Little Langdale: Castle Howe Hill Fort

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“The valley rings with mirth and joy; Among the hills the echoes play A never never ending song, To welcome in the May.” (Wordsworth, 1800)

Made up of many interrelated features the English landscape has been marked by man’s endeavours over thousands of years. Formed from the rocks, moulded by time, etched by rivers and ice and clothed with a mantle of green vegetation, the basic skeleton of the landscape has been superimposed on by man’s work. All settlements are a vital part of the living environment and consist of a myriad of villages with hamlets and farmsteads found in every part of the country. The concept of geographical determinism has been at the heart of all studies of settlement since the late 19th century as the theory was first developed however, most of the specific determinants of settlement location are likely not concerned with the physical nature of a site at all. The complexity of rural settlement is such that the typical medieval nucleated village, clustered round a focal point, was regarded as the normal form. The reality is very different as such villages are only one facet of a very complex settlement pattern that also includes hamlets, farmsteads and cottages. The history of archaeology shows that the concentration in certain areas by the first archaeologists looking for prehistoric remains led to the belief that open light-soiled upland areas were the preferred places for settlement. As a result, the widespread ideology that all other areas were impenetrable forests or too marshy to be settled spearheaded a myth about prehistoric people which has never been eradicated. This concept suffered a severe blow from the 1920’s with the development of aerial photography. This technology began to reveal the existence of thousands of archaeological sites that were quite invisible on the ground as they had been flattened by centuries of cultivation. As a result of differential crop growth, certain conditions and certain times of the year, these sites could be seen from the air. The following decades of research revealed that later prehistoric and Roman man lived, in considerable numbers, in all the major valleys of England. The evidence of crop marks showed indications of settlement on limestone plateaux, heathlands and sandstone hills and although the basic hypothesis remained, the areas of apparently preferred settlement expanded. With the discovery of Mesolithic, or Middle Stone Age, settlement on the Pennine moorlands, Bronze Age occupation on the clay farmlands of the Midlands and Iron Age and Roman farmsteads deep in the present woodlands of the country, what has finally emerged is the realization that early man lived almost everywhere in England and that he was not controlled by his environment to anything like the degree that was always believed (Taylor, 1983).

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West face

The direct prehistoric contribution to the landscape is small with the archaeological evidence for occupation heavily dependent on the events and changes that have taken place since our prehistoric ancestors. The early prehistoric people had a nomadic existence living in temporary structures whereas the development of agriculture from the Late Bronze Age, and especially the Early Iron Age, led to the appearance of more permanent settled villages. The people of the Early Iron Age lived mostly in single farmsteads or in small hamlets and the single farmsteads have the distinct possibility of having been continuously occupied ever since their beginning in pre-Roman or Romano-British times. Visible evidence of these early farms are the lynchets or cultivation terraces and it is likely that a great deal of the farmsteads of the Iron Age date have been abandoned at some date and reoccupied in medieval times under the pressure of a rising population (Hoskins, 2013). All the evidence of history and anthropology suggests that the great myth concerning primitive people and their alleged freedom to move about, untroubled by restrictions of boundaries or territorial limits, is unfounded. Human society appears to have had clearly defined areas of land which groups of people operated in, whether they were hunters, pastoralists or farmers. The well defined type of defensive site, and the territorial divisions, was a significant feature in the later Bronze Age and was very often the precursor of the later Iron Age Forts (Taylor, 1983). The later prehistoric period, known as the Iron Age, extends roughly from about 800 BC to the Roman invasions in AD 43. The period takes its name from the appearance of iron tools in the archaeological record and from the point of view of the history of settlement in England, it is the time when all the trends that were developing in the later Bronze Age intensified. There was an escalation in arable farming with numerous large grain storage pits found in settlement sites. There was a continuation of woodland clearance and some areas of former pasture were ploughed up to supply the greatly increased food production. There is also evidence of further expansion of agriculture in the richer claylands and in the high moorlands and mountains. With an increase in population more settlements were created which in turn has led to the discovery of far more of the Iron Age period than from all the rest of the prehistoric period. They have been found on all types of soils, in almost every position and in every part of England, except the highest moors of the Pennines and undrained marshlands. The density of Iron Age settlements was significant and the general size increased compared to those of the later Bronze Age. There was still considerable settlement ‘drift’ and movement on to new sites however, there were many more places that appear to be occupied for two or three centuries before any obvious movement takes place (Taylor, 1983).

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Castle Howe towards Hollin Crag

One of the most important features of the period is the growing number of defensive structures, or hill forts, scattered all over the country. These sites indicate a critical need for defendable locations either as permanently occupied protected places or as temporary refuges in times of danger. The consolidation of the older pattern of territories into a hierarchy of local estates, tribal areas and kingdoms is evident in the spacing of these forts. The variety and complexity of Iron Age settlement is vast with, at the simplest level, isolated farmsteads which were usually on high downland or moorland. In some areas, the main Iron Age settlement appears to be a type of site referred to as a ’round’ which are usually circular enclosures and bounded by a stone wall and outer ditch. In many cases these sites occupied hill slope positions usually with between two and six circular stone houses, set around a courtyard, and clearly interpreted as small agricultural hamlets. In northern England the earliest Iron Age sites of 5th or 6th century date seem to have been semi-fortified. These sites are known as palisaded enclosures which were small groups of timber houses surrounded by a wooden stockade. Later in the period the stockades were replaced by well built stone or earthen ramparts (Taylor, 1983).

