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  • ERDDIG - AN UNUSUAL VISIT TO A STATELY HOME

    Erddig is an unusual National Trust “stately home” visit because the emphasis is not upon the “stately” but upon the ordinary working life of an estate - with particular emphasis on the role and welfare of the servants. Don’t expect portraits, elaborate furniture, lush drapes – although there are some – this is much more about the people who lived and worked here, masters, mistresses and employees alike. There are few glittering treasures “acquired” from overseas adventures – instead what you see is more homely and understated and the entire estate has the sense of authenticity from the moment you arrive. Erddig Hall was originally constructed in the 1680s and was bought by a wealthy London lawyer, John Meller in 1716. He extended the house and in 1733 passed it on to his nephew, Simon Yorke. This began an unbroken line of ownership which lasted for nearly 250 years. Thus you have continuity of family tradition and custom which is reflected in the atmosphere of the house. The last Yorke died in 1978. The visit begins, appropriately enough, with a servant’s workshop – the carpenter’s realm - where there is a comprehensive array of joiners’ tools. Some belonged to Thomas Rogers who only escaped being press-ganged into the Navy during the Napoleonic Wars because the existing owner, Simon Yorke II, paid his ransom. He retired at the age of 90 in 1871. The outlying workshops house many of the essential items that enabled the estate to function – in the Midden Yard are farm carts, the smithy, the saw mill and a carriage collection. In the Stable Yard the visitor sees stables, the tack room and a fine array of vintage bicycles and cars. Inside the house on the ground floor you get to wander through the laundry, bakehouse, kitchen and scullery and butler’s pantry. Below stairs was the servants’ domain and, for me, the focus of the visit, because of the clear respect and affection that the Yorkes had for their many employees over the years. On the walls of the corridor are poems designed to praise the characters, achievements and loyalty of the servants – blacksmiths, carpenters, coachmen, gardeners, nurses and cook-housekeepers – accompanied in the early days by portraits (itself very unusual) and in latter years by photographs. This tradition began in 1793 and was carried on by successive Yorke owners, and the poetry comes across with humour and warmth. A small example is the tribute to the gardener dated November 1912: When those who view our gardens ask Who undertakes this arduous task Of managing that spacious ground And that which is within it found; To such we joyfully confess In him a treasure we possess, And, tho’ but recent on the scene, He a great power for good has been. Documents and records of gifts by the staff to the Yorkes suggest that the feelings were generally mutual. Erddig must have been a better place to work than many such wealthy estates. The house also has a unique collection of furniture, textiles and wallpapers and a small chapel to seat both owners and servants. However, the heart of the house seems to be in the downstairs areas rather than the more elaborate state rooms. You get the feeling that the estate owners themselves liked to be outdoors, and prized their farmland, outdoor workshops and gardens more highly than their indoor areas. And perhaps that they felt more at home with their household staff, skilled workers and craftsmen, than they did entertaining their equals. The gardens of Erddig and the various walks around the estate are a delight. The 18th century walled garden has been fully restored and extended. There are formal areas including the Victorian Parterre, the extensive lawns, the rose garden, the avenue of pleached lime trees and the trained fruit trees. Further afield you can discover the fish pond, canal and screen and the moss walk. An unusual feature is the “cup and saucer” a cylindrical cascade, a weir, which rapidly drops the water level of the nearby stream through an internal waterfall. There are very attractive strolls through the woods and wild flower areas. Erddig fell into decline in the mid 20th century and the last owner, Philip S Yorke, had no heir and decided to hand over the house and state to the National Trust in 1973 on the condition that nothing was to be removed from the house and that it was to be dedicated “to the enjoyment of all who may come here and see a part of our national heritage preserved for all foreseeable time”. And, happily, this is indeed the experience of a visit to Erddig. Visiting Erdigg By car The address is Wrexham, LL13, 0YT, but it is recommended that you follow the brown signs from the A525 Whitchurch Road or the A483. By bus Route 2 from Oswestry and through Cefn Mawr ro Wrexham, Route 4 from Penycae, Route 5 from Llangollen. Stop at Felin Puleston, Rhostyllen and walk 1 mile through Erdigg Country Park. By train Take a train to Wrexham Central (1.7 mile walk) or Wrexam General (1.9 mile walk). Walk on the footpath on Erddig Road. Opening hours The gardens usually open at 10.00am and the house at 12:30pm. Prices The visit is free to NT members Adult: £9.00 Child: £4.50 There is a café and there are facilities on site.

  • WATCHING THE CEREMONY OF THE KEYS AT THE TOWER OF LONDON

    One of the oldest ceremonies in the world, the military nighttime ceremony is shrouded in tradition and mystery, with tickets to watch it often selling out in minutes of becoming available. It is worth trying though, for the chance to watch this ancient ritual playing out within the impenetrable walls and cobbled streets of the famous Tower of London. A Brief History of the Ceremony of the Keys The locking of the Tower of London began in 1340 when King Edward III arrived at the Tower and was able to just walk in completely unchallenged. He imprisoned the Constable of the Tower for dereliction of duty and insisted that the Tower should be locked every sunset and unlocked every sunrise. By the time the unpopular Mary I was on the throne in 1555 she was worrying about her security and she insisted there should be no less than 21 yeoman, nine to patrol during the day and six at night. She also supplied detailed instructions as to how the keys should be locked away at night: ‘And it is ordered that there shall be a place appointed under Locke and key where in the keys of the gates of the saide Tower shall be laide in the sight of the constable, the porter and two of the Yeoman Warders, or three of them at the least, and by two or three of them to be taken out when the[y] shall be occupied. And the key of that locke or coffer where the keys be, to be kepte by the porter or, in his absence, by the chief yeoman warder.’ The only time the ceremony changed again was in 1826 when the Duke of Wellington fixed the evening ceremony to the exact time of 10pm, as sunset was just too vague and the guards were often being locked out overnight. Watching the Ceremony of the Keys Having tried unsuccessfully for several years to get tickets, I was triumphant to finally get some for an evening in late August when I could also get to the capital. It was with some excitement that we arrived at the main gate to the Tower of London at 9pm, waiting patiently in a line of about 20 people for admittance. On the dot of 9.25pm, a Yeoman Warder came out to speak to us and we all shuffled through the gates, waiting by the Middle Tower until everyone was gathered together. Our Yeoman Warder introduced herself as Emma Rousell, who is only the third female warder in the whole history of the Yeoman Guards. Dressed in the Tudor bonnet and famous red coat, she talked us through the rules of the event, ensuring we all turned off phones and put away cameras, before leading us to Traitors' Gate where she talked us through the ceremony, what it meant and what would happen. She struck the perfect balance between humour and the solemnity of the occasion, adding in a few lighthearted quips amongst all of the information, impressing on us the importance of what was going to happen but still keeping everyone amused and interacting with the few young kids who were there, looking slightly bemused at being part of a crowd of people standing on the cobbles at night in the dim light coming from the lanterns above us. As she talked to us, four guards, The Escort of the Keys, marched up behind her and waited in the archway of the Bloody Tower before us. The guards on duty in the Tower rotate between the Grenadier, Coldstream, Scots, Irish and the Welsh Guards. The Irish Guards were on duty for our visit, looking immaculate in red tunics and tall bearskin hats, three of them carrying machine guns. The fourth guard was empty handed. From the Byward Tower marched the Chief Yeoman Warder carrying a candle lantern in one hand and a bunch of keys, the Queen's Keys *, in the other. Wearing his bright red watchcoat and black bonnet decorated with red, white and blue ribbons to represent the flowers that warders used to wear on their heads to ward off medieval smells, it could have been an image from centuries ago, as he walked up the cobbled street through the pools of soft yellow light from the lanterns glowing on those stone walls, bats flitting overhead. Joining the escort of four guards and handing his lantern over to the empty handed guard, they marched back to lock up the gates of Middle Tower and Byward Tower. On their return to the archway of the Bloody Tower, a sentry who had been guarding an area to the right of us, approached them with his gun aimed at them and shouted: Sentry: "Halt! Who comes there?" Chief Yeoman Warder: "The keys". Sentry: "Whose keys?" Chief Yeoman Warder: "Queen Elizabeth's keys". * Sentry: "Pass Queen Elizabeth's Keys. All's well". The Chief Yeoman Warder and escort then marched through the archway where they joined the Tower Guard, those who are on duty defending the tower, on the steps before us. Emma motioned our group to follow quietly behind her, where we stood silently in the shadow of the White Tower, which was illuminated from below and looking dramatic against the dark night sky. The clock struck 10 and a bugler played the Last Post. The soldiers were then all dismissed, marching off over the top of the steps. Emma then told us we could ask questions and get our cameras out for photos. There were a lot of questions as you would expect and she answered them all with knowledge and humour. It felt like a real privilege to have a female warder as our guide and we asked more about her, learning of her 32 years of service in the RAF and how she felt about living within the walls of the Tower. Overall it was a marvellous experience and one we all enjoyed. To be witness to something so ancient which has been carried out every night for 600 years felt really special and emerging afterwards into London by night really added to the significance of the occasion. * They are now the King's Keys. We watched the ceremony just two weeks before the Queen died. What happens at the Ceremony of the Keys - the Practicalities: Ticket holders are asked to wait at the main entrance to the Tower for 9:25 pm. At the allotted time, a Yeoman will open the gates, provide a brief introduction and check your names off a list. After a quick bag search, you walk through to the Middle Tower. Here, the Yeoman Warder will go through some basics such as the ban on photography, turning all your phones off and staying completely silent throughout the ceremony. You then go through to Traitors' Gate, standing with your backs to it. The Yeoman Warder explains the ceremony with a brief history and what will happen. The ceremony then unfolds in front of you. After the first bit, the Yeoman ushers you through the gate to the Bloody Tower where you watch the second part of the ceremony and listen to the Last Post. The soldiers are then dismissed - once they are gone you are allowed to take photos. The Yeoman Warder then answers any questions you may have and escorts you back out of the Tower, the way you came in. The end time is about 10.15pm. There is no access to anywhere else within the Tower. Facilities: There are no loos, seating, cafés or water taps. You cannot leave halfway through or arrive late. This is a military event, not a tourist attraction. Getting tickets for the Ceremony of the Keys Tickets are released on the website. There is no waiting list and there are strict rules about how many you can buy and the names of the people on the tickets. The HRP ticket booking page has full details >> How much is a ticket for the Ceremony of the Keys? The cost is currently just £5 per person. Is there a dress code for the Ceremony of the Keys? There is no official dress code, but ensure that it is respectful and also that you are comfortable, as you cannot sit down anywhere and you will be doing some walking on the cobbled streets inside the Tower. Make sure your clothing is weather appropriate. What time is the Ceremony of the Keys? Be at the gate for 9.25pm.

