With our 2,000 mile road trip around Scotland less than a week away, I didn’t fancy a long journey so we looked for a National Trust or English Heritage property that was within easy distance. Having been members of the National Trust for over four years now, we’ve visited most of the nearby venues. As English Heritage members only since the beginning of the year we decided that one of their properties would be a more convenient choice.

We chose to visit Goodrich Castle, built in the 12th century on a red sandstone outcrop along the River Wye in southeast Herefordshire.


It’s about a 400 m walk from the car park to the castle, and emerging through the trees you get this wonderful panorama of the south walls of the castle—or rather, what’s left of them. For having survived from the 12th century, the walls and floors in the towers were deliberately demolished (or slighted) in 1646 after the Parliamentarians captured the castle from Royalist supporters (just as they did at Kenilworth Castle that we visited a month earlier) in the aftermath of the Civil Wars.

Goodrich panorama 1

If you asked a child to draw a castle from memory, then I guess Goodrich Castle would fit the bill, minus the crenelations. These probably disappeared during the Parliamentarian vandalism. There are four towers around a ‘central’ keep (actually closer to the south wall). The towers no longer have any floors; but in the keep, stairs have been constructed up to first floor level from where it’s possible to climb to the roof of the keep, up an extremely narrow and tight spiral staircase.

20150521 066 Goodrich Castle

The climb to the roof of the keep – very narrow and steep. Not for the faint-hearted.

The castle is surrounded by a deep moat, although I don’t think it was ever filled with water, more of a deep ditch on the east, west and south sides. The outcrop on which the castle stands descends steeply on the north side to the River Wye that would have provided a natural defence. I did wonder whether the sandstone excavated to construct the moat was then used to build the castle’s walls. Above several courses of grey, and presumably harder sandstone, the upper courses of the walls were built from red sandstone.

What are particularly impressive are the straight-sided, triangular buttresses propping up the southeast and southwest round towers.

Below the gatehouse on the west side of the castle is a large hemispherical barbican, with a short causeway leading into the castle. This would have been protected originally by a drawbridge, wooden gates, and two separate portcullises.

Interestingly, the castle chapel can be found alongside the gatehouse, just to the south.

It seems that Goodrich Castle was more of a residence, luxuriously furnished, by its different owners over several centuries, rather than playing much part in the various conflicts that affected this part of England that is quite close to the border with Wales. That is until the 17th century English Civil Wars. Even after the Royalist besieged had surrendered, many parts of the castle were still inhabitable. That is why the Parliamentarians decided to demolish the walls and rooms deliberately.

English Heritage provides access to many parts of the castle, and you can walk along the upper part of the walls. In some buildings where there are no original stairwells, stairs have been installed.

It was our original intention of combining a visit to Goodrich Castle with a National Property such as Tredegar House in Newport (much further south), calling in at Goodrich on the way home. We thought that it would be just a quick visit to Goodrich, not a lot to see. How wrong we were! We must have spent well over two hours clambering over the various buildings, climbing up to the highest levels (at the top of the keep), and walking around the moat and remains (actually just the foundations) of the stable block—which was where the Parliamentarians first gained access to the castle in 1646.

‘England’s Sistine Chapel’ (Simon Jenkins)

20150521 142 St Marys Kempley

St Mary’s Church, Kempley. You’ve probably never heard of it, nor have the least idea where to find it. Neither had I—until yesterday, that is. Kempley is a small village just north of Junction 3 on the M50 in the Forest of Dean district of  Gloucestershire close to the county boundary with Herefordshire, a handful of miles north of Ross-on-Wye. St Mary’s is a further couple of miles to the north of the village, and was replaced by another parish church, dedicated to St Edward the Confessor.


Owned by English Heritage, 12th century St Mary’s Church (built around 1130) is an outstanding example—perhaps the most significant and most complete set in the whole of northern Europe—of Romanesque fresco paintings. We had stumbled across this little gem, while deciding if there were other sites near the main objective of our outing yesterday: Goodrich Castle (which is about 12 miles or so south of Kempley). St Mary’s is not the easiest building to find, but the effort is worthwhile. The north wall of the church is plain stone. But come around to the south side, and surprisingly the wall is rendered in the most fetching shade of pale pink.

But it’s inside that the biggest surprise awaits you. The church has the most exquisite medieval wall paintings you could ever imagine. It also proudly boasts one of the oldest roofs (even original doors) in the country, with its original timbers dating back to its construction.

It wasn’t until the late 19th century that these paintings were discovered beneath layers of whitewash—presumably applied for generations following the Reformation in Tudor times. The images on both north and south walls of the nave were worked in tempera on dry lime mortar, and depict the Wheel of Life and to its right either side of a window, depictions of St Anthony of Egypt (on the left side) and St Michael accompanied by the Virgin Mary (on the right).

But the real glory of St Mary’s is found in the chancel, where the wall paintings are true frescoes, painted on wet plaster. They lift your soul! On the ceiling is a magnificent portrayal of Christ. I cannot better Simon Jenkins’ description published in The Guardian in 2008: The sensation lies in the chancel, composed of the most complete set of Romanesque frescos in northern Europe. Christ sits in the middle of the ceiling on a rainbow, his feet on a globe. He is attended by sun, moon, stars, candelabra, a winged ox and seraphim with books and scrolls, the complete Book of Revelation. Below him sit rows of sepia apostles gazing up at Him from a Romanesque arcade. No inch is left untouched. Here is a bishop, there lay pilgrims heading for a heavenly Jerusalem. Everywhere is chequerboard and zigzag decoration. 

