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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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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Pye Corner: Flames, poltergeists and bodysnatchers

Pye Corner, the site where the Great Fire of London famously came to an end in 1666, has a long and grisly history of which the Great Fire is only one chapter.  Accounts of the Great Fire tell us that the Fire began at a bakery in Pudding Lane and ended three days later (having consumed 13,000 houses and 87 churches) at Pye Corner.  Christopher Wren’s towering Monument to the Great Fire of London is close to Pudding Lane, but where is Pye Corner?

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The many reinventions of Winchester Castle’s Great Hall

Winchester, England’s ancient capital, is home to a great many fascinating old buildings.  The area was originally settled in the Iron Age, then became the Roman town of Venta Belgarum and there has been a cathedral in the city since the 7th Century.  King Alfred the Great was buried at Winchester and his links with the city are commemorated by an imposing Victorian statue of him in the city centre.  Visitors to the city flock to the grand Gothic cathedral and its beautiful cathedral close , the medieval almshouses of St Cross and Winchester Castle’s Great Hall, which is the subject of today’s blog post.

Winchester Great Hall (Image by Johan Bakker on Wikimedia Commons)
Winchester Great Hall (Image by Johan Bakker on Wikimedia Commons)

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The ruin next door: exploring the Brick Church of St John the Evangelist, Stanmore

London is home to a number of ruined churches – in the City of London alone there are several, victims of the bombing raids of the Luftwaffe in the Second World War.  However, not all of the ruined churches of Greater London are victims of the Blitz.  In Stanmore, a comfortable suburb at the top of the Jubilee Line, another ruined church can be found alongside its Victorian successor.  The current parish church of St John the Evangelist was built in the mid-19th Century, but the picturesque ruins of the 17th Century church it replaced still survive in the church’s large burial ground.

The burial ground is a tranquil place, despite being close to a busy main road. Numerous squirrels darted in and out of the gravestones and a pair of magpies strutted around, while pigeons cooed softly, hidden from sight.  It was a humid September day when I visited, with shafts of sunlight shining through the clouds.  For an hour or so I had the place to myself, before the ruin was opened for the afternoon.

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Mount Nod: the almost forgotten resting place of Wandsworth’s Huguenots

Marooned on an island between two busy stretches of road in south west London is a little known burial ground that tells a small part of the long and complex story of London’s immigrants.  The name of one of the adjoining streets gives away this connection: Huguenot Place.

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The Hill of Bones: the story of Bunhill Fields

Originally a stretch of open land to the north of the City of London, Bunhill Fields got its name from its use as a burial ground during the Saxon period and a macabre event that took place in the mid-sixteenth century.  Cartloads of bones from the charnel house at St Paul’s Cathedral were transported out of the city and dumped in such large quantities that they formed a hill of bones, with a thin layer of soil covering the mound.  This “Bone Hill” was large enough to accomodate three windmills on top, which were presumably installed to make the most of the elevated ground.

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