  • A VISIT TO HEELIS, HEAD OFFICE OF THE NATIONAL TRUST

    Heelis was built in 2005 as the head office for the UK's largest charity, the National Trust. Located in the midst of all the railway heritage of Swindon in northern Wiltshire, it is thought to be one of the greenest office buildings in the country. Occasionally open to the public for open days and tours, it is a fascinating building to visit and a glimpse of just how environmentally friendly, sustainable and efficient workplaces can be. Heelis was created when the National Trust decided to consolidate their four offices around the country to reduce costs and improve efficiency across the company. The Trust is the largest charity in the UK, founded in 1895 and responsible for the care and upkeep of historic buildings and precious landscapes. It owns over 600,000 acres of land, 780 miles of coast and more than 500 buildings which include stately homes, chapels, pubs, barns, factories and more. With over 10,000 employees and 53,000 volunteers, a lot of work is required to run such a large and diverse company. The building was designed by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, British architects renowned for their sustainable and social design, who say they 'design with empathy for the human condition, with science for sustainable outcomes, and with art for crafting beautiful places.' This is certainly applicable to Heelis, which is truly innovative in all aspects. It was built on the site of an old foundry in the midst of Swindon's railway heritage, home to Great Western Railway and once one of the largest railway engineering complexes in the world. Although many of the original buildings have been repurposed, the railway heritage is still prominent in the area, and Heelis was designed with recognition of its unique location. Heelis gets its name from Beatrix Potter, one of the first people to donate land to the National Trust: Heelis was her married name. It was built with natural resources and all of it can be dismantled and repurposed - even the bricks are in lime mortar so that they can be re-used. It was designed with two foundations, walls which will absorb the heat and 1554 solar panels. The double-glazed windows are thicker than standard ones and they open at night to purge the building so there is a complete change of air. Apparently the staff refer to this aspect as 'cardigan culture', as everyone has to wear a cardigan for the first hour of the morning while the place warms up. There is very little aircon used inside the building; instead there are a mixture of windows you can open and large vents which open automatically. Protected by mesh, they allow air to circulate throughout the building keeping it at a constant temperature and were in fact manufactured by staff from the original foundry which was on the site. Both lighting and heating are controlled by a computer which updates every 15 minutes, automatically adjusting the temperature and turning off lights in rooms which are no longer in use. The building references the historical aspects of the company in several ways. One is with its use of Tudor style light wells which allow natural light to filter throughout the building. There is a grand wooden staircase made of oak from Trust properties, and a slatted wood feature which uses 11 types of national tree, all of which fell in the Great Storm of 1987. Wood was used by the Tudors to absorb noise, as were tapestries, and a series of tapestries hang in the atrium by the staircase. Made in 2005 by textile artist Eleanor Pritchard who wove them on a handloom, each tapestry displays a different aspect of the Trust. Seaside, woods, gardens, farms and buildings are all represented, and you can see her inspiration boards on display. There are two internal gardens within the building which provide light, air and natural beauty for the staff. One is a kitchen garden which so many of their older properties have, and this supplies all of the garnishes for the staff meals from the in-house café. Apparently one year it also supplied some very tasty rhubarb fools too. The other garden is a breakout garden, used for when staff just want some fresh air or time to themselves. The garden has a pathway shaped like a two railway lines meeting at a turntable. It is not just the environmental and historical aspects of the building which are unique though, as its design has an impact on the way that people work within its walls. Even before Covid the Trust was moving towards using technology to bring staff together from their separate locations, meaning that far less was being spent on transportation costs. Staff there now work two days a week in the office, the rest from home, and there is a complete hot desk policy in operation. Some desks are supplied with computers, other just with the terminals required to plug in laptops and headsets, but each desk is kept totally devoid of personal possessions with a direct 'Clear by Night' policy to ensure that it always stays that way. Although phones are used, they are permanently silenced and the offices are said to be a peaceful place. Each desk has a view so that the occupant can focus on the long distance to rest their eyes, and is also in the sightline of a pretty picture of one of the properties to look at. Photocopiers and printers are kept in special pods away from the desks so that people need to walk to collect their documents, and across the offices the number of photocopying machines has reduced from 250 to 6, saving the Trust a huge amount of money. These pods also house all of the recycling and waste bins, saving the cleaning staff from having to empty hundreds of separate desk bins each night. There are six kitchen pods throughout the building, each with a dishwasher, fridge, food waste disposal and special taps which dispense hot water for teas and coffees and cold water for drinks. All mugs are identical, a uniform white so that there are no garish designs and so that everyone uses the dishwashers rather than handwashing them, which is discouraged for hygiene reasons. There are plenty of separate conference rooms where people can separate off for small groups and private conversations, as well as large open spaces. One large open space is known as the 'Town Hall' and is where senior management and the Directorate meet regularly as part of the decision making process, another called 'Brownsea' is a flexible space used for training. There is a space for meditation and private prayer and a few areas of comfortable seating and low tables, even a few deckchairs, where staff can relax and unwind. Heelis also has an extensive archive as they keep a copy of every magazine, handbook and publication, as well as a development kitchen where they test new recipes, and a café. Before the pandemic the café used to be open to the public, but is currently just for staff. There are plans to re-open it to the public again at some point in the future. A visit here is fascinating not just for the sustainable architecture but for the innovative way of working in a corporate office, and it is sure to inspire envy in those of us stuck working in windowless boxes overflowing with coffee cups and years worth of corporate clutter. It shows how streamlined, people friendly and calming an office environment can be if designed with a new approach to how businesses can function as well as an awareness of what staff need to perform their best. Visiting Heelis Keep an eye on the website for open days and tours dates

  • CARL HONORÉ AND SLOW TRAVEL: IT'S THE JOURNEY NOT THE DESTINATION

    Carl Honoré, widely referred to as the Godfather of Slow thanks to his seminal book, In Praise of Slow, has recently published a book for children all about Slow Travel. A beautifully illustrated hardback book, it suggests over 40 slow adventures by boat, bike, foot and train and includes trips such as walking the Great Stones Way in the south of England or trekking the Inca Trail in Peru. Carl Honoré is the author of several books for adults, not just about Slow but also how to make the most of our longer lives in his book, Bolder. Now he has turned his attention to writing for children with 'It's the Journey not the Destination', which was published in September 2022. It is more than just a simple picture book as it introduces the concept of Slow Travel to a whole new generation, hopefully for whom Slow will become the only way to travel, so we can rid the world of the current trend to visit as many places as possible in as short a time as possible, to the detriment of both the environment and indigenous cultures. The book introduces Slow Travel to its young readers as a way to experience the richness and wonders of the world, taking time to notice the details, the people, the sounds, aromas and flavours as a 'banquet for the senses'. Carl says in the introduction that he wants the book to 'fire your imagination and inspire you to explore the world at your own pace' and it certainly does that. Each set of double pages is a different adventure with 40 in total, divided up into journeys on foot, by bike, by boat and by train. Just a brief outline of each route is provided - this book isn't intended to help actively plan a trip, it is inspiration to get the mind immersed in the possibilities of what you could encounter along the way. The illustrations provide simple and beautiful depictions of the sights you could see on each adventure, but it is the vivid written text which I found the most evocative. Locations are described with a focus on the smaller details that adults would probably miss but which would be a priority for kids; the colours, smells, weather, the people you may meet on the way. A river running through a rainforest is described as 'tumbling 90 metres into a pool of blazing turquoise fringed by emerald flora', a beach next to a Hawaiian mountain range as 'Green mountains huddled together like bowling pins, their peaks kissed by clouds'. It is expressive, powerful and pregnant with the possibilities for adventures and exploring the world. The text is also surprisingly in depth, filled with facts and little nuggets of information for its readers: why something was built, who by, how old something is. He has managed to find a slow connection in many of these journeys - an Odyssey on the Aegean Sea based on Odysseus taking 10 years to make just a short journey, seeing sloths in Tenorio Volcano Park who are 'masters of slowness', the giant tortoises on the Galapagos who take more than three hours to walk a kilometre and spend most of their time napping. It is not just about exploring rural environments and wildernesses though. A bike ride through Los Angeles, Amsterdam from a canal boat, the Orient Express through the cities of Europe; all are covered with the small details to look out for and the joys to be found on the way that may be far removed from the natural world. The book is a gentle, unhurried exploration of slow journeys across the globe and is a wonderful addition to any child's library, immersing them in the sights, sounds and smells of Slow Travel. At the end of the book, Carl outlines ways to travel Slow, the important aspects of it being given as delightful examples: 'dawdle in the pool, daydream in the shade, marinade in deep thought, master the art of people-watching, keep a light schedule' amongst others, all of which crystalise the essence of Slow Travel for children. The whole book made me want to hit the open road, rucksack on my back and just a vague itinerary in my hand, to experience the joys of slow journeys. Carl recently wrote in his newsletter to followers: "... travel is a form of magic. It opens the mind. Makes you stronger and happier. Teaches you about the world and yourself. Brings you closer to other people. Travel creates Proustian memories that last a lifetime." And the best way to travel is slowly. When you move too fast through the world, you miss the small details and fine grain that make each place thrilling and unique. You visit places without really experiencing them – and then return home more tired than when you left. When you slow down, travel levels up. You start noticing things and remembering them later. You connect with people. Your senses come alive, opening you up to new sounds, aromas and flavours. When you travel slowly, you experience the world in all its richness and wonder." At Slow Travel, we couldn't agree more.

  • THE HAUNCH OF VENISON - THE SALISBURY PUB WITH A LONG AND HAUNTED HISTORY

    The Haunch of Venison is something of a Salisbury institution, dating back to at least the 15th century. It has a striking medieval half-timbered exterior and inside you will find fascinating features such as marble floor tiles from the cathedral, a rare horsebox bar known as the Ladies Snug, a pewter bar counter which is one of only six in the country and a wooden arch with spirit taps dating from 1909. Visitors arrive from across the globe to drink in its old world atmosphere: the uneven floors, wood panelled walls, low beams and huge stone fireplaces feel like taking a step back in time. Local author, Ruby Vitorino, has written a book about the pub which was published in August 2022. She kindly agreed to write an article for Slow Travel about its fascinating history. My book, ‘The Haunch of Venison, Salisbury. An A-Z History’, came about because I fell in love with the place on my very first visit to Salisbury, and realised that not very much had been written about its history. I wanted to find out, and started to research it - that was ten years ago now. The Haunch of Venison is one of the places which tourists love to visit after Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral. It really is like going back in time, and it’s a very friendly place where the locals will happily chat to visitors. It seems that one of attractions of the Haunch of Venison is the story of the mummified hand found bricked up in the fireplace. A landlord of the pub before World War I wrote that it had been severed by a butcher’s cleaver, from a cheating card player. I discovered that the mummified hand was more likely to have been a ‘hand of glory’, cut from a hanged felon at the nearby execution site and walled up in the fire place to ward off witches who might try to come down the chimney. The hands of hanged men were said to have magical properties. I visited the pub with a friend who is a trained medium because I wanted to see if she could pick up anything in the Haunch, and she sensed a young fellow with red hair and acne, near the place where the hand was found - amongst other things. There were a lot of other ‘magical’ objects found hidden in the Haunch of Venison. The proper term is apotropaic. The old innkeepers seem to have been very superstitious, and very worried about witches! Over the years spent researching the book, I spoke to many former members of staff, including those who had slept in the building, and I always asked them if they had seen any ghosts. I ended up with quite a collection of ghost stories! I found it very convincing, as I could see that the people were very genuine and truly believed that they had experienced something. They were clearly not making it up. Some of the stories were curious - for example a former customer, who claimed to be psychic, was almost apologetic when he told me that the bar was haunted by a small dog. I had found out that in the 1920s, the landlords had several small dogs as ratters (the rats were attracted by the meat in Butchers Row), but I don’t know how that man would know that; it’s not common knowledge. But it’s not just the macabre and the spooky which interest visitors. American tourists, especially, are fascinated by the story of General Eisenhower meeting with Churchill in the Haunch of Venison, to discuss D Day. I found out that Churchill knew Salisbury well, and had most probably already enjoyed a drink or two in the Haunch before the war. He planned the D Day landings with Eisenhower at nearby Wilton House, and it is inconceivable that he wouldn’t have shown him Salisbury, with its famous cathedral, and offered him a drink at Salisbury’s quaintest pub -The Haunch of Venison. The pub has some small private bars, including a strange secret bar, which is rarely open to the public, as it is very small. It means that the Haunch would have been perfect, security wise. There was an issue with security when two of JFK’s sisters visited the Haunch of Venison for lunch, in the 1970s. They had some burly ‘protection’ with them who were wearing guns and scaring the other customers. The then landlady, Kate Jakeman, insisted that they take the guns off, and put them in the safe. She was such a strong personality that the security guards obeyed! The Kennedy sisters weren’t the only celebrities who have visited pub over the years, previous staff have had lots of anecdotes to tell…but you’ll have to read the book to find out more. The book is available online from the Haunch of Venison website, as well as from the Rocketship bookshop and Fisherton Mill, Salisbury. (Photo of Ruby © Salisbury Journal)

