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Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Treasure or Toffee Wrappers?

The local BBC news reported this morning that English Heritage is planning to send a remote camera down the well at Beeston Castle. The well, hewn into the sandstone rock for at least 124 metres, is believed to be the deepest in Britain. There have long been rumours of treasure at Beeston. The story goes that Richard II, when on his way to crush a rebellion in Ireland in 1399, hid gold and jewels at various locations. When Henry Bolingbroke usurped the throne, much treasure was recovered, but many believed some was still hidden. Beeston has been searched before for the missing loot; after all this time, the team are far more likely to find rusting coins and old toffee wrappers.

The best treasure at Beeston, apart from its unique history, is the fantastic view from the castle, and the wealth of wildlife which has made its home there.
Images: The well at Beeston Castle, and the Victorian gatehouse built by Lord Tollemache in 1846, © Sue and Nigel Wilkes.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Busman’s holiday

When the oil runs out, we’ll probably all end up relying on public transport. I remember riding on the trams in Manchester in my youth (back in the early Jurassic era.) It’s good to see trams making a comeback as councils have to rethink their energy strategies.

I wonder what Jane Austen would have made of mass public transport like trains and buses? I think she would have enjoyed the freedom of not having to rely on the male members of her family to ferry her about everywhere. I would hazard a guess, though, that she would have really have enjoyed having her own car so she could go and see her friends whenever she wanted to. I can just picture her driving a battered old Mini along the country lanes around Chawton.

If you’re a vintage bus or classic car fan, do pay a visit to the North West Museum of Road Transport. You can find out more in my latest feature for the Footsteps section in the latest issue of BBC History magazine.

Image of vintage carriage at the museum © Sue and Nigel Wilkes.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Peterloo memorial

As we approach the Manchester Histories Festival , there’s some very interesting news that a work of art is planned to commemorate the Peterloo victims. This year is the 190th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre. On 16 August 1819, the Manchester authorities used cavalry to disperse a peaceful crowd of reformers. In the ensuing mayhem, at least 15 people were killed and hundreds injured. (The exact figure has never been ascertained because many of the injured were too scared they’d be arrested if they sought treatment.) In days gone by, Manchester’s civic representatives have tried to draw a polite veil over this blot on the city’s history; it’s good to hear the Peterloo victims may receive some kind of justice at last.

Image of Peterloo Massacre by Cruikshank from Wikipedia.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Excessively Diverting Blog Award!

I was absolutely thrilled to discover I've been nominated for an Excessively Diverting Blog Award by fellow author Jane Odiwe in collaboration with Jane Austen Today!
Thank you very much indeed Jane! This award was created by the blogging team of Jane Austen Today to acknowledge superior writing on the Internet and promote Jane Austen’s brilliance. Apparently the aim of the award is to promote writing excellence in the spirit of Jane Austen. Of course the immortal Jane is a tough act to follow; we can only aspire to emulate her irony, humour, wit, and terrifyingly accurate observation of people and manners.
Now I'm going to nominate my favourite seven Austen-related blogs:

Jane Austen Sequels : I know it's cheating to include Jane Odiwe's blog, but her beautiful blog never fails to cheer me up - it's always 'light, bright and sparkling.'

Jane Austen Today : I know - cheating again - but this really is one of the best Austen blogs.

Austenprose: Another classic Austen blog following in Jane's footsteps.

The Duchess of Devonshire's Gossip Guide: This blog offers some real insights into the period and has some beautiful illustrations.

Jane Greensmith's blog: Jane is a big Austen and Elizabeth Gaskell fan and loves to share her opinions and thoughts on these great novelists.

Jane Austen in Vermont: Another smashing Austen blog.

And last, but certainly not least, Austenblog; this is the place to go if you want the latest gossip on the world of Jane Austen.

Congratulations recipients. Please claim your award by copying the HTML code of the Excessively Diverting Blog Award badge, posting it on your blog, listing the name of the person who nominated you, and linking to their blog. Then nominate seven (7) other blogs that you feel meet or exceed the standards set forth. Nominees may place the Excessively Diverting badge in their side bar and enjoy the appreciation of their fellow bloggers for recognition of their talent.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Thawing out

It’s cheering to see the snow disappearing at last, even though we have got a rainy day here in Cheshire. We should count our blessings, however; winters were much more severe in the past. Frost fairs were held on the Thames when it froze over, most notably in the winters of 1684 (when a printing press was erected on the ice), 1715-6, 1740, 1788-9, and 1814. There were tents selling food and drink, games of skittles were held, and there were even swings and merry-go-rounds on the ice. A sudden thaw set in during the 1814 frost fair, and some stallholders, keen to enjoy profits while they lasted, stayed on the ice far longer than was safe. Tents and merry-go-rounds fell into the icy water; three men were killed. Frost fairs became a distant memory as winters grew warmer and the currents in the Thames changed over time.

Image: Fair on the Thames, 1716. W. & R. Chambers’s Book of Days, 1864.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Cheshire Salt Newsflash!

Cheshire salt is needed to keep the country moving! This news video shows the huge stockpile of salt at Middlewich which is going to save Britain's roads from the Big Freeze.

True Grit

It was snowing hard when I got up this morning, although it’s beginning to ease off now. Like many other people, I suspect, I find it strange that so many schools have been closed this week – I remember trudging through the snow to get to school when I was a kid.

In earlier times, people just got on with their lives, unless they physically couldn’t get out of their door because the snow was so high. The mail-coaches kept going even if snow was up to their horses’ bellies. There were reports of mail-guards and passengers riding outside the coaches freezing to death in severe weather. One of the bleakest nights on record during Georgian times was that of Friday 8 November 1799. Many mail-coaches got stuck in the snow. The mail guards had to leave their coaches behind and take the postbags on horseback to their destination.

Images: 'Taking up the mails,' and 'In a Snowdrift.' Hugh Thomson, Coaching Days and Coaching Ways, (Macmillan, 1910.)