Travel - Leamington Spa

I always do a ‘Travel’ post on Sunday but as I’ve got a busy Sunday coming up, I thought I might as well post this now instead of waiting another whole week.

Headed towards the Midlands last weekend, Leamington Spa to be precise. It’s a direct train ride from Bournemouth, just under 3 hours. The weather wasn’t very good; it was raining when I got there but at least it was still warm. Thanks to the weather, headed for cover. Checked out the church, which was hosting a historical exhibition ... 

Then walked to the museum/library/information centre/café. The building used to be the Royal Pump Rooms. The museum is to the right of this main building...

In the museum, next to the exhibit room, is the Hammam or Turkish bath, which had been part of the Royal Pump Rooms, restored after being closed for many years.

The view outside the Museum, and the path leading to a riverside walk...

I've refrained from doing my usual write-up; there isn’t much about it from a historical perspective. I did like the town, it’s small-ish, compact and pretty, and parts of it reminded me of Bath. The whole place had a very nice feeling, from walking around the town to spending time in the gardens. I didn’t realise that the hotel – The Regent Hotel – had had its fair share of famous guests. Officially opened in August 1819, it had its most famous visitor in 1830 when, aged 11, Princess Victoria stayed overnight with her father.

The photos are a mix of some taken during the day and in the evening when the rain let up. It was a very pleasant walk from the hotel to the gardens and back again ..

The hotel is the cream building on the extreme left of the picture

This refers to the base of Queen Victoria's statue, as can be seen in the picture below...

A famous circus man and elephant trainer, Sam Lockhart, kept 3 of his Ceylonese elephants - 'The 3 Graces' - at Leamington Spa...

One thing that struck me about Leamington Spa – the number of restaurants! Every road seemed to have at least one; a couple seemed to be filled with nothing but eateries!

Entrance and interior of the hotel...

Again, as in in Arundel, I was most taken with the gardens. The Jephson Gardens are named after Dr. Henry Jephson who had built houses for the town’s poor and had also helped promote the healing properties of the town’s spa waters. 

This Temple contains a very large marble statue of Dr Jephson ...

The setting sun and clouds on the walk back to the hotel... and looking across the green to the museum building with the church behind it

The next morning, had a light breakfast at the most delightful tea room next door to the hotel, called Rosie’s – everything was vintage; none of the crockery matched and I loved the whole experience!

Decided to spend more time in Jephson Gardens, which is the largest public garden I’ve been in and it is gorgeous. I was struck by the copious number of benches! Usually, you’re lucky if you find one. There are fountains, a glasshouse, tea rooms, a clock tower and so much green! Not to mention the river. Just the sort of place to spend a lazy Sunday with a book and a coffee …

Inside the glasshouse...

This is called 'pink powder puff'! Never heard of it but I like it.

Back out again...

Wet, Windy ... Enchanting Weekend

Enjoyed another weekend away … in Bristol, this time.  The city isn’t far from Bournemouth, but I’ve never been.  Didn’t have any plans to visit any particular historic site, so decided to have a spontaneous ‘explore’, which is somewhat out of my comfort zone.

The railway station is a beautiful piece of architecture … didn’t realise at the time that the ‘old part’, which I didn’t take a picture of, was the part that had been designed by the great architect, Isambard Kingdom Brunel – shall have to correct that oversight next time I visit.

Not far from the station, about a 10 minute walk, is the beautiful church of St. Mary’s.  It was founded in 1292 by Simon de Burton, who was Mayor of Bristol three times.  Here’s something I didn’t appreciate – most times, building work on a church would start with the choir part, usually the east end of the church, so that this could be consecrated and used for masses, while the rest of the church was still being built.

The skinniest door I have ever seen!

Walked on down to the harbour … for many years, the amount of trade that passed through Bristol made it only the second busiest port after London.  It was also the first port to build up trade with America.

Bristol Cathedral, viewed from the harbour

The Fairbairn Steam Crane, built in 1878 to handle heavy loads on ships in the Docks; worked until 1973, and can still lift 35 tons

SS Great Britain, designed by Brunel

A hearse advertising 'Pirate Walks'

Inside this mirrored sphere is the Planetarium

Stopped for a bit of lunch, at a pretty little café along the riverfront then continued exploring.  Made my way to the College Green, where Bristol Cathedral is.  Work on it started about 1220, and it’s a mix of Norman and Gothic architecture.  As I’d already spent a good long while in St Mary’s Church, I didn’t go into the cathedral … probably do that on another visit.

