Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for March, 2011

Few things have helped create the look of the English countryside more British Hedgerowthan hedgerows. Hedges have been used for a long time in England, yet for all their antiquity, much of the familiar checkerboard pattern they help create is of very recent vintage.

Hedges have been used as field boundaries in England since the times of the Romans. Excavations at Farmoor (Oxon) reveals Roman hedges made of thorn. The Anglo-Saxons also used hedgerows extensively, and many that were used as estate boundaries still exist. Although these early hedges were used as field enclosures or to mark the boundaries of one person’s property, there was no systematic planting of hedges in England until the first enclosure movement of the 13th century.

The pressures of population expansion led to a widespread clearing of land for agriculture, and the new fields needed to be marked clearly.

Later, farming expansion in the 15th century led to more widespread hedge planting, but the greatest use of hedges came in the Enclosure Movement of the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Enclosure Movement is a fancy term that historians use to describe the habit of wealthy landowners enclosing common fields for their own use, usually for the purpose of raising sheep.

Hedges are used as field boundaries in the lowland regions of England. In the highlands, such as the Yorkshire Dales, dry stone walls are commonly used.

Aerial Hedgerow ViewSo great was the need for hedges during the Enclosures, that a whole new industry sprang up supplying hawthorn plants to be used in planting new hedges.

In the process of enclosure many rural labourers lost their livelihood and had to move to the new industrial urban centres. So the next time you sigh over the timeless quality of the English hedge-shaped countryside, spare a thought for the misery and hardship caused by the erection of hedged fields to much of England’s rural population.

Hedge Facts
When: Roman, Anglo-Saxon, 13thC, 15thC, 18th-19thC
Where: Lowland areas
Why: Field boundaries
How
: planting bushes or trees and pleating them together at an angle as they grew
Materials: huge variety based on local availability, but the most common were hawthorn, blackthorn, and holly

A lot of effort and ingenuity has been brought to bear on the problem of dating hedges. Several historians have advanced mathematical formulae for calculating the age of a hedgerow based on the number of plant species found in a certain length of hedge. As an extremely rough rule of thumb, one species of hedge plant per 100 years seems to get close to the truth.

Unfortunately, recent years have seen the disappearance of many miles of English hedgerows. It is easier for modern farmers to string new metal fence wire than to maintain ancient hedgerows. Conservation efforts have introduced incentives to farmers to maintain the hedges, and losses have slowed somewhat. Estimates vary, but there may be upwards of 500,000 miles of hedgerows in England today.

Links:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hedge
http://www.britainexpress.com
http://www.BestValueTours.co.uk

The Best Tours of the Britich Countryside
HisTOURies UK Private Guided Tours

Read Full Post »

As a Christian symbol, it seems appropriate that its resurrection took place in time for Easter.  Glastonbury’s Holy Thorn tree began to show new buds this week, three months after it was savagely cut down by vandals.
According to legend, Joseph of Arimathea – who some say was Jesus’s great-uncle – travelled to Wearyall Hill after the Crucifixion and stuck a wooden staff belonging to Jesus into the ground before he went to sleep.

When he awoke, the tale goes, the staff had sprouted into a thorn tree, which became a shrine for Christians across Europe.

Every year, the sacred tree flowered once at Christmas and once at Easter, until just before Christmas last year when it was vandalised, leaving the community of the small Somerset town fearing it was dead.

But that was before the council enlisted the help of Peter Frearson, a self-titled pagan wizard who happens to run his own horticultural business.

Mr Frearson said: ‘Well-meaning but uninformed people were putting things like marmalade on the wounds. ‘Mead, an alcoholic drink made from honey, was also popular, as well as various ales and Guinness on one occasion.

‘There’s also been a few ribbons tied round it, as well as lots of people holding hands around it, and circles of people projecting positive energy.’

Sacred: Well-wishers visit the tree in Glastonbury, SomersetSacred: Well-wishers visit the tree in Glastonbury, Somerset

But Mr Frearson, nicknamed the Garden Wizard, had other ideas to ensure the tree’s revival.

He said: ‘We applied a dressing of pine resin and beeswax to stop further moisture and rain getting in, keep out bacteria and fungus, and applied nutrients.

‘We covered it in horticultural fleece, then bubble wrap, then more fleece.
‘Soon after we replaced the bubble wrap with hessian.

