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Stand on the Side of the House of Love

Posted on 2017.05.25 at 12:20
Tags: , ,

A street in Islington
A typical street in this part of North London – large terraced mansions and tree-lined streets. In the distance, by the way, is a for-sale sign from the famous estate agents of ‘Hotblack Desiatio’. Ridiculous name; sounds more like a sci-fi villan …

London Islington. I don’t know what image the phrase brings up, but in my head it’s a confused sort of place, where suburban ‘yummy mummies’ with designer prams and book deals for female contemporary romantic fiction clash headlong with rough inner city council estates made up of endless concrete blocks three floors high of flats, the kind regularly seen in gritty TV crime dramas. But I’d never been there, at least I thought I never had – it turns out that London St Pancras railway station is in it (the boundaries between Islington & Camden have never been entirely clear in my head).

St Pancras Station
The upper floor of St Pancras Station, roof in evidence.

It’s a grand building, a wonderful example of Victorian architecture, designed to specific measurements at the request of the Midland Railway so that barrels of beer could be rolled through the concourse with the minimum of fuss – several of the main shareholders were the breweries in Burton and they wanted access to London markets. The roof of the station is a vast single arch (the biggest of its kind when built) that was destined to be pulled down when the station was listed for closure in the 1960s, but it was saved through the passion of people like Sir John Betjeman, Poet Laureate, whose statue now stands on the upper concourse. History proved him right; not only has the station been preserved, it has thrived and is now the terminus for international trains from Europe.

St Pancras Station
John Betjeman’s statue, looking roofwards, over two Eurostar trains.

Betjeman’s love of historic architecture in general (he’d previously failed in an attempt to have the nearby Euston Arch preserved) is well known, and is but one example of love that can be seen in these parts of Inner North London – even if it sometimes seems like parts of the area are definitely unloved.

Standing on the side of love, and crossing the border of Islington and Hackney lies Newington Green Unitarian Church. This is the one of the oldest Unitarian churches in the whole of England that’s still in regular use, having been originally founded in 1708.

Newington Green Unitarian Church
Newington Green Unitarian Church, complete with appropriate signage – if you’ll excuse the ‘All’ written over ‘Black Lives Matter’.

Now, (Universalist) Unitarians have long been at the radical end of Christianity (if loving your fellow human can be considered ‘radical’), and were themselves ostracised (even to the point of being executed as heretics in the middle ages) for centuries. Following a series of controversial Acts of Parliament in the 1600s, many moved to Newington Green (where their Dissenting theories were at least tolerated) and, eventually, built this church (now a listed building).

Mary Wollstonecraft
Stencil art on the wall of Newington Green Unitarian Church – this is a representation of Mary Wollstonecraft

Unitarianism in general has been at the forefront of liberal movements, from abolishing slavery to anti-fascism. This particular church has been especially notable; one of its early active members was author, philosopher, and equal rights activist Mary Wollstonecraft (who one could call the ‘godmother of feminism’), and since her time the church has been at the forefront of campaigns around domestic violence and human trafficking, whilst they are also notable in the forefront for LGBT rights; in 2008 they took a stance of refusing to conduct any weddings until gay couples were legally allowed to marry.

Hackney Empire Theatre
The Hackney Empire Theatre, in the suburb of Hackney Central. It’s also the name of the railway station, yes…

Hackney itself is another of those places I don’t really know; indeed I’d never been quite sure where it was, other than ‘in Inner London but not quite as far east as Brick Lane’. The only reason I’d ever heard of it really was because of the ‘Hackney Empire’ – a well-known theatre which I’d often heard of in the context of comedians performing there. The centre of Hackney (town) is a mishmash of railway lines and typical suburban streets lined with takeaways, pubs, and taxi companies – on first sight it’s not a ‘lovable’ place – however just outside the town is St John’s Church Gardens, which provide a bit of rest.

New St John-at-Hackney Church
The newer church at Hackney, set in quite nice grounds.

The church itself (St John-at-Hackney) is relatively new, built in 1792 to replace a previous church close by that was deemed to be too small for the growing population. Little remains of this old church, barring the tower (St Augustine’s Tower, originally the bell tower of the old church and preserved after its demolition because the new church didn’t yet have one, which is now a Grade I listed building and is seen as the iconic landmark in Hackney, although its location – hemmed in by other buildings and surrounded by trees – make it an awfully difficult building to take a picture of), and its old churchyard, which is the final resting place of, amongst others, Francis Beaufort. Although now largely deprecated, his claim to fame is creating the wind speed scale bearing his name that defined breezes/gales/hurricanes etc, and which is still used in many press releases and, of course, Radio 4’s Shipping Forecast. The gardens around the both the church and the tower are landscaped, with a number of larger family graves, as well as a memorial to the Czech town of Lidice, razed to the ground in WW2.

St Augustine's Tower
St Augustine’s Tower – all that remains of the old church. This photo required me lying flat on the floor pointing the camera upwards, much to the confusion of a passing jogger.

A little way North of Islington & Hackney lies Walthamstow, most notable for someone of my vintage for its postcode: E(ast) 17. I’d always imagined it as a lively but very working-class area; it’s famous for its old, iconic, greyhound stadium (used in publicity by not only the eponymous boyband but also indie-darlings Blur on their ‘Parklife’ Album), and to be honest it didn’t disappoint. Within 10 minutes of arriving in the town centre, I’d bought an absolutely fantastic spinach/feta bread from a Jewish bakery, browsed vibrant material at an Indian sari stall on Walthamstow market (at around a mile long, it’s one of the largest street markets in Europe), and walked passed a stereotypical ‘cockney geezer’ on his mobile phone talking about his need to be somewhere else very quickly to seal a deal. I’ve always found it hard to love London, because I’ve always found it too expensive, too crowded, and too ‘unfriendly’, but I think I could learn to love Walthamstow; it feels like a more ‘inclusive’ and genuine version of the area I grew up in.

Walthamstow Market
Walthamstow Market; it carries on like this for a long way. While not terribly aesthetic, it is incredibly ‘cultural’.

Walthamstow Stadium
Pretty much all that remains of Walthamstow Stadium – the iconic, and listed, frontispiece.

North of Walthamstow is Chingford; classic sitcom suburbia. But there is love here too; the Old Church at Chingford Mount has one of the largest and most spectacular graveyards I’ve ever been to, and nothing says ‘I love and remember’ like a gravestone.

Chingford Old Church
The ‘Old Church’ at Chingford – official name is ‘Chingford Mount All Saints’; there is another church in the parish but disappointingly it’s not called ‘Chingford New Church’.

See, most British churchyards are filled with row upon row of graves with similar dedications, the only difference being newer grave tend to be shiny marble rather than dull grey granite. But here … it feels more reminiscent of yards in Ukraine, in Timor-Leste, in Chile, than here in the UK. Each gravestone seems to have a personality; a unique style; and of course the surrounding décor says more about love than any dedication to the living. Some graves even have benches sat in front of them, so the ones left behind can sit and think about the loved ones they’ve lost. Maybe this is the modern way of remembrance in the UK; maybe I’m just used to going around mediaeval churchyards with inscriptions barely visible, worn down by centuries of bad weather and forgotten about by distant descendants.

Chingford Mount Cemetery

Chingford Mount Cemetery

The churchyard is huge – around the size of 140 rugby pitches, or approximately one third the size of the entire City of London area. It’s divided into numbered sections, apparently, though signage is quite limited. This is a shame as it means I never found the most famous graves there – those of the legendary East London gangsters the Kray Twins. However, it was a lovely way to spend the best part of an hour, just wandering around the rows, lost in quiet contemplation.

My journey through North London ended back where it started, in Islington, and a site related to both ‘love’ and ‘hate’ in my life. On the corner of Pentonville Road and Islington High Street is a Victorian building of note. It’s currently in use as a bank, somewhat ironically given its place in pop-culture history.

The Angel, Islington
Front of what used to the be Angel pub, in Islington. No, it’s not blue, despite also this being Pentonville Road; Euston Road – the one in the middle on the board – is what Pentonville Road becomes, about a mile to the left.