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Castle Howe towards Wrynose Pass

By virtue of the fact that we can still see the remains clearly in many parts of the country, the one type of Iron Age settlement that is the best known are the great hill forts. While few of the multitude of farmsteads, villages and hamlets are visible on the ground, the hill forts are marked on all modern maps and their substantial ramparts are clearly evident enclosing countless hilltops and spurs. Although common, the hill forts form only a very small proportion of the settlement pattern as the less obvious sites are by far where the greatest percentage of the population lived. Hill forts, with an emphasis on warfare, also provide evidence of the great variety of form and usage and indicate the growing stability of Iron Age society. Showing considerable diversity in size, hill forts occupy striking locations and often have massive earthworks. Surrounded by one or more circuits of banks and ditches, as the name implies, hill forts are defended places and were built across Europe. Although there are 3000 hill forts in the British Isles, the very large sites are contained in Wessex, the Welsh marshes and the southeast. The smaller hill forts are found in Northumberland and the south-west with a few in eastern England, the Pennines or the north-west. The first hill forts were univallate, with one line of defences, and although they could occupy large areas, they were slightly built. By around 400 BC many hill forts had developed into bivallate (bounded by a double line of ramparts) and multivallate (more than one rampart or defensive circuit) forms and at the same time, many of these sites were abandoned. Although there were fewer hill forts, the surviving sites became more elaborate and imposing and remained in use until around 100 BC when they were replaced by a very different type of settlement. The form and size of hill forts is extensive due to conforming to the shape of the ground it occupies. Small hill forts have one entrance, larger ones two, and usually will face east with a second entrance almost always facing west, irrespective of the natural topography. This pattern is reflected in contemporary farmstead enclosures and is likely to reflect Iron Age beliefs. Often situated on scarp edges and overlooking lower ground, hill forts are thought to have controlled valleys or vales. While defensive in nature the lack of evidence of warfare taking place at such sites indicates that the role of hill forts as settlements, food stores or meeting place was perhaps more significant than their role in conflict (Bowden, 2015). The layout of hill fort sites was heavily dependant upon the topography of the location but the main living accommodation occupied the highest position on the hill or crag. Such hill forts are exposed to the full fury of biting winds and the existing bracken and grassy banks give no hint of the formidable ramparts that once defended them (Childe & Simpson, 1961).

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Castle Howe towards the Langdale Pikes

Castle Howe hill fort is located on an area of high ground in the Little Langdale Valley with a rocky knoll forming the highest point of the site. Access to the summit is via the western face and at the base of the knoll on this side are a series of rock cut ditches. On the north and south sides of the knoll are rectangular levelled areas which have been interpreted as artificial hut platforms. A hut circle is thought to have occupied a levelled area at the northern end of the knoll and there are several ditches surrounding the site. Castle Howe is at the eastern end of Wrynose Pass and overlooks the Roman road from Ambleside to Ravenglass. The hill fort at Castle Howe and its close proximity to a medieval moot at Fell Foot suggests that there has been a long tradition of association for the local community in this area.

Castle Howe Hill Fort is a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

No mountain profile in Lakeland arrests and excites the attention more than that of the Langdale Pike” (Wainwright, 1958)

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Brougham Hall

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Just a mile south of Penrith is the estate of Brougham Hall. Originally a medieval manor house, the site has been fortified since 1307 and the last battle on English soil was fought in the meadows below Brougham on 18th December 1745 – the climax of the ’45 Rebellion (Jenkins, 2003). The ruin of Brougham Hall conceals a long history. The name Brougham derives from Brocavum, celtic for home of the badgers, and was adopted by the Romans for their fort located one roman mile north east of the Hall. Brocavum Fort commanded the bridge over the River Eamont and controlled the junction of the principle roman road from York to Carlisle with the secondary roman road to Ambleside and Hardnott. Until 1237 Scotland started at Brougham and the St Andrews Cross still flies from local churches. King Alexander, Prince Charles Stuart of Scotland, King Henry II, King Richard I, King Henry III, King Richard III, King James I and King Charles I of England have all had an influence on this area. With history that can be traced back to the Late Neolithic Period, Brougham Hall has been host to many great characters. From Hadrian and his northern defences to Winston Churchill, accompanied by Eisenhower, who came to inspect his top secret C.D.I tanks. These vehicles were used in the first Rhine crossing at Remagen on 7th March 1945. Initially owned by the de Burgham family, ownership of the house was divided into three parts during the 13th century and remained this way until 1676. On the death of Lady Anne Clifford, her share was sold to James Bird, her trusted agent, which gave him full ownership of Brougham. James was responsible for extensive building work and the expansion for the Hall. Part of the estate was already owned by the Broughams prior to James Bird and it wasn’t until John Brougham of Scales bought Brougham Hall in 1726 that the Hall was returned to Brougham ownership. The Lord Chancellor of England, Lord Brougham and Vaux, also lived at Brougham Hall and after successfully defending Queen Caroline against King George IV in 1820, he went on to design the famous Brougham Carriage.