‘We mulched around the base of the tree with well-rotted wood chips to keep the moisture off the ground, and we’ve also driven spikes into the ground and filled the holes with compost and bonemeal, and we’ll do it again soon.’

Glastonbury’s mayor John Coles said the display of new buds on the tree was ‘wonderful news for the town’.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1370056/Resurrection-Holy-Thorn-Tree-Glastonburys-vandalised-shrine-comes-life.html#ixzz1Hh02v1NE

Visit the ;Holy Thorn’ on a Glastonbury (King Arthure Country) guided sightseeing tour.

Glastonbury Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours on Ancient Britain

Read Full Post »

STATE of the art technology is being used to create the most accurate digital model ever of Stonehenge English Heritage is using a combination of modern 3D laser scanning and digital imaging technology to survey every inch of every stone that makes up the prehistoric monument.

The survey includes all the visible faces of the standing and fallen stones of Stonehenge, including Station, Heel and Slaughter stones, as well as the top of the horizontal lintels which have never before been surveyed at this level of detail.

Despite the vast amount of archaeological activity and academic study into Stonehenge and its landscape over the centuries, relatively little is known about the lichen-covered surfaces of the sarsens and bluestones that make up the stone circle.

The availability of high resolution laser scanners that can produce highly accurate surface models means that it is now possible to record details and irregularities on the stone surfaces down to a resolution of 0.5mm. It is also hoped that secrets hidden underneath the thick cover of lichens may be revealed in the analysis using sophisticated software.

The study serves a number of purposes. It will provide precise base-line data to monitor the physical condition of the monument which is subjected to daily weathering.

Digital data of this unprecedented level of detail will also be a valuable resource to anyone who is tasked with producing reconstruction models, drawings and computer generated images of the monument for public understanding and interpretation, including the English Heritage interpretation team who is working on the new displays of the proposed visitor centre.

Understanding of the known Neolithic “dagger” and Bronze Age carvings as well as modern graffiti carvings might also be enhanced, and new ones might be discovered.

Dave Batchelor, English Heritage’s Stonehenge archaeologist, said: “The surfaces of the stones of Stonehenge hold fascinating clues to the past. They are like manuscripts, a whole palimpsest of the ideas, efforts and idiosyncrasies that marked the lives of people over millennia. I look forward very much to seeing what we are about to find.”

http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/about/news/stonehenge-in-high-definition/

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

Read Full Post »

The Festival returns in 2011 with a packed programme of theatre, dance, circus, film, music and spoken word in locations around the historic city.

On the Festival’s opening night the sky becomes a stage in a performance by world famous Argentine company Voalà.The programme also includes a new music commission, WhereTwo Worlds Touch; outdoor performances of classic Shakespeare;and a performance by Jasmin Vardimon Company.

Read Salisbury International Arts Festival Brochure 2011 – Download

This year’s programme will reflect a focus on the themes of China, Dance and Air, and events will take place across the region in locations as diverse as Salisbury Cathedral, Old Wardour Castle and Stonehenge.

Background to Salisbury Festival
The Festival blazed into life in July 1973. Since then, over a million people have enjoyed outstanding performances of theatre, dance, film and every kind of music, plus literary events and the visual arts. From mid-May to early June each year, the beautiful historic city of Salisbury is transformed as people flock to the Festival, enjoying both ticketed events and free performances

If you are in the UK during May and June this year why not come and stay in Salisbury during this wonderful event.  Even take a tour to Stonehenge ?

http://www.salisburyfestival.co.uk/

Stonehenge and Salisbury Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours in Wessex

Read Full Post »

Loosely speaking, thatching is the use of straw or grasses as a building material. Using thatch for roofing goes back as far as the Bronze Age in Britain. At Shearplace Hall in Dorset there are remains of a round hut that shows signs of thatching.

Thatching a roof is an age-old tradition. Not only is it environmentally friendly but also very much back in vogue

Thatching a roof is an age-old tradition. Not only is it environmentally friendly but also very much back in vogue

Thatched cottages and farm buildings were the norm in rural Britain for a millennium or more. Why the attraction to thatch? First of all, the building practices of bygone Britain ran to lightweight, irregular materials, such as wattle and daub walls, and cruck beams. These walls were simply not made to take much weight, and thatch was by far the lightest weight material available.

The study of materials used in thatch buildings can get pretty obscure, but basically, people used whatever was available locally.