One of the standard board games beloved by families, especially at Christmas or on long Winter Sunday evenings, is Monopoly. It’s a weird choice for a family favourite, in the sense that its whole gameplay seems to be to cause as much harm to your competitors as possible – it’s a regular cause of arguments and fallings out, and very often the game ends not when someone wins as when someone loses so badly that they fling the board off the table, the small plastic houses and hotels being buried in the carpet until the next time someone walks barefoot to the television.

In case you haven’t been ‘lucky’ enough to play it, the board is divided into 40 squares, 22 of them represent areas, mainly streets, in London, and the idea is to buy properties on them so that your competitors run out of money. Cut-throat capitalism at its finest (the reason the game was made in the first place, incidentally). One of the cheaper squares, the third cheapest on the board, isn’t a street, but a place – on the board because the designers of the English version went there for lunch and liked it so much they decided to use it. Which is a very English way of creating a board game.

Islington High Street
The High Street in Islington – with pub and old hotel dominating the corner. At least the pub sign is the appropriate shade of blue.

This building was The Angel, Islington – originally itself a pub and hotel (meaning it’s the only place on the board map that is itself the point of the game), but by the time of the board game had become a Lyons Tea Café. Had Lyons kept hold of it it would probably have become a Wimpy – at least this way it’s had a better fate.

The Angel, Islington still exists though, in spirit. The nearby tube station took its name, and next door to the old building, occupying the stables of the 17th Century coach-house, is a Wetherspoons pub; this particular pub chain have a habit of calling their pubs names that reflect local history, so it’s no surprise to learn this one is called “The Angel”. Unfortunately it’s not one of the Wetherlodges so you can’t stay there …

Beer at the Angel, Islington
The beer was nice, but nothing special, but I felt I had to wander in and partake, just because of the iconic history of the place!

And I do love my beer!

Authorities visited: Islington, Hackney (1 May 2017), Waltham Forest (28 April 2017).</p>


Underground, Overground, Wombling Free …

Posted on 2017.05.25 at 12:20
Tags: , ,

As you may know, one of my ‘aims’ is to visit every county, unitary authority blah blah in the UK. Not just visit for the sake of visiting, mind – that would be nothing more than a tick-box exercise – no, I have to be be able to say that I’ve taken something out of the area; a memory, an interesting take.

I was in London for a travel blogging conference (Traverse17), so it made it the perfect time to explore some of the less-visited outer boroughs of the Greater London area (there are 32 of them, 33 if you include the City Of London, and for my purposes they all count!); on this day I headed “South of the River”, much to the chagrin of the stereotypical taxi driver.

So, firstly, “Underground”.

Now, you might be thinking “but the London Underground, that’s easy”, but in this case no. In fact I was headed to deepest Bromley borough and the small middle-class suburb of Chislehurst. Very close to the railway station, down what appears to be a very residential, tree-lined cul-de-sac, is a small building that would go unnoticed bar the small signs indicating ‘Chislehurst Caves’. Even the inside is fairly-low key; the small museum about its history, with titbits about its geology and its use over time (mainly around its war effort) is somewhat dwarfed by the on-side café…

The road to Chislehurst Caves
A quiet suburban cul-de-sac; a very unlikely place for a tourist attraction!

Chislehurst Caves
Even the entrance to the museum doesn’t give any inclination what’s inside …

Chislehurst Caves Entranceway
The museum and café at Chislehurts Caves. Has the feel of a school trip.

It would be more accurate to say ‘Chislehurst Mines’. This part of England has been noted since pre-Roman times for its flint, and up until the development of flint-less guns, the hills around Chislehurst had been mined for this resource; the passageways stretch out for several km in area. The caves themselves have been divided for convenience into three segments, reflecting the approximate period when they were dug. The earliest date from pre-Roman times, and some historians, as they are wont to do when they can’t work out exactly what they were used for, have assumed that they were the site of druidic ritual, including human sacrifice. The only suggestion of this is that a couple of the wider passageways in that part of the system end with a slightly raised alcove, and it’s believed that these were altars that sacrifices were led down to their fate. No evidence has ever been found of this, mind – no blood, no bones – so it’s probable this is just standard ‘religion-as-default’ belief. I swear if archaeologists of the future dig up our football stadia, without any other evidence they’ll come to the same conclusions. But then I suppose football is a religion to some.

Chislehurst Caves Map
A map of the caves, showing the different sections & how vast it is.

The caves were expanded during both the Roman and the Saxon periods, and were well used for over a millennia. Once the demand for flint had abated, however, the caves took on a number of other weird uses, from growing mushrooms to hosting rock concerts.

Mushrooms like a dark, dank, environment, and one enterprising chap had the idea of making use of these caves to grow a variety of experimental ‘shrooms as it was an almost perfect environment. No, not those kinds of ‘shrooms, though you never know what grows accidentally. Anyway, even though they stopped the industry in the 1930s, the caves are still technically owned by the company so they could well start again at some point.

As for the rock concerts; the acoustics are wonderful down there and during the 60s and 70s there was a growing passion for ‘intimate’ gigs (unadvertised concerts with a small but knowing audience);not just local bands either – the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin played here. The tradition continued into the 90s with the development of ‘rave’ culture – unfortunately although the caves themselves are (naturally) soundproofed, the road out is not, so the noise of ravers going home at 3am at the height of the ‘second summer of love’ was too much for ‘Middle England’ and the caves lost their license. Much to the chagrin of Led Zeppelin who wanted to do an anniversary concert down there in the 2000s but as a result couldn’t get insurance …

The main use of the caves however in recent times was during WW2. Now, the nearest city to my current hometown is Nottingham, and the caves under the city centre were used as an air-aid shelter. However, they were a mere bus-stop shelter compared to the ones here in Chislehurst. Due to its location and situation – an extensive arrangement of deep caves on the edge of London, close to the strategic targets in Kent, and capable of housing a large number of people – they became almost an unofficial town of scared citizens. At one point the population down here numbered upward of 15,000 people (more than half the current population of my home town!). In the caves were shops, a hospital, a barbers, a cinema … it pretty much functioned as a normal town, just underground and temporary. It was also quite an egalitarian setup – if you had lost your home during the bombing, you didn’t have to pay for anything, while those who were using it as a ‘shelter’ could pay for food, for lodging, etc, and the moneys raised were used to subsidise those who had lost everything. (Interestingly, after the war, all the unspent proceeds were given to the Dr Barnado’s charity, and while it’s not recorded how much was left over, it’s likely that it ran into the thousands of pounds).

Air-raid shelter rules & regulations
The rules & regulations of the air-raid shelter; they were added to over time as more people came.

People using the caves as semi-permanent shelter were housed in what amounted to dorm accommodation; whole ranks of bunks, three beds high, were laid along some of the caves. The bed you were in was assigned when you first ‘checked-in’, and remained yours for the duration of the war; if you’d been amongst the first, or could prove a need, you may even have been assigned a small alcove you could put a curtain across, otherwise regardless of income or status, you got what you were given.

It was pretty safe down here, and the shelters attracted people from across the South-East – indeed people chose to become ‘permanently resident’ rather than making the trip back home every day; staying here for upwards of two months was reasonably common. In all that time though, there was only one registered birth; although many people fell pregnant, usually they were taken to one of the nearby above-ground hospitals in the daytime. This particular baby however decided to appear during one of the air raids …

You can only enter the caves on one of the hourly ‘tours’ but don’t worry; the guides (mine was Darren G) are very informative and chatty, and the tour itself lasts between 45-60 minutes, depending on how much you keep the guide talking!

Now, “Overground”.

Although London now has a designated ‘London Overground’ railway network, I’m referring to a different form of transport. It may surprise you to know that for many years, you could fly into what these days would probably have been called ‘London Croydon Airport’. Although given our penchant for naming things after distinguished artsy locals, it may well have been named ‘London Peggy Ashcroft Airport’, or, even, shudder, ‘London Ralph McTell International Airport’.

This was the site of London’s first airport. First used as an airbase during WW1, the site was expanded and developed to take advantage of the new world of air travel. Although flights generally at first only went to European destinations (making it an early version of London Stansted), it was the first civilian airport to serve London as a whole.

