Thursday, December 12, 2013


About twelve miles south-east of Shrewsbury is the village of Much Wenlock, where there are remains of a magnificent abbey founded by the Black monks, and exhibiting several of the Early English and Gothic styles of architecture, but, like most else in these parts, it has fallen in ruin, and many of the materials have been carried off to build other houses. Portions of the nave, transepts, chapter-house, and abbot's house remain, the latter being restored and making a fine specimen of ecclesiastical domestic architecture built around a court.

An open cloister extends the entire length of the house. There are beautiful intersecting Norman arches in the chapter-house. There are some quaint old houses in the town—timbered structures with bold bow-windows—and not a few of them of great age. Roger de Montgomery is credited with founding Wenlock Abbey at the time of the Norman Conquest.

The site was previously occupied by a nunnery, said to have been the burial-place of St. Milburgh, who was the granddaughter of King Penda of Mercia. This was a famous religious house in its day, and it makes a picturesque ruin, while the beauty of the neighboring scenery shows how careful the recluses and religious men of old were to cast their lots and build their abbeys in pleasant places.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Shrewsbury Castle

Shrewsbury Castle
Shrewsbury Castle
Westward of Stafford is the land of the "proud Salopians," Shropshire, through which flows the Severn, on whose banks stands the ancient town from which the Earls of Shrewsbury take their title. We are told that the Britons founded this town, and that in Edward the Confessor's time it had five churches and two hundred and thirty houses, fifty-one of which were cleared away to make room for the castle erected by Roger de Montgomery, a kinsman of William the Conqueror.

The Norman king created him Earl of Shrewsbury long before the present line of earls began with John Talbot. Wars raged around the castle: it was besieged and battered, for it stood an outpost in the borderland of Wales. It was here that Henry IV. assembled an army to march against Glendower, and in the following year fought the battle of Shrewsbury against Hotspur, then marching to join Glendower. Hot spur's death decided the battle. The Wars of the Roses were fought around the town, and here Henry VII., then the Earl of Richmond, slept when going to Bosworth Field; and in the Civil Wars King Charles had Shrewsbury's support, but Cromwell's forces captured it.

The town is on a fine peninsula almost encircled by the Severn, and the castle stands at the entrance to the peninsula. Only the square keep and part of the inner walls remain of the original castle, but a fine turret has been added by modern hands. In the neighborhood of Shrewsbury are the remains of the Roman city of Uriconium, said to have been destroyed by the Saxons in the sixth century.

Shrewsbury has always been famous for pageants, its annual show being a grand display by the trade societies. It is also famous for its cakes, of which Shenstone says:

"And here each season do those cakes abide,
Whose honored names the inventive city own,
Rendering through Britain's isle Salopia's praises known."

The great Shrewsbury cake is the "simnel," made like a pie, the crust colored with saffron and very thick. It is a confection said to be unsafe when eaten to excess, for an old gentleman, writing from melancholy experience in 1595, records that "sodden bread which bee called simnels bee verie unwholesome." The Shropshire legend about its origin is that a happy couple got into a dispute whether they should have for dinner a boiled pudding or a baked pie. While they disputed they got hungry, and came to a compromise by first boiling and then baking the dish that was prepared. To the grand result of the double process—his name being Simon and her's Nell—the combined name of simnel was given.

And thus from their happily-settled contention has come Shrewsbury's great cake, of which all England acknowledges the merit.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Trentham Hall

Trentham Hall
The rivers which drain the limestone hills of Derbyshire unite to form the Trent, and this stream, after a winding and picturesque course through Midland England towards the eastward, flows into the Humber, and ultimately into the North Sea. Its first course after leaving Derby is through Staffordshire, one of the great manufacturing counties of England, celebrated for its potteries, whose product Josiah Wedgewood so greatly improved.

