Corbridge: Aydon Castle Kitchens

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The fortified hall house of Aydon Castle has, as so many historic buildings do, undergone numerous changes during its history. The house was unaltered for 400 years until it was entrusted to the government in 1966. This remarkably intact building is spartan and unfurnished and is a beautiful example of a 13th century manor house. The original kitchen (above) was the first of three kitchens to be built and part of the first programme of works to be completed by Robert de Raymes.

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The 14th century fireplace above stands where the oven once stood with a cupboard to its left and a chute for getting rid of slops and rubbish next to the window. The Carnaby’s were the 16th century owners of the castle and their coat of arms can be seen carved above the fireplace.

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The second kitchen range (below) was likely to have been built soon after the first kitchen and hall’s construction around 1305.  As Robert de Raymes was heavily involved in the fighting in the Borders after 1296, the original kitchen proved to be too small to provide for him and the many men involved in defending the house. With easy access to the hall, the room was divided in two which can be seen by the change in floor level. This first room was where food was prepared and where dishes were washed afterwards.

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The second room was where the cooking took place using seasonings stored in the cupboards cut into the walls. At floor level on the west wall (left of picture above) is a chute for waste to keep the kitchen clean of scraps. When this kitchen was in use, food was brought directly into the kitchen through the wooden door to the side of the chute instead of through the inner courtyard. At the far end of the room is the large fireplace which was moved from the service end of the hall to that end of the range. There are two low stone benches on either side of the hearth which may have been used to keep food and dishes warm but also could have acted as seats for watchmen coming off cold duty.

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This kitchen went out of use in the 16th century and when the room was deserted due to the floors becoming unsafe, the only inhabitants were pigeons. The series of holes cut into the stones around the top of the room (above) were added in the 19th century to provide nesting boxes for pigeons – valued for their meat, not as racers. The roof of the west wing kitchen features timbers that were inserted by the Carnaby family in the early 1540’s.

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Corbridge: Aydon Castle Upstairs Solar

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The Chamber (Solar) above at Aydon Castle was used as the Lord’s private apartments and is laid out as a single room. Access to the room was from the hall but the private stair to the ground floor no longer exists. The present stairs are as a result of alterations from when the building was used as a farmhouse from the 17th century and continued until 1968 (Allsopp & Clar, 1969). To provide privacy, the room was divided by a partition – probably where the staircase now stands. The smaller part of the solar would have been used as a lobby or waiting room for visitors.

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The main room was the northern one with a fireplace and three windows with seats. The most significant alteration to the room has been the removal of the main 13th century fireplace from the opposite wall to its present location. The medieval chimney flue remains on the outer wall and despite its move, the fireplace is still impressive and gives an indication of the quality of the interior furnishings and fittings within the chamber block. The previous position of the fireplace was immediately above the fireplace in the room below so it is possible that the chimney flue may have leaked from it into the solar’s fireplace. The rather awkward looking fireplace now stands lower than it should which encapsulates Jenkin’s (2003) view that Aydon “seems gloriously lost in an antique world of its own.”

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Corbridge: Head of Sol

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Alongside the worship of Jupiter, the cult of Jupiter Dolichenus merged the Roman god Jupiter with an all powerful sky god that originated in Asia Minor. Co-existing with the worship of Jupiter alone, there was also other merged versions of Jupiter that were popular throughout the Roman army. Several reliefs from a temple to Jupiter Dolichenus have survived having been used in later Roman work. Including a frieze of Sol, the above deeply incised panel formed part of the decorative iconography of the temple. The third century relief of the sun god was found reused as a floor slab in the east granary (Hodgson, 2015). The god was reputedly introduced in Rome by the first Sabine king Titus Tatius at the same time as that of the Moon (Grimal, 1991). There were three religions that were widely practiced in the Roman Empire. The mysteries of Mithras, the god of light and truth, originated from Persia, the worship of the Egyptian goddess Isis, goddess of fertility, and the third was the worship of Atargatis – known as Dea Syria. This Syrian goddess was originally an earth mother whose cult was especially popular with soldiers. Shrines have been found in Rome and as far away as Hadrian’s Wall and she was associated with the Roman Jupiter. Worshipped in wild rituals, Atargatis was often depicted with her consort Jupiter Dolichenus who was portrayed standing upon the back of a bull (Morford, Lenardon & Sham, 2011). The beautiful carving above shows the head of Sol with his radiating nimbus (halo) behind his head and his whip (for driving the sun-chariot) set over his left shoulder. Although not typically classical, the dramatic style shows that the worship of the Syrian god was spread wide across the entire empire and celebrated at Corbridge.

Durham: Neptune Statue

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In Market Place in Durham centre stands the impressive heroic figure of Neptune. The life size lead statue depicts the bearded figure standing over a dolphin and raising his trident as though to strike. The beautiful sculpture is surmounted upon a corniced column of sandstone and now stands in its original site thanks to an appeal fund organised by the Durham Trust. The statue was originally given to the city in 1729 by George Bowes of Gibside and represents Durham’s link to the sea. The sculpture was restored in 1986 and following its move to Wharton Park, Neptune was returned to its current location in May 1991.