Art-Deco building at Croydon Airport
The old airport site is full of art-deco buildings. This (Merlin House) is now used for generic offices (cardboard boxes for several decades, now an air-con contractor), but at the time it served as the National Aircraft Factory.

The airport’s buildings are ‘of its time’. By which I mean a plethora of Art Deco and associated styles. The airport hotel still serves as a hotel, whilst the main terminal building still exists and is now an office block. The airfield itself is a recreation ground, and just to the south of the terminal building is a monument to the Battle of Britain, as Croydon Airport was one of the main bases for the Spitfires and Hurricanes that fought the Germans in 1940.

Battle of Britain memorial
Croydon Airport was an important airbase during the Battle Of Britain in 1940, and was even quite heavily bombed itself one night. This memorial is dedicated to the few who did so much for so many, not just the pilots though but all those on the ground who contributed.

Art-Deco building at Croydon Airport
The old airport hotel – another art-deco building.

The last flight from Croydon was in 1959. It was closed because of its location – post-war development of London meant there was no more room for the airport to expand to be able to cope with more modern jet airliners. Traffic was rerouted to two airfields further out, that later became Heathrow and Gatwick. In fact, Gatwick Airport is only about 25km South of Croydon so it’s not much of a trek.

The terminal building and associated aeroplane at Croydon Airport
Another art-deco building; this is the old airport terminal building, now offices and a small museum (open rarely). The plane in front is a replica of the last commercial plane to fly from the airport in 1959.

Apart from the terminal building (now offices and a museum) and the hotel, the site of the airport is mainly occupied by a small commercial park and a large expanse of playing fields – though I didn’t venture too far into them it does appear that some of the old runway still exists as tarmacked segments in the park – one assumes they’re good for skateboarding and football. Interestingly, the local bus stop still refers to the ‘Croydon Airport’ history too.

Remains of Croydon Airport runway
The airport itself is mostly a playing field now; in the distance you can just make out what little remains of the tarmac runway and taxi route.

Between Chislehurst and Croydon, at least by public transport, is the large public park that once housed the Crystal Palace, originally built for the 1851 London Exhibition in Hyde Park and then moved to the delightfully-named suburb of Penge, seemingly at the whim of the local railway company to provide a reason for people to come here. Although the palace itself is long gone (victim of a fire in 1936 and then completely destroyed in the early days of WW2 lest it be used as a landmark for German bombers. Who obviously couldn’t read maps and didn’t know what the River Thames looked like), the site it stood in is now a large public park, complete with representations of mediaeval Italian architecture. And dinosaurs, apparently – one of the last links to its previous fame, but which, at the time of my visit, were being ‘renovated’. No, I don’t know how you can renovate a dinosaur either …

Crystal Palace park and TV transmitter
Unlike my last, misty, visit to a TV tower, this aerial is strikingly clear against the bright blue sky, standing proud above a verdant and chilled park.

These days, the Crystal Palace park is notable for a TV transmitter (which serves this part of Southern England, being one of the highest points in South London), and a small bushy maze. This maze commemorates the foundation of the Girl Guide movement – in a sense it was here that the Girl Guides were created; at a Boy Scout meeting in the Crystal Palace park in 1909, Baden-Powell noticed how many girls had turned up, and as a result decided to create a, literal, sister organisation. The maze itself is more of a labyrinth, in that there are only a small number of dead ends, while in the centre there’s a mural and memorial to the concept of Guiding.

Inside the Maze
Inside the maze. Baby Ian & Dave are trying to cheat by leaping the fence.

Girl Guide Memorial
Part of the memorial to celebrate 100 years of the Girl Guide movement. “Follow in the footsteps” it says…

In the past the Crystal Palace has been home to motor racing, the FA Cup Final, and many concerts and exhibitions. The only link to this past now is that the site of the old football stadium (which also lent its name to the current Crystal Palace football club, who played there in their early days) is now the “National Sports Centre”, home to training pitches, a competition-standard swimming pool, a non-league football club, and, somewhat obscurely, two American Football teams.

National Sports Centre
The National Sports Centre – site of the original stadium. Which probably looked more impressive.

Walking around the park is quite pleasant; for somewhere so close to the centre of London it’s a welcoming green space. But not quite as vast and strangely remote as my next port of call…

“Wombling Free”.

Wimbledon is famous the world over, mainly for sporting endeavour. Purists have three sports to choose from – Wimbledon Stadium being the major place in South London for greyhound racing, the 1988 football FA Cup being won by the local ‘Crazy Gang’ who, after a controversial and distinctly un-British move to the soulless Milton Keynes founded a new club (AFC Wimbledon), one of the very few fan-owned clubs in the UK Football League system and now ironically in the same league as the bastardised franchise club that the original club became, and of course it’s the home of British Tennis – the All-England Wimbledon Club being the home of one of the Majors on the Tennis Circuit and a representation of the sport in itself. But none of these concern me today. Rather, Wimbledon is the location of Wimbledon Common; home, to the whole of what may be categorised as “Generation X”, to the first eco-warriors, the Wombles.

Wimbledon Common
This was the first trail I found in the Common. Even after a few minutes’ walk, I realised this was much bigger, much more ‘open’, and more countryside-like, than I’d expected.

As a tourist and a ‘foreigner’, the biggest take-out from Wimbledon Common is just how big it is. It’s seriously impressive just how much land is still wild and open so close from the centre of London – in my head it was going to be a small park, but in reality it’s a huge expanse of scrubland, forest, and open countryside. I came in from Wimbledon Village, a quite pretty, preserved, part of London with old buildings and a certain style, and an hour and a half later (having seen virtually no-one aside from the occasional jogger and a few golfers – on the West side there’s a golf course, unfortunately, but it doesn’t take away from the remote beauty of the centre), I was in a council estate in Kingston borough (somewhat unexpectedly, on several counts!).

The Common itself is a protected ‘Biological Site of Special Scientific Interest’ (meaning it can’t be developed because the flora and fauna in the area are worth preserving), and covers an area of 460 hectares. I’m not very spatially aware, so I had to look up that this is similar in size to just under 460 rugby pitches, or 1½ times the size occupied by the ‘City of London’.

Wimbledon Common
It feels much more like a country park than a mere piece of common-land. It’s certainly vast enough for Baby Ian & Dave to play hide-and-seek in.

At its heart is Wimbledon Windmill. Built in 1816, it’s a pretty well-preserved example of its type, although long since out-of-use – it ceased operation in 1864 because the local landowner wanted to use the space for residential and commercial development, but there was such local opposition to it that the local council acquiesced and designated it as ‘common land’, preserving it in perpetuity – as in indirect result the windmill itself became a house. It’s now a museum, detailing windmills in general as well as this one in particular, and has detailed models of how the mill would have worked in its heyday. Unfortunately it’s only open on weekends and bank holidays; my visit was on a Thursday …

Wimbledon Windmill
The windmill, as seen from near the entrance (which appears to be around the back, judging by where the sails are).

Incidentally, the Windmill itself has a link to my previous stop; it was here that, in the early 1900s, Lord Baden-Powell wrote parts of his seminal work ‘Scouting For Boys’ (that launched the Boy Scout movement).

Wimbledon Windmill
In front of the windmill is this axle. It’s an old part of the windmill itself, and gives you a feel of just how big/powerful it is.

Elsewhere in the Common are the foundations of iron-age hillforts and the sites of possible Roman camps, although very little remains now save vague ramparts in the ground. Much of the Common is made up of a series of footpaths and horse-riding trails passing through scrubland and forest; apart from the occasional cottage in the middle of the trees, it does feel like you’re in the middle of the countryside rather than in the suburbs of one of the largest cities in the world; it’s definitely a good place for relaxation and exercise.

Wimbledon Common
I did not see any Wombles, unfortunately. Maybe they were camouflaged. Can you see two other ‘creatures’ that are in the woods though?!

Unfortunately I didn’t see a Womble. I guess they were scared off by my noisy presence!

Authorities visited: Bromley, Croydon, and Merton (27 April 2017).</p>


Of Cabbag...no, wait, Apples And Kings

Posted on 2017.03.10 at 21:21
Tags: , ,

“You scruffy man; next time I see you I hope you’re wearing socks.”