This meant materials as diverse as broom, sedge, sallow, flax, grass, and straw. Most common is wheat straw in the south of England, and reeds in East Anglia. Norfolk reed is especially prized by thatchers, although in northern England and Scotland heather was frequently used.

Although thatch was primarily used by the poor, occasionally great houses used this most common of materials. In 1300 the great Norman castle at Pevensey (Sussex) bought up 6 acres of rushes to roof the hall and chambers. Much later, in the late 18th century thatched cottages became an extremely popular theme with the “picturesque” painters, who tried to portray an idealized (Romantic/sanitized) version of nature.

Churches also used thatch frequently. In one humorous episode the parish church at Reyden, near Southwold, was roofed in 1880 with thatch on the side of the church hidden from the road, and with tiles on the side facing the road. Presumably the tiles looked more elegant than the more commonplace thatch.

What caused the decline of thatching? Primarily better transportation. The growing railway network in the Victorian era meant that cheap slate from Wales became easily available all over Britain. Agricultural machinery, particularly the combine harvester, had the unfortunate effect of making wheat straw unusable for thatching. This made Norfolk reed all the more prized, and now the latter material is grown specifically for use in thatching.

So how does one thatch a cottage? First the thatch is tied in bundles, then laid in an underlayer on the roof beams and pegged in place with rods made of hazel or withy.

Then an upper layer is laid over the first, and a final reinforcing layer added along the ridgeline. It is at the ridgeline that the individual thatcher leaves his personal “signature”, a decorative feature of some kind that marks the job as his alone. One lovely cottage I saw on a bicycle tour near Glastonbury (Somerset) has a row of thatch birds marching proudly along the ridge of the roofline!

Although thatching, like many rural crafts, has suffered from the encroachment of “civilisation”, many property owners today recognize the value of keeping their cottages thatched, if for no other reason than that thatched cottages fetch a prime price on the real estate market!

Well thank goodness, for those of us who love traditional British architecture! Sure, it is “corny” but to this anglophile North American at least, nothing says “Great Britain” so much as the sight of a beautiful whitewashed cottage, a blooming rose bush climbing a trellis beneath a roof of weathered thatch. Long live the thatcher!

The phrase “Its raining cats and dogs”
You’ve heard of thatch roofs, well that’s all they were. Thick straw, piled high, with no wood underneath. They were the only place for the little animals to get warm. So all the pets; dogs, cats and other small animals, mice, rats, bugs, all lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery so sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Thus the saying, “it’s raining cats and dogs.”

There are more thatch work in Wiltshire than any other county in Britain.  Join us on a private tour of Wessx and learm more about the history of this tradional craft.

Links: 

THE NATIONAL COUNCIL OF MASTER THATCHERS ASSOCIATIONS

Wiltshire Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours in British History

Read Full Post »

Thousands of files with details of UFO sightings and an “alien abduction” in London have been released for the first time by the Ministry Of Defence.
Over the last fifty years thousands of people across Wiltshire have recorded seeing strange sights in the skies – and in many cases the same pulsing lights hovering above one town have been witnessed by hundreds of people.

The previously classified files contain over 8,500 pages that reveal the phenomenon has been discussed at the highest levels of governments worldwide and in 1979 the House of Lords held Parliament’s only ever full debate on the subject.

The files, which also contain pictures, described how for a few hours in 1967 a War Of The Worlds-style incident was treated as a potentially real alien invasion of the UK.

Another startling revelation said in the months before the September 11 attacks, 15 unidentified aircrafts were detected on radar approaching the UK and one was detected on the actual day.

Other revelations from the 35 files include the story of a family capturing on film flashing red and white lights zig-zagging their way through the sky during the early hours in 2003.

You can see from the files that I wasn’t the only one interested in the subject, with the phenomenon discussed at the highest level of government right across the globe

Dr David Clarke – author and senior lecturer in journalism at Sheffield Hallam University

Police officers, including a helicopter team, also witnessed the 20 to 30 lights over Bromley, Kent and reported the incident. Radar checks revealed nothing unusual.

The documents read: “A policeman sent to investigate confirmed the sighting. Objects were moving faster than any man-made aircraft.”

In another case a man told the MoD he believed he had been beamed up by an alien craft from his home in Barnes, south west London.