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Brougham Hall received license to crenelate in 1307 and the oldest surviving building above ground level at the Hall is the Tudor building in the courtyard. Dating to around 1480, the door, lower windows and upper west window are all original with two upper windows later installed, as is the machicolation over the door. The date of the building falls at about the most turbulent time in British history when no fewer than four monarchs came and went within a three year period. Richard III was well known in the Penrith area as ‘Lord of the North’ and his reign, between 1483-1485, was also short-lived. The fine studded panelled entrance gates (above) are made of Oak and date to the Tudor period. Still in use every day, the gates have been repaired in finest quality English Oak by a master craftsman, in memory of Brougham’s Clerk of Works, Don Mawdsley, who sadly passed away in 2003. The gateway doors are in a round chamfered arch under a machiolated parapet and originally there was an inner lock which was dated and inscribed AP 1680 (Anne Countess of Pembroke). The nails, bolts and hinges attached to the door also date from the Tudor period. History was made at 11am on 15th October 1905 when King Edward VII set off through this early 17th century gate to Raby Castle, over Stainmore, in the first motorcade in the north of England driven by a British monarch. Setting off along a 54 mile stretch of road (which had been hand-swept to ensure that the king did not get a puncture!), there was a policeman at every intersection pointing in the direction that the king should go. A 40hp plum coloured Mercedes was taken to Brougham Hall from Balmoral specially for the journey and various other motorcars joined in this historic event.

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The First Lord Brougham acquired the Hall in 1810 and under the stewardship of his younger brother William, the house was restored and improved. As Brougham Hall is en route to Balmoral Castle in Scotland, it was host to royalty on several occasions and became known as The Windsor of the North. The house remained in the Brougham family for four generations until the 4th Lord Brougham, Victor Henry Peter, accrued numerous debts and was forced to sell the estate in 1934. Purchased by his neighbour, Major Carleton Cowper, Brougham Hall was stripped and partly demolished. The site retains the fortified walls of the original enclosure and the ruins of the Hall, billiard room, coach archway and the cellars beneath. The remaining buildings are constructed from mixed sandstone rubble with ashlar dressings and the hall range has only the cellars and a few courses of stonework that still survive. The last substantial structure to be built at Brougham was the tower, Lord Chancellor’s Den (below), built by Richard Charles Hussey, Vice President of the RIBA, in 1864. The tower sits on huge foundations of a much earlier tower and incorporates an early example of a Bitumastic damp-proof course. On the ground floor there was a full sized billiard room and in the office above, Henry Peter, Lord Chancellor of England, thought out some of his famous contributions to British history – the Great Reform Bill of 1832, the establishment of the Charity Commission, the reform of the Privy Council, the establishment of the Old Bailey, the establishment (with Bentham and the Prince Consort) of London University and many other far reaching pieces of socialistic legislation. Phase I of the restoration of this tower was completed in 2012 and involved the de-vegetating, stabilising and reinforcing the upper-most part of the ground floor of what will eventually be a three floor tower. The ultimate aim is to house an extensive collection of site specific Regency State papers (an archive containing many of Lord Brougham’s more important documents, which are of national and international importance) and become a public exhibition and scholarship centre. Phase II will involve the reconstruction of the first and second floors and Phase III will involve the archiving and conservation of the aforementioned documents.

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Winston Churchill commandeered Brougham Hall, Lowther Castle and Greystoke Castle in 1942 for the development of an extraordinary weapon. The Canal Defence Light was a top secret weapon devised between the two great wars and a development and testing site was set up in and around Brougham Hall. The tank was equipped with a 13 million candlepower white arc light which had a strobe operating at a frequency that had the effect of temporarily blinding the enemy. These tanks were without any other offensive weaponry and the intention was to move forward in a V formation of 150 tanks which comprised three squadrons of 50 tanks. On 5th May 1942 Winston Churchill drove through the 17th century gateway arch to inspect the Canal Defence Light Tanks and in December of the same year, he returned to watch the trials of this secret weapon. Although the tanks were never used as intended, they were used to illuminate the Rhine for the Remagen crossing on 5th March 1945 and for operations in Mesopotamia and north Eastern India. A plaque under the staircase in the courtyard has been erected, unveiled by Brigadier Ewan Morrison on 16th July 1992, dedicated to the memory of the officers and men who served at Brougham Hall between July 1942 and June 1944. These men were drawn from the 1st and 35th Tank Brigades of the 79th Armoured Division and were supported by the R.E.M.E. who left in 1945. After the war, the army camp at Brougham was used as a displaced persons camp until the early 1950’s and thereafter, it was used by the Ministry of Supply as a petrol dump.

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Over the next couple of decades Brougham Hall became a neglected ruin despite being purchased by two companies who had intended to make commercial gain from the land. Christopher Terry had fallen in love with the dilapidated Hall during the 1960’s and after hearing of plans to build on the land, he acquired Brougham in 1985. The Brougham Hall Charitable Trust was founded in 1986 and for one peppercorn, Christopher Terry transferred the Hall to the Trust on 8th October of the same year. Committed to conservation, Christopher has intended to restore Brougham as it was externally and having been rescued from dereliction, restoration work also commenced in 1986. Now home to an array of arts and crafts workshops and businesses, the Hall has a restored Tudor Block, Brewery and Stable Block. Priority is given to the parts of the building that are in most urgent need of attention and original building materials are being re-used wherever possible. Brougham Hall has its own skilled craftsmen and thankfully, there are sufficient drawings, photographs and paintings to be certain of the external appearance of the building.