The King and the Beggarman
Selfie with the King. Neither of us are particularly impressed.

If I’d ever had doubts about my Parliamentarian tendencies in favour of Royalist sympathies, the brief chat I had with King Charles I in Newark quickly dismissed them. A grumpy, arrogant, selfish man who, despite having had his head chopped off over 360 years previously for precisely this bloodyminded refusal to accept times were changing, still believed he was there by the grace of God and therefore superior to everyone else in the museum, and treated the common man with contempt and a good dose of patronisation. Oliver Cromwell may have been a religious extremist, and incredibly unpopular for banning not just Christmas festivities but also football, but at least he was much more in touch with the British public.

Or something. I guess we shouldn’t be putting 21st Century morals on 17th Century society.

In fact, Cromwell wasn’t to be found anywhere in Newark; this part of England was very much a Royalist stronghold and indeed the King’s last night of freedom before his surrender was in nearby Southwell – about which more later.

I am of course talking about the “English Civil Wars”, a series of conflicts in the middle of the 1600s that pitted brother against brother, father against son, and are believed to have caused the deaths of more English soldiers than any other war in history. Predominantly, it was a battle of power: in the red corner was the Monarchy – the concept of a sole ruler, appointed by God, to rule as an autocrat, power passing to their child upon death – led by King Charles, while in the blue corner was Parliament – the concept of a body of officials, elected by the public, who acted en masse to represent the views of the people as a whole rather than one sole individual in particular – the most vocal of this group being Oliver Cromwell.

Spoiler alert: Parliament won, chopped the king’s head off, but then Cromwell ruled pretty much as an autocratic state for the next 9 years (and his austere Puritan ways quickly became as unpopular with the people as the King’s corruption and lack of care had been). Upon his death, his son took over but quickly realised he was out of his depth and quit – after a couple of years of confusion, Parliament invited the king’s son back to rule. With severe caveats, mind; the role of the King in 1660 was much less than 1640, and indeed the UK’s current constitutional monarchy can be pretty much traced back to this point.

Newark was the scene of some of the fiercest fighting in the wars; its strong support for the King, coupled with its location, where the main London-Scotland road crossed one of the most important waterways in England (the River Trent), meant that it was always going to be high on Parliament’s target list. Indeed, it was the scene of much bloody fighting and the town itself was besieged three times between 1643 and 1646, and only finally surrendered on direct order of the King. Much of Newark’s modern tourist trail stems from this period, including the Civil War Museum which covers several floors detailing the background to the conflict, military uniforms and weaponry, and a general overview of what happened, as well as some interactive events, and a very in-character King Charles himself who gives talks. In his own style.

King Charles
The King in his element; reading punishments of those who have displeased him.

Newark Castle
The outside of Newark Castle. Surprisingly much of the framework still exists, even if the interior isn’t still present.

In fact, Newark had been a significant town long before that; there has been a castle here since just after the Norman Conquest, which itself was the scene of an earlier monarch’s death. King John died here in 1216; like his later successor he was not a popular King – it was he who had been forced to sign the Magna Carta (pretty much the first English constitution) in 1215, and was probably in danger of being overthrown and murdered had he not fled across the swamps of Norfolk (The Wash) with England’s treasure, losing much of it in the process. He died a few months later, having reached Newark, of dysentery (joy!), generally unloved and unmourned.

A couple of weavers/spinners
An example of the cottage industries present in mediaeval England – these are linen/cloth workers.

My visit to Newark coincided with a weekend of ‘living history’ events around the castle (this was co-incidental; my visit was actually designed to coincide with the annual beer festival held in the grounds of the castle!); the area surrounding the castle wall ruins was lined with stalls where you could see the sort of jobs that people did in mediaeval times, including weaving, spinning, arrow-making, smithery, and the like, while in the centre of a field there was a representation of a jousting and melee tourney, with people dressed up in armour and bedecked in tributes hitting each other with swords, all while a King and a Bishop watched on, approvingly.

The King and the Bishop
A King and a Bishop watch the festivities from designated chairs, whilst the unwashed masses stand on the edge.

The Tourney
Scene from the battle tournament. Each fighter had shields and tokens depicting who they were representing, and who in the crowd was supporting them.

A little way to the west of Newark lies the small town (*) of Southwell. Now, this is a small town (about 7,000 people) in Nottinghamshire, quite affluent (Private School, notable choir, cafes and local butchers but no supermarkets) and, unusually for the area, not dominated by a (closed) heavy industry. Having been inhabited since Roman times – there’s evidence of a Roman Villa, and the major Fosse Way runs fairly close by – it’s main ‘claim to fame’ is it being the location of Southwell Minster, an Anglican cathedral and seat of the local bishop.

Southwell Minster
Overview of Southwell Minster.

‘Minster’ comes from the same root as ‘monastery’ and refers to a central ‘hub’ of religious power run by monks; it is the same sort of building as the much larger and more famous York Minster. There’s been at least a church on site since the 600s AD, though it became an important powerhouse in the early Norman period, presumably because of its convenient location. Over the years it was upgraded and expanded – an archbishop’s palace was built to the South that contained a ‘State Chamber Room’ for visiting nobles and dignitaries, including the aforementioned King Charles as mentioned. These days it serves as the cathedral that marks the centre of the Anglican Diocese of Southwell that covers the Nottinghamshire area.

Ruins of Archbishop&apos;s Palace
The ruins of the Archbishop’s Palace. Only the main hall and this one other wall survive, complete with latrine tower!

Southwell’s other claim to fame is that it’s home to the original ‘Bramley Apple’ tree, one of the most famous ‘breeds’ (the technical term is ‘cultivar’; I’m so not a nature person so I had to look that up!) of apple in the world. It’s a very sour apple, so it’s not one to eat as a snack; instead it’s *the* go-to apple of choice for apple pies, apple crumbles, and apple tarts, with a secondary use in the production of home-made apple wines and other strong alcoholic drinks.

Bramley Apple
Representation of a bramley apple, in the grounds of the Minster.

The first tree grew from pips planted in the back garden of a house in Southwell in 1809 by a young girl called Mary Brailsford, and both cottage and tree still exist today. Some years later, the house was bought by a chap called Matthew Bramley; when someone wanted to buy the apples from the tree for re-sale in a local shop, Matthew (obviously quite quick-witted with an eye for marketing) agreed, but with the proviso that the apples were labelled with his name. (This very fact has always been confusion since there are places in the UK called ‘Bramley’ and I always assumed the apple came from one of them.) Obviously the initial sales were a great success, and an entire brand and culture was born. Many seedlings and croppings have since been taken over the years of course so even if the original tree dies, we won’t ever run short of Bramley Apples.

Bramley Tree Cottage
Bramley Tree Cottage It’s in the back garden of this house that the tree still stands.

The town commemorates the apple in many ways – there’s an art sculpture of an apple in the grounds of the Minister, the “Bramley Apple Inn” a few doors away from the cottage, and a yearly ‘bramley apple festival’ in the town, with food, drink, and entertainment – including dances from the local Morris Dancing troupe.

Very ‘English’, I must say 🙂

(* Contrary to popular belief, ‘city status’ in the UK is conferred by royal charter, not by the presence of a cathedral, although certainly historically one begat the other, so there was a direct connection. As an example of the opposite, Swansea is a city without a cathedral – at least not an Anglican one!).

Authorities visited: Nottinghamshire (28 May 2016 and 7 January 2017).



Posted on 2017.02.20 at 21:51
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Moel Famau in the distance
Moel Famau, in the distance, being defended by sheep.

“Climbing up Moel Famau, there’s a chippy at the peak /

At least that’s what they told us; it must be closed midweek”

Mention to anyone of a certain age who was brought up in Liverpool the word ‘Colomendy’ and you will get a wistful, possibly mischievous, smile that harks back to that ‘nostalgic golden age’ that most people remember with misty eyes.