He described having a glass of milk in his garden on a night in October 1998 and “after a few moments I heard a distant roar of engines getting louder and louder.”

The man said he was terrified as a huge “cigar-shaped vehicle” appeared over his house and said it felt like he had gained a whole hour.

A Naional Achives photo

A doughnut-shaped UFO photographed by a retired RAF officer in Sri Lanka.

 “I am now beginning to wonder if I was abducted,” he told the MoD, which wrote back to him saying the clocks had gone back the night before.

The phenomenon of extra-terrestrials has fascinated people for centuries and the files also detail in full the Freedom of Information (FOI) requests and letters from “persistent enquirers” that led to the MoD opening up its files for the first time in history.

Dr David Clarke, author of the book The UFO Files, said since the introduction of the FOI act questions on UFOs were the top three most popular FOI requests received by the MoD.

“You can see from the files that I wasn’t the only one interested in the subject, with the phenomenon discussed at the highest level of government right across the globe.”

A Naional Achives photo

A photo among the 35 files of a sketch of UFO in South Wales.

Another incident detailed is of six small “flying saucers” in a perfect line sighted in southern England.

An investigation found it to be a ‘rag-day’ hoax by engineering students from Farnborough Technical College.

In 1978, the RAF was bombarded with claims that a UFO was zipping across the sky as witnesses described a mystery orange cigar-shaped object with lights covering its base and a white cockpit.

An investigation revealed the sightings coincided with the re-entry of space debris into the Earth’s atmosphere.

The files contain pages of UFO sightings and reports, colour photographs and drawings, RAF investigations, unusual radar detections, parliamentary briefings and – for the first time – documents on the government’s policy on UFOs

Strange Wiltshire Over the last fifty years thousands of people across Wiltshire have recorded seeing strange sights in the skies – and in many cases the same pulsing lights hovering above one town have been witnessed by hundreds of people.

Tour guides at Histouries UK are looking forward to another good crop circle season here in Wilsthire.  2010 saw a record year, what will 2001 bring ?  We have taken 1000’s of people to 100’s of crop cicle formations in the Wessex area.  We know where they are and when they appear.  Follow this blog and our tweets for daily crop circle updates.

Links:
http://www.visitwiltshire.co.uk/site/things-to-do/attractions/crop-circles
http://www.bbc.co.uk/wiltshire/moonraking/spooky_ufo.shtml
http://www.ufo-warminster.co.uk/books/books_direct.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warminster
http://www.wccsg.com/

Crop Circle Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – The Best Spooky Tours in Wiltshire

Read Full Post »

Start: Avebury |Finish: Old Sarum
Distance: Approximately 42 miles

Wiltshire is a county of history and mystery set in a dramatic landscape. The combination of heritage and scenery provides a truly memorable day out. So come with us on a journey through the countryside and across the ages as we go back to the time of our prehistoric ancestors. Hundreds of thousands of years may have passed but all over the county there’s evidence of human activity from the end of the Ice Age through the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages right up to the invasion of the Romans in AD43.

Click here for audio / visual tour

This driving tour will take you through the heart of Wiltshire. En route you’ll discover more about how our enigmatic and mysterious ancestors lived, worked, fought and died.

This tour can be undertaken in a variety of ways; as a day-long journey, in short sections or you can use the information as a guide to individual visits.

You might also consider embarking on the tour using public transport but keeping up to date with bus service and timetable changes will require plenty of preparation.

Before you set off make sure that you’re properly equipped. Nothing beats a really good Ordnance Survey map, marked with contours and ancient monuments. A compass and a torch would also be useful. Some of these historical gems are in fields and away from roads or footpaths, so good walking boots are a must. Some sites have few or no facilities and it’s also worth noting that mobile phone coverage can’t be guaranteed in parts of rural Wiltshire. For news of road works or route closures, check BBC Local Radio and bbc.co.uk/travelnews

This guide has been produced with the generous assistance of Phil Harding, Wessex Archaeology, English Heritage, Wiltshire Council Archaeology Service, Bob Clarke, Martin Kellett, David Dawson and the Wiltshire Heritage Museum in Devizes.

Stonehenge and Avebury Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours in Wiltshire

Read Full Post »

A new film about King John further underlines history’s judgement of the medieval English monarch as a cruel tyrant. But among the dozens of bad kings and despots, why is John always the pantomime villain?