Thanks to the effects of what was Hurricane Bertha, the gradually windy weather turned extremely wet.  After getting soaked at the non-event that was the hot air balloon mass ascent – okay, okay ‘called off due to bad weather’, though it would have been nice if the ‘audience’ had been told – decided to retreat to the hotel … where the supposed lake view turned out to be a pretty green area with rabbits.

Next morning, it was back to the city.  It stayed, more or less dry, but the wind had picked up ... my hair was doing the most interesting manoeuvres!  Had brunch at the ‘Boston Tea Party’ café, with the yummiest orange juice I have ever tasted, served in a cute glass mug … 

Then it was on to the Art Gallery and Museum.  The place is like a blend of the British Museum and Natural History Museum, but in miniature.  I didn’t do an in-depth visit – the plan was to do a quick inspect, to see if it was somewhere that might interest the boys.

Part of the University of Bristol

Art Gallery and Museum

Woman's court robe, China

Didn’t realise one of my favourite paintings, ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ by Frank Dicksee, is here … enchanting …

Turns out Bristol is somewhere the boys would like to visit, so shall probably do that soon.  I wouldn’t mind going back … a chance to revisit more enchanting memories …

Chepstow Castle, Tintern Abbey

Treated myself to my third outing this weekend just gone.  I’d been given a book, ‘The Greatest Knight’, about William Marshal, who’d lived from 1147-1219.  Considering how great a knight he was, so little is known or written about him.  The book (fiction) is by my favourite historical writer, Elizabeth Chadwick, and she’s fleshed him out in a believable way.  Marshal’s wife, Isabel of Clare, was the heiress of Striguil; while reading the book, I wondered where in England that had been.  In the notes at the end, Ms Chadwick mentioned that Striguil was the medieval name for Chepstow, on the Welsh side of the border with England.  Which means that Chepstow Castle was Marshal’s through his marriage.  And that’s where I went for the weekend.  As the train journey took about 5 hours, I knew I wouldn’t be doing it as a day-trip.

For a small-ish town, Chepstow was heaving with people.  Found out from a very chatty taxi driver the next day that Mr Tom Jones had played a concert at Chepstow Racecourse Saturday night; his presence had almost doubled the number of the town’s inhabitants!  I stayed in a pretty little hotel, which had a view of the castle.  The people were friendly, the town clean, and wore its long history with pride.

The hotel I stayed at is a little to the left of where I stood to take this picture

Chepstow Castle, despite its age, is still a magnificent building, standing on tall cliffs overlooking the River Wye.  Built in 1086, it was one of numerous castles built to secure the border, or March, between England and Wales.  The castle remained in royal hands until about 1115, when it was granted to Walter fitz Richard of Clare.  When his son, Earl Richard, better known as ‘Strongbow’, the conqueror of the Irish province of Leinster, died, and his son after him, the castle passed to Earl Richard’s daughter, Isabel.  Because of her young age, she was made a ward of King Henry II, and was considered one of the greatest heiresses in the country.  As a reward for Marshal’s unswerving loyalty, the king promised his young ward to the knight in marriage; they were wed in 1189.

William Marshal effigy, Temple Church, London

By the time the castle passed into Marshal’s possession, it was old.  Marshal went about creating a formidable, yet comfortable castle.  When Marshal died, each of his five sons inherited the castle, and it remained in the family until 1245.  After that date, because there were no surviving male heirs, Chepstow passed to Marshal’s eldest daughter, Maud, who had married Hugh Bigod.  Her son, Roger Bigod, 4th earl of Norfolk, inherited her share of the Marshal inheritance, including the title of Earl Marshal and Chepstow Castle.  This then passed to Roger’s nephew, another Roger, and on his death, the castle and his lands were back in royal hands, starting with Edward I.