The church porch is apparently also original, and above the door is a depiction of the Tree of Life.

Let me finish with another quote from Simon Jenkins’ article. ‘England’s Sistine Chapel lies lost in the western reaches of Gloucestershire. It is smaller, to put it mildly, and older by 350 years. But what it lacks in grandeur it adds in serenity. I would exchange five minutes in the chancel of Kempley church for an hour in Rome. And I would have it to myself.’

Steph and I were fortunate to have this haven of serenity to ourselves for more than 30 minutes before we had to head home. I felt remarkably calm for several hours afterwards. Go and seek that serenity for yourselves. You won’t be disappointed.

Where do I come from?

In fourteen hundred ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

In 1492, my 12th great grandfather Thomas Bull (on my paternal grandmother’s side) was a lad of about 12. At least we think that the burial record for ‘Thomas Bull’ at Ellastone in Staffordshire is the father of John, William and Thomas Bull in the same parish. If so, he’s my earliest known ancestor, going back 14 generations, when I would have had 16,384 direct ancestors. Half of these are ‘English’ and the other half ‘Irish’ from my mother’s side of the family.

The population of England around 1480 was probably less than 3 million (having gone through the demographic squeeze of the Black Death a century earlier). Just do the maths. We’re all related to each other more than we imagine. We can’t all have ‘independent’ ancestors; there must be a few drops of royal blue blood in all of us. Now my father’s side of the family resided in what once had been the Kingdom of Mercia, specifically in what we know now as north Staffordshire and southwest Derbyshire.

In 1483, Edward IV died and the crown was usurped by his youngest brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who became the notorious (if we are to believe Tudor propaganda) Richard III. Richard was defeated and killed at the Battle of Bosworth in August 1485 – a site just 40 miles or so southeast from Ellastone. Henry VII became king and the Tudor dynasty was founded. I wonder what the Bull family were up to, and how did the final battle of the Wars of the Roses affect them – if at all?

But we are on firmer ground with Thomas Bull’s ‘son’, John Bull (my 11th great grandfather), born in 1525 in Ellastone, the youngest of three brothers. By the time his son, another Thomas was born in 1552, Henry VIII had come and gone, and his son, the short-lived Edward VI was king, and England was in the grip of a Protestant regime.

When my 8th great grandfather Robert was born in 1613, James I of England and VI of Scotland had been king for 10 years. In 1613, James’s daughter Elizabeth married Frederick V, Elector Palatine through whom the monarchs of the House of Hanover descended, including our present Queen. But when his son Robert was born in 1653, Charles I had already lost his head four years earlier, the three Civil Wars between 1642 and 1651 were over, and Oliver Cromwell was Lord Protector.

Sixth great grandfather William Bull, born in 1712 and 6th great grandfather John Jackson (born 1711) were my first ancestors to be citizens of Great Britain following the Act of Union in 1707 uniting the Kingdoms of England and Scotland (which just might be rendered asunder in 2014 if the Scottish Nationalist Party has its way in the independence referendum). Dr John Arbuthnot created the character of John Bull in 1712 as the national personification of Great Britain, especially England. Abraham Darby had already developed his blast furnace in Coalbrookdale, and Thomas Newcommen was about to launch his atmospheric steam engine (about which I recently wrote).

Both my 3rd great grandfathers John Bull and John Jackson were born in 1793. After the excesses of the French Revolution, Great Britain was at war – again – with France; George Washington began his second term as POTUS.

My great grandfather John Bull was born in 1855, when the siege of Sevastopol ended, and the Crimean War ending a few months later. My Jackson great grandfather William was born sixteen years earlier in 1839, the same year that Louis Daguerre received a patent for his camera.

I knew both my paternal grandparents. Grandmother Alice Bull was born in 1880 and died in 1968. She was the second wife of my grandfather Thomas Jackson, who was born in 1872 and died in 1967.

My paternal grandparents, Thomas and Alice Jackson

Thomas had two children by his first wife Maria Bishop, and four with Alice – including my father, Frederick (born 1908, died 1980).

Thomas and Alice Jackson celebrate their Golden Wedding anniversary in 1954 at Hollington, Derbyshire with their children and grandchildren. I’m sitting on the left, aged 5.

My father married Lilian Healy in 1936, and I’m the youngest of three brothers and one sister.

During the documented 500 years of this family history there were remarkable changes in society, by the way we were governed (from absolute monarchy to a constitutional one under a parliamentary system), by the change from a predominantly agricultural economy to an industrial one. From a small nation on the fringes of Europe to a world-wide empire (and back again). From the records seen, my ancestors were farmers, laborers and the like. Nothing grand. But they’re my ancestors, and because I can name them going back so many generations, it really does make a tangible link with the events through which they lived.

In another post I talked about my Irish ancestry – that’s a story that will take a long, long time and concerted effort to unravel.

My maternal grandparents, Martin and Ellen Healy

So how did I track down all these dates? I didn’t. It’s all the work of my eldest brother Martin who, in 1980 following the death of my father, began to research our family history which is documented on the fabulous ClanJackson website. The site contains information about the paternal genealogy of the Jackson, Bull, Tipper and Holloway families (and some from my maternal grandparents’ sides of the family).