  • CHALKING THE UFFINGTON WHITE HORSE

    At least 3,000 years old, the Uffington White Horse on the Wiltshire/Oxfordshire border is the oldest chalk cut figure in the country. Steeped in myth and legend, this remarkable figure is usually off-limits to visitors, who can only admire it from a distance. Once a year however, anyone can join in to re-chalk it, participating in a tradition which is itself centuries old. Chalk cut figures are a common feature of the English heritage landscape, mostly appearing in southern counties such as Wiltshire which have a chalk bedrock. It is not always horses on display; there are military badges such as those at Fovant and Sutton Mandeville, the Cerne Abbas Giant in Dorset, the Bulford KiwiHorses are by far the most common though, with 17 across the UK, eight of which are in Wiltshire. Dating from the prehistoric era to far more recent engravings, their purpose has always been something of a mystery, but despite this they have become an integral part of the historical landscape of England. A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE UFFINGTON WHITE HORSE The Uffington White Horse is by far the oldest white horse in the country, dating from the late Bronze Age, with archaeological investigations dating it to between 1400 - 600 BC. The horse is part of a wider area of pre-historic features and sits on The Ridgeway, an ancient trackway which is Britain's oldest road. The Ridgeway runs from Avebury in Wiltshire to Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire and has been in continuous use for over 5,000 years, pre-dating both Avebury and the White Horse. Uffington Castle, an Iron Age hillfort, is just above the horse and was part of a chain of defences running across the Ridgeway, being installed a good 500 years after the horse. Below the horse is Dragon Hill, a natural hill with a man-made flattened top. Just a mile away is Wayland's Smithy, an early Neolithic long barrow dating from 3600 BC. The horse itself was found to be made from trenches 3 feet deep in the ground, not just scratched onto the surface as many had originally thought. It is possible that it was not intended to actually be a horse, it may have been a dog or a sabre-toothed cat, but it has been widely accepted as a horse since at least the 11th century AD when it first appears in documentary evidence. The design is unusual, not just because the horse is not a continuous depiction, but also because it is shown in motion, looking as if it is running across the hill. As you would imagine, the horse is connected to many myths and legends. It is said that the horse leaves the hill over night once a year to go down into the valley, known as The Manger, to graze, and also that it goes to Wayland's Smithy to be re-shod. Dragon Hill beneath it has a large area on its flat top of chalk - this is said to be where Saint George slayed the dragon, its blood so poisonous that it has stopped anything from ever growing. The truth is rather more prosaic; shaped by glacial meltwater it was quarried and levelled by the Celtic Dobunni tribe before the Roman invasion. Nothing grows because of the high levels of potash found at the summit, probably due to all of the ritual fires and sacrifices performed in the pagan ceremonies held there over the centuries. Re-chalking the White Horse The horse has needed regular maintenance over its 3000 years, otherwise it would have disappeared as so many other chalk cut carvings have over the years. From at least the 17th century there was an annual event known as The Pastime, a major social occasion for the local community, where they would clear away any vegetation and then participate in various games and events. These included catching a greased pig which you could keep if you caught it, chasing a cartwheel down the steep slope with a cheese as a prize, wrestling matches and a 'Jingling Match' where blindfolded participants had to catch a man with a bell around his neck. The Pastime is sadly a thing of the past, but the horse does still need to be cleaned and re-chalked. Once a year the National Trust, who now manage the site, run a week of re-chalking. They clear all of the vegetation and weed the horse, then cover the horse in lumps of fresh white chalk. Volunteers are given a hammer, a kneeling pad and a pair of gloves. You each take a small section of horse and use the hammer to break up the large lumps of chalk, bashing away until they have crumbled. You then grind away with the side of the hammer until the area is just chalk dust. It is quite a time consuming process and it can be quite hard on the hands, but it is an enjoyable and satisfying activity. The horse is usually off limits throughout the rest of the year so this is the one time that you get the chance to walk around it and over it. As you would imagine the views are spectacular with the valley stretched out before you, a patchwork of fields, woods and villages. Buzzards wheel overhead in the huge open sky. All you can hear is the friendly chatter of those working and the rhythmic muffled tapping of scores of hammers on chalk. I overheard one father tell his small child to stop bashing with the hammer and to just listen for a bit, which she did. 'That noise', he said, 'is the sound of the horse galloping over the fields,' and he was right, it really did sound like hoofbeats. There is old folklore that says that if you stand in the horse’s eye and make a wish, it will come true. Another says that if you walk around the head three times and wish, then your wish will come true. This is the only time you will every get the chance to do this as it is usually behind a barrier, so I did take advantage of it and stood in the eye to make a wish. Walking around the head seemed harder as the horse is on quite a steep slope so I gave that a miss. Volunteers can stay as long as they like with many just doing half an hour. Others seemed to be settled in for the long haul, and did multiple days. It is a rare and unique opportunity to be part of an ancient tradition which goes back over 3000 years, keeping the horse visible for generations to come and you really feel a part of the landscape and the community who have cared for it for so long. Re-chalking the Uffington White Horse: the Practicalities Postcode: SN7 7QN Park at the nearby White Horse Hill Car Park - it is free for National Trust members. Facilities: There are no facilities on site except an ice cream van, which was cash only. I would advise taking your own food and water particularly on hot days. What to wear: There is no shade so suncream/hats are essential. You will end up covered in chalk so don't wear your best clothes. Gloves are provided. There is a lot of long grass on site so cover your legs to avoid tick bites. Who can re-chalk the White Horse: Anyone can volunteer - you just show up on the specified dates, there is no need to book and kids can join in too. People came from far and wide to help out - on our day there were even people from Southampton and Swansea. National Trust staff are on hand to answer any questions and to direct you to the bits which need doing - we worked on the front leg.

  • FOLLOWING THE WILTON HERITAGE TRAIL

    A small town with an ancient heritage which dates back to the Anglo-Saxons of the 8th century and was once the capital of Wessex, Wilton is now little more than a suburb dominated by heavy, noisy traffic. With the rise of nearby Salisbury, Wilton faded into the background, and little remains of its 1200 years of history. It is possible to see all of its remaining sites by following the Wilton Heritage Trail on a short walk of no more than a mile or so. Wilton is a curious place, a town which often seems no more than a throughway on the road to Salisbury, and it does little to dispel this image. Although it has a growing community, thanks to all of the new houses being built on old army land, some interesting old buildings and the lovely Wilton House, the town itself leaves an overall impression of heavy traffic and neglected heritage. Anywhere else with a medieval market cross would make a highlight of it. In Wilton, they shove a bright yellow plastic grit bin up against it. To see it at its best, try to avoid the rush hours. Walking when the sky is blue and the sun is out will also vastly improve the experience. A BRIEF HISTORY OF WILTON Founded in the 8th century by the Wilsaetes tribe of Anglo-Saxons (who took their name from the nearby River Wylye), by the 9th century it was the royal seat of Wiltunscire in Wessex, until that honour moved to Winchester. The famous nunnery was founded in 773 and was home to Saint Edith, her tomb attracting pilgrims for healing. Alfred the Great fought and lost here in 871 to the Danes who burned it to the ground and in 1003 the Vikings attacked and burned it again. In 1143 it was attacked and burned by Empress Maud and Robert of Gloucester. The town was home to the county's oldest mint, first making coins during the reign of King Edgar of Wessex in 959 and Wilton received its first market charter in 1154. The town declined however as Salisbury prospered, standing neglected for some time. Fortunes revived when Wilton became famous in the 18th century for its rugs and carpets, although by the early 20th century this too was in decline, with the factory closing and being re-opened several times. THE WILTON HERITAGE TRAIL We followed the Wilton Town Trail as outlined in the booklet which you can buy for £1 from St. Mary's Church in Wilton. The trail is the intellectual property of Wilton & District Business Chamber, 2017. 1. The trail starts at the Wilton Royal Carpet Factory. As of 2022, the area is undergoing renovation, and it could be a good idea to give this a miss until work is finished. It is currently little more than a building site and will not give you a good impression of the town. Unless you want to buy carpet or a sofa of course, then this is the place for you. 2. St. Peter's Church The official trail includes St. Peter's Church, Fugglestone, a tiny little church on the busy Salisbury/Wilton roundabout. The church is famous for being the burial place of King Ethelbert of Wessex, having poet George Herbert as its rector in the 17th century as well as having tall box pews and gas lighting. Every time I have tried to visit however, the doors have been firmly locked, so best to give this a miss. 3. The Herbert Statue Outside Wilton House is this statue of the 13th Earl of Pembroke (1850 - 1895), who was the Under-Secretary of State for War under Disraeli. He doesn't sound like the most fascinating of individuals - his passions were writing pamphlets and giving speeches, although he was rumoured to have had a dalliance with Queen Moe of Tahiti. Apparently when he visited the islands with Dr. Kingsley in 1870, he was stricken by her charm and beauty and referred to the king and queen as "Beauty and the Beast". The statue once had a sword, which was 'liberated' by American servicemen during World War II. 4. The Triumphal Arch (entrance to Wilton House) This triumphal arch, which once stood elsewhere on the Wilton estate, was moved to its current location in 1801. It now forms the entrance way to Wilton House. The arch was designed in 1755 by Sir William Chambers and is topped with a statue of Marcus Aurelius. If Wilton House is closed, then you can peer pathetically through the wrought iron bars to see the grandeur within. If open, it is worth a visit. The grounds have an adventure park for kids, a Japanese Garden and a Palladian bridge. The house is good too, and the Inigo Jones Single Cube and Double Cube rooms are breathtaking, but best avoided if you don't like looking at the statues and artworks collected when rich people toured Europe and took home their spoils. It is quite extreme in Wilton House and sits uncomfortably for some. 5. The Pembroke Arms Hotel The building, directly opposite Wilton House, was built to accommodate their visitors in the late 18th century (because a stately home just doesn't have enough bedrooms), and was later used as a tax office in the Victorian era. It became an Officer's Mess for the military stationed in the area during World War II when the Army requisitioned Wilton House as the HQ of Southern Command. Much of the planning for D-Day was done at Wilton House with the surrounding area filled with Nissen huts and over 750 miles of telephone wire laid around Wilton House to link the centre of operations with all units in the area. It is actually a good hotel and pub with a vibrant outdoors area and lovely twinkly lights in the windows every Christmas. 6. St. Ediths This was once a Methodist Reform Church and a Catholic Church. Today it is owned by a firm of architects, who have painted it off-white and left it at that, with not so much as a window box to cheer it up. Apparently inside it has a 'radical contemporary interior' and a flying staircase. 7. The Council Chamber Originally a Masonic Hall, this building was then the home of the Wilton Temperance Society and later the Primitive Methodist Chapel. It is now home to Wilton Town Council. If it is possible to feel sorry for a building, then I would have pity for this one - one wonders if anyone has ever actually cracked a smile inside its walls? 8. The Market Cross This is a rather eclectic market cross with a medieval base and later additions which include a crucifix, a sundial and an 18th century urn on the top. It is surrounded by cars, an excess of white road markings and a huge yellow grit bin wedged up one side. It may as well have a sign saying 'We'll have no-one taking nice photos of this piece of heritage thank you very much'. 9. The Baptist Church Built in 1738 on the site of the old Guildhall, this Georgian red-brick had a Victorian gothic revival clock plonked on top of it in 1889, which is actually the best bit about it and helps to detract from the plethora of modern signage which adorns the sides. Although a very active church with lots of services and events, it is not open to the public for a general visit. 10. The Old Church of St. Mary Finally some genuine heritage that you're actually allowed to visit. St. Mary's is the original Anglo-Saxon church of Wilton attached to the nunnery and of the 12 churches which once graced this town, this was the most important. It was rebuilt in the 12th, 15th and 18th centuries but was considered beyond repair by 1841. An entirely new church was built in 1845, (the Italianate Church you will visit at 12.) and St Mary's was partially demolished with just the 12th century chancel and 15th century arches surviving. The church is now owned by the Churches Conservation Trust and is open to visitors and for events. The church is filled with plastic chairs and has a huge sandwich board at the front door to ruin your photos, but it does at least have some wonderful memorials on the walls inside. 11. Wilton Place Wilton Place on the main road through the town was once home to Edith Olivier. A writer and politician, she set up the Wiltshire Women's Land Army in 1916 which saw her being awarded an MBE. She was the first woman to serve as a councillor on Wilton Town Council and was later Mayor of Salisbury. She was a very sociable lady and was great friends with the famous set of the 1920s including Rex Whistler, Cecil Beaton, Siegfried Sassoon, Diana Cooper, John Betjeman and others. She sounds like a fascinating woman who brought much needed style and flourish to the town. The house is privately owned and not open to the public. 12. The Italiante Church Built as the parish church for the town by Sidney Herbert MP, Earl of Pembroke and friend of Florence Nightingale, this enormous church looks far too exotic to be in Wilton, being designed in the Italiante style inspired by his travels through northern Italy. The church includes features removed from far older sites: columns and panels from the Capocci Shrine in Rome from 1256, columns from the Temple of Venus 151 BC and a sarcophagus containing bones from the Church of St. Nicholas of 1435 along with assorted medieval stained glass from France. The church is sometimes open to visitors and is worth a look inside if it is. 13. St. John's Priory There have been religious buildings on this site since the 10th century with the first documentary evidence coming from 1195. The Priory of St. John the Baptist was run as a hospital for the less fortunate. The present building dates from the 14th century; you can see a Saxon pillar in the rear wall of the chapel. Much of it was rebuilt and restored by the Victorians. It is now run as almshouses with weekly services in the chapel, and is not open to visitors. 14. West Lodge Built in 1820 for the factory manager, the house has also been a doctor’s surgery and dispensary. Its claim to heritage seems to be that it has unusual panelled reveals and Venetian shutters which fold into them. It is now divided into rental flats with very strict rules and a shared garden, and someone somewhere is making a small fortune from the place. 15. Congregational Church Built in 1791 to replace a 1700 chapel which it had outgrown, this unexceptional building is now also lots of private apartments. 16. Naish Felts Some rather wonderful buildings of industrial heritage which have now fallen into shameful disrepair, this was once the site of a grist and malt mill which was converted to textile use in the 1600s. In 1830 it was the scene of Swing Riots when angry agricultural labourers smashed the place up in protest at mechanisation and loss of employment. This led to 11 of them being sentenced to death but then transported to Australia instead. Five years later the factory was bought by local man, John Naish, whose family had been in business since 1800 and since then it has produced felt for a whole range of industries, particularly automotive. 17. The Oldest House This house is the oldest in Wilton, dating from the 15th century. It is a three bay halfhouse. 18. Churchill Court This is part of the official trail purely because it was once the site of 'Fancy Row' where 18th century gentleman's clothes were made. Today is it a hideous 1950s housing complex which has no business being on a heritage trail. 19. The Greyhound Pub The official trail returns to Wilton Shopping Village, where you started and where you may have parked. Instead, head to the Greyhound Pub in the market place. A 17th century coaching inn, it is a lovely pub, does some truly excellent food and will be the highlight of your visit to Wilton. For a map of this trail, buy your copy of the Wilton Heritage Trail in the Old Church of St. Mary. It is only £1, which they will hopefully spend on aesthetic improvements to the town. They can start by moving that yellow grit bin on the Market Cross.

