At the heart of Lancashire’s Ribble Valley, standing close to the banks of the River Ribble and overlooking Pendle Hill, is the church of All Hallows, Great Mitton. Within its walls is a remarkable collection of effigy graves, dating from the 16th to early 18th Centuries, all commemorating members of a local family whose fates were intertwined with some of the major political and religious upheavals of those centuries. Their elaborate graves also reflect the changing fashions both in clothing and in funerary architecture from the Tudor period through to the Stuart and early Georgian periods.
Although the Northumberland village of Bamburgh is dominated by the fortress that has stood on its cliffs since the 7th Century, one figure who looms large in the area’s history is not a king or a warrior, but an ordinary woman whose act of bravery in 1838 made her internationally famous. Grace Horsley Darling’s role in the rescue of sailors from the wrecked vessel Forfarshire in September 1838 was widely covered by the media both in Britain and further afield, and led to an outpouring of donations, gifts and even offers of marriage. The veneration of Grace Darling was not unlike the cults that grew up around many medieval saints, with souvenirs featuring her likeness being sold, items belonging to her and her family put on display or up for sale, and songs and poems being written about Grace and her deeds. Despite her untimely death from tuberculosis at the age of 26, Grace remained a well-known figure, celebrated for her bravery and her Christian values. The fame of Grace Darling provides a fascinating insight into the way that the 19th Century media helped to create modern-day heroes, and how Grace’s character reflected the period’s idea of the virtuous woman.
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.
As I made my way north on the train from Cambridge to Ely, the Fens seemed to stretch out forever. An entirely flat landscape of fields, waterways and even solar panels spread in all directions. The Fens is an alien place to me; I grew up in Lancashire amongst hills, moors and valleys. Until the Fens began to be drained from the 17th Century onwards, the little city of Ely was an island amid a vast watery landscape of rivers, peat beds and marshes.
Atop the highest hill in the Fens – a mere 26 metres above sea level – is a magnificent cathedral that dominates the landscape.
At first, it looks like just another effigy. A man in bishop’s robes carved in stone lies in peaceful repose, one hand raised in blessing, his head guarded by an angel. But beneath the effigy is another figure – shockingly, this is the figure of a rotting corpse, wrapped only in a shroud. This is the cadaver tomb of Bishop Richard Fleming at Lincoln Cathedral, and it is the oldest one still surviving in England.
I first came across the ruined chapel whilst on a wildlife trek – we had stopped near the little town of Salen to watch harbour porpoises in the Sound of Mull. Intrigued as I was by the ruined chapel and its surrounding burial ground, there wasn’t time to stop and explore and I had to return a few days later to get a good look around the site. My stay on the beautiful Scottish island of Mull had been blessed with warm sunshine, but on the final day of my trip – when I finally had time to visit the chapel and the burial ground surrounding it – the clouds had arrived.
This is Pennygown burial ground, and it is still used by the people of the Mull today.