Welcome to our galleries page: Heritage Britain
There are many reasons why so many North Americans think of Britain differently to all other countries. It is of course in part related to being the "Motherland", but there is also a lingering admiration for the culture, the people and the beauty of this small island from whence has sprung a veritable font of creative and industrial brilliance, enterprise and adventure. That so small a piece of global real estate has had so profound and significant an impact on global events and global development is more than astounding. But what may not be immediately apparent is that British and American "exceptionalism" share a common cause: in one way or another, the coming together and melding of a wide array of different nationalities and ethnicities. Both are melting pots, but in Britain's case, the melting took place over centuries, the evidence for which, today lies in its many historical monuments and institutions that testify to its complex and fascinating past.
Our opening image (HB-001), was taken on a bitterly cold, but spectacular mid-winter morning. The location is the northernmost of English counties: Northumberland, atop the Pennine Mountains, also known as the "Backbone" of England. For it was here in AD 122, almost 2000 years ago, that the occupying Roman forces of the emperor Hadrian, began the construction of a great wall that spanned the entire width of England from the Atlantic coast on the west, to the North Sea coast on the east, a distance of some 75 miles. It remains to this day the largest continuous Roman artifact in the world. The scene seems fitting and may have changed only minimally since Roman troops and engineers stood in this very spot all those years ago. In the mists of this particular dawn, so symbolic of the "mists of time", shrouding the hill slopes and valleys in a wrap of golden haze, obscuring almost all evidence of the twenty first century, one can almost hear the march of Roman soldiers.
In HB-002, one can just make out the trace of the Hadrian's wall as it snakes across the valley floor and then rises up and over the prominent rocky outcrop beyond the copse of trees. This rocky outcrop is a geological feature of some fame in Britain known as the Great Whin Sill. The word "sill" in geology is used to define an intrusion of magma that invades the pre-exiting "country" rock by forcing its way along a pre-existing bedding plane. In most instances, this results in the emplacement of a magmatic body that lies concordant to bedding and closer to the horizontal than to the vertical (a near vertical intrusion by contrast is known as a "dike"). The rock so emplaced and forming the Whinn Sill, based on its mineral composition, is called a "Dolerite", a hard rock commonly quarried for road building aggregate. Because of its hardness relative to the "country" rock around it, in this case Carboniferous age shales, sandstones and limestones, over the eons of the Pleistocene ice age and the physical erosion that followed, the softer rocks got worn down further than the harder dolerite. This differential erosion resulted in the Whinn Sill being left as a prominent "stand-out" topography across the
north of England, an entirely natural rampart whose steep scarp or cliff face looked northwards towards Scotland and whose more gentle "dip" slope faced south towards England. So to Roman engineers' eyes, this spectacular piece of geology was the perfect place to put what was intended to be a barrier and defense separating "Rome from the barbarians", for north of the wall, lay the tribal lands of the Ancient Britons and the Picts, who relentlessly battled the Romans for control of the northern territory of the British Isles. The Romans occupied Briton from 43 AD to 410 AD and for most of that time, Hadrian's Wall marked the northern limit of the entire Roman empire. Behind the wall, Britain was forever transformed by the Roman occupation. To this day, most of the major highways follow fairly closely the route ways of the ancient Roman roads. Many English towns and villages are built on Roman ruins and Roman structures can commonly be found in fairly modern basements.
But after the Romans left, life in Britain once again became disorganized, chaotic and even "barbaric". There is a reason the ensuing centuries are described in Britain as the "Dark Ages". Roman buildings fell into disrepair and were plundered for their building stones. Roman libraries and culture were literally and metaphorically ransacked and plundered with nothing to replace them. The Roman system of centralized political control collapsed completely, along with any semblance of law and order. It was replaced by a fractured tribalism, where individual war chiefs called themselves kings and competed with their neighbors for control and ownership of land, people and all their possessions, such as they were. The single commonality was the arrival of the early Christian missionaries in the fifth and sixth centuries in what has also come to be known as the "Age of Saints". During these years, the Celtic saints explored the coastlines of north west Europe, looking for protected sites to establish monasteries from whence they could venture into the interior, bringing with them the word of a new monotheistic religion: Christianity. In addition to being sites of religious study, contemplation and prayer, many of these monasteries also became fonts of religious politics, whereby leadership of the population was shared between kings, abbots and bishops. Kings developed policies hand-in-hand with religious leaders, and together, they became an inseparable form of government.