Paul Giamatti is the latest to play King John as a villain in Ironclad

Paul Giamatti is the latest to play King John as a villain in Ironclad

Surrendering lands in France, forced into a humiliating climbdown with the nobility and excommunicated by the Church. Not to mention being blamed for the murder of his nephew.

The medieval reign of King John has been characterised by disaster and his reputation languishes among the lowest for all the kings and queens of England.

This poor standing is illustrated by his persistently negative appearances in British cultural life 800 years on. Depictions on television, stage and big screen, particularly in Robin Hood films, usually present a man who is treacherous and weak.

In 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood, John (played by Claude Rains) is an overtaxing oppressor, while Disney’s Robin Hood showed John as a cowardly lion sucking his thumb.

A new film Ironclad, released in the UK on Friday, stars American actor Paul Giamatti as the villainous king laying siege to the noble barons in Rochester Castle, in the civil war that followed the signing of Magna Carta.

So why do we always like to bash King John?

Make no mistake, he was a bad king, says John Hudson, of the Institute of Medieval Studies at the University of St Andrews.

“He was a very considerable failure as a king. He loses a large amount of possessions inherited, in particular lands in France, like Normandy and Anjou. He manages to surrender his realm to the pope and ends up facing a huge baronial rebellion, a civil war and a war with France. In terms of failures, he is one of the worst kings.”

And his unpleasant personality compounds his mistakes, says Professor Hudson. Trying to seize control of the throne while his brother, King Richard I, was imprisoned abroad, lost him the trust of the people long before he became king himself.

“A lot of very effective medieval kings are cruel and inspire fear but he hasn’t inspired trust. For people to trust a king and fear him is essential but people don’t trust him.

“People wanted someone to be heroic and not to interfere with their lives. But John was a king who did interfere and wasn’t heroic.”

But it’s simplistic to portray John as simply evil and Richard good, like in some of the Robin Hood films, he says. At least The Lion in Winter, starring Katharine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole as John’s parents Eleanor and Henry II, portrays the family tensions acutely and gives a sense of the personal power struggles within the Plantagenet dynasty.

John grew up in a feuding family. He was born in Oxford in 1166, the youngest and favourite son of Henry II. When John was five, three of his brothers plotted against their father to seize the throne, enlisting the help of Louis VII of France and their own mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine.

The rebellion was short-lived but Henry II punished his wife by imprisoning her for 16 years. On Henry’s death in 1189, John’s brother Richard became king but he nominated his nephew, Arthur, as heir. John tried unsuccessfully to instigate a coup while his brother was in prison, captured on his way back from fighting the Crusades.

The popular image of John as a cruel tyrant began a few years after his death in 1216, after a turbulent 17 years on the throne. The chronicles of Roger Wendover, a historian and monk at St Albans, and his successor Matthew Paris, included many accounts of cruelty that have since been questioned.

‘John the punchbag’

The Tudors were more sympathetic to him, although Shakespeare’s The Life and Death of King John provides a mixed portrayal of the monarch as treacherous and ruthless, but also patriotic in standing up to Rome.

But it was the Victorians who made King John the pantomime villain he is today, says Paul Sturtevant, who is researching Hollywood depictions of the medieval period, at the University of Leeds.

“The Victorians used King John as a punchbag. Prior to the 18th and 19th Century, Robin Hood was not put in a historical place. It wasn’t about the monarch at all, just Robin Hood and his adventures.

“So the Robin Hood stories being placed in John’s reign is a recent thing. He’s portrayed as a pantomime villain because a number of accounts from the time suggest that people found him quite unpleasant as a person. So the question is to what degree those sources are accurate.”

The Victorians latched on to John’s moral failings like his cruelty and his sexual deviancy, taking mistresses married to barons, and this repulsed their newly-formed idea of medieval knights as perfect gentlemen.

“To the Victorian mindset, he was everything they didn’t want in an English king. They re-imagined the period in terms of courtly love and chivalry.”

Most historians would agree he was quite a bad king but whether he was a caricature of evil is another question entirely, he says.

King John at Runnymede John’s most famous moment is signing the Magna Carta

“Almost all the depictions of King John out there are Robin Hood ones and as a result he’s the villain, either bumbling and idiotic or in the Disney animation he’s a lion who sucks his thumb. He’s infantile, with a snake as a patsy.”

