Showing posts with label History. Show all posts
Showing posts with label History. Show all posts

Saturday 27 January 2018

Comfy Cardie ... circa 1600

When I'm feeling a bit shivery and off-colour I like to climb into a certain cosy grey cardigan with huge pockets and a roomy bagginess that perfectly hides the contours of my body. It's not going to win me any points for elegance, but it's so comfortable that it feels like I'm wearing a hug. And the other day I discovered that comfy cardigans have been a thing for several centuries.

I was invited to a really interesting talk at the V&A. It ended in the Stuart section of the British Gallery, where I spotted this amazing knitted cardigan. It wasn't featured on the talk, but, being a knitter, I had to stop and admire it.

The museum sign said that it dated from approximately 1600, and certainly no later than 1620 - so, quite possibly, someone was pottering around in this very cardigan, feeling cosy and snug whilst they chewed the fat with Guy Fawkes and dreamt up the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 ... .

Knitted jacket 1600 - 1620 (back view)

Sunday 23 July 2017

Who needs Carcasonne when you've got Caernarfon?

Now I have to 'fess up to having driven past this place dozens of times, dashing back and forth from the Dublin ferry, without ever stopping to have a proper look. I've gasped and sighed over other medieval citadels here and there and further afield, but I've never given Caernarfon a second thought. I'm a numpty! And that's official.

Just stop and take a look at what I've been missing. Isn't it magnificent?

Caernarfon Castle, Caernarfon, Wales
Caernarfon Castle, Caernarfon, Wales 

Friday 31 March 2017

The Snuff Mills of Morden Hall Park

Once upon a very long time ago snuff was all the rage. It started with the indigenous tribes of Brazil, and was carried back to the Old World by the Spanish, who established the first European snuff mill in Seville in the early 16th century.

The French ambassador, Jean Nicot, is credited with bringing snuff to the attention of his Queen, Catherine de Medici. Poor old Catherine had been plagued with headaches, which she was persuaded to treat with snuff. Miraculously it  seemed to work! And the grateful queen promptly declared that snuff should henceforth be known as Herba Regina, the Queen's Herb. Having won the royal seal of approval it quickly became popular with the French aristocracy.

From there the fashion for snuff soon jumped the Channel to take hold amongst the great and the good here in England. Soon snuffing was all the rage, with many extolling its excellent curative properties. It was sniffed into the nose, delivering an instant nicotine hit, and leaving a lingering smell. And back in the day, when the world tended not to smell too sweet, that scent in the nose would have been a welcome relief from the everyday malodors that otherwise assaulted the senses. Often snuff was blended to secret recipes with other spices, herbs and floral essences. Famous blends such as Scotch and Welsh, English Rose (supplied free of charge to MPs in the House of Commons after smoking was forbidden in the Chamber in 1693) and Lundy Foot gained popularity. Before long there was a huge selection of blends delivering different scent sensations to appeal to just about every olfactory caprice; some were dry having been roasted and then ground very fine whilst others were more moist.

  The Snuff Mill, Morden Hall Park, London
The Snuff Mill, Morden Hall Park, London
George III's Queen Consort, Charlotte, was known as Snuffy Charolotte, thanks to her devotion to the stuff. She had a whole room at Windsor Castle devoted to her stash of snuff and her collection of snuff paraphernalia. George IV had his own exclusive blends.  Lord Nelson, the Iron Duke (of Wellington), Alexander Pope, Benjamin Disraeli and Samuel Johnson were all keen snuffers. With the growth of 18th century coffee house culture, the nation's enthusiasm for snuff grew in tandem with its addiction to caffeine fad to become a firm fixture in the daily lives of the chattering classes.

Saturday 11 March 2017

Beaumaris Castle ... 8 centuries and still not finished ...

Work on Beaumaris Castle, the castle on the fair marsh, started on 18th April 1295 … and they still haven’t got the place finished.

It was to be the last of Edward I’s mighty castles guarding the north Wales seaboard. As I've mentioned before, I'm very grateful to dear old Ted the First for building all these wonderful castles within easy striking distance of the Dublin ferry. They make perfect places to stop-off and kick back for a few hours when you show up too early for your crossing.  See for example my thank you note for the wonder that is Conway Castle.

Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey, Wales
Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey, Wales

Sunday 8 January 2017

Sant Pere de Rodes ... a flashback to the middle ages

The other day we headed off on a little pilgrimage to the ancient monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes. Once upon a (very long) time (ago) it was a really popular place to go. It was a hot spot, a must-see on the Pilgrim Trail.