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While the tracery of the ornate windows looks delicate, it actually weighs well over a ton. One of the windows in the Lord Chancellor’s Den was repaired by master craftsmen in May 2005 and it took three men to lift the larger pieces of stone. The sculpture of Christ (below) is the work of Josefina de Vasconcellos who continued to visit Brougham long after her 100th birthday. Helen Beatrix Potter was also a frequent visitor to Brougham Hall as her brother in law, the Reverend Arthur John Heelis, was the Rector of Brougham from 1900-1922. The Rev Heelis had a Phoenix three-wheeled car, which is still in existence and this was the sixth car to be registered in Westmorland. Beatrix Potter complained often about having to push this car to a start every time she came to Brougham! On one of her visits, she gave a copy of ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’ to Eileen Brougham for her birthday and signed the flyleaf: “to Princess Eileen, on Peace Day, Brougham, August 23rd 1919”. Peace Day was chosen to celebrate the official end of the War. Beatrix Potter’s husband, William Heelis, was a solicitor and he chaired a Coroner’s inquest after James Maughan from Byker in Northumberland was killed by falling masonry in the Lord Chancellor’s Den. Maughan was 22 years old and his demise was pronounced “accidental death” in the days before Health & Safety. The co founder of the National Trust Canon Rawnsley was also a frequent visitor to Brougham Hall.

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In November 2010, Brougham obtained full planning consent and listed building consent to proceed with one of the very few specially built political archive centres in the country. This consent was expanded in October 2013 to include the greater part of the remainder of the Hall. Of British Library calibre, the best of Brougham’s papers, of which many are hand illuminated on vellum, are to be mounted in a rotating exhibition in the Lord Chancellor’s actual office at Brougham. The display will be on two levels – a public exhibition and a separate static one for students of Politics and Economics and scholars. One of the buildings in the courtyard is devoted to the preservation of parts of the history and heritage of Brougham Hall and the encouragement of vernacular skills. NADFAS are currently engaged on a three year programme to clean and restore a 1675 Flemish Oak screen which once adorned the Brougham Armour Hall until the sale of the 1930’s. It was then removed to a church in Ayrshire, the roof of which collapsed onto the screen causing considerable damage which is now being rectified. Other projects involve workshops and the restoration of a Brougham Carriage, made in Paris in 1894, the restoration of two mid 18th century sphinx and the restoration of a stained glass window for the Lord Chancellor’s Den.

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From 1837 Brougham Hall has had a fascinating and varied vehicular history. Designed by the first Lord Brougham, the Brougham Carriage was the veritable Volkswagen of horse drawn vehicles. In 1837 Henry Peter Brougham, 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux, Whig Politician, and Lord Chancellor to William IV, perceived a need which would make his mark on the carriage world forever. With coachmen and grooms waiting into the small hours for debates to finish in the Palace of Westminster, his usual form of transport was cumbersome and labour intensive. Brougham thought there was a need for “a refined and glorified street cab that would make a convenient carriage for a gentleman, and especially for a man of such independence of ideas as one who carried his own carpet bag on occasions when time was important and his own servants otherwise employed!” (Furnival, 1999). This carriage was the first to have elliptical springs and his revolutionary design included the necessity of being light and compact and needing only one horse and coachman. Lord Brougham’s coach builders, Messrs Sharp and Bland of South Audley Street, advised him that his designs would never find popular appeal. To their eternal discredit, they completely failed to recognise the potential of Lord Brougham’s design. Lord Brougham duly took his design round the corner to the Mount Street premises of a neighbouring firm, Robinson and Cook (later to become Cook and Holdway of Halkin Place, London), and on 15th May 1838 the first Brougham Carriage rolled off the production line. Thousands of this carriage were eventually produced in factories all around the world. The original 1838 Brougham Carriage, which was used by Lord Brougham, Gladstone and Disraeli, was restored in 1977 by the company of Coachmakers and Coach Harness Markers to commemorate HM Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee. It was exhibited that year at Ascot and the Guildhall and then presented to the Science Museum in South Kensington.

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1838 Brougham Carriage (Ragley Hall Collection)

 In 1995 the fourth Lord Brougham purchased two eight litre Bentleys, of which only 100 of these vehicles were ever made, and both cars are still in existence. Wolfie Benarto, the Chairman and owner of Bentley Motors, was a regular visitor to house parties at Brougham Hall. In 1931 Rolls Royce bought Bentley Motors and on 16th May 2004, Brougham Hall played host to the Rolls Royce & Bentley Enthusiasts Club who were celebrating the centenary of Mr Royce meeting Mr Rolls. Cumbria Classic Cars makes an annual visit to Brougham Hall with numerous other arts festivals and events held throughout the year.

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Courtyard Door Knocker Brougham Hall

There are only four known examples of the 12th century design of the door knocker (above) in existence – two are in Durham and two from Brougham. Both of the Durham rings were bronze and the sanctuary ring on the north door of Durham Cathedral (below) is considered to be “one of the most striking achievements of Romanesque bronze casting” (Archaeologia, Vol 107 1982). During the medieval period, Durham Cathedral offered St Cuthbert’s protection to fugitives who had committed a great offence. Those claiming sanctuary held onto the ring of the Sanctuary Knocker, which dates to 1172, until a monk admitted them into the Cathedral. Sanctuary seekers were given a black robe to wear and offered 37 days of sanctuary in the Cathedral, after which they either chose to stand trial or were taken to the coast and sent into exile. The right of sanctuary was abolished in 1623. Concern was expressed for the safety of the Sanctuary Knocker at Durham Cathedral in 1977 and eventually the decision was taken to remove it and replace it with a copy. There was no evidence to suggest that the ring had been removed previously and for the first time, it was possible to thoroughly examine the ring in laboratory conditions. The Victoria and Albert Museum carried out metallurgical tests and the British Museum made a cast (Archaeologia, Vol 107 1982). The original Sanctuary Knocker is displayed in the Durham Cathedral Treasury with the copy now hanging on the north door. The Brougham ring was made of iron and similar to the one at Durham Cathedral, it faced due north, on the courtyard gate. The Brougham ring was stolen and in an attempt to replace it, the Brougham Hall Charitable Trust asked the Bishop of Durham for consent to use the mould cast by the British Museum. Although the Bishop was amenable, the Dean and Chapter were not so the long task of drawing another from the monster’s head began. Carved in wood, a sand mould, in seven pieces, was taken from the wooden head and finally cast in bronze by Collier’s Foundry in Sussex in 1993. This copy now graces the courtyard door at Brougham Hall.