The truth is that he was an inept politician but he wasn’t a tyrant, says Mr Sturtevant. His conflicts were not with his subjects but with barons, the Pope or the French.

“I see him a bit like Barack Obama in so far as he inherited a nightmare situation from his predecessor but because he was a bad politician he didn’t help himself to get out of it.

“Richard still has a really good reputation as the heroic lion-hearted king but he spent only six months of his life in England and the rest either on crusade in Holy Land or at war in France.”

To pay for his foreign wars, not to mention a huge ransom when he was captured, Richard had raised taxes far higher than any level England had experienced. By the time John was crowned king, the cupboard was bare, but his fiscal demands led to unrest.

Mike Ibeji, who researched King John for Simon Schama’s History of Britain on the BBC, says it was in the interests of those who put John’s successor Henry III on the throne to portray him negatively. King John was very unlucky, he says, but he also made his own bad luck.

There are several times during John’s reign where he actually has the upper hand, where he’s in a position where if he just does things the right way, he’s going to end up succeeding in what he’s trying to do.

“But he always overplays his hand and goes too far because he’s in a position of power and can’t rein back. So he doesn’t have a sense of scale and that’s his biggest problem.”

For example, he quelled a rebellion in France but when his nephew and enemy Arthur then dies in his custody, the finger of suspicion points at John and the revulsion felt in France renews the revolt and leads to defeat. A kingdom that once stretched from the Scottish border to the Pyrenees was falling apart.

What John will always be remembered for, apart from antagonising Robin Hood, is signing Magna Carta, which limited royal power and restated English law. And some of his defenders say that at least he provoked the barons into introducing one of history’s most famous documents.

In the History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Winston Churchill wrote: “When the long tally is added, it will be seen that the British nation and the English-speaking world owe far more to the vices of John than to the labours of virtuous sovereigns; for it was through the union of many forces against him that the most famous milestone of our rights and freedom was in fact set up.”
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-12603356

Visit Salisbury Cathedral in Wiltshire on a private guided tour and view the original Magna Carta

Salisbury and Stonehenge Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours in History

Read Full Post »

Celtic Britain
(The Iron Age) c. 600 BC – 50 AD

Who were they? The Iron Age is the age of the “Celt” in Britain. Over the 500 or so years leading up to the first Roman invasion a Celtic culture established itself throughout the British Isles. Who were these Celts?

For a start, the concept of a “Celtic” people is a modern and somewhat

Celtic Britain was dominated by a number of tribes, each with their own well-defined territory. It is thanks to Roman chroniclers, such as Strabo, Julius Caesar, and Diodorus, that the names of individual tribes are known to us today, albeit in Romanized form.

Celtic Britain was dominated by a number of tribes, each with their own well-defined territory. It is thanks to Roman chroniclers, such as Strabo, Julius Caesar, and Diodorus, that the names of individual tribes are known to us today, albeit in Romanized form.

romantic reinterpretation of history. The “Celts” were warring tribes who certainly wouldn’t have seen themselves as one people at the time.

The “Celts” as we traditionaly regard them exist largely in the magnificence of their art and the words of the Romans who fought them. The trouble with the reports of the Romans is that they were a mix of reportage and political propaganda. It was politically expedient for the Celtic peoples to be coloured as barbarians and the Romans as a great civilizing force. And history written by the winners is always suspect.

Where did they come from? What we do know is that the people we call Celts gradually infiltrated Britain over the course of the centuries between about 500 and 100 B.C. There was probably never an organized Celtic invasion; for one thing the Celts were so fragmented and given to fighting among themselves that the idea of a concerted invasion would have been ludicrous.

The Celts were a group of peoples loosely tied by similar language, religion, and cultural expression. They were not centrally governed, and quite as happy to fight each other as any non-Celt. They were warriors, living for the glories of battle and plunder. They were also the people who brought iron working to the British Isles.

The advent of iron. The use of iron had amazing repercussions. First, it changed trade and fostered local independence. Trade was essential during the Bronze Age, for not every area was naturally endowed with the necessary ores to make bronze. Iron, on the other hand, was relatively cheap and available almost everywhere.

Hill forts. The time of the “Celtic conversion” of Britain saw a huge growth in the number of hill forts throughout the region. These were often small ditch and bank combinations encircling defensible hilltops. Some are small enough that they were of no practical use for more than an individual family, though over time many larger forts were built. The curious thing is that we don’t know if the hill forts were built by the native Britons to defend themselves from the encroaching Celts, or by the Celts as they moved their way into hostile territory.