According to the legends this is where they took the remains of Saint Peter, the father of the Western Church, after Rome was sacked by the Visigoths in 410 A.D. Rome had fallen to the heathen hordes and the elders of the church wanted to protect their treasures so there was an exodus of precious things such as the mortal remains of the saints, the Relics and the Holy Grail. They were carried off to far flung Christian lands, where the elders prayed they would be safe.

Sant Pere de Rodes
Sant Pere de Rodes

Thursday 29 December 2016

Mas Molla ... going strong since 1338 ...

At this time of the year we tend to go through rather a lot of vino, with friends and family dropping in, dinners, celebrations and general merry-making. Having had a fairly thirsty Christmas we headed out yesterday afternoon to replenish supplies for the New Year.

Rather than trekking off to Oddbins, we went to the bodega of Mas Molla, where the same family have been making wine  in the same way on the same land since 1338. I kid you not. They cared for their vines in the fields hereabouts as the Hundred Years War raged across Europe. They shivered with fear as the population round about perished from the Black Death, which flared up for the first time in 1348 - just 10 years into their history here.

When they first started out in business it was still (fairly) respectable to believe that the world was flat, and it would be almost 200 years before Nicolas Copernicus suggested (in 1543) that the earth revolved around the sun. Can you imagine that? The Molla family were working here when heliocentrism was regarded as a dangerous heresy. They were doing their thing whilst poor old Galileo was being investigated, and held under house arrest by the Roman Inquisition for having supported the heretical notion that the sun was at the centre of the solar system.

More than a century and a half would have to pass from the time they opened shop here before Christopher Columbus sailed across the pond and discovered America.

I could go on in this vein for some time ... .

Standing there yesterday looking out over the terrain, dotted with rows of (very dead-looking) winter vines it sent a real shiver down my spine to think about just how long this family-chain, down through the generations of the Molla family, has been tied to these same fields. I was more than a little bit blown away by my own roll-call of events that they've lived through ... .

Mas Molla, Calonge (Girona)
The cellars of Mas Molla, Calonge

Sunday 20 November 2016

The Knitting History Forum ...

Yesterday I went for the first time to a meeting of the Knitting History Forum. I'm an avid knitter and a keen social historian, so it was always guaranteed to be something that I would find interesting. What I wasn't prepared for was the colourful cast of characters, with strong and very well-informed opinions, who made up the audience. Yes, the speakers were interesting, but the folk scattered around the room were brilliant. They listened attentively, needles clicking as the speakers talked, and then asked incisive questions, and chipped in with additional information from learned papers and books that they'd written on related themes themselves.

Here in London I'm an enthusiastic lecture attendee, but I've never been part of an audience in which every other person brandished knitting needles as they listened. Of course it makes total sense that they should be multitasking in this way. Indeed educational psychologists often suggest that having something to fiddle with whilst you listen helps the information go in, and so many of us (self included) enjoy our favourite television programmes curled up on the sofa working as we watch.

We had lectures about Frisian lace making, the publication of knitting and crochet patterns in northern Europe from 1790 to 1870 and debunking the myths around Shetland lace making. The speakers included a museum curator from the Fries Museum in the Netherlands and a clutch of academics.

Listening in the audience were no lesser authorities on the subject that Professor Sandy Black of the London College of Fashion and author of (amongst other books) the wonderful Knitting: Fashion, History Craft, which is one of my favourite reference books, Dr Jane Malcolm-Davies, author of the Tudor Tailor, Dr Angharad Thomas of Knitting Gloves, who is the Textiles Archivist at the Knitting & Crochet Guild and Joyce Meader of the Historic Knit.

We had been invited to watch two recent documentaries on the history of knitting to which several members of the audience had contributed before attending, so that we could talk about them in the discussion section. I found them both interesting, and recommend them to you if you've got an idle hour to fill over the course of the next few days.

Fabric of Britain - available on BBC iPlayer until Thursday, 24th November.

The Secret History of Knitting - available on YouTube.

All the best for now,

Bonny x 

Thursday 21 July 2016

St Patrick's Chair and Well ... a place of pagan wonder ...

The other day we headed off in search of an ancient druid site, where some of the old magic still lives on in the dappled light of the forest floor. Like many of Ireland's pre-Christian sites it had to reinvent itself when St. Patrick brought Christianity to these shores, but it was a fairly simple process. A few tweaks here and there and the new order was born.

Sunday 10 July 2016

The Basilica of Sant Feliu, Girona and a case of mistaken identity ...