  • EDINGTON PRIORY AND THE EDINGTON MUSIC FESTIVAL

    On the edges of Salisbury Plain in mid Wiltshire lies the quiet, unassuming village of Edington, the sort of place you drive through without really noticing more than a few pretty cottages. The village has a long and venerable history however, as it was the site of the Battle of Ethandun where King Alfred won a pivotal battle against the Danes in 878 AD. It was also home to Edington Priory, a 14th century monastic house, of which the church still remains as the parish church of the village. This church hosts the Edington Music Festival every August, the longest running festival of ecclesiastical music in the UK and possibly the world. A Brief History of Edington Priory Church Edington Priory was founded by William Edington, the Bishop of Winchester, in 1351, with the church being consecrated ten years later. The church is unique in that not only was it built in a short space of time, but that it has had little alteration done to it, some 17th century enhancements but luckily no Victorian 'improvements'. The church survived the Reformation by being a parish church, the rest of the monastery was divided up and sold off. Parts of it still remain such as the garden, some walls, a stone building over their water source and a fishpond. The church was built in the transition period between Decorated Gothic and the final style of English Gothic and is Grade I listed. It has a vaulted wooden roof with the ceiling covered in puce coloured ornamentation which is not the most aesthetic colour to look at - apparently that was the original 17th century colour but is one I think they should forego when renovations are next due. A Brief History of Edington Music Festival In 1956, the then vicar of Edington was in desperate need for funds to repair the church. With his friend who was a former choral scholar at Kings College Cambridge, they gathered other choral scholars and held a weekend of full sung choral liturgy. The event proved to be a resounding success and so has been repeated every year since, extending to the current eight days with four services a day and three choirs. Within choral circles it is a highly prestigious event with older music being rediscovered, new commissions being added to the body of church music and musical careers launched from the event. Visiting the Edington Music Festival What is so wonderful about the festival is that it is entirely free to attend. The festival publishes the events on their website and you just show up to the ones you want - no booking or payment required. The festival relies entirely on generous donations though, so if you do go they will be very grateful for anything you can give. Just head for the church and follow the signs to the parking, where a helpful guide will guide you to a spot on the grass verge opposite the Old Monastery Garden. It is then a short walk to the church where you sit wherever you fancy. The events take the form of actual church services following the standard ecclesiastical day - Matins, Eucharist, Evensong and Compline, sometimes with additional music before the service. Three choirs perform under the country's top choral directors and music is played by renowned organists, all overseen by a Festival Director. Each festival has a different theme for the music, sermons and prayers. The Wednesday Evensong is usually recorded and broadcast on BBC Radio 3. I visited on a Wednesday, too late for Matins but in time for the Solemn Eucharist at 11.30am. After recovering from the shock of the garish pink ceiling, I took a seat at the back, where each pew has a booklet with details of all of the services so you can follow along. It was a full service of the High Church variety, with full audience participation and a lot of standing and sitting to order as is always the case. The church was filled with incense which surprised me as incense was considered rather Catholic in the distant days of my church attending childhood, but I believe it is something which has now come back into fashion in Anglican circles. The music was lovely, provided by an excellent choir of earnest looking school boys and intense looking men, all of whom sang their hearts out. When it came to the hymns the choir were a real asset, covering over the shy hesitance of the congregation so that everyone ended up singing at full volume. The congregation were mostly elderly; men in suits and women in simple colourful dresses. I suspect that at the weekend and evenings there is a more diverse crowd, but a Wednesday morning tends to be for those with the time available. A Eucharist includes communion - taking the bread and wine. Bear in mind that if you have not been confirmed then you cannot do this, you can either stay in your pew or just ask for a blessing instead. After the service was a few hours break where I had lunch at the Edington Farm Shop, eating the largest cheese and chutney roll I've ever had and enjoying a fresh green smoothie, followed by a visit to the nearby famous White Horse for a brisk walk. I returned for Choral Evensong. This was being recorded by the BBC and there was a frisson of excitement in the air. I arrived early and heard one of the choirs rehearsing, looking far less angelic out of their cassocks. The grey BBC sound van was parked outside and inside tall microphones decorated the aisle. After the rehearsal a disembodied voice floated through the church, telling the choir that they were 'bob on' with their singing but could they just pronounce the 't's better in the final song? When the church had filled and the start time drew near, the owner of the disembodied voice arrived, a cheerful BBC producer who asked us all to turn off our phones and keep any coughing to a minimum. There was a chance that certain songs may need to be re-recorded if mistakes were made, so could we all stay in our seats afterwards, just in case? She would come back in afterwards and let us know. A nervous looking festival director sat in front of me, looking anxiously around him. Within five minutes of the start, the sound of people chatting could be heard coming from outside the church and the director shot off to deal with it. There was clearly a drama with a car being badly parked, as a man soon walked in, took off his noisy shoes and walked around the entire congregation showing us a piece of paper with a car registration written on it. It was rather entertaining watching him shuffle barefoot around the pews, heads shaking at him as we all disowned the guilty vehicle. It was soon forgotten though as the service got into its stride. All three choirs were present and all were truly fantastic; I can only imagine the hours of rehearsal that must have gone into each song and chant. It was interesting to watch them all when the other choirs were singing, one of the choirboys sinking slowly against the side of the pew, eyes closing, others staring into the distance or sharing the odd secret smile. They all came to life though the minute it was their turn to sing. The final song sounded incredibly complicated to sing, based on words written by 17th century Wiltshire poet and rector, George Herbert who was actually married in this church, and I'm sure I wasn't the only one who thought that if they were going to have to re-sing anything, it would be this one. The service ended with an organ voluntary. The rather elderly lady behind me started whispering loudly to her daughter; the director leapt up and put his finger to his lips and remained hovering in the aisle, just in case more of us felt the need to chat. When the music ended we all sat completely still in anticipatory silence. What would the BBC director say? She came in, took to the lectern and announced that other than having to re-record part of one of the readings, all had gone well. There was a collective sigh of relief, particularly from the choirs. I sat outside the church as everyone left and listened to the chatter of the choirs; the relief that no re-takes were required, laughter over someone who had got an 'amen' wrong and then plans to head to the local hostellery for much needed liquid reward. It must be hard work to produce such a consistently high quality of music over the week, I can imagine that the rehearsals are endless and the planning and timing required to co-ordinate with the clergy must be tiring but it is certainly well worth it for those of us listening. I highly recommend a visit to the festival: the beautiful sounds echoing throughout the building, the swirls of incense caught in the rays of sun, the fresh flower displays, the rhythm and cadence of the liturgy all create a tranquil and meditative atmosphere in which to spend time at peace. It’s just such a shame about that puce ceiling. Find out festival dates and programmes on the Edington Music Festival website >> Good to Know: the pews are horribly uncomfortable. Not only are they hard wood as you would expect but they have a wooden kneeler which goes right where your feet should and as the pews are so closely packed together it can be hard to stand. I saw several people, who had clearly been before, carrying garden chair cushions under their arms, which at least offsets part of the discomfort.

  • A VISIT TO GLOUCESTER PRISON

    Gloucester Prison has a long history which goes back across the centuries as it is one of the oldest purpose built prisons in the country. Closed as a working prison in 2013, it is now a tourist attraction open for guided tours and events such as Airsoft and Zombie games. It is currently having the main entrance re-developed for a small museum, café and visitor centre which is sure to enhance a visit to this fascinating site. The History of Gloucester Prison The prison is very much central to Gloucester, a pretty city in the Cotswolds which is a place of half-timbered medieval buildings, a magnificent cathedral, ruins, gardens and a lot of industrial heritage, its unique position at the head of the River Severn once making it an important trading post. First founded by the Romans in the 1st century, the city continued to be occupied throughout the Saxon era and had its first castle built on a strategic site by the river, that of the current prison. The castle was a simple motte and bailey, built during the reign of William the Conqueror. It was expanded and enlarged over the years, and was partly in use as a prison from 1185 even before being used as residence for Henry III. Most of the building deteriorated over the subsequent centuries, with the stone being taken away and used for other buildings and roads, but the central keep remained in use as a gaol until 1787 when it was rebuilt. This new prison which opened in 1792 was designed by William Blackburn, the leading Georgian prison architect. After the Penitentiary Act of 1797, which was an attempt to deal with an increase in the prison population as well as a decision to detain rather than transport prisoners, his aim was to make prisons more habitable. He designed Gloucester with two wings, with his design lasting until the 1850s when it was substantially altered. Only the gatehouse remains of Blackburn's design, which was later incorporated into the central area of the prison complex. Inside the prison grounds The prison has been enlarged and expanded several times over the ensuing years, eventually having three wings, a new admin block and a new gatehouse, the previous one having been too small for lorries and fire engines to get through, one of which actually got firmly stuck when called out to a fire at the prison during the 1980s. The site was in use until 2013, meaning it was a prison for well over 800 years. Visiting Gloucester Prison Gloucester Prison sits at the heart of the heritage section of the city; near the docks, the ruins of Blackfriars Priory and the famous cathedral. It formed a triumvirate of a judicial centre, with the police station and crown court just metres away. With an imposing entrance gate and high brick walls all around the outside, there is no mistaking the purpose of this building. The entrance gate is currently undergoing some renovation to turn it into a café and museum, so the first place you currently see on a visit is the old visitor centre, a large hall where prisoners could meet their visitors. The ceiling was filled with CCTV cameras and there was a booth in one corner where guards could watch the screens, prisoners and guests could get drinks and snacks from a small café run by either the prisoners themselves or sometimes the local Women's Institute. Outside is the exercise yard, built above the ruins of the Norman keep, and there are plans to excavate it so that the ruins can be seen under the yard, with clear flooring to keep the archaeology visible yet still protected from the elements. The prisoners were entitled to an hour of outside exercise every day, although not all of them would be out there at the same time, and they were confined within the exercise cage for the duration. Surrounded on all sides by brick walls and steel wire, the only real contact with the outside world they would have had was the endless squealing of the seagulls, which still fly loudly overhead. There was actually an escape attempt made from the yard in the 1990s and you can still see the different fencing used to repair the damage caused by the inmates who did a runner. Apparently they were not seen by the prison guards, but by staff in the local council offices which overlook the prison, who reported it to the police. From then on, a guard had to remain in the yard at all times during the prisoner's exercise sessions, sitting outside the cage and keeping a close eye on what was going on. The prison was originally designed with two wings, A and B, with a C wing added in 1972. Although their uses changed somewhat over the years, A tended to be for convicted prisoners, those who had already been sentenced, and B was for those who were on remand. Life on B Wing was far easier, with no prison uniforms worn and no need to work. They could also have more visits than those who had been convicted. The clever ones could manipulate the system so that if they knew they were guilty, they would delay the court date as long as they could so that most of their sentence would be served on remand. A Wing was also home to the condemned man cells, a series of five cells next to each other within which the prisoner would move from one to the next each day in the days leading up to his execution. These cells differ from the rest in that they have larger windows, it being believed that the condemned were entitled to a better view in their final days. The prisoner would exit his final cell on the day, be greeted by a cleric for any last words and then step through to the gallows, which was a scaffold over the 1792 gatehouse. Up to five thousand people at a time would watch the hangings when they were still public. The wealthier prisoners would pay the hangman extra to make it as quick as possible, sometimes by standing on their neck to speed the process up. The last execution in Gloucester Prison was that of Ralph Smith in 1939 who had a fling with his landlady and didn't take it well when she went off with someone else, slitting her throat. She managed to survive long enough to run into the street to tell people who had done it to her before she died. Smith spent his final days in the condemned cell at Gloucester prison and was hanged on the 7th June 1939, by the infamous Thomas Pierrepoint and his nephew, Albert. There were 123 executions at the prison, mostly for murder but some were for minor offences such as stealing sheep or clothes. The bodies are buried in unmarked graves in the prison as was the custom, making the current excavation and renovation of the site a delicate business. The prison may now have a few peeling walls and a slight air of neglect, but the Victorian wings are very visually appealing. A and B wings have some detailed design features such as decorative balustrades, staircases and exterior brickwork which provide an aesthetic style that I'm sure can't be found in any contemporary prisons. The buildings may have been utilitarian, but even the smallest parts were designed with attention to detail. One example are the brackets used to hold up the floors outside the cells. Each bracket is a sinuous snake complete with scales and eyes. The serpent represented evil in Victorian symbology. Above each one, on the floor above, the base of the balustrade is a lion's paw. The lion's paw represented strength and character. The meaning is clear - a simple 'good overcoming evil' message to the inhabitants of the prison, strength overcoming weakness and vice. The ground floor of B Wing was home to the VP population - vulnerable prisoners. These were all prisoners who had to be kept entirely separate from the rest of the inmates, the majority of them because they were sex offenders, some for their safety, for example if they owed money to other inmates. The stairs from B Wing to the ground floor are completely encased with bars which were once boarded, as the other prisoners would try to throw hot water or urine at the VP's as well as calling them all sorts of obscenities whenever they walked through. It was a prison within a prison and must have been quite harrowing for those incarcerated within. B Wing was also home to the solitary confinement cells. Many of these were from the normal prison population but in need of separation from the rest if they had been bullying someone, or if they needed constant watch or supervision for a variety of reasons, including self-harm and suicide. These inmates would exercise alone and eat alone in cell, often with very little to do. They were held in safe cells which had fixed furniture such as a concrete bed base and sink, and perspex over the bars. Some would also have an officer watching them permanently, sitting opposite them outside the door. As with all prisons, Gloucester had its fair share of suicides over the years. These cells were always seen as a temporary place for the inmates, as integration was always encouraged when it was possible. The prison chapel led off from both A and B Wings. Today it is an empty, high ceilinged room used for events, but it is easy to imagine it as it once was, with an altar on the raised platform, an organ high above on the mezzanine, curtains on the windows and filled with chairs. All prisoners had a right to an hour's service each week, and all denominations were catered for. It was also where meetings were held, mass vaccinations took place and all manner of other group activities. At the back is a Chaplain's office, looking tailor made for its current role as a bar for the assorted events which are held here. The chapel is a vast empty space, once the hub of the prison and now used for events C Wing was added in 1972 and held up to 90 prisoners in single cells. It was initially used to house sex offenders, but by the 1980s it was used for 'lifers' - those nearing the end of a life sentence for murder, before they were moved on to an open prison before release. In later years, the unit held Young Offenders aged between 17 - 21. C Wing doesn't have the decorative details or aesthetic appeal of the two Victorian wings, but was probably far more comfortable for the inmates. Outside in the grounds of the prison are various workshops, the hospital wing and education block. In one area is an old helicopter, used for the airsoft games which take place there. One particularly appealing feature outside is the 'debtor's wall' with initials, names and tallies etched into the bricks from over the years. This area of the prison was once accessible to inmates of the debtors prison without any supervision, and so they engraved their details on the wall as some form of record of their presence. Some date from the 1800s and possibly even earlier. Leaving the prison is done the same way as the prisoners, with a long walk down the entrance bay, the gate sliding slowly but dramatically to one side, leaving you emerging blinking in the sunshine. The door closes behind you with a bang and the prison returns to being a fully sealed unit, cut off from the urban life going on around it. It is a fascinating place to visit and well worth the trip, richly evocative of how life was for those serving at Her Majesty's Pleasure. Visiting Gloucester Prison Gloucester Prison is owned by the same company who own Dorchester Prison, and you can find tour tickets for both prisons on their website >> The website also has full details of all events, ghost hunts and airsoft games.