Usually these forts contained no source of water, so their use as long term settlements is doubtful, though they may have been useful indeed for withstanding a short term siege. Many of the hill forts were built on top of earlier causewayed camps.

Celtic family life.
The basic unit of Celtic life was the clan, a sort of extended family. The term “family” is a bit misleading, for by all accounts the Celts practiced a peculiar form of child rearing; they didn’t rear them, they farmed them out. Children were actually raised by foster parents. The foster father was often the brother of the birth-mother. Got it?

Clans were bound together very loosely with other clans into tribes, each of which had its own social structure and customs, and possibly its own local gods.

Housing. The Celts lived in huts of arched timber with walls of wicker and roofs of thatch. The huts were generally gathered in loose hamlets. In several places each tribe had its own coinage system.

Farming. The Celts were farmers when they weren’t fighting. One of the interesting innovations that they brought to Britain was the iron plough. Earlier ploughs had been awkward affairs, basically a stick with a pointed end harnessed behind two oxen. They were suitable only for ploughing the light upland soils. The heavier iron ploughs constituted an agricultural revolution all by themselves, for they made it possible for the first time to cultivate the rich valley and lowland soils. They came with a price, though. It generally required a team of eight oxen to pull the plough, so to avoid the difficulty of turning that large a team, Celtic fields tended to be long and narrow, a pattern that can still be seen in some parts of the country today.

The lot of women. Celtic lands were owned communally, and wealth seems to have been based largely on the size of cattle herd owned. The lot of women was a good deal better than in most societies of that time. They were technically equal to men, owned property, and could choose their own husbands. They could also be war leaders, as Boudicca (Boadicea) later proved.

Language. There was a written Celtic language, but it developed well into Christian times, so for much of Celtic history they relied on oral transmission of culture, primarily through the efforts of bards and poets. These arts were tremendously important to the Celts, and much of what we know of their traditions comes to us today through the old tales and poems that were handed down for generations before eventually being written down.

Druids. Another area where oral traditions were important was in the training of Druids. There has been a lot of nonsense written about Druids, but they were a curious lot; a sort of super-class of priests, political advisors, teachers, healers, and arbitrators. They had their own universities, where traditional knowledge was passed on by rote. They had the right to speak ahead of the king in council, and may have held more authority than the king. They acted as ambassadors in time of war, they composed verse and upheld the law. They were a sort of glue holding together Celtic culture.

Religion. From what we know of the Celts from Roman commentators, who are, remember, witnesses with an axe to grind, they held many of their religious ceremonies in woodland groves and near sacred water, such as wells and springs. The Romans speak of human sacrifice as being a part of Celtic religion. One thing we do know, the Celts revered human heads.

Celtic warriors would cut off the heads of their enemies in battle and display them as trophies. They mounted heads in doorposts and hung them from their belts. This might seem barbaric to us, but to the Celt the seat of spiritual power was the head, so by taking the head of a vanquished foe they were appropriating that power for themselves. It was a kind of bloody religious observance.

The Iron Age is when we first find cemeteries of ordinary people’s burials (in hole-in-the-ground graves) as opposed to the elaborate barrows of the elite few that provide our main records of burials in earlier periods.

The Celts at War. The Celts loved war. If one wasn’t happening they’d be sure to start one. They were scrappers from the word go. They arrayed themselves as fiercely as possible, sometimes charging into battle fully naked, dyed blue from head to toe, and screaming like banshees to terrify their enemies.

They took tremendous pride in their appearance in battle, if we can judge by the elaborately embellished weapons and paraphernalia they used. Golden shields and breastplates shared pride of place with ornamented helmets and trumpets.

The Celts were great users of light chariots in warfare. From this chariot, drawn by two horses, they would throw spears at an enemy before dismounting to have a go with heavy slashing swords. They also had a habit of dragging families and baggage along to their battles, forming a great milling mass of encumbrances, which sometimes cost them a victory, as Queen Boudicca would later discover to her dismay.

As mentioned, they beheaded their opponents in battle and it was considered a sign of prowess and social standing to have a goodly number of heads to display.

