Category Archives: History

The Tendring Show

I love my local agricultural show! I’ve been going to it for donkeys’ years, and the only change is that I now pay a little more to belong to the farmers’ club that run it, so I get access to a nice shady (or sheltering) marquee, and some decent loos.

Here are the highlights as I saw it of this year’s show. If you click on one, you get a slide show.

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Viking eye candy!

I have been having a lovely time researching images for the next thing that Henry draws with his magic pencil – it’s going to be a scale model of a Viking ship prow, which gets him into all kinds of trouble!

I’d like to share some of the amazing things I stumbled across today, but I don’t know the copyright owners for any of them – the perils of Google Image-ing! So here are a collection of links; I hope you enjoy the images at the end of them.

A wonderfully engraved axe – I saw this at the British Museum expo, and it was outstanding. Not a prow, though!

Now THIS is a prow! How evil is this! Too creepy, though, it would give Henry nightmares.

These are cool, and so is this and this; but all a bit complicated for my lad to draw.

This is doable – but he’s trying to stay away from things that might bite πŸ™‚

Now this beastie really, really wants to be chosen – its image kept on popping up. It’s cute, and sad – but maybe too complicated; I might go with this or this instead.

And this is the trouble that will show up πŸ˜€ His name is Snorri Snorrisen.

This is the last story to be completed of the next book, which should be ready to release just after Christmas.

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When the lights went out…

Tonight I spent the best part of an hour in the dark, except for one lighted candle, thinking about what the First World War would have meant to my relatives alive at the time. They lived such different lives…

For my maternal great-grandfather, WW1 would have been much less important than the fires of revolution brewing in Russia. He died on 25th October 1917, defending the Winter Palace in St Petersberg in the first wave of the Russian Revolution. Ironically, his cousin the Emperor was away reviewing troops… his daughter, my Grandmother, was looking after my Grandfather, who had a heart condition, on their country estate, escaping both the war and the Revolution. It wasn’t until 1925 that the revolutionaries worked down the list of aristocrats far enough to get to my Grandmother – Grandfather had died, leaving 5 children under the age of 6 – thus shifting us all to the UK.

For my paternal Grandmother, the war brought liberation, from her small-town Irish country origins. She ended up in the major children’s hospital in London, as Matron – and then had to go back home after the war. She must have been stifled ten-fold, because my father – illegitimate – was born just a few years later; she was literally thrown out of the Catholic household into the snow, pregnant, without a coat. I am proud to wear the ring she bought herself on my wedding-ring finger; she described it as her “get lost!” ring, to scare away unwanted suitors : )

I also spent a lot of time thinking about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict raging at the moment, and mourning the lives lost of the innocents involved. At least the boys and men killed in WW1 signed up for it, however futile their deaths; but the children killed as they slept in schools this week were pure collateral damage. Appalling. Perhaps we haven’t moved on very much at all.

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Things I’m looking forward to over the summer!

As well as more mundane things, like the Cosmos in my garden blooming, and having the house to myself so I can cook on my braii Every Single Day if I feel like it – I’ve got some really fun things planned over the summer!

I’m starting July off gently, with a karate training session-cum-get together on the beach, plus a couple of days’ leave just to chill in. I may get organised enough to weed the garden or start a couple of the paint projects I have in mind; or the harvest may be in, giving me access to some super countryside. I have to spend a week in Milton Keynes towards the end of the month, but that’s good – I’ll accrue enough time off in lieu to take a whole week off (note comment re harvest πŸ™‚ )

August is headlining with the World Science Fiction Convention in London over the Bank Holiday weekend – apart from all the fun of the con, I’m attending a writer’s workshop, which should be cool too! Plus my eldest and her boyfriend are going, so I may meet them in corridors or at the bar occcasionally!

September is the Historical Novel Society’s convention, again in London this year. I hope to have Wimer polished to my current level of the art by then, and to wave him at some agents there – plus just generally have a good time.

Then October is bronze casting workshop month. I am SO looking forward to this – I can claim it as writing research, making the self-indulgence acceptable to my inner critic, and I have the BEST idea for a bracelet design to make. Assuming I can become competent enough in wax carving between now and then to actually accomplish it… but my darling artist daughter has been drawing the shapes for me, simplifying them so that even Mum can make them πŸ˜€

And throughout this, of course, is weaving my newfound pleasure in the pub, and my longstanding love of the particular bit of countryside I’m studying. A lot of joy in my life!

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Bloodhounds!

I had an excellent surprise this morning – driving back from a karate lesson, there were signs out for the East Anglian Bloodhounds – http://eabh.co.uk/. I grabbed a very quick shower, packed a lunch and a book, and set off on foot to see if I could catch them. As luck would have it, I guessed right on where the first run might go, and met the quarry – the landowner’s daughter and a companion – running across the meadow, so I trotted off myself to get in a good position to catch the show.

I ended up looking at one of Imagemy favourite views in England… as the first riders came into shot. There is a jump in the center of the picture, and an open gate at the top left for those who don’t wish to jump, in very wet conditions – the Master has taken the conservative route, and has to hustle to catch up!

There was a little scrum by the jump, as people sorted themselves out – then a steady stream of people galloping by. The riders wear stocks and black jackets, and look fabulous – it really counts as historical research, rather than leaning on a fence enjoying some glorious Spring sunshine and admiring horse flesh : )

ImageJoking aside, that’s truly so – it’s not often that one can feel in one’s bones what a group of horsemen galloping past feels like, nor hear the horns or the dogs’ belling. My beloved Wimer obtained a hunting licence from the King for this very land, although I’m not sure what method he would have used. Certainly he would be expecting to kill something for the table, rather than just have a fun outing!

I was only going to stop for one hunt, but had another stroke of luck and met the next quarry; so got myself into position for the following run too. They generally do three or four runs, with breaks in between. I had time for a coffee… before the hounds went one way and the riders, the other! I got a lot of photos of rear ends…

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Everyone relaxing at the end of this pass. The man in shorts in the foreground is the quarry.

A very pleasant sight on a lovely day!

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Churchy carvings

I have been collecting a lot of photos of carvings, grotesques, and graffiti in assorted churches recently, which I ought to share!

Firstly, a super little church; the Round Church in Little Maplestead, Essex – built for the Knights Hospitaller in the mid 14thC, and a lovely place to visit.

http://www.roundchurch.co.uk/about-us/history

First, some finely-detailed tracery over the door – with the Knights’ cross just visible, by happy accident!

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Then a pair of very pleasantly welcoming faces at the door πŸ™‚

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Now, for something completely different – a sweet little dragon, on a font…

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In a church that seems to have a lion theme! This from round the door. It’s St Mary le Tower in Ipswich, which also has a Maryan shrine that’s worth a visit.

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Then the grafitti, as advertised; from Framlingham church. Messy lot, those mediaeval peasants!

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Finally, just because I can – my all-time favourite church, the one that Wimer built – an arch from the remains of the 12thC Orford church, still standing behind the current one.

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Castling

I have been on holiday this week, mostly to celebrate the close of the shooting season and the consequent opening of the archaeology season (Yay! The Glorious 2nd!). Not, to be fair, that I have lacked archaeology over this winter. Anyway, Saturday – the last day of the shoot – was a glorious day, and I decided to get well out of the way, and visit Framlingham and Orford castles.

Orford I have visited several times whilst researching Wimer, but I have been sniffy about Framlingham, because what remains is later than I’ve been interested in. However, the Wimer sequel is in the right timeframe, so I decided to go along; then to drive from Framlingham to Orford, a direct trip I haven’t made before.

Visiting Framlingham was useful for scale, and for viewpoints. The encircling ditches were never filled with water, being a dry route for soldiers to move unseen around the perimeter; I wouldn’t have known that without visiting. Also, the River Ore forms a large mere on the North side – I think that was a conceit of the Howards, centuries later, but when I was there the whole river valley was flooded; I think, in the same weather conditions, it would have been just as defensive in 1216, when John attacked the castle. They surrendered after two days – Roger Bigod was away; I bet he swore!

FramlinghamI am left with a puzzle, though. Henry II had Hugh Bigod’s motte and bailey at Framlingham destroyed, after the Young King rebellions in the 1170s. However, the English Heritage people were insistent that the stone chimneys visible in the curtain wall of the 13th C castle were remnants of the earlier castle – in fact, of the Lord’s chambers. How, if the motte was demolished? There’s no sign of it now.

They also suggested that the castle’s orientation has flipped 180 degrees, with Hugh’s castle oriented South, and his son Roger’s, to the North. Here’s a sketch, using Google Maps.

There were some interesting facts on how the castle was provisioned; in 1386 the dovecote produced 431 pigeons, and there were a team of falconers employed to fish from the mere!

I also loved the drive between Fram and Orford, through Parham, Campsea Ashe, and Tunstall. I indulged my church bent, and went into them all πŸ™‚ Something I hadn’t realised is that the route runs alongside the River Ore – now not much more than a stream, but was it bigger then? Even navigable, or suitable for poling a boat up? The other major impression was how dark and huge Tunstall Forest is, even now. The river route might have been much safer!

Finally I had a nice visit with my favourite castle in the world, Orford. I had Wimer’s chapel to myself in the evening sunshine, and it was such a pleasant place to sit and write. I remembered to count this time; there were 12 seats in the chapel, another numerological reference! And I confirmed another hunch – Wimer’s bedroom is the only one in the castle with a private loo, he really did have a thing about them πŸ˜€

A most enjoyable outing.

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British Museum trip – various viewpoints

I am attempting to organise the various aspects of my life, by using separate notebooks for archaeology/detecting and writing. The trip to the British Museum last Friday was a classic example of when that doesn’t work; too much crossover! I’ll try again here.

Having discovered that the BM is open until 8:30pm on Fridays – 6 glorious hours of wandering around one of the best museums in the world, for free, after a morning meeting – I shall have to repeat the experiment as often as possible πŸ™‚

I am particularly worried ab0ut rivets at the moment; it’s too easy for something like a shield boss to deteriorate in our locally very acidic sandy soil, and for the copper alloy rivets to be the only remaining evidence. Plan A was to visit the Sutton Hoo exhibits (Room 2, ground floor), then go upstairs to rooms 49-51, Roman through Early Mediaeval, with a detector’s hat on. Look what Basil Brown achieved, with those beautifully laid-out rows! Unlike him, though, I get my rivets tumbled in plough soil, and so it’s important I know what I’m looking at, and I wanted to see the evolution of rivets through time.

Alas, to my eye, a rivet looks like a rivet looks like a rivet. Clearly this is my deficiency, because there is a whole (as ever, very expensive) textbook devoted to the subject; but there appears to be one design that hasn’t altered appreciably in 3,000 years. I’m just going to have to dump every rivet I find on the Portable Antiquities Scheme and let them sort them out πŸ™‚

To recover from this set-back, I went to the cafe. There, I made the first error in notebook apartheid; I have a couple of pages of notes on the interaction between two young women, following on directly from the rivets. For some reason, they were sitting very still, hands in laps, with only their eyes animated; it struck me that it was a pose very proper to a pair of nuns, and the notes are around status and dominance games linked to eye size…

Then the organisation attempts failed again, as I wanted the larger writing notebook to take some sketches of buckles. I am now equally as worried about buckles as rivets; again, the design hasn’t changed appreciably since Saxon times. I got really into the detail of the Saxon workmanship; here are some notes in the writing notebook, so I don’t lose them!

  • A seax is about 10″ long, this one very crudely made at the cutting edge, but the flat edge decorated beautifully. It was a woman’s; would a man’s be different?
  • Pins for a woman’s veil were needle-fine. An actual needle was about 3″ long and thicker!
  • Bronze rings appeared in all sorts of contexts, from 1-3″ across (probably ought to be worried about them too)
  • 10 shallow silver bowls found at Sutton Hoo, for serving food; decoration is unique circular devices at bottom, cruciform arms patterned out. Bowls 9″ in diameter, 3″ deep. Lovely!
  • Small rings attached to the handle of a sword denote different allegiances
  • The wings of the bird on the helmet look like boars – which would make most of the major Celtic animals represented?
  • The roof height of a typical Saxon hall was 5m! 2 stories – not bad! Would mean that churches were not as impactful as I’ve been imagining.
  • Drinking cups were tiny, only a couple of inches high. Emphasises the difference between ale drinking for thirst and “serious” drinking…
  • Saxon sword bosses were quite small, but the Bronze Age ones were much bigger. Would be interesting to know how that affected function, and use of the boss itself as a striking weapon.
  • You can make a wire torc by wrapping the wire around a springy dogwood or alder twig – then burning away the wood to reveal the heart space inside the gold! I bet that was a magical, ceremonial moment.

Then the last note of the day was back in the detecting notebook – a comment on the changing representations of Christ over time. Pre 1100, the feel was around the strength, invulnerability and majesty of the Christ figure, even on the cross; after that date, there was a deliberate shift, by church policy, to images designed to invoke pity. That should definitely have been in the writing notebook, because presumably the shift was still happening in Wimer’s time – that’s a lovely subtle way of depicting a church, or an individual, as old-fashioned or following new-fangled ways!

Finally, I met up with an old friend, Terry Mummery, and (still thinking early mediaeval) asked his permission to share a lovely pic he took of St Eustace’s reliquary. I’m fascinated with reliquaries and the stunning beauty of the work involved, and this one is just after Wimer’s time, made in 1210. The BM writeup is here, but I prefer Terry’s photo – it gives you a much better idea of how attractive and pleasant the object is. With the skull fragments within, its approachability would make it such a powerful object to the Mediaeval mind – you could really feel like you were praying directly to the saint. I’ve also just noticed that the rivets holding the precious metal sheets together are the standard sort…

Eustace reliquary

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Night hawks and history lectures…

Yesterday, I phoned my favourite farmer up and agreed we’d talk about where to detect next in the New Year.

Today, he phoned me – whilst I was on a conference call, so he got my answer phone. Not one message, but three; of increasing urgency. The gist was, could I please get on a certain field, as soon as possible, and get detecting; never mind the gamekeeper, never mind the shoot, just get on there!

A night hawk has been working the field – a detectorist who is absolutely not authorised, who is just stripping off what treasure he can find to sell on the open market, ripping out the “goodies” out of context and selling it for whatever he can on the black market. It’s the lack of artefacts in context that hurts my farmer and I most, I have been building up such a superb picture of the history of the farm. The rat has been working with his detector set only for gold and silver, digging and leaving holes alongside the hedge – I hope he got lots of aluminium cans! My farmer rides along that headland, as do his children; a horse putting a foot into a hole masked by grass could kill someone.

I hate that kind of behaviour. I will indeed be on that field as much as possible, to keep the bastard at bay.

At night, I have another fabulous discovery – a course on writing historical fiction! Whilst I can’t write any, or soon-to-be-ex-hubby can put a claim on the income from it, I can profitably learn about the craft. It opened today, and I am loving the first reading assignments! One was about my heroine, Hilary Mantel; I have been in awe of her historical writing since I realised that I refused to accept that I knew what was going to happen!

So my days, and evenings, are going to be full of happy stuff for a while πŸ™‚ And with a bit of luck, soon-to-be-ex-hubby has found a flat, and I can sleep at night.

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