  • THE ROBBERS' STONE OF SALISBURY PLAIN

    Barely noticeable on the A360 which runs across Salisbury Plain is an old memorial, hidden away amongst the tall grasses and overgrowth at the side of the road. Cars speed endlessly by and most are going so fast that they never even notice it is there. This area of the Plain is considered one of the most remote and there is little else here other than farmland, with the abandoned village of Imber off limits down a distant track. The stone, erected in 1839, is a warning against 'theives and robbers' (sic) after a farmer was attacked and robbed on his return from market. This was a fairly commonplace event, as farmers of Salisbury Plain were some of the wealthiest individuals in this rural economy, certainly better off than many, and they were always at their wealthiest on their return from market, their goods having been sold and money pocketed. On this particular occasion, farmer Matthew Dean of Imber (the abandoned village which is owned by the military and can only be visited for a few days each year), was attacked on the exact spot where the memorial now stands, by four men. There was a lengthy chase and one of the robbers eventually fell down dead. The remaining three were apprehended, sentenced and subsequently transported to Van Diemens Land (Tasmania) for 15 years. Two memorials were erected - one is at the spot where the robber died, but this is now on MOD land and so cannot be visited by the public. The other is this one which is by the side of a busy A road, which was once little more than a quiet track. Standing at 1.6 metres high with a cast iron plate attached to the front of the limestone, it reads: AT THIS SPOT Mr. DEAN, of Imber was Attacked and Robbed by Four Highwaymen, in the evening of Octr. 21st. 1839. After a spirited pursuit of three hours one of the Felons BENJAMIN COLCLOUGH fell dead on Chitterne Down. THOMAS SAUNDERS, GEORGE WATERS, & RICHARD HARRIS, were eventually Captured, and were convicted at the ensuing Quarter Sessions at Devizes, and Transported for the term of Fifteen Years. This Monument is erected by Public Subscription as a warning to those who presumptuously think to escape the punishment God has threatened against Theives and Robbers. The warning is very clear - this is what happens to robbers who try to take what is not theirs. The fact that this was paid for by public subscription shows just how many locals were infuriated by the regularity of the thefts. Visiting the Robbers' Stone You can find the stone at w3w: shun.slug.herds There is a layby just beyond the stone where you can pull in. Do not try to slow down on the road to look at it and do not walk on the road, as the traffic is fast and regular at that location - stick to walking on the grass verge and listen out for oncoming traffic. Likewise, do not wander through the surrounding countryside as it is MOD land and off-limits to the public. If you see a red flag flying in the area, it means that live firing is taking place. From the Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette, Thursday 24 October, 1839 HIGHWAY ROBBERY, AND DEATH OF ONE OF THE ROBBERS Mr. Matthew Dean, a respectable farmer of Imber, was returning from Devizes Fair, between 6 and o'clock Monday evening last, he was attacked by four men near Gore Cross Farm, two of whom seized the bridle of the horse upon which he was riding; the other two pulled him to the ground, and rifled his pockets—one pressing his nose and mouth to prevent his giving an alarm—the other putting his hand over his eyes to prevent his identifying them. They took from his sidepocket, a pocket-book containing three £20 notes of the North Wilts bank; and from another pocket, one sovereign and a half in gold, and £2 in silver. The horse having galloped away during the scuffle, Mr. Dean, upon recovering himself, followed the men on foot and within 50 or 60 yards met Mr. Morgan of Chitterne, to whom he mentioned the attack. The men had but a minute or two before passed close to Mr. Morgan, and were then in sight. therefore turned his horse, and pursued them; one of whom soon lost sight of; the other 3 he kept in view until labourers came up, and they continued the pursuit, the fellows taking a circuitous route. They might now have taken them, we understand but fearful they had fire-arms about them, as threatened to shoot any man who came near them, Mr. Morgan thought it prudent to get further assistance, and called on Mr. Hooper, who immediately joined in the pursuit on horseback, armed with a double-barrelled gun. Whilst running over the down, one of the 3, a stoutish man, fell flat upon his back. Thinking, however, that this was a mere trap, and that if they stopped to encounter him, the other two might effect their escape, Mr. Morgan and the labourers passed him, and followed the others. Soon after which, whilst the fellows were keeping their pursuers at bay, Mr. W. Sainsbury West Lavington, came up, and without a moment's hesitation went into them and desired them to surrender. They were armed with large foal-sticks and threatened Mr. Sainsbury if he touched them. Upon which, Mr. S. holding up the brass end of a hunting-whip said, "If this is not enough for you, I have a brace of bull-dogs in my pocket (pistols) and if you make the least resistance, I will shoot you dead on the spot." The fellows then quietly surrendered. The pursuit occupied three hours ; and at last the fellows were taken very short distance from the spot where the robbery was committed. They were excellent hands at dodging. The fellows in their examination before the Magistrates, said their names were George Waters and Thomas Sanders. They said they knew nothing of the robbery ; and had frequently expressed their willingness to go with those who had been dodging them about ; but that they for a long time refused to come near them. They were committed for trial at the Sessions. The pocket-book was found on the down—the notes safe. the following morning the third man was discovered corpse on the very spot where he was seen to fall ; and inquest was yesterday held on the body before Mr. Whitmarsh, and a highly respectable Jury. The investigation lasted from morning until night. The evidence having been gone through, relating to the robbery, the manner in which the man, after warm pursuit, had been seen to fall—his being discovered corpse the following morning, &e Mr. Whitmarsh made some observations to the Jury, relating to the crime Felo-de-se. A Felo-de-se (he said) was one who deliberately puts an end to his own existence ; or, commits any unlawful act, the consequence of which is his death. It was therefore for the Jury to say, under the extraordinary circumstances of the case, whether the evidence would warrant verdict to that effect, or not. As it appeared from the evidence of Mr. Hitchcock, the surgeon, that his death was occasioned by the of rupture a large vessel on the brain, produced in all probability by over-excitement and exertion in running from the hands of justice, the Jury returned a verdict of Felo-de-se accordingly; upon which the coroner issued his warrant for the burial on that night. There can no doubt that the man was run'd to death. At the termination inquest, his wife arrived. She stated that her husband left Fisherton (where he resided) about mid-day on Monday, unknown to her. He has left two children. The deceased was a strong-built broad-chested man, about 5 feet 5 in. high, a native of Staffordshire. A piece of candle, carefully folded up, was found in. his pocket. The Jury was well pleased with the manly and spirited conduct of Mr. Morgan, that they entered into a subscription, for the purpose purchasing piece of plate for him. On the next morning there was found, within twenty yards of the spot where the robbery was committed, a bag containing skeleton keys of different sizes, instruments for picking pockets, a box Lucifer matches, and a candle. So well provided with the necessary implements for their business, it is impossible to calculate the extent of robbery and burglary such a gang might have committed had they not been captured. About three-quarters of a mile further on, near some hurdles, were found a crow-bar and a pocket handkerchief, with a heavy stone, as large as a trap ball, tyed firmly in one corner: this, dexterously used, would kill a bullock : 39s. in silver has been picked up scattered about the down, and with it a small key taken from Mr. Dean's pocket.

  • THE STONEHENGE VISITOR CENTRE - PAYING TO SEE THE STONES

    Stonehenge is the most popular UK tourist site outside London, and many people pay quite high sums to see it, making it the biggest earner for English Heritage. There are ways to see it for free by walking through the Neolithic landscape, but if you are short of time, part of a tour group or have free entry due to English Heritage or National Trust membership, this is what you can expect from a full, paid visit to the site. I visited Stonehenge by car on a sunny afternoon in July, and as you would expect, the site was busy. Fortunately the car park has a lot of space and although very full, it was easy to find a space. Surprisingly, there was no charge for parking. As you would expect for a new Visitor Centre, everything is well laid out with clearly defined pathways and plenty of benches. The centre is not the most attractive of buildings - why they chose that design is a mystery to me, but it is at least practical. As you walk up to the grand entrance there are loos outside and then you need to get in the right ticket queue - one is for members and those who have pre-booked, the other is to buy tickets on the spot. Once you have got your ticket you get given a wristband which gives you access to the bus and the exhibition. These are checked and people sent away if they do not have one, so do not try to avoid buying a ticket. To your right is the exhibition rooms, on your left is the shop and the café and straight ahead through the building are the Neolithic houses and a few 'sample' stones which you can get close to and even try to lift. The Neolithic Houses These are five houses of chalk and thatch, which look simple yet pretty in the sunshine. They are based on discoveries by archaeologists of houses found at nearby Durrington Walls which were built at the same time that the sarsen stones were added to Stonehenge, about 2,500 BC, and so were probably the homes of those who worked on the site. Each is just a single room of about five metres. Inside them are some pieces of woven furniture - sometimes you may find volunteers inside grinding corn, weaving rope or cooking on the open fires and talking you through how they were lived in. There were no volunteers inside when I visited, but I found that made them more peaceful and easier to look around. What I liked best was that birds were nesting in the thatched roof and you could hear the chicks chirping away over your head. Catching the bus to the Stones Around the back of the Visitor Centre you can queue to get one of the buses to the stones or you can find the start of the path to walk there. It is 1.3 miles and takes about 30 minutes to walk. The queue for the bus tends not to be too long at this end as they come very regularly. Fortunately you can wait in shade and under cover. The bus takes about five minutes down the road to what was once the old visitor centre. Walking around Stonehenge You then walk around the stones - you cannot get very close to them but you can get close enough for some good photos, if you can fight your way through the selfie sticks. The biggest concentration of people seems to be at the start of the circuit - if you go further round there are fewer people and a lot more space for your photos. There were all manner of people looking at the stones and it can be more entertaining to watch them than look at the stones. Most visitors are tourists from abroad and clearly have the stones on their UK 'bucket list'. There are a lot of family photos being taken with the stones as a backdrop - I even saw one blonde haired family in matching pastel clothing with big floppy hats and floaty dresses taking photos, clearly having coordinated their outfits just for the photos. I didn't know whether to be impressed at their advance planning or roll my eyes at their vanity. Others were following the suggestions in the random posters about how you could pose to make it look like you were holding the stones or carrying one of them on your back, leaving people looking really quite daft as they tried it. There are a few benches around the area but there were also people just sitting on the grass and relaxing. I also saw one person meditating and I later overheard him talking about the 'energy from the ley lines' of the site. There is not much to do other than take photos, listen to the audio guide if you have one (download it to your phone - there are no portable audio guides on offer) and slowly amble around the stones. The queue to get the bus back to the Visitor Centre can be enormous, it certainly was when I was there. It is out in the open - there is no shade or cover near the stones, which can leave you very hot or damp depending on the weather at the time. I timed the wait and it was 20 minutes to get on a bus. They packed the buses out with people having to stand. The walk does not have a great deal of shade and it can get quite hot out on Salisbury Plain. The buses take you back to the bus stop and you exit through the gift shop. The Stonehenge Exhibition The exhibition starts with 360° screen footage of Stonehenge through the centuries, from when it was built and through its various phases until modern day. I found it surprisingly enjoyable as you saw the shadowy figures of the people who built it and used it moving through the background, how it looked before it was built, how it looked when it was transformed with the Welsh stone and how it is now with the cars screeching past. It snowed, was foggy, was dark with stars rising in the sky, the sun rose, the sun set. It gave you a very good idea of just how much time the stones have been there. I managed to have the room to myself for a short while and it was really rather lovely to be surrounded by the stones on their journey through time. Other objects in the museum include a whole gallery of people's memories of Stonehenge throughout the past decades as well as some objects found near the stones, such as beaker pottery and tool kits as well as human remains. The Exhibition Centre was actually much smaller than I expected, which should have been no surprise as the majority of Stonehenge finds are in the British Museum, the Salisbury Museum and the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes. The Stonehenge Gift Shop There is all manner of tat available to buy in the shop. You can buy Stonehenge themed everything with rubbers, aprons, bookmarks, fridge magnets, T-shirts, mugs, hats - the choices are endless. There are also some very typical English gifts on offer - flowery crockery, jewellery, ornaments and more. Eating and Drinking at Stonehenge The café is next door to the shop and sells the usual fare you would expect for lunch and snacks - sandwiches, some hot food and lots of drinks. Just to warn you, the price of an egg and cress sandwich, which is usually the cheapest thing you can buy in any tourist hotspot, was an extortionate £5 and a bottle of lemonade was nearly £3. There are also ice cream vans on site during the warmer months, one up by the stones and one by the Visitor Centre. On the site near the entrance you will also see the Airman's Cross. This is a small memorial which was once sited on the roundabout near Stonehenge, but thoughtlessly moved from its location of 100 years when the new Visitor Centre was built in 2013. I’m sure many people must be confused about the connection between Stonehenge and the Airmen, but there is a small information board to tell you about them; two airmen killed in a plane crash in 1912 before the formation of the Royal Flying Corps. You can find out more about it with a visit to the Museum of Army Flying, about 10 miles away. Overall, it is a pleasant visit, especially if you can go on a nice sunny day which will enhance your photos, but I don’t know how I would feel if I had spent £25 to go there (I have National Trust membership and got in for 'free' on that). Visiting Stonehenge Ways to Visit Stonehenge and how to see it for Free >> Woodhenge to Stonehenge Walk and see both for Free >> Visiting Stonehenge: Your Questions Answered >>

