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Archive for March, 2010

Changing the clocks

In the UK, we all change our clocks and watches by one hour, twice a year.

Last Sunday in March
We add an hour and go onto what is called British Summer Time (BST).

Last Sunday in October
We put our clocks back one hour and adhere to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).

Why do we change our clocks?
We’ve been changing our clocks forwards and backwards in the UK since 1916. It’s all to do with saving the hours of daylight, and was started by a man called William Willett, a London builder, who lived in Petts Wood in Kent (near our school).

William Willett first proposed the idea of British Summer Time in 1907 in a pamphlet entitled ‘The Waste of Daylight’. Willett had noticed that the summer mornings light was wasted while people slept, and that the time would be better utilised in the afternoon by putting the clocks forward. After campaigning for years the British Government finally adopted the system a year after Willett’s death

What time do the clocks change?

The clocks are always changed at 01:00 GMT (02:00 BST).

In the Autumn (October), as we are on BST (British Summer Time) before the clocks change, we change the clocks at 02:00.

In the Spring (March) we are already on GMT so change the clocks at 01:00

Henry – Stonehenge Tour Guide
Histouries UK – Travel through time on one of our tours

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Rule Brittania

Rule Brittania

Would-be citizens to learn British History

Immigrants who want British citizenship will have to learn about the history of the United Kingdom but will not be tested on the subject, it was revealed today.
The Home Secretary’s expert on citizenship, Professor Sir Bernard Crick, said he had written a 38-page potted history of the British Isles which will form the basis of the course.
Immigrants will have to pass the “Britishness test” – due to come in next year – to be entitled to a British passport.
Sir Bernard revealed first details of a handbook which will form the basis of the test as the Home Office launched a new Advisory Board on Naturalisation and Integration.
“As a scholar, I put my head on the block and wrote a 38-page section on British history,” said Sir Bernard.
“The Home Secretary wanted some history in there, and so there is indeed some contained in the handbook. People won’t be tested on that.
“Only certain sections of the handbook will be tested but we see it all as being useful to them.”
British traditions
Home Secretary David Blunkett rejected early proposals for the handbook because they ignored British traditions and focused instead on teaching immigrants how to use the NHS and claim benefits.
The final draft – to be published next month – will include Sir Bernard’s chapter which covers early Britain, the Middle Ages, the Early Modern period, the growth of the Empire, the 20th century and British politics since 1945.
The handbook is designed for teachers, mentors and immigrants who already have a good grasp of English.
A condensed version will be produced “in as many translated languages as can be afforded” for people with poorer English skills, said Sir Bernard.
Sections of the course which will be tested are:
• “A changing society” – on migration to Britain, the changing role of women and children, family and young people;
• “Britain today” – on the population, religion and tolerance, the regions of the UK and customs and traditions;
• “How Britain is governed” – on the British constitution, formal institutions, devolution and Europe;
• “Employment” – on looking for work, equal rights, maternity, self-employment and children at work;
• “Knowing the law” – on human rights, the rights and duties of a citizen, marriage and divorce, children, consumer protection, the courts and legal aid and advice.
Two further sections will not be tested:
• “Everyday needs” – on housing, health, money and credit, education, leisure, travel and transport and identity documents;
• “Sources of help and information” – on help for refugees and newcomers, libraries, Citizens Advice Bureaux and the police.
Applications for citizenship rose by 21% to reach a record 139,000 last year, compared with a 6% rise in 2002.
The number granted citizenship was 124,315, of whom more than half came from Africa and the Indian subcontinent. A total of 426,000 people have applied for citizenship since 2000 and 416,000 have been granted it.
‘Dunkirk spirit’
The introduction to the handbook says: “Some history is essential for understanding the culture of any new country and can also help in following references in ordinary conversation by British people.
“We British are very fond, for instance, of ‘the Dunkirk spirit’, ‘the Nelson touch’ or ‘she’s a real Florence Nightingale’.”
In September last year the Tories estimated the cost of the citizenship classes would be £40 million a year, based on each applicant having to attend 10 two-hour classes.
Sir Bernard, an emeritus politics professor at Birkbeck College and Mr Blunkett’s former tutor, helped devise the citizenship courses in schools which Mr Blunkett initiated while Education Secretary.
To qualify for citizenship, applicants must have lived in the UK for five years without committing any serious offence, or three years if married to a British citizen.