The county-seat is Stafford, on the Sow River, not far from the Trent Valley, and on a high hill south-west of the town are the remains of the castle of the Barons, of Stafford, originally built a thousand years ago by the Saxons to keep the Danes in check. This castle was destroyed and rebuilt by William the Conqueror; again destroyed and again rebuilt by Ralph de Stafford in Edward III.'s reign. In the Civil Wars this castle was one of the last strongholds of King Charles I., but it was ultimately taken by Cromwell's troops and demolished, excepting the keep; a massive castellated building of modern construction now occupies its place.

The river Trent, in its winding course, forms near Trentham a fine lake, and the beautiful neighborhood has been availed of for the establishment of the splendid residence of the Duke of Sutherland, about a mile west of the village, and known as Trentham Hall. The park is extensive, the gardens are laid out around the lake, and the noble Italian building, which is of recent construction, has a fine campanile tower one hundred feet high, and occupies a superb situation. The old church makes part of Trentham Hall, and contains monuments of the duke's family and ancestors, the Leveson-Gowers, whose extensive estates cover a wide domain in Staffordshire. Trentham, which is in the pottery district and not far from Newcastle-under-Lyme, was originally a monastery, founded by St. Werburgh, niece of Æthelred. She was one of the most famous of the Anglo-Saxon saints, and some venerable yews still mark the spot where her original house stood, it being known as Tricengham. These yews, said to have been planted about that time, form three sides of a square. The religious house, rebuilt in William Rufus's reign, was given, at the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII., to his brother-in-law, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, and it afterwards came into possession of the Levesons.

From the marriage of a daughter of Sir John Leveson with Sir Thomas Gower sprang the family of the present ducal house of Sutherland, the head of it being created Marquis of Stafford in 1786 and Duke of Sutherland in 1833. The present duke is the third who has held the title, his mother having been the daughter of the Earl of Carlisle—the famous Harriet, Duchess of Sutherland. The old Trentham Hall was built in 1633, being rebuilt and enlarged by Sir Charles Barry about fifty years ago.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


Below Haddon Hall the valley of the Wye broadens, with yet richer scenery, as it approaches the confluence of the Wye and Derwent at Rowsley, where the quaint old Peacock Inn, which was the manor-house of Haddon, bears over the door the date 1653, and the crest of the ducal House of Rutland, a peacock with tail displayed. Ascending for a short distance the valley of the Derwent, which washes the bases of the steep limestone hills, we come to Chatsworth. In sharp contrast with the ancient glories of Haddon is this modern ducal palace, for whose magnificence Bess of Hardwicke laid the foundation.

 This "Palace of the Peak" stands in a park covering over two thousand acres; the Derwent flows in front, over which the road to the palace is carried by a fine bridge. From the river a lawn gently slopes upward to the buildings, and the wooded hill which rises sharply behind them is surmounted by a hunting-tower, embosomed in trees. A herd of at least a thousand deer roam at will over the park, and have become very tame. Chatsworth is a brownish-yellow building, square and flat-topped, with a modern and more ornamental wing. Its front extends fully six hundred feet, and in parts it is of that depth.

The estate was bought in the sixteenth century by Sir William Cavendish, who built the original house, a quadrangular building with turrets, which was greatly extended by his wife. It was used as a fortress in the Civil Wars, and was considerably battered. The first Duke of Devonshire about the year 1700 rebuilt the mansion, employing the chief architects, artists, designers, and wood-carvers of his time, among them Sir Christopher Wren. In the grounds, not far from the bridge over the Derwent, is the "Bower of Mary Queen of Scots." There is a small, clear lake almost concealed by foliage, in the centre of which is a tower, and on the top a grass-grown garden, where are also several fine trees. Here, under guard, the captive was permitted to take the air. In those days she looked out upon a broad expanse of woods and moorland: now all around has been converted into gardens and a park.