Brougham Hall is Grade II* Listed.

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Sanctuary Knocker Durham Cathedral

Great Langdale: The Langdale Boulders

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When Europe was first coloniszed by man the area of Cumberland and Westmorland was, as was the rest of northern Britain, covered by ice during the glacial periods. The earliest settlers made their appearance at the end of the last glaciation which included small bands of hunters following herds of game and constructing temporary encampments on the coast, and on the shores of lakes and rivers. Unassociated with any permanent structure, characteristic microlithic flint equipment has been found at several sites in Cumberland – Drigg and Eskmeals are two examples. These Mesolithic settlements were followed by the first farming communities and a considerable increase in the population. One of the most important temporary encampment and flint knapping sites is located at Ehenside Tarn which was revealed in the 19th century when the tarn was drained. A series of hearths, a dug out canoe, fish-spears and throwing sticks made of wood were all preserved in the waterlogged conditions. The axe factories of Great Langdale provided extremely good examples of axes of igneous rock and the slopes of Great Gable, Scafell Pike, Pike of Stickle and Harrison Stickle are littered with flakes of these axes. The axes from Langdale were traded all over England and Scotland with the most notable concentrations being discovered in Wessex and the Upper Thames region (Pevsner, 1967).

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Thousands of enigmatic symbols can be found carved onto rocky outcrops and boulders across northern England and range from simple circular hollows, known as cups, to more complex combinations of cups, rings, grooves, spirals, lozenges and chevrons. Created by Neolithic and Bronze Age people who lived in these lands, some of these wonderful abstract designs occupy incredible locations in the landscape and can be found on prehistoric stone monuments or in burial mounds. One of the most intriguing elements of the archaeological landscape, their original purpose remains unknown. In every continent the oldest rock art so far discovered are cupules and linear grooves. Cupules can be found in very early and archaic traditions and they are numerically the most common forms of surviving rock art (Bednarik, 2007). It is unlikely that all cupules were made for similar purposes and it is thought possible that some of those found on horizontal surfaces were used for some utilitarian process. Cupules usually form groups, sometimes in the hundreds or thousands, on just a single panel and in some traditions they tend to be arranged systematically, while in others they were made randomly.

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Prehistoric carvings which have been cut into the surface of a rock is the primary definition of the term ‘rock art’. The majority of art from the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods in Britain and Ireland is unique in that it is entirely abstract and unlike that found elsewhere in Europe. In England, the majority of prehistoric rock art is found on outcrops and earth fast boulders and is described as ‘landscape’ or ‘open-air’ rock art. Associated with monumental structures, ‘megalithic art’ ranges from Neolithic stone circles to Bronze Age burial cists while other rock art consists of smaller stones which may have no prehistoric context and which have sometimes been re-used in modern structures. This particular rock art is referred to as ‘portable’ or ‘mobiliary’ art (Sharpe, Barnett & Rushton, 2008). Carved stones are usually found in clusters and most British rock art occurs in the north, across an area between West Yorkshire and the Caledonian Canal in Scotland. The majority of rock art in England is found on sedimentary rocks, such as the Millstone Grits of Yorkshire and the Fell Sandstone of Northumberland, and the distribution is thought likely to be related to the underlying geology. In western Britain, like Cumbria, carvings are also found on igneous and metamorphic rocks such as granites and schists. The single cup mark is a roughly circular hollow between 3cm and 10cm in diameter and approximately 2-3cm deep. Also common in Britain are rings and grooves which can occur individually or can be combined to form more complex motifs. The two broad traditions of rock art that have been identified in Britain are the ‘passage tomb’ art, associated with chambered tombs, and the most prevalent ‘cup and ring’ art. Created by striking the rock surface using a stone tool, some carvings have peck marks remaining visible on panels that have been protected from the elements. Although several small fragments of red ochre have been found during excavations at the Hunterheugh rock art site in Northumberland, there is no evidence that motifs were coloured (Sharpe, Barnett & Rushton, 2008). In the passage of time the meaning of rock art has become lost with no historical record of it until the late 17th century when reference is made to marks found on stones from the Newgrange passage tomb in Ireland. The local antiquarian George Tate was the first to report the ‘cup and ring’ rock art at Old Bewick Hill in Northumberland during the 1820’s. Interpreting prehistoric rock art will always present challenges given that the societies which created them used very different systems of communication and symbolism to that of our own. The symbols and their various combinations undoubtedly had very definite meanings for the people that created them as the restricted and repeated repertoire of symbols across the landscape implies a shared vocabulary. Regional variations in motifs used and where rock art was placed in the landscape also adds to the complexity of deciphering exact meanings. Factors such as geology, survival and the incomplete nature of rock art present further difficulties however, the fact that the practice of carving rocks continued for such a lengthy period suggests that the symbols had enduring significance and their power and meaning evolved for the people who lived amongst them.