Pat – Stonehenge Tour Guide
Histouries UK – Bringing ‘British’ History alive

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During a recent Stonehenge and Bath private tour a client quizzed me  “What exactly happened to the Baths once the Romans left and why did it fall into such decline?”  I though I would take the time to give a more detailed Image and up to date answer:
 – Aquae Sulis – was one of the jewels of Romano-British civilisation. What happened to it when the Romans left? Roman specialist James Gerrard has been studying the tantalising evidence for the end of Roman Bath.

The remains of the temple and baths dedicated to Sulis Minerva at Bath are some of the most evocative Roman ruins in the country.  On a chill winter’s morning, with steam rising from the Great Bath, it does not take much to understand why this place was special in Roman Britain and famed across the empire.

Most research at Bath has gone into understanding how and why temple and baths were built. My interest, in contrast, has always lain at the other end of the Roman period. I want to know what happened when the Romans left. Did this oasis of Classicism in Britain come to a rapid end in the 5th century? Did it perish before the fire and sword of Anglo-Saxon invaders? Or did life continue, dominated by the monumental structures of the Roman city?

Excavations at Roman Bath stretch back over 200 years to the efforts of 18th century antiquarians. It is, however, the excavations of 1978-1983, directed by Peter Davenport and Barry Cunliffe, that have given us the most detailed account of the site. The inner precinct was one of the targets of those excavations, and the result was a sequence of activity from construction through to ruin and the subsequent development of the medieval town.

Between the well-paved surface of the inner precinct and the massive scree of collapsed masonry marking the collapse or demolition of the Roman temple, the excavation team hit archaeological pay-dirt. Dismissed by earlier excavators as ‘mud and rubble’, a series of layers of sediment interleaved with paved and rubble surfaces was found which contained the evidence for the Temple of Sulis Minerva’s final years.

The layers of mud and rough paving sandwiched between the inner precinct’s paved surface and the massive layer of demolition rubble above clearly contains the evidence for the demise of the temple. For some, everything up to the demolition of the temple can be contained within the 4th century, while for others, the sequence runs on into the 5th and even 6th century.  This debate has, if not raged, then certainly bubbled away in the background for the best part of two decades.

Only absolute dating techniques can truly determine whether the temple was demolished early (at the end of the 4th century) or late (in the 6th or 7th century). Calibration of the radiocarbon dates gives a series of calendar dates at 95.4% probability – meaning that there is a 95% chance that the date falls between the earliest and latest dates given. All the dates are early, none extending beyond the early 5th century except for Sample 4, which returned a determination of AD 130-540; even in this last case, there is an 82% chance that the date falls between AD 320 and AD 470, with only a 6% chance that it falls between AD 480 and 540.

ImageThe implication is that layers of paving and sediment were laid over the Period 4 (see table) surface in a fairly swift succession.  The subsequent re-pavings were all of rubble and dumped tile. There were also traces of small structures being built against the north wall of the spring reservoir. It seems that what had been built as a great architectural monument in the 2nd or 3rd century was being remodelled much more simply from whatever materials were to hand in the late 4th.

Also significant is that by Period 5b (see table) architectural fragments were incorporated into the rough paving, showing that the temple complex was falling into a state of disrepair, and that the great altar, the ritual focus of the whole complex, had been demolished. That the altar was not rebuilt is surely significant. Either it could not be reconstructed, or by the late 4th century it held no significance for people visiting the temple and spring. 

The excavators argued that the temple structures had been deliberately demolished, perhaps to salvage the iron clamps and lead sealings that held the masonry blocks in place. To demolish a structure as big as the Temple of Sulis Minerva to extract small quantities of reusable metals, when it existed in such large quantities,  seems hard to believe.

What, then, was the motive? How the West Country was ruled in the 5th and 6th centuries is beyond historical reconstruction. The British monk Gildas tells us that there were political units ruled by kings and tyrants, but the organisation of those kingdoms remains obscure. What is clear is that by the late 5th century there were individuals and communities in the South West capable of commanding and controlling resources on a large scale.