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In classical mythology Neptune was the Roman god identified with Poseidon. As one of the twelve Olympians (Iliad 15. 187-192), Neptune ruled over the waters (Metamorphoses 13. 854-858) and was originally a freshwater divinity who acquired his attributes from Greek mythology. The first historians, who wrote in Latin, were familiar with Greek mythology and many of the Roman legends are adaptations that stem from Greek myths. The Olympian Neptunus was equated with Poseidon, one of the twelve principle Roman gods, by the poet Ennius. Although the development of railway transport improved links with the city and the coast, Durham had aspired to be linked to the sea via the river Wear. As such, the personification of water was erected to symbolize Durham’s ambitions.

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Durham: Light Infantry War Memorial

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Located in Market Place in Durham centre stands the above war memorial. Honouring the Durham Light Infantry regiment, the bronze sculpture of a soldier symbolises the moment after the infantry buglers sounded the ceasefire in Korea in 1953. The sculpture is set upon a white stone plinth featuring the regimental badge and bears a dedication to all those who served in the regiment. A quotation on the rear of the plinth from Montgomery of Alamein reads “There may be some regiments as good but I know of none better.” The monument was unveiled in September 2014 and is the work of Edinburgh artist Alan Herriot.

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Corbridge: The Corbridge Lanx

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The Duke of Northumberland presented the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle Upon Tyne with an electrotype copy of the Corbridge Lanx (above) during the mid 20th century. The original Lanx is now in the British Museum and is made of 97.5% pure silver and is believed to date to the later 4th century AD. This beautifully engraved tray was designed as a Roman serving platter for banquets or rituals. The significantly detailed mythological scene depicts Apollo standing (on the right) before a shrine holding his bow with his lyre at his feet. Apollo was a Greek god, son of Zeus, who gradually became adopted by the Romans during a plague in 433 BC when the Temple of Apollo Medicus was built near Pomerium (the religious boundary of Rome). The first Roman Emperor Augustus took Apollo as his personal guardian and built a temple in Rome on the Palatine dedicated to him following his victory at the battle of Actium in 31 BC (Grimal, 1991). Standing with her hand raised in conversation is the warrior goddess Athena. Presiding over the arts and literature, Athena was the daughter of Zeus and Metis and patroness of many towns. Her attributes were the spear, helmet and the aegis (animal skin/shield). In the scene above, Athena is talking to Artemis who was the twin sister of Apollo. The seated lady is believed to be Leto, who was the mother of Apollo and Artemis by Zeus, and the other woman may be her sister Ortygia. The scene is thought to be set on the island of Delos, a Greek island near Mykonos.

An excerpt of a court leet ruling in May 1735 on the ownership of the lanx states: “Isabel Cutter, daughter of Thomas Cutter of Corbridge, blacksmith, aged nine years… did on or about the tenth day of February last past find an ancient silver piece of plate in a great measure covered with the earth, one end sticking out of the ground, at a certain place within this manor near the north bank of the river Tyne by the water edge.”

To make the original Lanx, the design was first drawn out on the front of a cast silver sheet. The background was hammered down with small punches to leave the figures in relief – known as chasing. Extra detail was then scratched or engraved into the surface with a pointed tool.

Corbridge: Hercules & The Hydra

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Hercules is the latinized form of the Greek Heracles who Homer describes in the Odyssey: “I saw mighty Heracles – his ghost, but he himself delights in feasting among the immortal gods, with fair-ankled Hebe for his wife” (Homer, Odyssey 11.601-603). Hercules was a Greek hero, son of Zeus and exemplar of strength and patience. Such a diverse character attracted a variety of interpretations and uses. His virtues became significantly used by the moralists and philosophers to whom he became a model of unselfish fortitude, labouring for the good of mankind and achieving immortality by his virtue (Morford, Lenardon & Sham, 2011). He was especially important as a paradigm of virtue in Roman Stoicism who set high value on the Heraclean qualities of endurance and self-reliance. The iconography of Hercules was firmly established by the Archaic period with the major identifying symbols of the lion skin cape and hood, his club and his bow and arrows. The geographical distribution of his cult was as wide as his legends and Hercules was adopted by individuals or states as a symbol or protecting deity (Hornblower & Spawforth, 2004). The above relief was found in the west Principia strongroom and depicts the second of Hercules’ Twelve Labours which made him a hero in both the Greek and Roman worlds. A natural patron of emperors and soldiers struggling on behalf of the empire, the carving show Hercules attacking the Hydra (a serpent with snake-headed tentacles, mainly lost but one tentacle is around the demi-god’s forearm). His patroness, the goddess Minerva, stands on the left watching over him. The west Principia was a headquarters building which was divided by arches onto three bays, each entered by one of three doors in the facade. The shrine from the Principia was packed with brightly coloured altars, statuary and standards with the above panel forming one of a series (Hodgson, 2015).