In image HB-003, we see an eighth century Christian cross from Kildalton Chapel in the south west of the Scottish Inner Hebrides island of Islay. The location here is bleak but tucked neatly behind a hill so it cannot be seen from the sea. This was necessary because by this time, the Norsemen or Vikings, had begun maroading along Britain's coastline, looking especially for monasteries or churches and their related settlements where there was known to be gold, silver and villages with food and women, all of which were ripe to be plundered.
Time and again in mankind's early history, we find example after example where man's protection and survival depended on the form and nature of the land and geology upon which he lived.
But by the 800's, the Viking tide had well and truly swept in to the British Isles. Many northern cities were fully under their control and they began a process of integrating into their new homelands. But intermittent warfare with the Saxon Kings of England continued and it was not until the Gallic Normans under William the Duke of Normandy, defeated the Saxon King Harold ("The Great") at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, that peace and order was once again returned to Britain, albeit under the baronial and feudal authoritarianism of the Norman Conquest. As a side note it is perhaps ironic that the "French" Normans got their name because they were all descendants from Norse-men - Vikings - led by Rollo, the first Duke of Normandy, who was from western Norway. Rollo was in fact the great-great-great Grandfather of William the Conqueror, or William I of England and as such is a direct forbear of the current English royal family.
And so, in 1066 began the great Norman Conquest of the British Isles, a passage of British history that saw dramatic transformation. The early years witnessed considerable turmoil due in part to William's frequent absences conducting his business and reforms of northern France and the Church in France. In his absence, William allowed many Anglo-Saxon institutions to continue, but ever gradually, the English aristocracy, its church and even its language was transformed. In 1086, William set out to survey all his newly held British property in the so called "Domesday" Book. This book still exists in its original form at the British National Archives in Kew. It was written mainly in Latin, was highly abbreviated but very detailed and incorporated local dialects where no Latin equivalents were known. It's primary goal was to establish a basis for taxation, but it subsequently has become the most marvelous record of life in medieval Britain.
In order to further consolidate his control, William awarded vast expanses of lands to his most trusted barons, who were allowed considerable scope in how they governed, but their main job was to modernize the English army through new forms of conscription and weaponization, and of course, to collect taxes, which William used to fund military ventures and secure the allegiance of the church and aristocracy alike. Baronial life, while somewhat harsh for common folk, resulted in a rich cultural legacy of music, dance and literature unlike any seen before in Britain. Life centered around their large and imposing castles and the equally large and imposing religious edifices: monasteries, cathedrals and even modest village churches. All Norman structures bore great similarities of design and engineering that have proven over the centuries to be robust, enduring, and to this day, extremely beautiful. Even today they tend to dominate their surrounding countryside and are amazingly well preserved under the care of the British Heritage and National Trust organizations. They are wonderful places to visit and explore.
In the following images, HB-004, 5, 6 and 7, we see different views and perspectives of one example: Dunstanburgh Castle on the Northumberland coastline. Although this was not constructed until the 1300's, it is generally considered to be a structure based on Norman design principles: natural high ground positioning, an outer wall with intermittent towers and military barracks, an inner "keep" where the main accommodation was provided for the aristocracy and plenty of space within the outer walls for stores, other accommodation and stabling, which were more commonly crafted from timber and straw. In Dunstanburgh, the natural topographic elevation was once again provided by our old friend from Hadrian's wall, the Great Whinn Sill. Just as the Romans did, the Norman engineers took advantage of the hard Dolerite rock standing out and above the surrounding softer country rock. Also, here where the Whinn Sill meets the North Sea coastline, it forms high sea cliffs as well as forming a natural rampart, ideal for a structure intended to be a defensive stronghold.
The castle today remains an impressive edifice despite its somewhat ruinous condition. It stands alone on the prominence of the Whinn Sill sea-cliffs, visible from many miles around, bleak and raw, just as is the coastline it so dominates. In this part of Britain, the winds are persistent and fierce. Winter and summer storms alike bring a drenching mix of fierce, angled rain and a dense mist of salt air from the millions of North Sea waves that crash every day on the hard rocks of the Whinn Sill.
To come here during a winter's day with virtually no other humans in sight, to sit and listen to the wind howling over the castle ramparts with the sea hissing and roaring in the background proved to be an almost transcendental experience for us. We felt transfixed by the visions, the whispers and the grumbles of souls long passed. It was an eerie experience.
This particular structure is built of locally quarried Carboniferous age, cross-bedded sandstones (see fuller description in the GeoVisions Gallery!) The plaster that once lined these walls both inside and out has long-since fallen away, exposing the underlying sandstone building blocks to the atmospheric elements. And the elements have had their effects, etching out individual weaker layers, causing the composition and nature of the sediment's deposition stand out in strong base relief and creating a wonderfully complex and beautifully textured herring-bone wall. Also, in these two images, HB-006 and 7, one can see windows and defensive archery positions from both the inside (HB-006) and the outside (HB-007). Note how wide the interior is, and how especially in the case of 007 how narrow the outside is. The vertical slit is specifically designed to accommodate a long-bow archer who's arrows would protrude from the wider circle in the mid-section. Behind the slit, the space is much larger to accommodate the vertical height of the long-bow itself and also to enable the archer to move from left to right enabling maximum shielding on the outside and total freedom on the inside to direct his arrow-shot in either direction, left or right, up or down.
Following the invasion of 1066, Britain never again was overrun by an invading force. Many tried, but all failed. And from 1066 forward, British culture evolved independently, creating a unique blend of commerce and military strength founded upon art, science and industrial technology education and research that spanned centuries in its development. In the following images, we have picked just a few elements to focus our cameras on. We would like to bring more in the future, but here goes.....
Our first subject is Botelot Farm in south Cornwall, a complex of houses and barns of various vintages. First mentioned in the Domesday Book, there has been a small "manor house" and farm here that for centuries has served as the focal point of the local community and indeed to this day, is surrounded by many artifacts from many different eras that evidence a variety of ventures and activities. The farm "reeks" of age, some of which, we hope our images capture.
The oldest of the current houses is shown here in HB-008. This structure is on the site of the original Domesday structure, which, over the many years has undergone various renovations and improvements. At one point this site also served as the region's post office, hence the public telephone box and in HB-009, the local mail box that is built in to one of the old barn walls.
In the remaining images from Botelot: HB-010-015, we show various details from around the complex. The mill-stone (HB-011) was a particularly delightful discovery, but we were also quite fascinated by the 19th Century cast iron lamp posts and by the many ancient doors, many of which appeared to us not to have been opened in decades at least.
This furthest flung of English counties, the county of Cornwall, is a marvelous place with a rich history of farming, trade (some not entirely within the law), mining, sea-faring and the arts. It is also a beautiful, wild and rugged landscape, almost always a rich, lush green from shoreline to shoreline where it is flanked to the west, north and south by the Atlantic Ocean. Its exposure to the North Atlantic elements results in extremes of weather, some beautiful and calm, with warm summer temperatures and some the opposite, cold, furious and violent. Over the centuries, residents have criss-crossed the county from north to south, from west to east, from town to town and from village to village, in carriages, wagons, by foot and on horseback. And to protect these travelers from the all too common prevailing west and northwest gale-force winds, the county's narrow road-ways and single-track lanes were designed with dry-stone walled embankments on either side, atop of which is an abundance of flora: blackberry brambles, elderberry, foxgloves, holly, oak, sycamore and larch to name just a few. In HB-016, we see one such lane-way in its rich summer verdant cover. These lanes commonly carry no other sound than that of a light breeze in the leaves, birds on the wing, bees hunting pollen, and flies buzzing around chasing what the cows in the neighboring fields left behind!
This particular lane sits in the Vale of Lanherne, in the parish of St. Mawgan in Pydar, just a mile or so from the north Cornish coast and some miles north of the town of Newquay. It is off the "beaten path" and as tranquil as it looks. Part of the way cuts across a field where a herd of young - and very curious - cows quietly munch away, until that is, when human interlopers venture unwittingly and quite innocently through the five bar gate that seals the pasture, then its game on! Hilarious if young cows don't scare you at all, terrifying if they do!
At it's inland termination, this lane arrives at the walls surrounding Lanherne House (shown partially in HB-017) and the ancient, pre-Norman, Celtic settlement that is now St. Mawgan village. Lanherne Manor was registered in the Domesday Book of 1068, but the current house was built in the early 16th century by the Arundell family, one of the few noble Norman families in Cornwall, and who had been the principal landowners in Lanherne since the 13th century. But the 16th and 17th centuries saw turbulent times in England. There was much civil disorder, uprisings and minor rebellions, commonly rooted in the ongoing fight between Catholics and Protestants, for this was the period of English history known as the Great Reformation, which reverberated perpetually through the following centuries. These were the times when Catholics were persecuted and the slightest sniff of rebellion was put down swiftly and brutally. The Arundells were devout Catholics, and came under great suspicion as a result. Towards the end of the 17th century the last surviving member of the family was gone and Lanherne sat empty for many years until in 1749, a group of Carmelite nuns from Belgium, were allowed to take up the bequeaths of the house that the Arundells had made earlier. The silent order of Carmelites and the twelve-member "Sisters of Lanherne", as they have since become known, live there to this day where they are staunchly defended by the people of the village and the parish. Behind the walls of the great house, little has changed in over 250 years. The nuns live a silent and humble life, filled with garden work, house work, prayer and contemplation. In HB-018, we see the somewhat eerie entrance to the convent cemetery. Not seen here (to be added later we hope), is the village church, green and pub. The church contains a famous collection of monumental brasses celebrating the lives of various members of the Arundell family. The green is the site of village cricket matches and the annual "sports day" for the children of the village and surrounding areas. The pub has a great garden, a wonderful selection of Cornish ales, and a brilliant menu.
In our final set of images for this gallery (hopefully we will be adding more later) we move significantly forward in British history. Perhaps the greatest transformation of Britain in its entire history spanned the period of time we now call the agricultural and industrial revolutions. Vast numbers of people migrated from their traditional rural homes and their cottage based livelihoods to increasingly agglomerated industrial centers where they took up jobs in the newly created factories and the coal and iron mines that kept them running. The north country of England in particular experienced dramatic growth around the major cities of Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester, but also many smaller towns too on both sides of the Pennine mountains that became known as the mill towns, where cotton and woolen textiles were mass produced for the first time. It is generally accepted that the first proto-type of the modern factory was designed and constructed in Cromford, a small Derbyshire market town, by a man called Richard Arkwright in 1769. He built the factory, Cromford Mill, which still stands today, to accommodate his patented "water frame", a water powered spinning loom. The need for a factory came about because the new looms were too big to fit in to workers' cottages as had traditionally been done. Around the same time, two other inventions, the Spinning Jenny (James Hargreaves in 1767) and the Flying Shuttle (John Kay in 1733) added to the momentum to concentrate mechanized weaving in ever larger factories that were specifically designed and constructed to be fire-proof (i.e steel framed with brick walls), because cotton dust in particular was very susceptible to spontaneous combustion. This of course was all before the introduction of electricity, so all these inventions had to be manually powered, or water powered. Today, these ancient but revolutionary machines have long been been entirely eclipsed by hi-tech, super high speed weaving technologies, so imagine our utter astonishment when on the island of Islay, in the Inner hebrides of Scotland, we stumbled across an old mill, with a Victorian vintage flying shuttle loom (weaving machine) and a genuine Victorian Spinning Jenny in full operation!
Talk about time-warp! Pun intended! The Spinning Jenny is actually the machine shown on the left of HB-019, and is one of two in the mill. The mill is owned by the Covell family who salvaged the two Jenny's and the looms as they were being made redundant at their original location in Yorkshire. By some means (I didn't ask!!....) Gordon Covell and his wife Sheila transported the machines in 1983 to the island of Islay and set them up in their current location, which is in fact an old water mill.
The quality and design of the woolen textiles that are made at the mill is exceptional and the Covell's have provided these to the many of the Hollywood studios for use in costume dramas such as Braveheart, Rob Roy and Forrest Gump.
Gordon Covell and his son Marcus are happy to demonstrate the equipment in action and a visit to their work area includes views of many other historical artifacts such as the ancient typewriters that sit on a window ledge next to the stairs and shown here in HB-020.