Image The demolition of the temple and baths should be seen in the same light as the construction of refortified hillforts: a community mobilised the resources and labour necessary to remove a major set of structures from the ancient Roman townscape, just as they did to create new high-order settlements in the surrounding countryside. Gildas hints at why they might have done this. Writing in the early 6th century, he rages against British kings for their sins: they were murderers and usurpers. But not once does he call them ‘pagans’.

 The end of Roman Bath may be the story of a cult centre that had been supported by the Roman state, that staggered on for a few decades after the collapse of Roman power, but then succumbed in the late 5th century to the attacks of a post-Roman Christian community engaged in an ultimately successful struggle for political, economic and religious supremacy.

When the Frankish nun Bertana founded what was to become Bath Abbey in the late 7th century, all that was left of the Temple of Sulis Minerva were a few ruins and wall stubs sticking up through the mire, and some vague memories of a great Classical religious sanctuary.

Simon – Bath guided tours
Histouries – Bringing History alive

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I have just been up to Staffordshire to see the hoard with my own eyes – wow!  If you are visiting Britain this year make sure you allow time to visit the museum.
The largest hoard of Anglo Saxon gold ever found, was discovered last summer by a metal-detectorist in a field in Staffordshire and is set to revolutionise our perceptions of life in the 7th and 8th centuries. With more than 650 items made from gold, and more than 500 in silver this is truly a king’s ransom!
Intricately carved with elaborate Anglo-Saxon art styles, some with fine garnet cloisonné, the hoard is not only dazzling but highly intriguing.  Most of the objects appear to have been deliberately broken prior to burial and, still more surprisingly, there were no brooches or pendants, no feminine dress fittings; moreover, there were none of the traingular three-rivet gold buckles or any belt fittings so often found in male graves of this period. These intricately decorated and bejewelled finds, martial and masculine in nature, appear to the trophy winnings of a mighty warrior or warriors: hilts from swords or fragments from helmets. Of the 84 sword pommels found, 68 are gold, 11 silver and five are copper alloy or base silver.

Most fragments come from the hilts of swords, pieces of helmets and at least two Christian crosses; five highly unusual and enigmatic small gold snakes were also found, unlike any finds so far discovered.
I would like to hear your comments on the use of metal detectors in Britian?

David – Stonehenge Tour Guide
Histouries UK – Bringing History Alive

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Lighting up the horses There have been occasions when white horses have been lit up at night, and it appears that there was once a tradition of doing this, at one or more of the horses, but information on this is scarce. The occasions known to me are described below, with the horses listed in alphabetical order. Alton Barnes This horse has been lit up on a number of occasions in recent years. On the night of the winter solstice in December 2001, the Wiltshire Crop Circle Study Group lit the Alton Barnes white horse by candlelight. Some twenty-five people arranged tea lights in jars around the outline of the horse, on what was a very cold, wet and windy night. The jars were laid on their sides, which provided protection from the rain. The effect was dramatic, and despite the wind inevitably extinguishing some of the lights, the horse was still lit late that evening. The group hope to make this an annual event. This information was kindly supplied by Kate Fenn and Deirdre Edwards. The WCCSG arranged to light this horse again on 21st December 2002. I accompanied about a dozen members of the group who set out from Knap Hill car park at dusk in thick fog and rain. In the fog the party became separated, and only half reached the horse! Those of us who got there had between us only about a third of the total number of jars and tea lights that had been brought, but nonetheless we managed to light the horse to good effect, even though it could only be seen from nearby due to the fog. The horse was again lit by the WCCSG on 21st December 2004. The following is an extract from Melanie Gambrill’s account of the event: It turned out to be a great day weatherwise, with the sky clearing in the afternoon so we could watch a beautiful sunset before lighting the horse. Lots of people came so we got the candles and jars ready to light very quickly. As the sun set and the daylight started to fade we lit the candles. It must have been amazing to watch the horse being lit from a distance as the lighting progressed up the horse’s head, along the tail and up the legs until it was completely aglow. As darkness fell the horse lights became brighter and brighter. We could see vehicles stopping along the road below as people paused to view the lit horse. You can find Melanie’s full account and photos of the event here on the Swirled News website. I believe the horse has been lit every year since 2004, up to and including 2008. Cherhill The Cherhill white horse was floodlit to mark the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1937. A generator was set up in the valley below, and cables were run up to the site. The letters G E were marked out with red bulbs above the horse, and several large floodlights were arranged to light the horse itself. The letters were lit for five seconds, then the horse for ten seconds, with this pattern repeating continuously. This illumination took place every night during coronation week, except for two nights when very thick fog prevailed. Devizes The new Devizes white horse was completed in September 1999. Later that year, on the evening of New Year’s Eve, the horse was very effectively lit by Pearce Civil Engineering, from dusk through to dawn on New Year’s Day 2000. Pewsey The new Pewsey white horse was constructed in 1937 to mark the coronation of King George VI. After construction it was floodlit for coronation week, and apart from thick fog on two nights the effect was very good. Westbury The Westbury white horse was lit up in 1900, and again in 1950, with equipment provided by the army. Apparently the effect was spectacular, and the horse looked as if it was floating in the sky. In 1950 traffic in Westbury and Bratton came almost to a standstill as drivers slowed down to look. Some local people hoped the horse would be lit up again in 2000 but this didn’t happen. There is local interest in repeating the event, however, and it may be that it will be done again on some future date.