As one of the largest cities at the time, it was feared that children growing up in the city would end up having restricted access to the countryside and fresh air. Originally built as a small concentration camp for prisoners of war in World War II, the site in North East Wales between Mold and Ruthin later known as Colomendy (originally consisting of only a couple of cold, draughty, period dormitories) was requisitioned by Liverpool City Council to provide a ‘base’ for city children to experience country life; climb mountains, explore small villages, meet with farm animals, etc – generally school trips took place in the last year of Primary School (aged 10-11), lasted a week and were often the first time that they had spent significant time away from their parents. Cue the crying, the temper tantrums, etc. Over time it’s expanded to become a full ‘outward bound’ type centre (now called Kingswood) that offers all manner of exciting activities; when I went we had lots of colouring-in of pictures, a walk around a quarry, a walk around the village of Maeshafn, a walk through the neighbouring Loggerheads Country Park (clocked a theme yet?!), and a walk up the nearby mountain, Moel Famau.

Except on my trip, the weather was bad on the day my group was going to go up, so we did colouring instead. I was thus denied my first mountain. And sometimes, it’s the little things that rankle you through your life; sometimes it’s the small things on your bucket list that are the most important. And yet, because they’re so small, and so relatively ‘near / easy’, they often get overlooked.

So, 31 years later … 

Path up Moel Famau
The path up Moel Famau; I’m not sure the picture can really show how steep it was!

I had a free Sunday coming back home from Birmingham, so I thought I’d finally make time to climb it – it was a bright sunny September day, and conditions seemed right. Now, I’d consider myself quite fit for a middle-aged man. But I have to say that was one of the steepest climbs I’ve done for a while – even steeper than I had at Pendle Hill. My mind went back to being a 10-year old and wondering how I would have coped with it. It’s a lovely walk along country lanes, moody footpaths through fields of sheep, and up winding trails surrounded by rocks and low bushes. With a clear sky, the view is incredible – even from halfway up, on the obligatory ‘I need to take a breath’ stops, you can see as far as the windfarm in Liverpool Bay (some 35km away).

View from Moel Famau
The view from the top of Moel Famau, looking (I think) vaguely North-ish.

Despite the rumours amongst generations of schoolchildren, there is no chip shop at the top. There’s not even a burger van. What there is, is a ruined lookout post from which you can see a panoramic across the whole of North Wales and Cheshire, and an awful lot of wind – I felt somewhat uncomfortable up there and you could hardly hear yourself think.

Jubilee Tower
The Jubilee Tower at the top of Moel Famau, and an OS Trig Point.

This lookout post is the ‘Jubilee Tower’, commissioned to celebrate the Golden Jubilee (50 years) of King George III in 1810 (he’s the one history has dismissed as being ‘a bit mad’) and constructed between 1813 and 1817; it originally had a tower/obelisk rising 115 feet high but this fell down in 1862 due to bad weather and worse construction (at one point the architect and the main builder had a row that caused construction itself to stop for two years during the build – one assumes also that Georgian builders put more effort into their houses – see Bath – than their monuments). That said, the base of the tower has lasted quite well ever since, and is a major focal point for the locals. Assuming they manage to climb the hill …

I chose to take a different path down, a longer but less steep route that took me through the heart of Loggerheads Country Park.

Originally a milling and mining area, the country park is now mainly made up of a small forest (ash, oak, and sycamore, apparently) close to the River Alyn. Evidence of its industrial past – including an old waterway – can be seen around the park, which still houses a working flour mill, though predominantly this is for tourism rather than commerce. Going deeper into the woods, natural beauty takes over with limestone cliffs and gorges – many of which would have been mined in the past.

Devil&apos;s Gorge
The “Devil’s Gorge”, in Loggerheads Country Park. No-one was abseiling on my visit…

One such is the so-called Devil’s Gorge, a 120ft cleft in the hillside probably used for lead mining that’s now only normally visible via a footbridge, but which I have distinct memories of walking into as a 10-year-old child (one of other kids on the trip got a huge splinter here and had to be taken to hospital; Health & Safety not having as much day-to-day impact in those days). The trail there is a couple of miles through the woodland, and the path is punctuated by side trails, little tunnels through the rock (great for children to play hide-and-seek), and the occasional view over the fields to the west. It’d be a great place to some trail-running through, actually, as it’s relatively flat and easy terrain. Also a good place to pretend to be a wood-elf and go marching through with plastic swords and tin-foil armour. Not that I have ever done LARP-ing. Of course not. 🙂

Path through Loggerheads Country Park
One of the paths through the country park, sadly devoid of wood-elves!

It’s part of a larger Site Of Special Scientific Interest (covering about 190 hectares, or just under 200 rugby pitches. Its designation means it’s protected from development because of its unique geology. There is also some history here – evidence has been recently found in one of the caves in the park of habitation by humans in the neolithic period; human bones were discovered that have been dated to around 3000 BC.

The park is named after the nearby village of Loggerheads; its unusual name is said to come from a dispute in pre-Victorian days between two landowners (in Mold and Llanferres) about where the boundary between their estates should be – presumably it was a long, drawn-out dispute with little compromise on either side. The boundary is marked by a stone on the main road that dates back to this period, making this the exact location of the dispute that gave the village its name – it’s now the boundary between the modern authorities of Flintshire and Denbighshire. On the Denbigh side, the “We Three Loggerheads” pub commemorates the dispute (the third ‘loggerhead’ being the people watching, in a rather odd case of ‘breaking the fourth wall’), while on the Flint side, the ‘Colomendy Arms’ pub serves better beer …

Boundary Stone at Loggerheads
The boundary stone marking the boundary between Llanferres and Mold.

All of this is inland. When Scousers need some seaside, they often head to Rhyl. Located on the Welsh coast due north of Ruthin, although further from the city than genteel Southport, it is more ‘downmarket’ and caters more for the cheap ‘package holiday’ crowd, with mini-golf, cheesy promenade arcades, chalet accommodation, and plenty of ‘buckets-and-spades’. Seafront multi-story hotels, Full English Breakfasts, warm lager, and hen nights abound. Outside of the holiday season it suffers from the same socio-economic problems as other small seaside resorts, leading to it being one of the most deprived parts of North Wales. I’m not really selling it as a place to visit for the sort of people who read this blog, am I?!

Casino in Rhyl
One of the high-spots of Rhyl promenade – a cheesy amusement arcade and casino.

The most famous spot was the “Sun Centre”; I’d never been and it’s so not my sort of holiday entertainment, but it occupies a firm place in my childhood memories since BBC Radio Merseyside used it as a prize-winning destination (this was, admittedly, in the days before Easyjet and Ryanair, when people’s expectations were maybe more … low-key). It was really nothing more than a glorified sports and leisure centre, but for working-class families from inner-city Liverpool, it was the closest thing we had to the Med. It’s also now closed and a bit derelict; the council ran out of money to keep it open in early 2014, which maybe sums the town up a little.

Rhyl Sky Tower
Rhyl’s Sky Tower. 76m high. Opened in 1989 as a revolving observation point and gondola ride. Closed 2010 due to lack of visitors and repair costs. Obviously Rhyl is that photogenic…

Rhyl does have its bright points; the promenade is lined with weird art installations, mosaics, and sculptures that provide a bit of culture and colour, whilst the beach itself – the main draw for most of the tourists here – is large, sandy, and, by being North-facing rather than the West-facing beaches nearer Liverpool, a little less windy and harsh. You get the same view of the windfarms and oilrigs in the Irish Sea though…

Artwork on Rhyl Promenade
Part of the weird art installation on Rhyl Promenade. No, I’m not quite sure either …

Rhyl beach
Rhyl beach. Interestingly, despite being a warm summer day, it was remarkably empty …

It is, however, more of a draw than the commuter towns on the England-Wales border – Mold, Shotton, Queensferry, Flint – which are almost exclusively residential and serve as cheap places to live for people who work in the industrial belt that stretches from the steelworks and power station at Shotton, across Northwest Cheshire to the chemical works at Stanlow/Frodsham, and ultimately to the Industrial ‘New Town’ of Runcorn. It’s also notable for a large airbase and aircraft manufacturing plant at Broughton. These towns are functional rather than aesthetic, and have a dour, almost grim, feel.