The Basilica of Sant Feliu is an ancient place, a very ancient place indeed. It’s an older church than the Cathedral of Santa Maria on top of the hill, and arguably just as important in terms of its role in the history of the city. During the Moorish occupation it served as a cathedral for the city's Christian population, who were displaced when the Moors commandeered Santa Maria as their mosque. 

Basilica of Sant Feliu, Girona
Basilica of Sant Feliu, Girona on the banks of the River Onyar

Saturday 4 June 2016

The Ulster American Folk Park ...

It's hard to think of a time when this folk park, devoted as it is to the theme of emigration, has been more relevant to the world we live in. As a child growing up in South Tyrone I visited it from time to time, and found it interesting for the story it told about generations of my countrymen who'd emigrated to seek better lives in the United States. It had a resonance with my own family: each of my four grandparents had at least one sibling who emigrated for economic reasons during the interwar years. Emigration and the parting with a loved one has been a constant feature of rural life in Ireland for much of modern history.

Ulster American Folk Park, Omagh, County Tyrone
The Hughes family home

Over the generations they fled famine, persecution, war and civil unrest. In an age in which mechanisation had rendered much manual labour redundant many who couldn’t earn their living in the shipyards and the rope-works set their sights on the west and went in search of a better life.  Yet today these background themes that drove them away from home seem desperately contemporary.

Thursday 12 May 2016

Georgian Embroidery Workshop ...

Last Wednesday I headed over to Osterley Park, where their lovely volunteers were hosting a Georgian embroidery workshop. It sounded amazing, and, whilst my terrible eyesight makes embroidery a bit of a challenge for me, I was intrigued to learn about a group of ladies who were keeping alive the skills of the eighteenth century needlewomen. Bravo to them!

As it turned out the workshop was on whitework, which involves white stitch-work on the finest and most delicate of cotton cloth to produce an effect (when done well!) not dissimilar to that of fine lace. With my limited experience and wonky eyes it would have been difficult to have come up with something that was a greater personal challenge for me. However, the wonderful ladies assured me that they would not be put out in the least if I failed to place a single sensible-looking stitch in my fabric. The object of the workshop was to learn, to be inspired and to enjoy.

The ladies leading the class had very kindly brought along their own favourite books on the topic, which they invited us to look at for some inspiration.

Sunday 8 May 2016

Ham House ...

They say it's haunted ... very, very haunted ... .

Ham House, Richmond
Ham House, Richmond viewed from the Duchess's Garden

And I guess if a house's been standing since 1610, just playing the statistics there's got to have been one or two residents over that length of time who were reluctant to move on - especially when the setting's as splendid as this one. So if you're going to go looking for spooks and ghosts and things that go bump in the night ... then this house is probably a pretty good place to start.

Monday 2 May 2016

Anniversary of Anne Boleyn's arrest

On this day, 2nd May, in the year 1536 Anne Boleyn was arrested on the orders of her husband, King Henry VIII. She must have known the writing was on the wall. Her nemesis, Henry's first wife, Catherine of Aragon, had died at the beginning of January, and Anne's position went from precarious to hopeless when she miscarried the child she was carrying on the very day of Catherine's funeral. With Catherine dead, and many believing that the marriage to Anne was a sham, Henry was free to marry another without any question-marks hanging over the new union.

At the time the Imperial Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, remarked of Anne, "She has miscarried of her saviour".

 She must have known all of this at the time. She'd already seen evidence that Henry had his eye on her lady-in-waiting, Jane Seymour. A clever operator like Anne would have realised that she was fast falling out of favour and quickly becoming expendable.

Hever Castle in Kent, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn
Hever Castle in Kent, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn

Sunday 17 April 2016

Torroella de Montgrí ... now that's what I call a castle ...

Do you like to climb mountains?

I love, love, love the mountains. In an earlier pre-being-a-mum incarnation I used to do proper climbing with ropes and harnesses and all that jazz. Mr B, however, is not a mountain man. He's a city boy, hates heights and doesn't understand why anyone in their right mind would want to scale a mountain just to have to come down again. He doesn't get it. 

Ten year-old Emi, on the other hand, does get it. He loves the challenge of a good climb. At a recent family lunch, in the shadow of Montgrí, I casually suggested to Mr B and the in-laws that we should climb the mountain to work off some of the calories we'd just consumed. They all fell about laughing. What a crazy idea, but Emi was totally up for it. Like mother, like son.