Nicholas – Stonehenge Tour Guide

HisTOURies – The Best Tours in British History

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From the grassy deserted plains of southern England rises a circle of standing stones, some of them up to 24 feet tall. For centuries they have towered over visitors, offering tantalizing hints about their prehistoric past. For centuries, everyone who has stood before them has wondered the same thing: Who built this mysterious rock monument? And why?

“Since Stonehenge was built and rebuilt over a period of centuries, no one group has sole credit for its construction, but the main building seems to have been done by a people known as the ‘Beaker Folk,’” says Benjamin Hudson, professor of History and Medieval Studies at Penn State. The Beaker Folk (who earned their name from the distinctive inverted bell-shaped pottery drinking vessels they made) scattered throughout prehistoric western Europe.

The earliest construction at Stonehenge began about 3000 B.C., says Hudson, with a stone circle inside a ditch and bank. Within that circle lay a timber building; researchers have excavated from the site about 56 pits containing the remains of human cremations.

Construction continued for 600 years, in several phases of landscaping: Burial mounds (most pointing east-to-west) and ceremonial pathways were added to the site. In 2400 B.C., the builders erected the large sandstone blocks which give the site its name. (Coined by Henry of Huntingdon, a twelfth-century English historian, “Stonehenge” means “hinged or supported stones.”)

The means of moving those enormous standing stones has provoked centuries of speculation, with theories ranging from demonic powers to Merlin’s magic to alien technology. The reality is much more ordinary, says Hudson. “Much of the construction was little more than putting enough men under a stone to move it into place,” he notes, “although some basic engineering was required for the larger stones and the lintels.” One theory holds that the builders used simple inclines and levers to move the stones into place. Like the Egyptian pyramid-builders, the Stonehenge constructors relied more on brute labor than sophisticated technology.

Though one of the most complete and monumental examples of Neolithic and Bronze Age construction, Stonehenge was not alone in its time. Hudson notes one estimate that places it among 300 surviving stone monuments throughout the British Isles—including the famous stone circle in Avebury. The connections between and among these sites often remain murky, and undoubtedly many creations of the Beaker Folk have returned to nature, leaving few traces of their existence.

“Stonehenge forces us to reconsider the period of history that is not accompanied by written records,” Hudson says. Since the builders left no explanation, the precise purpose of their work remains obscure. One theory sees Stonehenge as a temple, pointing to the elaborate landscaping surrounding the site. More recently, historians and archaeologists have suggested it provided an observatory for either moon or sun cults. The Beaker Folk are believed to have been sun worshipers who aligned Stonehenge with certain important sun events, such as mid summer and winter solstices.

While the absence of records makes it nearly impossible to be certain about Stonehenge’s purpose, the site itself does leave us with a portrait of Beaker Folk society. “The building of the monument required knowledge of civil engineering, transportation, and quarrying,” he says. “The society that constructed it was wealthy enough to afford such an expensive venture and it also had a developed theology that provided the guidance for the designs whose meanings still elude us.”

Perhaps it is that elusive meaning that has, for centuries, drawn people to Stonehenge, to sit and wonder among the silent stones.

David – Stonehenge Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – Bringing History alve

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This Saturday marks the point at which the sun rises directly over the equator – the Spring Equinox. And while most of us will be wrapped up warm in bed at 5am, up to five thousand hardy souls will be braving the Wiltshire weather to welcome in the equinox at Stonehenge – including us.

This is the second of the four ‘sky points’ in our Wheel of the Year and it is when the sun does a perfect balancing act in the heavens.

At the Spring (or Vernal) Equinox the sun rises exactly in the east, travels through the sky for 12 hours and then sets exactly in the west. So all over the world, at this special moment, day and night are of equal length hence the word equinox which means ‘equal night’.

Of course, for those of us here in the northern hemisphere it is this equinox that brings us out of our winter.

For those in the southern hemisphere, this time is the autumnal equinox that is taking you in to your winter. And this is very much how I think of the equinoxes – as the ‘edges’ of winter. This is why they can be quite hard on our bodies as it is a major climatic shift, so it is a good time to give a boost to your immune system with natural remedies and cleansing foods.

Here in Wiltshire (as with the rest of rural Britain), it was traditional to drink dandelion and burdock cordials at this time as these herbs help to cleanse the blood and are a good tonic for the body after its winter hardships.

As the Vernal Equinox heralds the arrival of spring, it is a time of renewal in both nature and the home, so time for some spring-cleaning!

This is more than just a physical activity, it also helps to remove any old or negative energies accumulated over the dark, heavy winter months preparing the way for the positive growing energy of spring and summer.

As with all the other key festivals of the year, there are both Pagan and Christian associations with the Spring Equinox.

To Pagans, this is the time of the ancient Saxon goddess, Eostre, who stands for new beginnings and fertility.

This is why she is symbolized by eggs (new life) and rabbits/hares (fertility).

Her name is also the root of the term we give to the female hormone, oestrogen.By now, you may be beginning to see the Christian celebration derived from this festival – Easter.

And this is the reason why the ‘Easter Bunny’ brings us coloured eggs (and if you’re lucky chocolate ones!) at this time of year.

So, as nature starts to sprout the seeds that have been gestating in her belly throughout the winter, maybe you can start to think about what you want to ‘sprout’ in your life now and start to take action.

The Celtic Wheel

Have you ever wondered why we feel full of energy in the summer but slow down and want to stay-in in the winter? And why does Nature burst with life in the spring yet start to ‘go to sleep’ in the autumn?

It’s because we are all responding to the changing energies of the different seasons and our Celtic ancestors were exquisitely aware of this.

They followed this seasonal flow of energy around a ‘Wheel of the Year’, honouring the changes with celebrations that kept them in touch with heaven and earth.

There are eight key points in the year – four Quarter days that mark changes in the sky, and four Cross-quarter days that celebrate changes in the land.

The Wheel of the Year

The Wheel of the Year
© Apogee

I find it helps to think of the year as a clock face with mid-winter, the first Quarter day, at 12 ‘o clock.

This is the Winter Solstice (Dec 20th-23rd), which is also known as the shortest day and is the darkest point of the year. The Solstices are when the sun seems to ‘stand still’ in the sky.

Opposite this at 6 ‘o’ clock is the Summer Solstice (June 20th-23rd) – the longest day of the year and the point of highest energy.

 

At 3 ‘o clock is the Spring Equinox (March 20th-23rd) and, at 9 ‘o clock, the Autumn Equinox (Sept 20th-23rd).

 

An equinox is when night and day are of equal length.

These are like the edges of winter and often take a hard toll on our bodies.

In between these ‘sky points’ are the Cross-quarter days which mark ‘gear shifts’ in the energy of the earth. These times are also important agriculturally.

Imbolc (Beginning of February) is when the first lambs are born and ewe’s milk is available again after the long winter. The year is beginning to stir and wake-up.

Beltane (Beginning of May) is the transition from spring to summer when Nature is pumping with life-force and fertility.

Lammas (Beginning of August) is the time of ripeness and when the earth starts to give up her harvest.

Samhain (Beginning of November) is the end/beginning of the Celtic year. It is a time when the veil between the worlds is thinnest and it is possible to commune with the ancestors.

There is great joy in being aware of the seasons in this way and celebrating them in simple ways.

As the year unfolds, we will look in detail at the eight energy-points of the year and the ways in which they affect us.

We will also look at how these festivals have been celebrated in Wiltshire, both past and present.

Nicholas – Stonehenge Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours in History

 

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