In 1642, at the start of the Civil War, the castle’s owner, Henry, the 5th earl of Worcester, declared for King Charles I.  The castle, strategically placed at the entrance to South Wales, controlled the Severn estuary and its links to the important royalist stronghold of Bristol.  It was only when Bristol fell in 1645 that the parliamentarians were able to force the surrender of the castle.  In 1648, after Charles I had been captured, diehard royalists instigated the second phase of the Civil War through a number of uprisings.  The royalist, Sir Nicholas Kemeys, tried to defend Chepstow Castle with 150 men.  But the parliamentary forces “razed the battlements, destroyed the garrison’s guns and bombarded the interior with mortar shells.”  The garrison surrendered, and Sir Kemeys was peremptorily shot.  Chepstow Castle was granted to Cromwell, and it was converted into a military barracks, and a prison for political dissidents.

During the 18th century, parts of the castle were used, among other things, as a nail manufactory.  In the 19th century, the 8th duke of Beaufort cleared out the interior of the castle, making it more welcoming by adding paths and seats.  In 1953, the owners, the Lysaght family, put the castle in the guardianship of the State; it is now maintained by Cadw, the historic environment service of the Welsh Assembly.

One thing about this castle ... it's very sprawling, unlike Bodiam Castle, which with its 'compact' design, was easy to work out what was what.  With Chepstow Castle, it was a case of walking from one area to another, and it wasn't readily obvious what the function of each part of the castle was.

The River Wye

Leading down to the cellar

These are the oldest castle doors in Europe; dendrochronology (tree-ring dating) was used to establish their age - they were made no later than the 1190s

Roger Bigod's great hall, looking towards the service rooms; the stairs lead up to his chamber which was closed off

This looks like an original piece of timber

The great tower

The interior of the great hall, in the great tower

Remembered to take a picture of castle steps ...

More steps ... I was taking these one at a time

Marshal's Tower

After I checked into the hotel, I went for a walk around the town and stopped for a bite to eat.  Back at the hotel, I noticed the garden at the back and decided to sit for a while.  I think there was a wedding party at the pub next door with live music – I’m pretty sure I could make out violin, guitar, cello and piano, playing Beatles songs … interesting hearing them rendered in an almost classical way.

On Sunday, I visited Tintern Abbey, about a 10-minute taxi ride away.  William fitz Richard of Clare was responsible for the foundation of this Cistercian monastery in 1131.  When William Marshal became lord of Chepstow, he also became patron of Tintern; his heirs continued to support the abbey.  His wife, Isabel, two of his sons, Walter and Anselm, and his daughter, Maud, are buried there. 

The abbey was surrendered to King Henry VIII’s visitors in September 1536 during the first stage in the suppression of the monasteries, a process that continued through to 1540.  The buildings and its border possessions were granted to Henry Somerset, earl of Worcester.  He and his successors leased out parcels of land; makeshift cottages and early industrial buildings sprouted up amongst the ruins.

Tintern lay, more or less, forgotten until the late 18th century when it was discovered by artists, such as JMW Turner, and poets like William Wordsworth; interest in the ruins grew.  In 1901, Tintern, deemed a monument of national importance, was purchased by the Crown, and work was undertaken to repair and maintain the fragile ruins.  Now, like Chepstow Castle, the abbey is looked after by Cadw.

Strangely, the abbey looks small when seen from the road; even the photo on the official guide makes it look small.  It’s only when you stand inside the ruins do you get a sense of its great size.  When I take pictures of places like this, I always try and get shots that don’t include people; but this time I’m glad I’ve got some with a couple of people as it gives an idea of how immense the building is.  I especially like the contrast of columns and archways …

Close-up of the door that can be seen in the middle-left of the photo above this one

Again, the weather turned out brilliant.  And again, another perfect weekend away, pleasantly wonderful in so many ways … hard to believe I can be so blessedly lucky :)

Bodiam Castle, Bloody Battlefield - Hastings

Enjoyed my second outing this weekend just gone.  And this time the boys were happy for me to spend the weekend away!  Who are these children??  Don’t know how often I’ll be able to do these outings, but I’ve compiled a growing list of the places I’d like to visit.  This is something I’ve always wanted to do, visit as many historic sites as I can.  I guess because, in our earlier home-ed days, we did a lot of visiting of historical places, the boys are now happy to be left to do their own thing; as they said, this is more my interest, and now that they’re older, I can indulge myself.

The place I chose for this month’s visit was Bodiam Castle, in East Sussex.  I was originally only planning a day trip, but after a bit of research, realised that the castle isn’t that far from the site of the Battle of Hastings.  It seemed almost criminal not to visit that too while I was in the area.  So, an overnight stay it was.

