No sooner had William the Conqueror been crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066, he was ordering castles to be built all over the country to defend his newly won territory – and Winchester, England’s de facto capital, was one of the first on his list.
Under these circumstances you would think, wouldn’t you, that Winchester would have been razed to the ground, but the truth was, that until the new King could set up his headquarters in London then Winchester still had an important part to play.
William’s Castle was built over the top of the Roman fort that was built to protect Venta Bulgarum, and for over a hundred years after the conquest England was ruled from Winchester Castle.
Henry II, the first Plantagenet king, built a stone keep to house the royal treasury and the Domesday Book, and Henry III, who was born at Winchester Castle and only 9 years old when he became king in 1216, added the Great Hall between 1222 and 1235.
Dartmouth, without doubt, is one of my favourite Devon towns: A picturesque setting, old buildings, and a fascinating maritime history combine together to make this one of the gems of South Devon.
Lying along the western bank of the River Dart just before it reaches the sea, Dartmouth owes its very existence to the river. Primitive settlements were set up along the muddy banks as far back as Celtic times, but land reclamation over the centuries have seen the town develop into how it looks today.
During that time the deep natural harbour has seen many comings and goings: The 12th cent saw ships leave here for the Crusades, and Henry II’s marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine saw a lucrative wine trade flourish with Bordeaux, but the most influential person in Dartmouth’s history was a local man by the name of John Hawley.
Wandering up and down the Lawnmarket, you can’t fail to notice the name of Deacon Brodie. There’s Brodie’s Close, the Deacon’s House Café and Deacon Brodie’s Tavern – so who was Deacon Brodie?
He was born William Brodie in 1741, and his father was head (or Deacon) of the Guild of Cabinet Makers. Following in his father’s footsteps he also took over the name of Deacon, but what made (William) Deacon Brodie stand out was his double life, so much so that Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a fictional novel based around him.
By day, Brodie was a craftsman and councillor, and by night, a drinker, gambler and thief; Eventually the inevitable happened and he got caught. He was brought to justice, found guilty, and was hanged on October 1st 1788 at the Tolbooth Prison in the High Street.
Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, if you haven’t already guessed by now, was first published in 1886 and went by the title of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
On the West Walk of Salisbury’s Cathedral Close is the former home of British Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath.
The house is open to the public, and although its history goes back long before ‘Ted’ Heath moved here in 1985, there’s only really one reason that people come here to visit, and that’s to see where Sir Edward Heath KG MBE spent some of the happiest moments of his life.
From a fairly ordinary background, Ted managed to make himself an extraordinary life. He worked his way through university into the corridors of power and eventually to leader of the Conservative party, a post he held from 1965 until 1975.
In 1970 he became Prime Minister and for the next four years struggled to contain the demands of the trade unions, curtail The Troubles in Northern Ireland, and the aspirations of Margaret Thatcher – although he did manage to take Britain into the European Economic Community in 1973.
He probably won’t be remembered as one of Britain’s greatest Prime Ministers, but he had many attributes, and even though my politics were different to his, I always thought of him as a warm and compassionate human being. Talking to the volunteers around the house I don’t think I was alone in thinking that.
Looking back, I think that maybe his political views weren’t conservative enough for his fellow party members, and not far enough to the left to embrace the working population.
People often mention how clear the light is in West Cornwall, and I would be the first to agree that there’s a clarity here that isn’t found everywhere.
This attracted artists from far and wide, and the St. Ives colony became so well known that it became a magnet for even more artists.
I would argue though that artists came here not just for the quality of light, but also for the quality of life as well, and one of those artists was Barbara Hepworth, a sculptor, who was born in Wakefield in 1903.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to come knocking on your door with the latest edition of the Watchtower: This article is about the clarity of light that has brought artists to West Cornwall for years.
I’m no artist, and before you start to snigger, I mean I can’t paint or draw, which is why I’ve got the utmost admiration for those that can.
I do believe that the quality of the light in West Cornwall is special, but I also believe that artists have beat a path to St. Ives for the quality of life as well.
I mean, let’s be honest, would you prefer to be working in an office or on the factory floor all day, to dabbling with a paint brush on the harbourside in between visits to the Sloop? I thought not.
I don’t think they make a vast fortune mind you, but then again, I don’t think they worry about the money side of it too much either. My philosophy about life is somewhat similar – but unfortunately, I’m no good at painting the bathroom door let alone a nice atmospheric seascape.
Painting en plein air became fashionable in Cornwall back in the 1880s with Falmouth, Newlyn and St. Ives setting up their own individual artist colonies.
Some of the more renowned artists, such as Ben Nicholson were encouraged by Alfred Wallis, a retired seaman who didn’t start painting until he was in his seventies. A man of very little personal wealth he used all sorts of bits and pieces to paint on. Although he died a pauper in 1942 his legend lives on and his old home still stands in Back Road West which has a plaque on the wall outside.
The St. Ives School of Painting opened up in 1938 just a few doors away in the Porthmeor Studios and is still going strong today.
The National Trust owns several properties in South Devon and they all have something to commend them, but I think my favourite has to be Coleton Fishacre.
It’s a bit out of the way, but that’s one of the attractions of this estate that includes a magnificent garden that sweeps down to the sea and a house that evokes the bygone jazz age of the 1920s.
The man behind the creation of Coleton Fishacre was Rupert D’Oyly Carte, whose father, Richard, was the producer of Gilbert & Sullivan’s comic operas.
Rupert, who incidentally was also the inspiration for P.G Wodehouses’s Rupert Psmith, inherited the family business including the Savoy Hotel and Claridge’s in London.
It was on a sailing trip between Brixham and Dartmouth with his wife Dorothy, that he saw the potential of the valley above Pudcombe Cove for building a home on the coast.
It’s not difficult to see why they chose this spot, and in 1923 he set about building Coleton Fishacre which took three years to finish.