The main problem with the Celts was that they couldn’t stop fighting among themselves long enough to put up a unified front. Each tribe was out for itself, and in the long run this cost them control of Britain.

(Note: The terms “England”, “Scotland”, and “Wales” are used purely to indicate geographic location relative to modern boundaries – at this time period, these individual countries did not exist).

Join us on a guided tour of Britain and learn more about the Celts
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours in British History

Read Full Post »

Falconry is a sport that involves the use of trained birds of prey to hunt game for humans. Although falconry is also known as hawking, in modern falconry buzzards are most commonly used.

It is believed that falconry was well established in the Middle and Far East by 2000 BC despite the earliest evidence only coming from the era around the reign of Sargon II (722-705 BC).
The Romans probably learnt falconry from the Greeks although the practice does not appear to have been widespread and there are references to Caesar using falcons to kill carrier pigeons. Falconry was probably introduced to Europe in about 400 AD when the Huns and Alans invaded from the East.

More recently falconry has become more popular particularly as a sport of kings. It was reputedly the favourite sport of every King of England from Alfred the Great to George III except for James I who spent much of his time training cormorants and ospreys to catch fish.
A lot has been written about King John’s passion for crane hawking and he often brought hunting parties to the Test Valley to fly falcons at herons. The herons were ringed before they were re-released and information about their numbers and locations are documented in the Domesday Book.

In the Middle Ages it was not just the rich who hunted with hawks. Labourers used hawks to hunt for food, often illegally and King John who wanted to improve the rewards of his own personal hunting banned people taking all feathered game from the Royal Forests which at the time covered vast areas of the British countryside.

The law provided that a hundred paupers should be fed with the proceeds of each Royal hunt but despite this if it had been enforced effectively it would still have caused much suffering and hardship. During the Middle Ages a social custom evolved in falconry known today as the Laws of Ownership. Birds of prey were allocated a rank and a man could not hawk with a bird that had a higher rank than him. The hierarchy seems to have evolved around the cost of the bird and it is not known how strictly it was adhered to.

The original list was documented in the 15th Century ‘Boke of St Albans’ on hawking, hunting and cote-armour as follows:
Emperor – The Eagle, Vulture, and Merloun
King – The Ger Falcon and the Tercel of the Ger Falcon
Prince: The Falcon Gentle and the Tercel Gentle
Duke: The Falcon of the Loch
Earl: The Falcon Peregrine Baron: The Bustard
Knight: The Sacre and the Sacret
Esquire: The Lanere and the Laneret
Lady: The Marlyon
Young Man: The Hobby
Yeoman: The Goshawk
Poor Man: The Tercell
Priest: The Sparrowhawk
Holy Water Clerk: The Musket
Knave or Servant: The Kestrel

Today anyone can practice falconry in the UK and no license is required although only captive-bred birds can be used. Despite pressure to have falconry banned it has been allowed to carry on albeit with a number of conditions attached to it. Birds must be ringed and government registered. Wild birds must not be used for falconry and all birds are DNA tested to certify their origins.

FALCONRY IN ENGLISH LANGUAGE

As Falconry has been around in the UK for nearly 2,000 years, words and phrases that falconers use for their birds have crept into everyday language.

Fed up: A hawk is termed fed up when it has a full crop (storage pouch) and therefore would not be interested in food or flying. If you are fed-up you are sat around doing nothing or bored.

Mantle: To cover or shield the food by dropping their wings over. The cover over a fireplace is now called a mantlepiece.

Cadge: A wooden frame that falcons were traditionally carried out into the hunting field on. The person carrying the cadge became known as the cadger. At the end of the day the cadger would go to the local tavern and recount the tales of how the birds had flown and in turn expect money. To cadge, now means to scrounge or beg for.

Hoodwink: To cover the bird’s eyes to keep it calm and relaxed. It now means to fool someone into doing something.

Mews:  Nowdays this is something cottages or street names are called: “something mews”. A real mews is the home to hawks and falcons, the Royal Mews in London was set up to house the monarch’s birds. The name comes from the french word “muer” which means to moult. In James I’s reign the Royal Mews stood where the National Gallery stands today and extended across Trafalgar Square down Whitehall. Many stately homes also have a mews associated with them.

Wiltshire Falconry: http://www.meredownfalconry.co.uk/

Quiz:  Anyone know where the term “Under my thumb” comes from ?

Wiltshire Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours in Wessex

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: