Sandal Castle, Yorkshire, to host medieval battle on New Year’s Eve

castle, Sandal Castle, Yorkshire
A castle in Yorkshire will be the scene of a reenactment of one of England’s most important battles.

The Battle of Wakefield, fought on December 30, 1460, will be reenacted by the Frei Compagnie. Members of the group will not only be fighting it out medieval style, but will also be displaying medieval arts and crafts and talking about life in the 15th century.

Sandal Castle has an intriguing history. The first castle here was built in the early 12th century in the Norman motte-and-bailey style. An artificial hill had the main house on top, surrounded by a wooden palisade. A larger enclosure and other buildings on level ground were also surrounded by a palisade and the entire thing was further protected by an encircling ditch. These castles were quick, cheap, and easy to make and were one of the ways the new Norman rulers of England suppressed the rebellious Anglo-Saxons. Like many motte-and-bailey castles, the wooden walls of Sandal Castle were later replaced with stone.

The castle’s main claim to fame came during the War of the Roses, when Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, made a bid for the throne. He gathered a great deal of support and fought the armies of Queen Margaret and King Henry VI. In 1460 Richard was at Sandal Castle with an army of a few thousand men when his enemies showed up with a much larger force. Richard’s army was beaten and he was beheaded. The House of York continued to fight, but it was the beginning of the end.

While the original battle was on December 30, the reenactment will be on New Year’s Eve from 1-3pm. For more on Yorkshire’s sights, check out our series Exploring Yorkshire: ghosts, castles, and literature in England’s north.

Images courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

castle, Sandal Castle, Yorkshire

Lincoln Cathedral quieter than usual as 176 year old bell gets repaired

Lincoln CathedralGreat Tom, the giant bell at Lincoln Cathedral that has struck the hour every hour since 1835, has stopped ringing.

The clapper has almost shared off, a church official said. The last time the bell was silenced was during the filming of The Da Vinci Code in 2005.

Lincoln Cathedral is one of the great cathedrals of Europe. The original cathedral was commissioned by William the Conqueror and consecrated in 1092. Fires and earthquakes caused a few rebuilds over the years and like so many cathedrals, different parts date to different centuries.

Still, it’s one of the best examples of Gothic architecture in England. The soaring nave and the three tall towers make it a memorable landmark.

Lincoln cathedralOne odd little bit of decoration is the Lincoln Imp. This is said to be one of two imps sent by the devil to cause mischief. They smashed the furniture, tripped the bishop, and caused general mayhem until an angel floated out of a book of hymns. One imp became scared and hid, while the other threw things at the angel. The angel then turned the more aggressive imp to stone while the cowardly imp ran away. An imp is still the symbol of the city of Lincoln.

Smaller bells will continue to ring the quarter hours and church officials hope to have it up by the end of the year.

Imp photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Cathedral photo courtesy Geograph.

Queens Lane, Oxford: a thousand years of history in a single street

Oxford, Queens Lane, England
Most of the time when we travel (or write about travel) we look at the big picture, yet sometimes a single place can sum up the history and character of a city. Queens Lane in Oxford is one of those places. A quiet backstreet linking the two more popular thoroughfares of High Street and Catte Street, it’s overlooked by most visitors. I use it when walking to work at the Bodleian library as a way to avoid the noise and crush of the crowd.

Entering from High Street, you have The Queen’s College on your left. This college was founded in 1341 and is designed in the Italian style by Hawksmoor, one of England’s greatest architects. Like all Oxford colleges it has its own customs and peculiarities. During Christmastide celebrations a boar’s head is carried from the kitchens to the High Table in the dining hall while the college choir sings an old tune. Legend has it that a student of the college was walking in the forest reading Aristotle when he was attacked by a wild boar. He stuck his book in the boar’s mouth and choked the boar to death!

Walking down Queens Lane you can see a gate to another college, St. Edmund Hall, to your right and the church tower of St. Peter’s-in-the-East ahead. St. Edmund is older than The Queen’s College by a couple of generations but the exact date of its founding is a mystery. Go through to gate to see a couple of quiet, ivy-covered quads. St. Peter’s is worth a visit too. This 12th century Norman church is built atop an earlier Anglo-Saxon church. It now serves as the college library and there’s a display of finds from an archaeological excavation into the Anglo-Saxon foundations.