  • MUDLARKING ON THE RIVER THAMES

    Mudlarking is an old, very London specific form of amateur archaeology, where people can inspect the shores of the Thames in central London to find artefacts and relics from its long and extensive past. As there are rules, regulations and safety concerns about how this can be done, it is best to join one of the organised tours run by Thames Explorer Trust, who have the required permits and expertise. A city as old as London has been built layer upon layer of human debris; discarded and lost objects and centuries worth of rubbish - the remains of meals eaten, pipes smoked, crockery smashed, coins lost, buttons broken and buildings crumbled. Two thousand years worth of detritus has fallen into the Thames, washing up every day on its grimy shores at the mercy of the strong estuary tides. For centuries people have made a living combing this foreshore, one man's rubbish being another man's treasure is no truer than here, where an object dropped by a careless Roman can now be worth its weight in monetary or historical value. Mudlarking is the ultimate way to get a know the capital city as a Slow Traveller - it forces you to really slow down, take your time and investigate the minutiae of the life of ordinary people from previous centuries. It is a hands on approach to being a visitor and you never know, you may well find something special and join the history books as a contributor to the archaeological knowledge of the city. The Rules of Mudlarking 1. Visual Inspection Only There are many rules in place about mudlarking, and it can be easy to fall foul of them. You cannot just go to a Thames beach and start poking around - that in itself is illegal. Even turning over a stone to look underneath is off limits. All you can do is walk along the beach and visually inspect - if you see something on the surface, you can pick it up to have a look. Metal detectors, trowels and spades are all completely forbidden. 2. Some areas are off-limits There are some areas where you are not allowed to even pick anything up, such as Queenhithe Dock which is a scheduled ancient monument. Once an Anglo-Saxon dock, the remains of which have been found there, it is also where Charles II landed to survey the damage caused by the Great Fire in 1666. Other areas completely off limits, even for those with a permit, include anywhere near HMS Belfast, the London Eye and St. Katherine's Dock. What is rather unhelpful is that there are no signs anywhere telling you where you are not allowed to go. 3. Health & Safety There are also Health & Safety issues to take into account. The estuary tides can be swift and sudden, and people have been stranded in the past with unfortunate consequences - there are not that many steps or ladders down to the shore. Experts also suggest always wearing waterproof gloves, as although the Thames is far cleaner than it ever used to be, it still contains sewage, and the foreshore where the objects are found is home to rodents of both the scuttling and flying variety. 4. Report Your Finds The final thing to be aware of is that you must report any significant finds to the Museum of London under the Treasure Act 1996. If you join one of the guided tours then they can help you determine what is potentially significant, otherwise you'll have to be able to work it out yourself. It is also expected that you will leave behind your insignificant finds for other people to find. What will you really do with broken clay pipes and crumbling pottery anyway? It should stay where it belongs. The thrill is the hunt, not the acquisition. Mudlarking with Thames Explorer Trust The guided tours run by Thames Explorer are often in the evening, depending on the tides - you can find them all on Eventbrite. You all meet at a specific location on the edge of the Thames - in the case of the tour I went on it was next to the Glass Obelisk under the north end of the Millennium Bridge - an easy spot to find. We were a group of about 14 people, mostly tourists from around the world, including several children, as it is a very child-friendly activity. In fact our guide told us that children often spot the best items as they are closer the ground and have far better eye sight. We were given a talk about mudlarking, the rules and regulations, health and safety, and then moved on to objects we were likely to find. There are some objects which are very common, such as clay pipes, oyster shells and animal bones. Our guide passed round some of her more impressive finds so we knew what to expect and which would help us with identification of our own. Then it was down to the foreshore and we were told where we could and couldn't go, then left to wander on our own to see what we could find. It only took us a few minutes to realise that the area we were in was actually all artefacts and that there was very little sand or gravel - we were walking on pipe stems, oyster shells, animal bones and lots and lots of bricks. We swiftly moved from marvelling over clay pipe stems to trying to find a pipe with its bowl still attached, from finding Victorian pottery to trying to find medieval or even Roman pots. We wandered across the foreshore, eyes becoming attuned to what to look out for, and passed a very pleasant hour as the sun set over the city, heads down and backs bent. Above us we could hear the sounds of office workers relaxing with a drink at the end of the day, loud guffaws and the clinking of glasses the backdrop to our silent search across the shore. At the end of the session you can take your finds to the guide who will help you identify them, we all gathered around her like excited schoolchildren for our 'show and tell' session. We laid our treasures out on a big rock to take photos, then just left them there to be swallowed up by the next tide, so they could return to their watery resting place. Objects you may find when Mudlarking Pipes Clay pipes are very common on the shores of the Thames. You are only likely to find the pipe ends rather than the bowl, as they frequently snap. The thinnest ones you find are the oldest, from when tobacco was expensive. As it became more common and cheaper in price, the pipes became bigger as people could afford more tobacco per smoke. Some pipes were sold pre-filled for single use, so would be discarded in the river the way cigarette butts would be in later years. Oyster Shells Oysters were once the food of the poor, rather than the wealthy as they are now. Once consumed, the shells would be thrown away and they form a large part of what you will find. There are many with a square hole in them - the reason for this is still unknown, they were possibly some form of currency but it remains a mystery. Animal bones There are a lot of animal bones on the shore, mostly Victorian from when people would eat an animal and throw away the bones. I found some substantial bones from pigs and cows, and even a sheep's jawbone with a full set of teeth. When the Thames was densely populated with barges, before the advent of the trains for goods transportation, barge piers were constructed along the length of the Thames. These were flat bottomed and infilled with rubbish, which is why there are so many bones from Victorian meals. Bricks You will find a wide range of bricks - London bricks as well as traditional red bricks. London has been rebuilt many times over and the remnants of this are all over the shore. Pottery There are huge amounts of pot shards in amongst the rest of the detritus. The thinner the piece is, the newer it is, with most of what you will find being Victorian. It can apparently be quite hard to find Roman pottery - Roman Londinium was a lot smaller than London is now so don't expect to find Roman artefacts in every place you search. Pottery Guides © Lara Maiklem Mudlarking Going Mudlarking Book your tickets through the Thames Explorer Trust >>

  • THE SECRET SPACES OF LONDON CITY WALKING TOUR

    London Guided Walks run walking tours across London, focusing on different areas and aspects of the capital. Providing public guided walks, private tours and self-guided walks, this group of guides can show visitors to places which are off the beaten path and which usually go unnoticed by tourists. I recently joined a public tour of the Secret Spaces of London City, to discover places I may have missed on my previous travels. The City of London is known for being a bit of a concrete metropolis, heavily bombed during World War II and rebuilt with the brutalist architecture of sites such as the Barbican and the less than beautiful exterior of the Museum of London. I wanted to find the hidden sites that only the locals know about, and was astonished to discover that there are indeed some hidden, verdant gardens within the famous Square Mile. Not only are they peaceful places to spend some time, but they have long and varied histories, none of which I would have known about without going on a guided tour. The meeting point was appropriately on London Wall, a road named after a historic feature which would provide a prominent backdrop to our guided walk. London Wall was initially built by the Romans to contain the city of Londinium, which roughly correlates to the modern-day City of London. The City of London is a small area within the larger area known as London which is in fact all of the various different settlements merged into the one vast metropolis. The City still has a unique character though and is distinctive with its different insignia which you can see around the area, as well as having its own police force, mayor and local government. Our group of 16 all gathered around the meeting point on a very hot and sunny day, our guide Susan helpfully holding a sign saying London Guided Walks as she welcomed us all and had an individual chat with everyone. She gave us a brief health and safety talk - obvious things about crossing the roads safely, which I'm guessing many people on tours may fail to remember in their haste to keep up with the front of the group. This was followed by a quick background of the City of London and the three crucial events which shaped the city after the Romans had left - Henry VIII and the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536 - 41, the Great Fire of London in 1666 and the Blitz in 1940 - 41. All of these events led to the destruction of the previous buildings and have irreparably determined the layout of the City. Guilds also have a large role to play in the formation of the City. These ancient trade associations, or livery companies, many of which go back hundreds of years, are large organisations of great wealth, which they use to further the interests of their profession and for charitable donations. They have huge and stately halls across the city and in some cases gardens, which they have opened up to the public, popular places for city workers to spend their lunch breaks, or for tourists looking to explore the secret areas of this metropolis. Our first port of call was Salter's Garden. The Salters Company is one of the oldest of the guilds, receiving its first licence in 1394, salt being vital for food preservation, flavour and medicinal use. The Salter's Hall you see today is a Grade II listed example of brutalist architecture designed by Basil Spence (who most famously designed Coventry Cathedral), their original halls having burnt down several times over the centuries before moving to this location in 1976. Salter's Garden is owned by the Guild but the public are allowed to access it when it is not in use for private functions. It is a truly beautiful garden, installed in 1981 and redesigned in 1995, and has now grown to fill its space. With the London Wall running down one side of the garden, you can clearly see the different levels of the wall. The Roman part is the area at the bottom of the wall and the rest is a mixture of medieval additions and repairs. This particular section of the wall still has some of the red brick crenellations which were added during the Wars of the Roses when the city reinforced its defences in case of attack. The garden is laid out in a formal geometric pattern with a water feature and a decorative urn positioned near the wall. In the height of summer when we visited it is filled with the scent of lavender, the beech hedging is over head height and the pergolas provide much needed shade from the heat of the sun. Pots were dotted around filled with colourful petunias and the number of freshly trimmed rosebushes showed that the garden must have been filled with the aroma of roses during the previous month. There are thoughtfully placed benches around the garden, where a few people were sitting peacefully with a sandwich and a book. Surrounded by the tall office buildings, it is a haven of tranquility, that crumbling London Wall providing a historical permanence to such a modern place. Another stop on our walk was Goldsmiths' Garden, a two-level garden which was once a bombsite. At street level are benches arranged around a wonderful London plane tree, but the lower level is a manicured lawn surrounded by planting. This was the graveyard of St. John Zachary, a church which was bombed during the Blitz and never rebuilt. The garden was created by fire wardens in 1941 and won an award for Best Garden on a Blitzed Site in 1950. It is now owned and maintained by the Goldsmiths Livery whose hall is just across the road. The garden bears the stamp of the golden leopard, the symbol used on an item which has been hallmarked at Goldsmith's Hall. Another hidden garden on our walk was Postman's Park, a public park which is actually one of the largest public spaces in the City. Once little known outside the local area, it has become more popular in recent years. Created on the ground of three graveyards, it was now known for its Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice, which was started in 1900 by artist Frederic Watts, who thought it wrong that there were no statues or memorials to ordinary people who had nevertheless made the ultimate sacrifice to save others. Under a wooden and tiled loggia, ceramic plaques are painted with the names and sacrificial acts of those who gave their lives, many of whom are children. Dwarfed by the towering plane trees which are dotted around the edges and with some formal planting and a fountain, the park has some unusual plants. Susan explained that the park seems to have a unique microclimate as it is surrounded by tall walls as well as the heat from the electric cables which run underground and so, unusually for London, there is large banana plant growing against one wall. The park was a popular place on that sunny lunch time, with groups of people resting on benches, eating sandwiches or scrolling on their phones. The plaques are incredibly moving; there are 54 of them in total dating from the 19th and 20th centuries, the oldest being from 1863. The latest is 2007 which is the only recent one for decades: presumably special permission was given to add it to the others. Each plaque tells a tragic yet heroic tale which you can find out more about on a dedicated website, Postman's Park >> Other places we visited on our tour included further areas of London Wall, including one spot where there had been a fort as part of the Roman Wall, and is the only bomb site still remaining in London. It is cleared of overgrowth but otherwise has been left as it was, as a reminder of what the City suffered. We also walked on a high walkway past some of London Wall and a single tower, the rest of its church long since gone. We visited a Physic Garden which smelled wonderful, and in fact the lady who was busy gardening there gave us sprigs of rosemary she had trimmed off, so we all spent the rest of our walk clutching these wonderful fragrant cuttings. We saw the garden, once graveyard, where the creators of Shakespeare's First Folio are buried and also a garden in a large former monastery, three walls of its quire still standing and now filled with towering greenery, roses and huge alliums. Our walk ended near St Paul's with Susan giving us directions to the tube, bus stops and our various routes home. Overall the guided tour was 90 minutes and I'm not sure how far we walked, probably no more than a mile, if that, yet we had seen so many places . We all applauded as she said goodbye - it had been such an interesting walk and even those of us who thought we knew a lot about London had learned something new. Susan had very patiently answered all questions she had been asked and seemed to be a fount of knowledge on areas of London well beyond the scope of the walk. It was a fascinating, enjoyable and enlightening walk through the secret spaces of London, and one I know any Slow Traveller would find rewarding. Booking your walk You can find this and all of the other walks on offer on their website, London Guided Walks Book direct through their website. The guides are all qualified professionals and experienced in guiding. They use microphones to ensure that you can hear them.