Mold itself does have one minor claim-to-fame; it was the home of the foremost Welsh-language 19th Century novelist Daniel Owen. Although these days the knowledge of Welsh in this North-East corner is relatively small (in the 2011 census in Flintshire, 20% of people claimed to have ‘some knowledge’ of Welsh, while less than 13% said they could speak it), back in Victorian times, it was far more common for people in Wales to be able to speak the language. Educated primarily at the local Sunday School, he ended up training as tailor and ran his own shop in the town for many years; in his spare time he was both a writer of poems and novels, and a preacher at the local chapel. He regularly used Mold and surroundings in his works, most notably in his early novel ‘Rhys Lewis’ where he described a riot which was ‘suspiciously similar’ to a riot following a trial of local miners in June 1869.

Mold chapel
The Bethesda Welsh Calvanistic Methodist Chapel, where Daniel Owen worshipped and where he was encouraged to write.

Authorities visited: Flintshire, Denbighshire. Dates visited: 25-26 July 2015, and 25 September 2016.

Overview of Pendle Hill
Pendle Hill, not raining, but definitely quite imposing and uninviting.

Part of the Pennine range of Northern England, and geologically part of the same branch as much of the Peak District much further South, Pendle Hill (the name ‘Pendle’ derives from the Celtic word ‘Penn’, meaning ‘hill’, combined with the later Old English word ‘hyll’, meaning, er, ‘hill’, with the clarification addition of Modern English ‘Hill’. The name thus means ‘Hill Hill Hill’. Just in case it was unclear that it was a hill. That it’s blindingly obvious what it is when you look at it from Burnley is neither here nor there) stands 557m above sea level and has been lived near (and even revered) since the Bronze Age – indeed a Bronze Age burial site has been discovered at the top of the hill. It’s considered dour, wet, and mysterious, and is most famous in British Culture for being the most notable reference point in the sordid tale of the Pendle Witches.

The Pendle Witch Trials, held mostly in Lancaster on 19 and 20 August 1612, were one of the most ‘intense’ instances of accusations of witchcraft in the history of England. In total, eleven people (nine of which were women, across several generations) were charged, and nine of them were found guilty and executed. In context, in the entire period between the 1400s and the 1800s, only 500 people in total were known to have been executed, and over half of these were as a result of ‘Witchfinder General’ Matthew Hopkins being overly-zealous in East Anglia in 1645. Basically, the English never perceived witchcraftery as anywhere near the threat that the rest of Europe believed it to be.

Pendle was, and to some extent still is (the M65 isn’t the most busy motorway in the UK), a pretty remote area, tucked away on the edge of the wider mountain ranges of Bowland and the Pennines. In the early 1600s, the church still held much of the power of the land, but at the time, the area around Pendle Hill was covered by the Parish of Whalley, which was large and pretty much unmanageable by the standards of the time, with small villages in hidden valleys connected by nothing more than farm tracks. In addition, its remoteness made it a hotbed of Catholic support – the witch trials must be seen in the context of wider religious animosity; the Gunpowder Plot (Remember Remember The Fifth Of November) had only been seven years previously, and King James I/VI, who had only been king of the new dynasty for nine years, was widely believed to be more pro-Catholic than his predecessor Elizabeth I. Some of the accused were still practising Catholics, and that they were caught ‘having secret meetings’ (in reality, going to illicit Catholic ceremonies) was used as proof of their witchcraft.

It was also an area stricken with rural poverty; the ‘witchcraft’ covered a blanket of occupations and practices undertaken to either earn money, or to prevent the need to spend money – including primitive healing and herbalism – with a side of extortion/curses. In other cultures, these ‘witches’ could be described more as ‘witch doctors’, using traditional herbal medicines to cure illnesses and/or provide moral assistance to afflicted persons, in return for a small payment. (Voodoo Priests in places like Benin operate in much the same way, even today). This was also a ‘family business’, in that mother trained daughter to carry on the knowledge and traditions, but since the base population was small, even though the area was relatively large, this meant that families often clashed, in a sort of ‘Godfather meets Capitalism’ way.

Statue of Alice Nutter
One of the most famous of the Pendle Witches was Alice Nutter; unrelated to the two families involved, and quite affluent by the standards of the area at the time, she seems to have been caught up in the crossfire. Statue is in her home village of Roughlee.

A combination of these factors led to the accusations and the trial. Most of the accused came from within two families – the Demdike/Device family and the Chattox/Redferne family – both of whom accused the other of witchcraft, in order to corner the ‘market’ (such that it was – though the margins were so small that any advantage was worth the risk). The fear of anything other than Anglicanism was still high in the country, so any deviance, any reluctance to go to church, was seen as anathema to the civil order, and the state was fearful of areas like Pendle for this reason. In addition, the trial judges were, for their own personal reasons, trying to curry favour with the King so wanted to demonstrate competent handling. It’s partly for these reasons that, running concurrently with the Pendle Witch Trial, was another trial of three ‘witches’ from Samlesbury, some 20 miles west of Pendle, but all three were acquitted since the judges proved beyond all reasonable doubt that all three had been ‘framed’ as part of a Catholic plot. The ‘Pendle Witches’ weren’t so lucky.

Allegedly Alice Nutter&apos;s grave
This is believed to be Alice Nutter’s grave, in the churchyard in Newchurch-in-Pendle. While the grave seems to be dateable to about the right time, and the next grave along is for someone else in the Nutter family, no-one knows for sure (the ‘skull’ motif on it was a common emblem at the time).

Signs Around Pendle Hill
The footpaths and roads around Pendle Hill are dotted with witch-related signs.

Of course, these days the area now revels in its ‘witchcraft’ past. Shops advertise their wares with ‘witchy’ names or decorations, the small village of Roughlee has a statue of one of the accused (Alice Nutter), and even the local bus route to Manchester has the moniker ‘The Witch Way’ with individual buses named after some of the witches involved. Each Halloween, Pendle Hill itself sees hordes of people climb up it dressed in appropriate attire – much to the chagrin of the local church. It could be argued however that the Pendle Witches were just the most famous example of the supernatural awe and feeling that people have had from the Hill for as long as the area has been inhabited – it has long believed to be haunted by ghosts and spirits, and even today ghost hunters have made a beeline here.

A shop in Newchurch-in-Pendle
A stereotypical shop in Newchurch-in-Pendle. Note the witch standing guard outside too.

This may be the cause of Pendle Hill’s second most famous claim to fame. In 1652, George Fox – founder of the Quaker movement – came to the area and upon seeing the Hill, felt “moved of the Lord to go up to the top of it”. Once there, he is believed to have looked out at the surrounding area and felt a ‘vision’ of all the lands of the Earth beneath him, and all the people of the world he needed to gather together to preach the word of the Lord. There is definitely something foreboding and mysterious about Pendle Hill – with that traditional British pessimism regarding the weather, locals assume it’s always covered in cloud (“If you can’t see Pendle Hill, it’s raining: If you can see Pendle Hill, it’s about to rain” is the moniker) – meteorologically they have point as it’s the first highest point clouds reach coming in off the Irish Sea, but still ..

Climbing Pendle Hill
Really? That looks quite a gradient!

Climbing Pendle Hill
George Fox describes his climb up as “with difficulty, it was so very steep and high”. I can see why …

Evidently the experience he had at the top of the hill stayed with him for the rest of his life, and formed a core part of Quaker belief and study. One of the Quakers’ main centres for study, in Pennsylvania (the ‘Penn’ here being purely co-incidental!), is called ‘Pendle Hill’; it was founded in 1930 and named as a direct throwback to George Fox by the first Director Henry Hodgkin, because (as he wrote) “The name of Pendle Hill symbolises the call to climb to spiritual heights through hard thinking and self-discipline…to see deeper into the meaning of life and farther out into the great world, and to come down, as did Fox from Pendle Hill, with a fresh zest for the service which reaches to ‘that of God’ in all.”

View From Pendle Hill
The view from the summit of Pendle Hill, looking out towards Burnley.

Pendle Hill Trig Point
At the summit of Pendle Hill is this ‘trig point’, used by the Ordnance Survey to accurately map the UK in the days before GPS. The view is looking out towards Clitheroe.