And, here's the thing, just look what's up at the top of Montgrí. Now that's what I call a castle ...

Castello di Montgrí
Torroella de Montgrí Castle

Tuesday 29 March 2016

Red Letter Paella Day ...

Today was a Red Letter Paella Day. Back home in sunny Sant Feliu de Guíxols there's nothing quite like paella de mariscos to keep the troops happy. It's the very taste of home.

And while I was working away in the kitchen I listened to a really interesting podcast by Jerry Brotton for the BBC History Magazine. He's just published a book This Orient Isle about the influence of Islam on Elizabethan England, focussing on how Elizabeth forged alliances with the great Islamic Empires of the day after she was excommunicated by the Pope, and how this, in turn, impacted upon English society. I've not yet read the book, but he wrote a great article on the subject for the March edition of the BBC History Magazine, and the podcast (link attached: Muslims and Jews in 16th Century England) is well worth listening to. It's such an interesting angle on a fascinating period of history.

All the best for now,

Bonny x

Wednesday 23 March 2016

the cheesemonger and his tomb in the leafy churchyard of St. Mary's, Ealing ...

When I'm going to South Ealing tube station I often take a shortcut past the allotments, and down the side of St. Mary's churchyard. St Mary's is a rather lovely old church. Most of the building dates from the eighteenth century with later Victorian and twentieth century additions.

 Now I have to 'fess up: I've always been fascinated by churchyards. To me they represent libraries filled with the life-stories of those interred within, all laid out and filed in a random system of headstones and tombs. 

And there's one large, distinguished-looking family vault, resting in a prime position just beside the wall of St Mary's church that's always made me pause.

The family name, Strudwick, sounded very solid and English and respectable to my Irish ears. And I've always wondered about the patriarch lying within, surrounded by several of his nearest and dearest. His rather succinct inscription reads: 

William Strudwick died December 30 1829 aged 60 years

The other morning I had to wait around for some workmen. I couldn't get on with any proper work of my own. But I had my laptop and an internet connection. So, to while away the time, I decided to do a little on-line detective work to see what I could unearth about this William Strudwick. 

Wednesday 16 March 2016

just saying ... the thing about Mrs Arnolfini's lovely woollen dress ...

Jan van Eyck (circa 1390–1441) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Did you watch the Waldemar Januszczak series about the Renaissance on the BBC? It was really interesting. I was lucky enough to watch all 4 episodes as I was finishing off a project. I love catch-up telly when I'm working on something that leaves my brain free to enjoy all the good stuff that I never get to watch live-time.

In the first episode the wonderful Waldemar talked about this painting from the National Gallery painted by Jan Van Eyck in 1434. It's an odd little painting that I know well. In fact, truth be told, I could look at it for hours, like some kind of time-travelling voyeur. I mean, spare a thought for the fact that it's transporting us back half a millennium to this couple's bedroom in Bruges, then the textile capital of Europe. I should add that it was fashionable, back then, to entertain guests in your bedroom so that they could see (and sit on) your opulent textiles.

Monday 7 March 2016

The first Sunday ... way back on 7th March 321 A.D.

On this day in A.D. 321 the Roman Emperor, Constantine, issued an edict declaring that his subjects should henceforth observe Sunday, as a special day of rest. Today we tend to think of Constantine as the first Christian Roman Emperor, but he was also strongly associated with the pagan cult of Sol Invictus - the unconquered sun - after which he chose to name his special day.

Being a pragmatist he specified that the day of rest had to be observed by the non-essential workers in the cities who were obliged to close their workshops and take a day off. The folk who were involved in agriculture in the countryside, however, were given a special dispensation to carry on as normal - lest by neglecting the proper moment ... the bounty of heaven should be lost.

Sol Invictus was the official sun god of the later Roman Empire, and a patron of soldiers with a special appeal for the senatorial upper classes. Many Christians across the empire already treated Sunday as a day for religious observance, although a number in Rome and Alexandria preferred Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. And amongst the wider population Sunday was a popular day because it was frequently the workers' pay-day. 

So here's to Constantine, Sol Invictus, a day-off and the inauguration of a weekly holiday, a thoroughly civilised development.

All the best for now,

Bonny x

Tuesday 17 November 2015

Happy Elizabeth Day!

Happy Elizabeth Day!

On this day, 17th November, 1558 Elizabeth I, the great Virgin Queen of England, ascended the throne on the death of her half sister, Mary. Good queen Bess was totally my sort of girl: a gritty, witty survivor.

Elizabeths' old palace at Hatfield on a sunny day in May