  • THE STORY OF MAURICE BLIK - BELSEN SURVIVOR

    Maurice Blik is a world famous sculptor who was born in Amsterdam in 1939. Interned in Belsen for several years as a child, he recently gave a talk to We Have Ways Fest, a three day festival which focuses on all things World War II. His was a harrowing yet ultimately uplifting story, which he told to a packed house in conversation with journalist York Membery. I have transcribed the talk, with a small amount of editing. It includes some excerpts from his book, which he read aloud to the audience. I was born in Amsterdam in 1939 and at that time we lived in an apartment above a shop in a very modest area. I lived there with my mother, father, sister and grandmother, who we called Oma, which is the Dutch word for grandmother. My father was born and bred a Dutchman, my mother was English and came to Holland as a child with her parents. My Grandfather had already died. My sister, Clara, was a couple of years older than me. My father's family in Amsterdam was large; he had three brothers and a sister and there were various spouses and children, so in total about 15 direct family members. It was a very traditional family; my father went to work as a commercial traveller selling car spares around the country. My mother was at home keeping a kosher household, bringing us up and looking after my elderly grandmother. It was a very pleasant, traditional family from what I remember. YM - on 7th May 1940, Germany invaded Holland and two weeks later Holland surrendered. I wonder how life changed for you and your family after the German invasion? In the first floor flat where we lived, Clara and I would sit by the window and we could see down the street - we could see German troops so we got the sense it wasn't the same as it used to be. Mother and Oma were sewing, they'd taken all of our clothing down from the cupboards and it was strewn about on the furniture, yellow stars in little heaps were on the table and they were carefully sewing them onto all of our clothes. The stars had Jood written on them in big black letters. My mum explained to me we are special people and we needed to be recognised - it made me feel rather proud but it was not long afterwards that I realised that it might not be a good thing. There were hushed conversations amongst the adults, trips out were less frequent and more hurried and eventually we were all but confined to our apartment, only leaving for the purchase of essential items. Food began to arrive via a basket which was common practice for people living in apartments. People would lower a basket down on a rope and then pull it back it up - it was a way of getting food supplies. We saw a large number of soldiers on foot and in big open cars filled with soldiers. The ones sitting in the back, dressed in long black leather coats, always looking very superior to the foot soldiers. People in civilian clothes would be hurrying along the street. We saw a woman running behind crying and shouting, who was shot. YM- There was the fateful day when a German soldier confronted you, aged 4, at the bottom of the stairs below the family flat. What happened? There was a shop below our flat and now and again Clara and I would go down below to get something from the shop. On this occasion I was confronted by a German soldier who asked me where I lived. I said 'upstairs' and off I went. He followed me and went into our apartment. I don't really know what happened, he spoke to my mother, I was just 4 so I wasn't really a part of the conversation. YM - Shortly after this you were transported? We were taken out of our flat, put in trucks and taken somewhere, I'm not sure how long we were there. From there we were taken to Westerbork, a camp in the north of Holland which had originally been built for German refugees but later on the Germans took it over. It was a wooden building filled with wooden bunks where we slept. For me, very fortunately, there was a rudimentary medical facility, because at that point I contracted a virus which eats away the bone of the skull behind the ear. Fortunately one of the inmates was a surgeon who operated on me, although in very crude conditions. He cut away the bone behind my ear which saved my life, but I've had hearing problems for rest of my life. YM - Westerbork was where you were separated from your father? It was one of the most painful moments of my life. In Westerbork they had a soldier who would come into the hut with a list of names, he'd read out names and people would just disappear as far as we concerned, we don't know what happened to them. One day he called my father's name out and so my father said goodbye to my mother and grandmother. They'd figured out they'd never see him again. When he turned around to me he said, "Look after your family, you're the man of the family," and he was gone and I never saw him again. He left me with that legacy, 'Look after your family". YM - After being separated from your father the rest of you were sent to Belsen where you stayed until you were liberated. You were very young, what were your impressions of the place when you arrived in 1943? I was 4 and I still remember I had my head bandaged after the surgery and I was wearing a balaclava I'd got from somewhere. Belsen was cold, in the middle of north Germany somewhere between Hannover and Hamburg, and it had wooden huts and bunks. We were put into one of the huts with three tiered bunks and a lady there figured out that if you go in a top bunk, you don't then have to deal with any bodily fluids. There were three of us in one bunk, I don't know where grandmother was, I don't know where she went as she wasn't with us in our hut. Every morning, in fact at least twice a day, there would be an appell, a roll call, with one of the German guards who we nicknamed 'Popeye' as he would constantly suck on his pipe. We would all go outside, it was really cold, and he would count everybody and he would get it wrong and have to start again. It seemed to me that the more cold and horrible the weather was, the more times he managed to get it wrong. I've no idea why, it was a complete farce really. So that was our exercise outside. YM - Thousands died in Belsen, how did you make sure you had enough food? Food was delivered in a big cauldron which was brought in. To call it soup is wrong, it was a watery liquid with vegetables. You would get in line with your bowl and get your portion. The trick was to get back as far as you could in the line because the vegetables would go to the bottom, so you would get more vegetables. Everyone was hungry, those who didn't get enough food died of starvation amongst other things. I'd line up and because I was a kid, I was able to take a bowl back to mother and then line up to get some more. The other way to get food was to grab it from people who had died if they died in their bunk. You got given bread every now and again and you'd have to eke it out, as you'd know it would be several days before you got more. The safest place to keep it was under your head, so you'd sleep on it and if someone tried to grab it, you'd wake up. People would die in their bunks and even sometimes when you knew they weren't actually dead, but too weak to move, you knew they wouldn't live out the day, so my sister and I were pretty good at being able to tell if someone was going to die in the next day and we'd sit next to their bunk, waiting for them to die, so we could take their bread and take it back to mother. YM - obviously there were no toys there but did you ever play games? The thing about our situation is when I think back, there were other kids but I don't remember anybody other than guards and immediate family. We did have a game in the morning - Clara and I, we'd have a lot of body lice and we had a game where you get the louse, put it on your thumbnail and with the other nail you could snap it. It kills it and also you got a spurt of blood and Clara and I would see how far we could get the spurt. It is the only game that I recall ever playing as there really wasn't the time. YM - Did your mother go without to ensure you and your sister had food? I suspect she did, but I don't remember that. I was hungry all the time but after a while I never complained - it was just a fact of life - just the soup in the mornings and bread if you could get it and that was it. She may well have done, I really don't know and I could never ever talk to mother subsequently about what happened, as she was so traumatised. She was 33, she'd left a very pleasant married life with a husband and two kids living in a decent place and then at 33 she was thrust into this situation. I could never ask her anything, if I tried she would well up, so there are some questions I just can't answer. YM - She gave birth in April 1944 to Milly, while she was in Belsen? I remember Mother was pregnant and then Milly arrived, it just happened. I just hope when she gave birth she had gone to a quiet corner with a nurse from amongst the inmates and that she had someone to help her. I just remember Milly suddenly appeared one day. The thing I remember is that I was a big brother and had been charged by father to look after my family. I remember it coming up to Milly's first birthday and being a big brother, I wanted to give her a present. Somewhere I'd found a carrot and I put three little wooden sticks in it for masts to give this to Milly for her first birthday. I kept asking Mother, 'When is it her birthday?' and always got back, 'No, not yet.' This went on for a couple of weeks, I kept asking, but she never made it and she died before her birthday. I was absolutely furious, not being able to give her the present. Can you imagine keeping a bit of food for that long when you are literally starving? I'd held onto this for a week or two weeks, I can't remember, and then the frustration of not being able to give it to my little sister. I was really angry with her - completely ridiculous I know - but that was the way I felt. YM - Your grandmother died in Belsen too? I don't remember how, I just remember seeing her around but at some point she wasn't around any more. I'm not sure if I even asked my mother what happened, so I have no idea how she died. YM - You met the notorious camp guard, Irma Grese? Irma Grese was a beautiful young camp guard who would take prisoners out and come back with fewer. "Six of you are going out and only five of you are coming back. The dogs are hungry." She was known for that. I was sitting next to a bunk bed waiting for somebody to die for their bread and in she stormed, black polished jack boots, a holstered pistol and an Alsatian dog at her side. She saw me sitting on floor waiting for somebody to die; she stared straight at me, thought for a moment and then grinned slowly and deliberately. She reached into the deep pockets of her military jacket and took out a shiny red apple. She held it in her hand for a moment, admiring it, and then began crunching it, her eyes fixed on me. The juices began trailing down the side of her mouth. I knew she was taunting me. I kept still, not daring to move or show any fear. She ate the apple down to the core, then placed it carefully on the floor. She set the dog to guard the remains before she walked off. The dog and I sat facing each other as it sat on its back legs with the core between its front legs, snarling and baring its teeth. I remained stock still, trying to show no fear. I knew if I grabbed the apple, the dog would tear me apart. We sat like that for I don't know how long until she came back. She was amused to see I hadn't tried to make a grab for the apple. She stomped on it and ground the remains into the bare wooden floor boards until there was nothing left to even scrape up. She then put the dog back on its leash and she paced out of the hut looking pleased with her lesson. This was probably a minor episode in her daily repertoire of sadism but I like to think that I thwarted her expectations of me. She didn't come back to a 5 year old, bloodied and mauled by the dog, she found me expressionless and calm, exactly as she had left me. In my own way I had stood up to her and I felt the victory was mine. YM - In 1945 the Allies were fast approaching Belsen and you were put on one of Belsen's 'lost trains'. What is a lost train and what happened? I discovered this later - I've never made a habit of reading the history so there are just a few bits of information which I later discovered. Towards end of war, the Germans realised they were losing and started clearing the camps in Belsen. Three trains were loaded up and sent off and I was on one of them with my mother and sister. We didn't know where we were going, we had no idea, but we thought it might be better than Belsen. It became known as the 'lost train' as it meandered all over Germany. We were on it for 12 days and it managed to cover 200 miles in that time - it was stopping and starting every five minutes, sometimes it would stop for a day, then half an hour, then it would trundle off. The Allies must have thought it was a troop train as it was shot at by aircraft and the guards would yell to get out, we'd run off and go into field to get away from the train and then when the shooting had stopped the guards would shout to get back on, and off it would go again. I don't remember what we had to eat on the train but it was very little. I do remember one time the train stopped in a railway yard where there were piles of beetroot and I sneaked off the train and got some to bring back to Mother. We had a diet of raw beetroot for a while, which I don't recommend. A lot of people died on that train. The carriage was a passenger carriage with wooden slatted seats which Clara and I would sit underneath. At the back of the carriage was a little platform, and when people died we would push them out onto the platform so that when the train stopped, they would be taken off and buried next to the track. YM - The train ended up near Leipzig where it was liberated by Russian Cossacks? I awoke to a loud commotion of people shouting and cheering and everybody waving and hugging. I climbed onto a seat and looked out of a little window where there were men in unfamiliar uniforms, armed to the teeth, riding on horseback whooping, shouting and waving their rifles in the air. There was tremendous energy and noise and everyone was over the moon to see them. I scrambled off the train and they escorted us to a nearby village. The majority of German residents had fled but I do recall one villager shouting in German, 'We lost this war but we'll win the next.' YM - In 1946 you came to England with your mother and Clara - what do you recall about your flight to England? Mother was born in England but had no papers, but she persuaded one of the Russian officers that she should go back to England with her kids. We all went to Paris in a tiny aircraft with just seven or eight seats and took off. I remember very clearly flying over the coastline with mother beside herself as you can imagine. Then we flew over the city of London and I can remember clearly seeing St. Paul's standing above the rubble. That was my first sight and I have to say that I have had a passion for the city ever since - I even lived there for quite a long time. My mother's sister lived in Cheltenham with her husband and they picked us up from a little airport and drove us to their house. I didn't speak any English, the only thing I knew for 2-3 years was '201 Arle Road' so if I got separated then I could get back home. YM - Did you try to find out what happened to your father? When my daughter was in her 20s, she did some research to try to find out what had happened to him. The story was that he'd gone to Auschwitz, there was some Red Cross letter that Mother received saying he'd died no later than 31st March 1944. It didn't make any sense - if he'd gone he'd have been a fit and healthy guy so he'd have been put to work and tattooed, but there was no trace of him. So I never knew what happened. I had fantasies that he'd made a run for it. I was haunted by this for years when I was living in London. I would be sitting on a bus and I could see him on a pavement and the bus didn't stop or I'd see him on a tube when I was in a station. Of course it was all fantasy. When I was in my early 40s, I was in a fairly dark place and thought I needed some help, so I went to see a lady called Jean, a psychotherapist. She gently asked about my family and she said, 'What about your father?' and I said, 'I think he's dead' and that was the first time I had to actually confront that for real. The therapy went on and for the first time in my life at the age of 43 I could acknowledge to myself that he'd died, and then the nightmares ceased. YM - Moving to sculpture - how was your piece Aztek influenced by your childhood? During therapy I had already started getting a life together and was making sculptures. I was asked to make a trophy for an equestrian company who wanted a horse head rather than a shield or a cup. It was the first time I had touched clay for 15 years. When I was asked I took a deep breath, said 'OK' and made the horse head. I was enjoying it so much that I made a whole bunch of them. During therapy I showed Jean some pictures of the horse heads which were showing in an upmarket furniture shop, my life was getting better, and she said, 'That's the second time the horses have rescued you!' I said, 'What are you talking about?' and she explained about the Cossacks on horseback. For the first time I made that connection and it resonated with me. I'd never done this consciously, but thinking about it, those energetic Cossacks showing off their horsemanship were so lively and so life affirming. Jean was the first to make that connection. My sculpture Hollow Dog was influenced by Irma Grese. I'd been making sculptures for five years at that point and was offered a solo exhibition in a London gallery, which felt quite something at the age of 45. I made the dog that Irma Grese threatened me with. I made the piece big, he's the size of a small horse and I made it with Plaster of Paris, which you build up quickly with no time to fiddle with it - I wanted it to have a brutal appearance. I called it Hollow Dog, partly because it's cast in bronze and all bronzes are hollow, but also because even as a little four year old I recognised this dog was not acting on its own free will; it was controlled by this woman and was entirely under her control, so it was hollow because it has none of its own spirit. YM -Lots of your sculptures are of figures with their arms raised to heavens? I've gone on to do quite a few exhibitions. I don't go out consciously to illustrate events of my past - these things kind of emerge, I work with clay and I have a vague idea of what I want, but as I'm working it comes into being and people seem to find them aspirational and life affirming. YM - How you feel after all of these years about those who are guilty - can you forgive? I look at my life when I was 4/5/6 in Belsen and on the train, and it took me probably until my 60s to really emotionally understand what happened to me. I'd always somehow dealt with it as if it was somebody else, as if I was seeing a film of a little kid having these awful things going on. I never thought it was awful, it was just life and the way life was, surrounded by dead people every day. Not until I'd managed to separate that off in my mid 60s that I realised that I'd gone through a rather horrible business. It's a form of defence mechanism - if I start crying about it I will never stop. Question from audience: How do feel about the Nazi guards still being prosecuted today? Should they be? It wasn't a secret business what was going on, it wasn't behind closed doors - it was open, there was even a film made by Chaplin in 1941/42 in which he refers to concentration camps [The Great Dictator], so if you ask should they still be prosecuted, obviously I will say of course. My father, grandmother, baby sister, my uncles, my aunt, my cousins were all murdered and that was just one little family. My baby sister might have grown up and had kids - all of them have been wiped out. The camp guards were absolutely aware of what was going on. Irma Grese was 20 when she was hanged so this young woman was quite conscious and sadistic. Had she been alive today, yes I'd want her prosecuted. I don't blame the whole of Germany but it is extraordinary how a country like that, a very civilised nation, could behave like that not that long ago. Perhaps they were bamboozled, but they went along with it by and large, so yes. Question from audience: Did your art give you some therapy respite? That is the most difficult question to answer! When I came to England I had further surgery on my skull at the age of 7/8 and so I wanted to be a doctor. My mum was delighted and that was my focus until I had to make A-Level choices. The night I had to choose the subjects that would take me into medicine, I had this flashback of all the dead bodies and the people too ill and half dead who couldn't move and speak. I had a reaction to this and went to Mother and said, 'I can't do medicine, I can't cope with it, I'm going to art school,' and she didn't ask, she just said, 'I'm sure you'll be a brilliant artist.' It must have been a huge disappointment, from 'my son, the doctor' to 'my son, the artist'. But I went to art school, I liked the whole lifestyle and attitude. I started teaching but didn't touch clay for 15 years after art school. Then came the circumstances of making the horse trophy which kick-started my life again and I enjoyed making the heads. I thought after everything and the dark places that this gave me a lot of positive feedback. The horses' heads were selling, I was enjoying a bit of a success and it carried on from there. I've never done this as art therapy but when you make a sculpture and someone says, 'That's great, I'll have it in my gallery,' it gives it meaning to me. I feel liked. I shall carry on until the day I die as that has such meaning in terms of my place on the planet. There's a comfort there. I never know when I make something how it will be received and I'm sure it goes back to when I made the present for Milly and she rejected it. Maybe like artist Francis Bacon - 'I want to be loved' and I think that's my 'why' - wanting to be loved. From the back of the audience came the shout, "Well we love you," and the audience and Maurice all laughed, the tense silence broken. As the audience stood to applaud, Maurice looked somewhat astonished, but it had been such a harrowing hour. He had talked with remarkable frankness and stoicism, except when talking about his father, which had caused him to take a few moments to gather himself, the trauma from nearly 80 years ago reaching across the decades with an immediacy which we all felt in the audience. You can read his story in his book, The Art of Survival, which was published in January 2022. Maurice Blik website >> Find out more about the excellent We Have Ways Fest >>