It may also be the cause of issues of my own descent. According to the map, there was theoretically a path that headed West towards Clitheroe, although all the descriptions I’d read online before my visit only talked of paths from the East/South (the way I climbed up, from Barley) – note they didn’t specifically say there *wasn’t* a path. One of these routes was a long looping trail that did head West before curving South and then back East – a much longer but less steep path back to Barley – the trail to Clitheroe branched off this somewhere. Well, I never found it. I did come across a narrow path that broke away, but after I’d followed it for maybe a mile (Mearley Moor) I realised that it had been made by sheep, when it came to an abrupt end on a very steep slope. Looking out across the hillside all I saw were farmers’ fields – no obvious paths of any kind, but I figured I didn’t really have a choice but to go down anyway (200m down in a distance of about 400m). At the bottom of the hill were more sheep, some damp, reedy, boggy, ground, and a few fences. Now, I was wearing relatively new sandals; comfortable but I was aware they lacked a little grip when wet – not grip with the floor, but rather grip between my foot and the top of the sandal. Well, I made one too many bad step in the reeds, slipped … and broke the connection on the side of the sandal where the strap meets the sole.

Coming Down Pendle Hill
I had to walk down this, as I lost the path. This is the point I put away the camera and started to concentrate … :p

A couple of minutes later I found a gate that led to a farm, so at that point I thought my luck had changed. However this led me onto a purely gravel farm road with not even a verge either side; although only 1km long it felt much worse due to being barefoot-by-necessity (yes, I’m often barefoot. I draw the line at gravel!). Then, once I hit the main road I still had a further 3.5km slog along tarmac and dodgy pavements into Clitheroe. Both stretches were made longer by virtue of my not having a map and therefore missing the two short-cuts …

(I was going to have a wander around Clitheroe as apparently it was worth a visit. Needless to say all I saw was the railway station and the inside of a couple of shops … !)

My research into Pendle Hill for this blog post has also brought up a third notable historical incident; one as far removed from religion as you can get, yet still one answering the basic questions of the way the world works, and also, co-incidentally, in the 1600s (evidently in the 17th Century, Pendle was “The Place To Be”…!). In 1661, the scientists Richard Towneley and Henry Power conducted an experiment with the newly-created ‘barometer’ on Pendle Hill, and became the first people to prove that there was a relationship betwen air pressure and air density – that as air pressure decreases with altitude, air density increases. This then became the basis for that fundamental part of GCSE Physics, Boyle’s Law (“For a fixed amount of an ideal gas kept at a fixed temperature, pressure and volume are inversely proportional”), without which knowledge we wouldn’t have the bicycle pump, the syringe, aerosol cans, or cars (pistons in the combustion engine run on this principle).

Pendle Hill
Closer view of Pendle Hill, from near Roughlee.

Pendle Hill – historic, mysterious, significant.

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“I heard the coiners took the scissor to the Union Jack, with a snipper and a clipper and a bloody close shave making fivers, tenners, twenties, change.”

The Calder Valley, looking out over Hebden Bridge towards Cragg Vale
“The hills of Hebden, Hell, and Halifax” – view from Heptonstall overlooking Hebden Bridge looking towards Cragg Vale.

History is such a wide-reaching subject, but at school (certainly in the UK) we’re only really taught the mundane stuff – the Kings & Queens, life in Roman / Saxon / Norman / Elizabethan England, the Industrial Revolution in a general sense, and World War 1. It’s more amazing to hear what we don’t learn – neither the Wars of the Roses nor the three English/British Civil Wars of the 1600s, not really much about colonialism (indeed, almost nothing outside Europe, even if we were directly involved – I learned more about the War of 1812 after one day in Quebec City than I ever learned at school), and certainly very little about everyday life, the occasional peasants revolt aside. The childrens’ TV series ‘Horrible Histories’ fills in a few gaps, but sometimes you end up learning about odd titbits from completely random sources.

And so it is with the Cragg Vale Coiners, whose existence I only learned about through a song by the Yorkshire-based anarchist indie punk rock band Chumbawamba – ‘Snip Snip Snip’ from the album ‘Shhh!’ is an aggressive rock-rap summarising the background to the gang, although it doesn’t go into their demise. Although a minor footnote in the history of Yorkshire, I figured if it was interesting enough to write a song about (albeit Chumbawamba being a slightly biased source, given their standpoint would be aligned very much with the coiners), it would be interesting enough to blog about, especially as I was in the area.

The Cragg Vale itself is a small valley in the hills just south of Mytholmroyd, and is pretty isolated even today, so back in the 1760s it’s likely that the area was lightly policed and very little known about it on an everyday basis, although the coiners themselves operated at least as far as nearby Hebden Bridge, in the Calder Valley. Although supported by many both then and now due to their cocking a snook at the establishment, and seen as ‘jolly rogues’ (in much the same way as people like Dick Turpin), in simple terms what the coiners were doing was very definitely illegal – hacking bits off the edges of coins (enough to get a good sliver of metal but not enough as to make the original coin noticeably worthless), then melting the scraps and reforming them into new coins, essentially therefore literally ‘making money’ in its proper sense. It needs to be remembered of course that in those days, the coins used as money were actually worth something – made of silver rather than a cheap alloy – so were easy to work as well as being of intrinsic value in and of itself.

The road through the Cragg Vale
The road through the Cragg Vale, near the Robin Hood Inn – unfortunately too recent (c.1800) to have been one of the coiners’ haunts.

It was a particularly good spot for such activity. The main road through the Calder Valley to the North was an important trade route across the South Pennines/North Dales, linking the towns of West Yorkshire like Halifax and Huddersfield with Lancashire towns like Bacup and Burnley, from which there would be easy access to the sea. However, off the main road the mountains were relatively high and remote, so the many valleys off the Calder would have been little-known and little-ventured; even today the Cragg Vale has only one road going through it – back in the days of the Coiners, it would have been incredibly quiet and hidden, and even if people were to come through, they would have been very easy to spot from a distance, making it a simple process to hide everything away in good time before they arrived.

The leader of the coiner gang was a chap called David Hartley, who had the nickname ‘King David’ (as the leader of such an influential and rich group, complete with their own power base, it’s not hard to see why); the exact number of coiners will probably never be known but by the end of the scheme, 30 people had been arrested across the whole Calder Valley area in suspicion of forgery, some from as far away as Sowerby and Halifax. Many of the local villagers, especially the publicans, were actively involved in other ways, including providing some of the original coins from which the forgers worked (with the promise of a small ‘return on investment’, of course). The beauty of forgery of course is that most people never check their coinage to see, and as long as someone is willing to accept them as payment, no suspicions are raised. (In a sense the only people to ‘lose out’ are the government – as they’re no longer in control of the money supply – and the very last person to handle the coin, as banks/officials will check). In addition, at the time the quality of the genuine coinage was quite poor anyway due to over-handling (it was quite ‘old’), and there was a reasonable amount of ‘foreign’ (or at least non-standard) coinage already in circulation that was accepted, so the Cragg Vale Coiners wouldn’t have needed to work too hard to create a coin that people would accept, never mind shave little bits off coins that were already accepted.

This isn’t just a tale of forgery (a crime in and of itself punishable by death in those days); it’s also a tale of murder, almost out of the pages of a children’s Victorian-era novel. Once the law got wind of what the coiners were up to, they despatched a law enforcement official (William Dighton) to do some research. Initially his investigations brought fruit – one of the coiners (a chap called James Broadbent) gave damning evidence in return for immunity from prosecution, and as a result, David Hartley was arrested. His brother Isaac didn’t take too kindly to this and arranged for William to meet an ‘unsightly end’; he offered a reward of £100 (a not insignificant sum in those days) for his murder, and two of the coiners (ambushed and shot him while he was in the nearby ‘local capital’ of Halifax.

Overview of the Coiners, in the Cross Inn, Heptonstall
Overview of the Coiners’ activities, in the Cross Inn, Heptonstall. Allegedly on this spot a related murder was committed..