Entering the house through a magnificent gateway, the visitor is taken into the entrance-hall, where the frescoes represent the life and death of Julius Cæsar; then up the grand staircase of amethyst and variegated alabaster guarded by richly-gilded balustrades. The gorgeously-embellished chapel is wainscoted with cedar, and has a sculptured altar made of Derbyshire marbles. The beautiful drawing-room opens into a series of state-apartments lined with choice woods and hung with Gobelin tapestries representing the cartoons of Raphael. Magnificent carvings and rare paintings adorn the walls, while the richest decorations are everywhere displayed. Over the door of the antechamber is a quill pen so finely carved that it almost reproduces the real feather. In the Scarlet Room are the bed on which George II. died and the chairs and footstools used at the coronation of George III.

On the north side of the house is another stairway of oak, also richly gilded. In the apartments replacing those where Mary Queen of Scots lived are her bed-hangings and tapestries. There is an extensive library with many rare books and manuscripts, and a sculpture-gallery, lined with Devonshire marble, containing many statues and busts, and also two recumbent lions, each nine feet long and four feet high and weighing four tons, and carved out of a solid block of marble. The final enlargement of Chatsworth was completed about forty years ago, when Queen Victoria made a state visit and was given a magnificent reception by the Duke of Devonshire.
The gardens at Chatsworth are as noted as the house, and are to many minds the gem of the estate. They cover about one hundred and twenty-two acres, and are so arranged as to make a beautiful view out of every window of the palace. All things are provided that can add to rural beauty—fountains, cascades, running streams, lakes, rockeries, orange-groves, hothouses, woods, sylvan dells—and no labor or expense is spared to enhance the attractions of trees, flowers, and shrubbery. From a stone temple, which it completely covers, the great cascade flows down among dolphins, sea-lions, and nymphs, until it disappears among the rocks and seeks an underground outlet into the Derwent. Enormous stones weighing several tons are nicely balanced, so as to rock at the touch or swing open for gates. Others overhang the paths as if a gust of wind might blow them down. In honor of the visit of the Czar Nicholas in 1844 the great "Emperor Fountain" was constructed, which throws a column of water to an immense height.

The grounds are filled with trees planted by kings, queens, and great people on their visits to the palace. The finest of all the trees is a noble Spanish chestnut of sixteen feet girth. Weeping willows do not grow at Chatsworth, but they have provided one in the form of a metal tree, contrived so as to discharge a deluge of raindrops from its metallic leaves and boughs when a secret spring is touched. The glory of the Chatsworth gardens, however, is the conservatory, a beautiful structure of glass and iron covering nearly an acre, the arched roof in the centre rising to a height of sixty-seven feet. In this famous hot-house are the rarest palms and tropical plants. It was designed by Joseph Paxton, the duke's head-gardener, and, enlarging the design, Paxton constructed in the same way the London Crystal Palace for the Exhibition of 1851, for which service he was knighted. Besides this rare collection of hot-house plants, the famous Victoria Regia is in a special house at Chatsworth, growing in a tank thirty-four feet in diameter, the water being maintained at the proper temperature and kept constantly in motion as a running stream. The seed for this celebrated plant was brought from Guiana, and it first bloomed here in 1849.

Some fifty persons are employed in the gardens and grounds, besides the servants in the buildings, showing the retinue necessary to maintain this great show-palace, for that is its chief present use, the Duke of Devonshire seldom using it as a residence, as he prefers the less pretentious but more comfortable seat he possesses at Bolton in Yorkshire. North of Chatsworth Park, near Baslow, on top of a hill, is the strange mass of limestone which can be seen from afar, and is known as the Eagle Rock.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Haddon Hall

Haddon Hall
Three miles below Bakewell, near the Wye, is one of the most famous old mansions of England—Haddon Hall. This ancient baronial home, with its series of houses, its courtyards, towers, embattled walls, and gardens, stands on the side of a hill sloping down to the Wye, while the railway has pierced a tunnel through the hill almost underneath the structure.

The buildings surround two courtyards paved with large stones, and cover a space of nearly three hundred feet square. Outside the arched entrance-gate to the first courtyard is a low thatched cottage used as a porter's lodge. Haddon is maintained, not as a residence, but to give as perfect an idea as possible of a baronial hall of the Middle Ages. To get to the entrance the visitor toils up a rather steep hill, and on the way passes two remarkable yew trees, cut to represent the crests of the two families whose union by a romantic marriage is one of the traditions of this famous place. One yew represents the peacock of Manners, the present ducal house of Rutland, and the other the boar's head of Vernon.

Parts of this house, like so many structures in the neighborhood, were built in the time of "Peveril of the Peak," and its great hall was the "Martindale Hall" of Scott's novel, thus coming down to us through eight centuries, and nearly all the buildings are at least four hundred years old.

Entering the gateway, the porter's guard-room is seen on the right hand, with the ancient "peephole" through which he scanned visitors before admitting them. Mounting the steps to the first courtyard, which is on a lower level than the other, the chapel and the hall are seen on either hand, while in front are the steps leading to the state-apartments. The buildings are not lofty, but there are second-floor rooms in almost all parts, which were occupied by the household. 
There is an extensive ball-room, while the Eagle Tower rises at one corner of the court. Many relics of the olden time are preserved in these apartments. The ancient chapel is entered by an arched doorway from the court, and consists of a nave, chancel, and side aisle, with an antique Norman font and a large high-back pew used by the family. After passing the court, the banquet-hall is entered, thirty-five by twenty-five feet, and rising to the full height of the building. In one of the doorways is a bracket to which an iron ring is attached, which was used, as we are told, "to enforce the laws of conviviality." When a guest failed to drink his allowance of wine he was suspended by the wrist to this ring, and the liquor he failed to pour down his throat was poured into his sleeve. A tall screen at the end of the room formed the front of a gallery, where on great occasions minstrels discoursed sweet music, while at the opposite end the lord and his honored guests sat on a raised dais. Here still stands the old table, while behind the dais a flight of stairs leads up to the state-apartments. Stags' heads and antlers of great age are on the walls. 
Another door opens out of the banquet-hall into the dining-room, the end of which is entirely taken up with a fine Gothic window displaying the Vernon arms and quarterings. This room is elaborately wainscoted. The royal arms are inscribed over the fireplace, and below them is the Vernon motto carved in Gothic letters:

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Bolsover Castle

The noted Bolsover Castle, which Bess also built, though her son finished it after her death, stands in a magnificent position on a high plateau not far from Chesterfield, overlooking a wide expanse of Derbyshire.

The present castle replaced an ancient structure that had fallen into ruin, and was supposed to have been built by "Peveril of the Peak;" it was fortified during King John's time, and traces of the fortifications still remain; it was repeatedly besieged and taken by assault. The present building is a square and lofty mansion of castellated appearance, with towers at the corners built of brown stone; in it the Earl of Newcastle, who subsequently inherited it, spent on one occasion $75,000 in entertaining King Charles I., the entire country round being invited to come and attend the king: Ben Jonson performed a play for his amusement. Lord Clarendon speaks of the occasion as "such an excess of feasting as had scarce ever been known in England before."

It now belongs to the Duke of Portland, and has fallen into partial decay, with trees growing in some of the deserted apartments and ivy creeping along the walls. Visitors describe it as a ghostly house, with long vaulted passages, subterranean chambers, dungeon-like holes in the towers, and mysterious spaces beneath the vaults whence come weird noises.

When Mr. Jennings visited Bolsover recently he described it as like a haunted house, and after examining the apartments, in which most things seemed going to decay, he went down stairs, guided by an old woman, to the cellars and passages that are said to be the remains of the original Norman castle. A chamber with a high vaulted roof was used as a kitchen, and an ancient stone passage connected it with a crypt; beneath this, she told him, there was a church, never opened since the days of Peveril. Their voices had a hollow sound, and their footsteps awakened echoes as if from a large empty space beneath: the servants, she said, were afraid to come down where they were, excepting by twos and threes, and she added: "Many people have seen things here besides me: something bad has been done here, sir, and when they open that church below they'll find it out. Just where you stand by that door I have several times seen a lady and gentleman—only for a moment or two, for they come like a flash; when I have been sitting in the kitchen, not thinking of any such thing, they stood there—the gentleman with ruffles on, the lady with a scarf round her waist; I never believed in ghosts, but I have seen them. I am used to it now, and don't mind it, but we do not like the noises, because they disturb us. Not long ago my husband, who comes here at night, and I could not sleep at all, and we thought at last that somebody had got shut up in the castle, for some children had been here that day; so we lit a candle and went all over it, but there was nothing, only the noises following us, and keeping on worse than ever after we left the rooms, though they stopped while we were in them."

The old woman's tale shows the atmosphere there is about this sombre and ghostly castle of Bolsover.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Peele Castle

Peele CastleThe Isle of Man derives its name from the ancient British word mon, which means "isolated." Around this singular place there are many rocky islets, also isolated, and upon one of the most picturesque of these, where art and Nature have vied in adding strength to beauty, is built the castle of Peele, off the western coast, overlooking the distant shores of Ireland. This castle is perched upon a huge rock, rising for a great height out of the sea, and completely inaccessible, except by the approach which has been constructed on the side towards the Isle of Man, where the little town of Peele is located.

After crossing the arm of the sea separating the castle from the town, the visitor, landing at the foot of the rock, ascends about sixty steps, cut out of it, to the first wall, which is massive and high, and built of the old red sandstone in which the island abounds; the gates in this wall are of wood, curiously arched and carved, and four little watch-towers on the wall overlook the sea. Having entered, he mounts by another shorter stairway cut out of the rock to the second wall, built like the other, and both of them full of portholes for cannon. Passing through yet a third wall, there is found a broad plain upon the top of the rock, where stands the castle, surrounded by four churches, three almost entirely ruined; the other church (St. Germain's) is kept in some repair because it has within the bishop's chapel, while beneath is a horrible dungeon where the sea runs in and out through hollows of the rock with a continual roar; a steep and narrow stairway descends to the dungeon and burial-vaults, and within are thirteen pillars supporting the chapel above. Beware, if going down, of failing to count the pillars, for we are told that he who neglects this is sure to do something that will occasion his confinement in this dreadful dungeon.

This famous castle of Peele even in its partly-ruined state has several noble apartments, and here were located some of the most interesting scenes of Scott's novel of Peveril of the Peak. It was in former days a state-prison, and in it were at one time confined Warwick the King-maker, and also Gloucester's haughty wife, Eleanor; her discontented spectre was said to haunt the battlements in former years, and stand motionless beside one of the watch-towers, only disappearing when the cock crew or church-bell tolled: another apparition, a shaggy spaniel known as the Manthe Doog, also haunted the castle, particularly the guard-chamber, where the dog came and lay down at candlelight; the soldiers lost much of their terror by the frequency of the sight, but none of them liked to be left alone with him, though he did not molest them. The dog came out by a passage through the church where the soldiers had to go to deliver the keys to their captain, and for moral support they never went that way alone. One of the soldiers, we are told, on a certain night, "being much disguised in liquor" (for spirits of various kinds appear in the Isle of Man, as most other places), insisted upon going with the keys alone, and could not be dissuaded; he said he was determined to discover whether the apparition was dog or devil, and, snatching the keys, departed: soon there was a great noise, but none ventured to ascertain the cause. When the soldier returned he was speechless and horror-stricken, nor would he ever by word or sign tell what had happened to him, but soon died in agony; then the passage was walled up, and the Manthe Doog was never more seen at Castle Peele.