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As researchers have extended the study of rock art to include the surrounding topography, the soil beneath and the wider archaeological landscape, numerous theories have since been put forward to account for the carvings. Often found on, or close to, striking natural features such as outcrops, unusual boulder formations, plunging waterfalls, caves, rivers and cliffs, it is thought that such dramatic locations would have evoked emotional and imaginative responses and as such, possibly formed part of the mythical landscape of the past. Such connections to specific places can be created through shared social events or natural catastrophes so rock art may have been used to permanently record an attachment to special places. Some rock art points to a connection with movement across the land given the deliberate positioning of carvings on relatively high ground, often with extensive views, and possibly along route ways. Associations with specific routes are problematic since few actual prehistoric tracks have been identified yet decorated stones are often found at the entrances to possible routes inland, close to mountain passes, along the edges of valleys and overlooking natural harbours. Other rock art can often be found in locations that may suggest a strong spiritual element to the role of the carvings. Considered the domain of supernatural beings or ancestors, ‘liminal’ locations (where dark meets light, where mountains touch the sky or the sea reaches the shore) were significant to hunter gatherer communities. The occurrence of carvings in such places suggests a religious significance to the motifs and possibly used to mark the focus of links between past and present, the living and the dead or between real and spiritual worlds. The spiritual connection to place ideology is thought likely to be the most credible association between the carved boulders, known as the Langdale Boulders, and the nearby Langdale Pikes (Sharpe, 2016).

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The Langdale Boulders are two prehistoric rock art sites which consist of two large boulders of Andesitic tuff a few metres apart. In their current position when carved upon, the rocks contain multiple concentric circles, a linear feature in the shape of a chevron, numerous cup marks and many other unusual motifs. Some of the man made cup marks are surrounded by rings with others believed to have been formed by natural erosion (Beckensall, 2002). As rock art is considered to be an important element of the cultural landscape of northern England, strategies for recording, conservation and management have been introduced in order to ensure the survival of such nationally significant sites. Using a combination of visual techniques, site survey and mapping and textual recording, the recording methodology has continued to develop. Using the principle of stereo photography, where two images of the same subject are taken from slightly different positions, photogrammetry is a non intrusive method that provides a means for accurate measurement of archaeological features and artefacts through 3D recording and visualization. Presenting a 3D image as a contour model to accentuate the topography of the rock, geological and man-made features can clearly be exposed. Precluding a single view-point perspective, the ability to view the object in different ways and by providing a more accurate model of an artefact or monument than conventional 2D recording techniques, the benefits of such technology enhance the potential for accurate recording and monitoring. Together with more established techniques such as excavation and surveying, photogrammetry and laser scanning technologies are revealing new information on rock art. Although carved in stone, the rock art which survives today is extremely vulnerable. The creation of an accurate record of all rock art, the England’s Rock Art (ERA), has been fundamental to research, protection and management of this fading link with our prehistoric past. As new initiatives and projects got underway in Cumbria earlier this year, it is hoped that the research will further our understanding of this fascinating landscape and ultimately, allow the development of appropriate management strategies to ensure that the most vulnerable rock art panels are protected and preserved. 

The Langdale Boulders are a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

Bassenthwaite: Mirehouse

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Surrounded by the breath taking scenery of Skiddaw, Ullock Pike, Grisedale Pike and Lake Bassenthwaite, Mirehouse occupies a perfect spot on the outskirts of Keswick. Planted in 1786, great Scots pine – the only species of native forest conifer in Britain – line the walk towards the house. The long walk along the drive takes you past the Bee Garden and Poetry Walk with stunning views of Ullock Pike and Dodd Fell. Although records indicate that there was people living at Mirehouse during the 16th century, the present house was built in 1666 by the 8th Earl of Derby. The only time Mirehouse has been sold was with the sale by the Earl to his agent Roger Gregg in 1688. The Gregg family and the Story family owned the house until Thomas Story left it to John Spedding of Armathwaite Hall in 1802.

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With more emphasis on convenience than grandeur, the house has been enlarged over time. The wings were added in 1790 for Thomas Story and the rear extensions were constructed in 1830 by the London architect Joseph Cantwell for John Spedding. In 1832 the south side of the house was demolished and new higher rooms were built. Further rooms were added in 1851 and a servants’ wing and chapel were completed in the 1880’s. The cross on the south side of the house (below) marks where the half timbered chapel once stood. Riddled with dry rot, it was demolished in the 1960’s. The two storey late Georgian house features seven bays between two canted bay windows with a porch of four Tuscan columns (above) and the building has painted roughcast walls. The lawns were terraced in the 1850’s and the Victorian colonnade (below) is the most formal aspect of the garden. The colonnade houses a display of the winning poems in the annual Mirehouse Poetry competition.

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The interior of the house is essentially a tribute to the Spedding Brothers, James and Tom, and their friends among the Romantics of the early 19th century. Although in many ways Mirehouse is a typical English Manor House, its charm lies in the poetic inspiration of its literary connections and its landscape. The front rooms are of a “cultured gentleman” (Jenkins, 2003) and contained within which is a collection of letters and works of Francis Bacon. Many first editions of Bacon’s work are displayed as well as Spedding’s collection of Bacon’s papers. James and his brothers were educated at Bury St Edmunds and became friends with Edward Fitzgerald (who gained fame with his translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam), Alfred Tennyson and Arthur Hallam. Following the death of Edward, younger brother of James, in 1832, Tennyson wrote a poem entitled ‘To JS’ – the first of his great elegies. The quiet composure of James is depicted in the opening lines of the tribute:

The wind, that beats the mountain, blows

More softly round the open wold,

And gently comes the world to those

That are cast in gentle mould.

James reviewed the 1842 Poems in the Edinburgh Review and being close friends with Tennyson, regularly discussed his draft poems. The numerous paintings, letters and drawings, as well as early photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron, tell the story of the friendship between James and the Tennysons, Fitzgerald, Hallam, Thackeray and other literary figures.

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The library contains letters and manuscripts relating the story of Thomas Carlyle and some of his struggles with some of his works. Thomas was a close friend of James and a regular visitor to Mirehouse. Describing his friend as “Dear hospitable Spedding”, Thomas called on James on his way to his Scottish home at Ecclefechan in Dumfriesshire. While working on his Frederick the Great in 1851, Thomas remarked “I am deep in extremely dull German books about the history of Frederick.” Following the publishing of Volume One in 1857, Thomas wrote “If I live to get out of this Prussian Scrape (by far the worst I ever got into) it is among my dreams to come to Mirehouse.” Taken from The Literary Associations of the English Lakes: “There are those who would fain have that library filled again with the voices of old time. Tennysons’s deep-chested tones, FitzGerald’s laugh, Monckton-Milne’s wit, Carlyle’s strong Northern brogue, James Spedding’s dignified speech, and Tom Spedding’s humour.” Mirehouse is set in a wonderfully inspiring spot in Cumbria and exploring the stunning landscape surrounding the house, you truly get a sense of the poetic voices of the past. Canon Rawnsley had a favourite time to visit Mirehouse:

“Mirehouse in April is at its best. The great grove of Scots fir seems bluer in head and ruddier in stem against the evening light… Lambs cry from the home meadow, and the ravens, as they sail over to Skiddaw Forest, almost have a kind of geniality in their voice… The long lighted evenings with their saffron glory over Wythop prolong the spring-like day, and keep the thrushes singing until star-time.”

Mirehouse is Grade II* Listed.

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Alston Railway Station

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Britain retains a fascinating collection of small railway stations despite the steady stream of station closures over the years. Station building stretched over a 150 year period with the vast majority constructed during the 19th century. The result of numerous independent companies, these stations reflect the introduction of new building materials, remarkable changes in architectural fashions and the taste of the architects employed. Experimental and simple, the first country station buildings were small and with a need for resident station staff, a station house became a common feature. The earliest stations were not provided with platforms but were added later and the number of tracks through the station dictated the number of platform faces required (Binney & Pearce, 1979). While the most flamboyant architecture was the reserve of major town stations, a number of small stations are of the cottage orne style. Owing to their aesthetic qualities, sound structure and usefulness as houses, many of the fine Tudor station buildings have survived. Definite styles of architecture were favoured by each rail company and the great variety of buildings in a region is the result of numerous small companies building short lines in the early days of the railway.

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Immediately striking is the relationship of stations to their communities. Appearing to be in the middle of no-where, rural stations such as Alston served sizeable towns and catchment areas. The first part of the Haltwhistle to Shafthill line, later known as Coanwood, was opened in 1851. The southern section of 9 miles from Alston to Lambley Colliery was brought into use on 5th January 1852 for goods and mineral traffic. The whole branch was opened to all traffic on 17th November 1852 following the completion of the Lambley viaduct. The initial service consisted of two trains per day in each direction and by the turn of the 20th century, four trains per day were leaving Alston. Following the amalgamation of the four largest railway companies – Great Western Railway, London and North Eastern Railway, the London, Midland and Scottish Railway and the Southern Railway – British Railways (British Rail) was formed in 1948. British Railways inherited the Alston branch line, along which the South Tynedale Railway now runs, yet made little difference to rural branch lines other than the liveries of locomotives and rolling stock. Following the introduction of a diesel worked passenger timetable in November 1959, the last scheduled steam hauled passenger train pulled into Alston station (carrying ‘Royal Train’ headlights) on the evening of Saturday 27th September 1959 (South Tynedale Railway).

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The station master’s house (above) was built in 1852 and is believed to be the design of architect Benjamin Green who also designed a series of stations between Newcastle and Berwick. The Newcastle and Berwick Railway built a splendid collection of Tudor stations which are all stone built with tall chimneys and ball finials on their gables. The station and station master’s house are constructed of coursed squared rubble with string course and Welsh slate roofs. Built in a Tudor style, the symmetrical two storey building features gabled ends, corniced stone chimneys and mullioned windows. The use of the Tudor style was an important link between stations and domestic house building. The picturesque landscapes captured in the writings of the theorists of the 19th century was echoed in the choice of Tudor, or simplified Italianate, styled stations designed as elements in a landscape.

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The South Tynedale Railway Preservation Society was formed on 3rd April 1973 following formal consent to the closure of the Alston branch in January of the same year. Although the intention was to purchase the line intact from British Rail, the last standard gauge train ran on 1st May 1976 and by September, the track had been lifted between Haltwhistle and Lambley. At the AGM in July 1977, the decision was taken to build a narrow gauge line and both Cumbria and Northumberland County Council were given first option to purchase the trackbed. Agreements were reached to enable the construction of a two foot gauge line northwards from Alston and Cumbria Council completed the purchase of all the British Railways land within the county in February 1979. Following a grant from the English Tourist Board in October 1980, for the cost of the first section of the line, the South Tynedale Railway Preservation Society was able to start laying permanent tracks.

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Trackwork in the station area was completed in 1981 and following further track laying, the new railway’s initial destination of Gilderdale was completed. Cumbria County Council redeveloped the Alston site by converting the engine shed area into a car park and the goods yard was converted for industrial purposes. Passenger services once again started from Alston on 30th July 1983. The station is now used as a tourist information centre and the trains from Alston are hauled by Phoenix, a 4 wheeled Hibberd 40hp diesel locomotive. The line was extended in 1986 to Gilderdale Halt and a further section to Kirkhaugh Halt opened in 1999 (South Tynedale Railway).

