12th Century

The Major Oak: capturing the imagination for centuries

Oak trees loom large in English history.  From the sacred oak groves of pre-Roman Britons and the oak wands used by Druids to the oak tree that sheltered the future King Charles II as he escaped from the forces of Oliver Cromwell and the countless oaks used to construct England’s proud navies and merchant ships, this tree – perhaps more than any other – is seen as the national tree of England.  Many individual oaks up and down the country are revered and protected for their age, their size and shape or the stories attached to them.  The oak we’re looking at today is famous not just for its huge size and distinctive shape, but also for its link to that most famous of English legends, Robin Hood.

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The hidden courtyard of one of England’s best preserved castles

It may not be the first place that springs to mind when one thinks of England’s great castles, but in the North Yorkshire town of Skipton a fine medieval castle dominates the skyline.  Skipton Castle, the earliest parts of which date from the Norman period, is one of the best preserved castles still standing in England.  Visitors can pass through the impressive drum-towered gatehouse to explore a fascinating building that was home to many figures involved in pivotal events during the medieval period, and that owes much of its appearance today to a formidable lady who lived there in the 17th Century.

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The precious Romanesque carvings at Lincoln Cathedral

John Ruskin once described Lincoln Cathedral as being “out and out the most precious piece of architecture in the British Isles.”  Sitting at the summit of the hill that Lincoln is built on, the cathedral occupies a commanding position over the surrounding area.  It’s easy to see why Ruskin held this wonderful building in such high esteem.

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Temple Church: the hidden church founded by the Knights Templar

The term “hidden gem” gets bandied around a lot in relation to all sorts of places in London – bars and restaurants, museums, galleries and historic buildings.  It’s a bit of an overworn phrase, but the subject of today’s post definitely fits the criteria for a hidden gem: small and off the beaten track, pretty and perfectly formed.

Through a little gateway on Fleet Street lies the Temple, the inner sanctum of Britain’s legal profession.  It’s a curious name – one that always intrigued me when I was younger, going through Temple Station whilst on the District Line and wondering if there actually was a temple there.  There is no temple, but amid the chambers of barristers is a little old church that has a history going all the way back to the Knights Templar.

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Pepperpot towers, Gothic splendour and Parisian stained glass: exploring Southwell Minster

A few weeks ago, I was spending the weekend with old friends in Sheffield, and on the Saturday afternoon we drove out to Southwell, a pretty little town in Nottinghamshire.  I wasn’t sure what to expect – my friend had sold Southwell to me as a beautiful and interesting historic town, but I had no idea of the magnificent gem at the heart of Southwell – the Minster.

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St Bartholomew the Great: a Romanesque gem in the City

Nestled between pubs, restaurants and the hospital buildings of St Bart’s on West Smithfield is a Tudor gatehouse.  During the week office workers, hospital staff and the traders of nearby Smithfield Market hurry past this structure without giving it a second glance, but groups of people on guided tours usually stop outside this rather incongruous site.  The gatehouse marks the entrance to the City of London’s oldest parish church, St Bartholomew the Great, a rare survivor from the Great Fire, albeit much changed from its early years.

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