  • THREE DAYS IN LONDON – THE ROYAL ITINERARY

    From the Tower of London to Buckingham Palace, London’s royal heritage is immense. Scattered about the city and beyond, choosing what to visit and when takes some planning. We have put together a three-day, self-guided itinerary for those visitors who want to focus their sightseeing on something for which the British are well known – the monarchy and its history. For many people, London and the British Royal Family are synonymous; the capital city is filled with buildings connected to their lives, whether its the palaces they built and lived in or the churches they were crowned, married and buried. Visitors often want to focus their attention on these historic sites, but with so many to choose from, it can be hard work to narrow it down to the most significant ones. This three day itinerary covers the most important royal sights and is a mix of guided tours which you need to book in advance, a couple of VIP experiences as well as a free museum and other sights you can see as you explore the city under your own steam. There is no need to use public transport such as the underground or buses in this itinerary, but depending on where your accommodation is, you may need public transport or a black cab to get to the starting locations. If you want all of the research and planning hassle taken out of your trip, follow this itinerary and see the very best that London has to offer the royal history enthusiast. DAY ONE – WESTMINSTER TO BUCKINGHAM PALACE We start on Westminster Bridge, with its iconic views over the River Thames and the Houses of Parliament. This is a popular spot for tourists and you will need to compete with the throngs to get the best photos or to watch the buskers. Walk past Big Ben and turn left into Parliament Square. If you’re here in good time, you can walk around Parliament Square, take photos of iconic red telephone boxes and look at the famous statues of the great and the good, which include British leaders such as Winston Churchill, the suffragette Millicent Fawcett and world leaders such as Nelson Mandela. Continue down Abingdon Street for a short distance and you will see the Jewel Tower which was built in 1365 to house Edward III’s royal treasures and is one of only two buildings which survive from the medieval Palace of Westminster. The tower is closed for much of the week but is still an impressive sight from the outside. Now go back the way you came, turn left into Parliament Square and head towards Westminster Abbey, the site of coronations for a thousand years, 16 royal weddings and the resting place of 30 kings and queens. After exploring the Abbey, it is time to watch The Changing of the Guard, which takes place at either Horse Guards Parade or Buckingham Palace, depending on the day. Get there in good time to make sure you have a prime viewing position for the pomp and pageantry of the ceremony. If you’re visiting from the end of July to early October, then the State Rooms in Buckingham Palace are open for visitors and you can take a tour inside the Palace with an audio guide which is available in several different languages. If you are visiting outside the summer season, then you can still visit The Royal Mews where you can see the Royal carriages and horses, including the famous golden carriage used on state occasions. After your tour, walk down The Mall, the famous road which leads from Buckingham Palace to Trafalgar Square. Turn right into Horse Guards Road next to St James Park. If you have done the Royal Mews visit instead of the State Rooms, then you will have time to visit The Household Cavalry Museum, a fantastic working museum where you can learn about the lives of the soldiers who protect the Queen, see their horses and the Cavalry themselves, who sit on horseback outside the building every day. Leave the Horseguards Museum through the front entrance onto Whitehall. Walk down Whitehall back towards Westminster Bridge. Across the road you will see Banqueting House where Charles I was executed. Keep walking and you will see the Cenotaph in the centre of the road, a national war memorial. Opposite this is the entrance to Downing Street; you can’t walk down the street as it is fenced off and protected by armed police, but you may be able to peer through the railings and see that famous front door. Keep walking a short distance until you are back at Parliament Square, and cross Westminster Bridge again. Once you are across, turn left down the steps and head to the London Eye, where you can skip the queues and enjoy a well-earned glass of champagne (for an extra charge) in one of the pods as you admire the views of the sun setting over London. DAY TWO – THE CITY AND ITS TOWER The second day starts with the unique opportunity to witness the Opening Ceremony at the Tower of London with VIP access before the crowds arrive. Meet in front of the Tower of London shop at 8:30am and enjoy an exclusive tour around the Crown Jewels, the execution block where royalty lost their heads, the Bloody Tower, the White Tower, the famous ravens and the dungeons with your own tour guide. When the tour is finished, you have 30 minutes to buy your Tower souvenirs and walk the few steps to Tower Pier on the Thames. Here you can hop on a River cruise of the Thames and enjoy a 2 course lunch with live commentary, admiring the views through panoramic windows as you glide down the Thames. Feeling refreshed you will disembark back at Tower Pier, where you can then walk to St. Paul’s Cathedral. Head west and turn right onto St. Dunstan’s Hill. Here you can stop to look at the ruins of St. Dunstan-in-the-East, the shell of a church which was bombed during World War II and now has a small garden growing within its walls. Turn right onto Monument Street and walk past the Monument to the Great Fire of London. Then continue in a straight line down Canon Street until you reach St.Paul’s Cathedral. This Wren masterpiece is where Prince Charles married Princess Diana and is where the royal family regularly attend services. A fast-track access ticket includes a multimedia guide in several languages and you can arrange a free guided tour once you are in the building if you require it. When you have finished looking around St Paul’s, it is just an eight minute walk to the Museum of London up St. Martins le Grand street. This museum charts the whole history of London and has regular exhibitions. The museum is free and open until 6pm, so you have the flexibility to go depending on how much time and energy you have left. (The museum closes at the end of 2022 until 2025 for refurbishment.) DAY THREE – TODAY’S ROYAL RESIDENCES Day Three starts gently, giving you the time for a leisurely breakfast and plenty of time to get to Earls Court station, where you will be collected by a luxury coach and taken to Windsor. The trip includes skip-the-line tickets to Windsor Castle and gives you plenty of time to explore the castle, grounds and the town of Windsor or nearby Eton. You will return to Earls Court at 1.30pm and can then either walk 30 minutes or catch a black cab to Kensington Palace. Here you can use your Palace sightseeing tickets to gain entry to this palace of sumptuous state rooms and learn more about the Stuart dynasty and Queen Victoria. After your visit to the Palace, head into Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park, where you can visit the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain and enjoy the greenery and tranquility of one of London’s most famous green spaces. If you exit on the south side of the park, you will end up in Knightsbridge and Belgravia, the smart areas of London where you can find an eatery for a civilised dinner and a well deserved rest after your three days of exploring a thousand years of British royal history. If you don’t fancy having to search for somewhere to eat, head to the south east corner of Hyde Park where you can eat at the Hard Rock Café in Mayfair with some skip-the-line tickets. THE 3-DAY ROYAL LONDON ITINERARY AT A GLANCE (Click on the links to book tickets) WHAT YOU NEED TO PURCHASE Our London for Beginners Royal Itinerary is intended for first time visitors with three days to see the best royal historical sites. As time is short, this combination of skip-the-line tickets, free sites and boat tours allows you to get the maximum from your time in London. Each of these activities can be purchased online, in advance. Click on the links above to book tickets - some are book direct with the attraction, others are with Get Your Guide who not only have some of the best deals, but more importantly in our view, you are able to cancel your activities usually up to 24 hours in advance to get a *full refund* back to your account. Be sure to buy the right set of tickets for the right day. RESTRICTIONS There are some restrictions on a couple of these tours. The Tower of London VIP tour only runs on certain days, so I would start with that one when you are making your bookings. You can always substitute it with this Skip-the-line ticket which is every day but does not include the VIP early morning access. Likewise the river cruise is more seasonal and does not run every day in the winter months. The Windsor trip is weekdays only. If you are staying in London for longer than three days, why not add a day trip to other famous sites such as Stonehenge, the Roman Baths or Oxford?

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