Bodiam Castle is the most magical, beautiful castle I’ve seen yet.  It’s a 14th century moated castle, built in 1385 by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge, a knight of Edward III.  When Richard II ascended the throne, he gave Sir Edward permission to build the castle, as a defence against French invasion during the Hundred Years War.  The castle has no keep, and its corners and entrance are marked by towers.

The castle passed to Sir Edward’s son, John; he died childless and the castle passed to his cousin, Richard Dalyngrigge, who also died without leaving an heir.  In accordance with John’s will, the castle and its estates passed to Richard’s sister, Philippa, who was married to Sir Thomas Lewknor.  Because Sir Thomas supported the House of Lancaster during the Wars of the Roses, when Richard III (House of York) became king, Sir Thomas surrendered Bodiam Castle without much resistance.  However, when Henry VII of the House of Lancaster became king, the castle was returned to the Lewknors, who retained ownership of the castle until the 16th century.

At the start of the Civil War, the castle was in the possession of John Tufton, a Royalist, who sold the castle to pay fines which Parliament had imposed on him.  The castle was then left as a ruin, was partially restored then donated to the National Trust in 1925 by Lord Curzon on his death.

Wood sculpture by cafe

The walk from car park up to the castle

Sir Edward's unicorn badge

'Murder holes' in the ceiling of the Postern Gate.  All sorts of icky stuff would be poured through murder holes onto the enemy

Struggled up very narrow steps, wide enough for only one person going up or down, stopping off at a couple of floors, made it to the top of the castle -- worth the climb for the spectacular view ...

Minced back down the steps, clinging to the railing -- only later realised I hadn't taken pictures of the steps; obviously concentrating too much on not taking the 'fast' way down!  How on earth people, especially women in long gowns, managed to get up and down those steps was beyond me; they wouldn't have had the luxury of the railing to hold on to!

There were 'guides' dressed in medieval costume, giving talks and also ready to answer any questions ...

View from the bench where I'd sat to enjoy an ice cream ...

I spent the night in a nice little hotel in Battle, a small and pretty town with lots of friendly people.  On Sunday, I went to Battle Abbey, literally just down the road from the hotel I'd stayed at.

'Pilgrims Rest', built in 1420 on the site of an original 12th century building, which was probably used as a 'hostel' for the workforce that built the abbey

The most decisive, most famous battle ever fought on English soil was the Battle of Hastings in 1066, where Duke William of Normandy defeated King Harold of England. Today, the site, about 100 acres, shows no visible sign of the battle, and no relics have been found.  Once inside the abbey, there are 2 routes to the battlefield – a short, easy walk, or a longer, more involved one, which takes about 40 minutes – decided to take the longer walk as I had enough time.

The field where the English and Norman armies met

Some really interesting cloud formations that weekend ...

In 1070, the Normans were ordered by Pope Alexander II to do penance for the killing they’d done in their conquest of England.  The result was the abbey that William built on the site of the Battle of Hastings; the high altar is the supposed spot where King Harold was killed.  The abbey could be seen as the Conqueror’s act of atonement for the bloodshed … the abbey’s chronicler later wrote that the fields had been “covered in corpses, and all around the only colour to meet the gaze was blood-red”.  But one can also argue that the impressive building is an undeniable symbol of Norman success.

Entrance to the Ice house or cellar, can't remember the exact name; but it looks like the entrance to a hobbit hole

Chapter House, completed about 1100

The place where Harold was reputed to have died

French memorial to King Harold

The green sign partway down on the left is for the hotel where I stayed, that close to the Abbey

The abbey was dedicated to St Martin, known as the ‘Apostle of the Gauls’.  One of the richest monastic houses of medieval England, it flourished for over 400 years until 1538, when it was virtually destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII.

In 1721, the estate passed to the Webster family, and remained in their possession for about 250 years.  The family trustees put the estate up for sale in 1976; the government purchased the battlefield and the remaining monastic structures, and today, it is managed by English Heritage.

I found it most interesting, walking around the battlefield, and it was easy to imagine what had happened there.  It was hard work though, in that the day turned out hotter than I’d been expecting, but worth it.

Yet another perfect outing, in so many ways, so glad I did it.