In the churchyard is the grave of James Sadler, a pioneering balloonist who soared into the air over Oxford in 1784, the first Englishman to try a balloon after it had been invented by the French Montgolfier brothers only the year before. Ballooning was dangerous in those early days. Sadler twice landed in the sea and his own son was killed in a ballooning accident. Another time his balloon hit the ground, dragged him for two miles before he was knocked off, and then sailed away again without him. Amazingly, Sadler lived to 75 and died a natural death.

%Gallery-132119%Continuing along Queens Lane you take a right and the path turns into New College Lane. Yes, I cheated with the title of this post. Sue me. New College doesn’t look like much from here, only a heavy oak door under a medieval vault. Go inside and you’ll see one of the five most beautiful colleges of Oxford. New College Lane is narrow and enclosed with high walls turned black from the acid rain caused by Victorian coal smoke and modern car exhaust. The stone used here is very absorbent and pollution is literally eating away at the university.

Another zigzag takes us within sight of Catte Street, the Bodleian Library, and the crowds. Before plunging into the throng, you’ll see an unassuming little house on the right that was once the home of Sir Edmund Halley, graduate of The Queen’s College and the astronomer who proved comets return regularly. He also loved to party, and went on epic pub crawls with Russian Czar Peter the Great when he visited London. Their landlord complained that they tore all the doors off their hinges and shot holes through all the paintings. The house is now a college residence and is famous for its parties. A little room attached to the roof served as Halley’s observatory and it’s rumored that heavenly bodies can still be seen there on Saturday nights.

If you don’t get invited to a private party in Halley’s old place, you can squeeze down a narrow alley and visit the Turf Tavern, a fine old pub. The oldest part of the building dates to the 17th century but there may have been an alehouse here centuries before that. The management claims that this was where Bill Clinton, then a student at Oxford, “didn’t inhale” marijuana. Yeah, sure you didn’t.

The exit of New College Lane takes you under the Bridge of Sighs, which connects two buildings of Hertford College. It’s said to be an imitation of a bridge in Venice of the same name. One local rumor says that when it was built in 1914, the building on one side still didn’t have plumbing while the other did. Since students weren’t allowed to leave their college after hours and usually had a quick pint or three before being locked in, it was a bad deal to be stuck all night in a building with no toilets. The Bridge of Sighs offered a way for students to hurry to the bathroom in the next building without breaking the rules, thus giving a whole other meaning to its name.

Mystery mound in England turns out to be ancient monument

England, Silbury Hill
England’s prehistoric landscape has a new addition.

Marlborough Mound in Wiltshire has long been a mystery. The flat-topped cone of earth looks like a smaller version of Silbury Hill, pictured here. The bigger mound was finished around 2300 BC at a time when Neolithic farmers were erecting stone circles such as Stonehenge and Avebury. Now archaeologists have taken samples from Marlborough Mound and carbon dated them to 2400 BC.

Carbon dating, which measures decaying carbon isotopes in organic matter, has a slight margin of error that increases the older the sample is. Thus Silbury Hill and Marlborough Mound may have been finished simultaneously, or at least in the same generation. The two mounds are only about 20 miles apart, a day’s walk for a Stone Age farmer or excited archaeologist.

The mound was reused several times. The Romans had a settlement next to it and the Normans built a castle on top of and around it in the late 11th or early 12th century. Early Norman castles were wooden palisades around an artificial mound. In this case their prehistoric predecessors saved them some work. The wooden walls were later replaced with stone ones but the castle has long since vanished. In the 17th century the mound was turned into a garden. The mound stands on the grounds of Marlborough College and is off-limits to visitors. Hopefully that will change now that its true importance is understood.

Mystery tunnel discovered at Lincoln Castle

Lincoln Castle, castle, castles, England, archaeology, LincolnshireArchaeologists excavating at Lincoln Castle in England have discovered a mysterious tunnel under the courtyard. The tunnel is linked to a circular structure of unknown use and delves into the ground. The archaeological team hasn’t finished its work or discovered where the tunnel leads.

Europe has many traditions of hidden tunnels connecting buildings or going to secret caves or hideouts.

The excavation is taking place in preparation for building an elevator to allow handicapped access to the walls. The archaeologists believe the structure and tunnel could date to the early 12th century. It’s the only medieval building to have been found inside the castle’s bailey.

Lincoln Castle is a well-preserved Norman castle built in 1068 on the foundations of an earlier Roman fort. William the Conqueror, after defeating the English king at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, built this castle to control the important town of Lincoln and its surrounding area. The structure has been added to over the years but remains an excellent example of Norman architecture.

[Photo courtesy user Rodhullandemu via Wikimedia Commons]

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