Ultimately, this proved a step too far for the law, who sent in what amounted to a small brigade led by an ex-Prime Minister, and promptly had the whole lot arrested. James himself was swiftly executed in York, and is now buried in nearby Heptonstall. The two coiner-murderers were eventually caught and subsequently hanged (one for the murder itself, the other for a separate charge of highway robbery). As for the other coiners, most of them seem to have been placed on what we might now term ‘on remand’ for a year until the following ‘assizes’ (court in session), but while many death sentences were handed out, they were only carried out in less than a handful of cases, and apart from a couple of deportations (to Africa, it seems), the matter seems to have been quietly dropped (according to the rolls, many of them were eventually acquitted – I assume that getting ‘King’ David Hartley had been enough to demoralise the whole group into submission). Oddly, Isaac was never brought to justice for his role in the murder of William Deighton due to a lack of evidence, presumably no-one would testify against him, and he died in Mytholmroyd many years later at the age of 75.

James Broadbent, the initial ‘grass’, seems to have escaped unscathed, although a couple of other locals/coiners thought close to the police were not so lucky; while not the ‘flame for your pants, poker for your eyes’ retribution mentioned in the Chumbawamba song, David Hartley’s gang did murder a couple of people who threatened to inform the authorities, including a coiner called ‘Abraham Ingham’ who boasted about knowing of the murder of William Deighton.

&apos;King&apos; David Hartley&apos;s Gravestone
The grave of ‘King’ David Hartley, in the churchyard at Heptonstall. He died in 1770; more of his family was interred in the same grave later.

As to why the coiners operated in the first place; apart from being a remote area (and therefore likely slightly less affluent than places on the trading routes), the main industry in the area was weaving (mainly wool). Since prosperity depended on a single industry, any changes in the demand for woollen goods would have drastically affected life here, and at the time the wool industry was experiencing a ‘depression’ due to, amongst other things, world peace (English army uniforms were woollen at this time so there was less demand for army uniforms). Conversely, that it was so close to a trading route meant that access to a small but regular supply of coinage was guaranteed – but thus why they needed the help of the publicans to provide them.

Incidentally, although only active for a short period and in such a short area, they have left an important legacy – it is because of people like the Cragg Vale coiners that the UK £1 coin has a ridged edge …

Authorities visited: Calderdale. Date visited: 14 May 2016, aside from the pic of Cragg Vale taken 20 August 2016.

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Return of the Barefoot Daisy

Posted on 2016.08.24 at 20:54
Tags: ,

This post will appeal to different people in different ways … 😉

Earlier this month, I was invited to a wedding in Southampton. I’d known the bride for maybe 12 years, and she’s quite a casual, relaxed soul (it’s the Dutch mentality) – after the ceremony in the church, she arranged for us all to ‘decamp’ to a country park a few miles away, where they’d organised some small marquees, beer, a barbecue, and all manner of small games & fun stuff. As a result, the “dress code” for the wedding was “festival” (specifically, wellies were okay but no high heels!). One of the events on the afternoon programme was “bare feet dancing in the grass”. Obviously that got me thinking … :p

Now, in principle I should have always been fond of barefoot sandals. In general they look like normal sandals, usually with a bit of ‘bling’ or fancy designs, but importantly they have no sole (hence the name – they’re more akin to foot jewellery than sandals). Whereas often with sandals/flip-flops there’s a strap going over the foot, between the toes, that connects to the sole, with barefoot sandals the ‘strap’ (usually a long piece of cord or thick string) loops around a toe, and then ties around the leg just above the ankle. The reasoning behind why I’d wear them is twofold – they make my feet look less ugly whilst giving the impression that I’m not barefoot at all, but rather just wearing some thin sandals. I also have this thing for daisies (I’m not sure why, but it might be something to do with the fact they’re one of the few things I can draw/doodle!), so I’m naturally attracted to that kind of design – I’m basically a wannabe hippie!

Traditional barefoot sandals in the grass
Traditional ‘barefoot sandals’, definitely very ‘bare’ and more akin to foot decoration.

However, on the few occasions I’ve worn the ones I had, I wasn’t really that ‘taken’ with them. Since the ‘strap’ was quite a thin piece of string, no matter how tight I tied them, the knot slowly worked its way down to the ankle. This means I kept losing tension in the over-foot bit, so they continually felt ‘loose’ and like they were about to fall off. As they’re crocheted, they got dirty rather too quickly – this shouldn’t be so much of a problem but as they were quite thin and fragile, they were quite difficult to clean. Finally, the trouble with most barefoot sandals to be fair, and these in particular, is that it was blindingly obvious they’re just a piece of fabric and I really am barefoot – they wouldn’t fool anyone who takes more than a passing glance. This is fine for festivals, but not for walking through city streets in the UK. (Except in Sheffield, where no-one seemed to care one iota that I was completely barefoot when I had a wander last month. Maybe they’re just so used to seeing people like my friend Bea?!)

Searching online, via Pinterest, didn’t bring anything up I liked, but then I had a chat with a friend who said that one of her friends (Mrs Blake’s Makes) might like the challenge, as long as I didn’t mind crochet again. After a few e-mails, and a tracing of my feet onto squared paper, she said she’d completed them.

New barefoot sandals
Close-up of the new barefoot sandals.

New barefoot sandals worn with jeans
This is what they would look like if someone saw me wearing them on the streets. I’m at a mosaic in the Hampshire boating port of Hamble.

This was the end result. The strapping is made with a thicker cord than the sandals I previously had, and they have a little more weight behind them, which means they stay on my feet pretty well – I wore them for the whole of the wedding weekend, and never had any problems with them. The daisies over the forefoot are unusual, and meant there needed to be two toe loops rather than one to ensure that they keep their shape when I walk. That there were so many daisies crocheted meant that a few people at the wedding were fooled – I was complemented with “nice flip flops”; when I showed them they had no soul they were impressed and would never have guessed. (I was wearing jeans for much of the day – it’s more obvious when wearing shorter trousers, when they look a little like old gladiator-like sandals). They’re very comfortable, are easy to slide on and off, and fit perfectly. They even felt like I was wearing proper sandals.

The Barefoot Backpacker in the wild
At the wedding reception in the country park – here seen with the long shorts rather than the full-length jeans.

I did get a few stares when walking through the streets of Southampton and London in them, but that was more due to the daisies than the bare feet – even though I was still a little self-conscious about them, no-one questioned my lack of footwear at all, and I went through some busy areas, certainly in London (including the South Bank and Brick Lane areas).

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I'm not here ...

Posted on 2014.07.03 at 17:46
No GPRS but: Amy's house, K-in-A
Feeling: tiredtired
Background Noise: background radio, tennis on TV
... no, seriously!

I went away on holiday on 30 April 2014 and I haven't been onto LJ since. Normally when I holiday, I provide links to my travel website on daily entries here, but this time I haven't been doing that (mainly because the scope of my travel is more than just daily updates).

Since I only have a couple of friends here who regularly post, I've made the decision to mothball this journal and only come back to check those journals.

Travel journals can now be found at: http://barefoot-backpacker.com
For general contact, my standard twitter feed is : @planet_leesti

To be fair I've barely used LJ for the last couple of years, so it's not going to be much of a loss for me to not come here on a standard regular basis.

Speak laters,

Ian :)

last waltz

The End of An Era

Posted on 2014.04.14 at 19:10
No GPRS but: my bedroom
Feeling: sadsad
Background Noise: none
Tags: , ,
I go travelling at the end of the month. For a year. And I'm going to have to get my place rented. Regardless of whether it's to someone I know or not, I still need to clear out lots of stuff that's cluttering the place.

In my bedroom there is a walk-in closet. Sat at the bottom of that closet, in a large black plastic box, is very penpal letter I've ever received, going back to 1991. It's a very heavy and a very full box. It also hasn't been opened for about seven years.

That was two hours ago.
It is still a very heavy and very full box. Now however it contains all my travel-related nostalgia; stuff that might be useful when I'm writing about travel in the future.

And my penpal letters?
They're all in the recycling bin.

Farewell to them all. Once friends, now mostly merely names written on old paper envelopes and sheets of paper.

dead railway lines

Even My Bank Called To Check!

Posted on 2014.03.28 at 17:35
No GPRS but: Living room, Sarah's house, Northampton
Feeling: melancholymelancholy
Background Noise: BBC 6 Music - Steve Lamacq
Bloody expensive, this travel lark!

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