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There are further plans from the South Tynedale Railway Preservation Society to continue extending the line from Alston, the highest narrow gauge railway in England. On the opposite side of the station is the Hub Museum. Housed in the former railway goods shed, the museum contains a number of local transport and household exhibits together with historic photographs and memorabilia.

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The station master’s house is Grade II Listed.

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Bassenthwaite: Mirehouse Poetry Walk

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Poetry Walk at Mirehouse comprises three sections – the lower garden, the rose garden and the colonnade. In the first section, the Morte d’Arthur extracts celebrate Tennyson’s stay at Mirehouse in 1835. William Wordsworth, the schoolfriend of John and Anthony Spedding, is honoured with his sonnet To Raisley Calvert and Inscriptions for a Seat. These are associated with parts of the Mirehouse estate now given to the Calvert Trust. The English poet Hartley Coleridge was a close friend of the Spedding family and the manuscripts of both The Dahlia and On Miss Margaret Spedding’s First Birthday are at Mirehouse.

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Taken from Inscription for a Seat by the pathway side ascending to Windy Brow by William Wordsworth:

“Ye, who with buoyant spirits blessed,

And rich in vigour want not rest,

Look on this slighted seat – repose

From thoughtless joy and sigh for those

Who, bowed with age or sickness, greet

With thankfulness this timely seat…”

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A surprising find along Poetry Walk is the survival of a rare snuff garden (below). Asarabacca (Asarum Europeum) was often grown in the 18th and 19th centuries in country house gardens for the purpose of making snuff from its roots and leaves. Considered to have a medicinal value as a sternutatory – to cause a sneeze to clear the head, it could also be taken internally. According to Thornton’s Herbal, the result is that  ‘it evacuates powerfully both upwards and downwards’! During the 19th century snuff taking declined and caused the plant to be grown much less frequently with few snuff gardens still surviving. The plant has glossy-green, kidney shaped leaves with the flower being bell shaped and purple.

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Following his visit to Mirehouse in 1850, Thomas Carlyle wrote: ‘Mirehouse was beautiful and so were the ways of it… not to speak of Skiddaw and the finest mountains of the earth.’ With breath-taking views surrounding Mirehouse, it’s easy to see why it is so highly regarded.

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Taken from Mirehouse by David Wright:

“The mountain’s rooted in a lake.

Young and hypochondriac

Tennyson sent wheeling over

Its black-velvet, moonstruck water

An Excalibur, as he

Recapitulated Malory

In blank plangent verse

While he stayed at Mirehouse”

Bassenthwaite: Mirehouse Bee Garden

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Overlooking Lake Bassenthwaite and surrounded by Skiddaw and Grisedale Pike, Mirehouse stands in the most idyllic of spots in Cumbria. With the ghosts of Tennyson, Wordsworth and Carlyle occupying every inch of the house and grounds, Mirehouse is appropriately described as “more than the sum of its parts, Mirehouse is the Lake District with hand on heart” (Jenkins, 2003).

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The Bee Garden is situated approximately fifty yards along the drive and emerges from the cover of the woodland into a spacious and sheltered walled garden. Created in around 1780, extensive restoration was carried out in the mid 1990’s. The plants that have been chosen provide nectar and pollen for the honey bees who in turn pollinate the flowers. In front of the hives is an inscription from Virgil’s Fourth Georgic which translates as “The first thing is to find a suitable site for your bees.”

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Propolis is the name given to a variety of resinous substances that bees gather and use to fill any cracks or holes in their hive. They smear it on the walls and combs and use it to completely coat any foreign bodies that are too big for them to eject from the hive, such as moths, small rodents or lizards. Most propolis is collected in the autumn during the hottest part of the day. Some races of bee build fortifications of propolis at the entrance, making defence easy, and probably helping to control temperature inside the hive. This is likely to be the origin of the word propolis – literally in front of the city.

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Knights of the Round Table

The Garden features a fernery and stone circle representing the Knights of the Round Table (above) as well as a herb garden, Cumbrian fruit orchard and apiary.

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Royal Jelly is a whitish opaque substance which nurse bees feed to all young larvae. It is found in much larger quantities in queen cells and also makes up a large part of the adult queen’s diet. In order to produce royal jelly, a colony is encouraged to rear a large number of replacement queens. This is done by inserting a frame with artificial queen cells into a colony whose queen has been removed. Royal jelly is reputed to have a stimulating effect on people suffering from fatigue or depression.

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A plaque (above) notes the purest of human pleasures is that of a planted garden – taken from Francis Bacon’s Of Gardens. “It is the greatest refreshment to the spirits of man; without which, buildings and palaces are but gross handiworks; and a man shall ever see, that when ages grow to civility and elegancy, men come to build stately sooner than to garden finely; as if gardening were the greater perfection. I do hold it, in the royal ordering of gardens, there ought to be gardens, for all the months in the year; in which severally things of beauty may be then in season. The green hath two pleasures: the one, because nothing is more pleasant to the eye than green grass kept finely shorn; the other, because it will give you a fair alley in the midst, by which you may go in front upon a stately hedge, which is to enclose the garden. For the ordering of the ground, within the great hedge, I leave it to variety of device; advising nevertheless, that whatsoever form you cast it into, first, it be not too busy, or full of work. Wherein I, for my part, do not like images cut out in juniper or other garden stuff; they be for children. Little low hedges, round, like welts, with some pretty pyramids, I like well; and in some places, fair columns upon frames of carpenter’s work.”

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