On my first visit to Newcastle I was surprised to see old timber-framed buildings. For some reason I just wasn’t expecting to see any, but at Sandhill there is a group of impressive 17th century merchant’s houses including Bessie Surtees House.
Built in the 17th century, it was originally two houses, named after the merchants who lived in them – Millbank and Surtees. These five storey buildings are fine examples of Jacobean architecture, and even though they have gone through periods of neglect, today they are admirably cared for by Historic England.
To keep everything commercially viable most of the combined building is leased out for office space, but the impressive first floor is freely available for visitors to take a look at.
If you’re anything like me, one of the first things you’ll want to see in Newcastle is the building that gives the city its name – so what can you expect?
Well firstly, don’t expect a Bamburgh or Alnwick Castle because all that’s left is The Keep and Black Gate.
Northumberland has any number of castles due to its proximity with the Scottish border, and although that border is someway north of Newcastle it has to be remembered that Hadrian’s Wall came right through where the city stands today in order to “separate the Romans from the barbarians”.
In fact, the very spot where the castle is located was the site of Pons Aelius, the original fort on Hadrian’s Wall that overlooked the Roman bridge below.
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.
What I like about Winchester Cathedral is not just its wonderful architecture, but also the human stories that have accompanied it throughout the centuries.
Architecturally, as soon as you set foot inside the West Door the magnificent perpendicular Nave stretches out in front of you right down to George Gilbert Scott’s ornate choir screen.
It didn’t always look like this though because the original Romanesque Norman church suffered badly from subsidence, and it took alterations from the 14th century onwards, firstly by Bishop Edington and then William of Wykeham, to produce what is my favourite style of church architecture.
If you can avoid the temptation to continue on down the Nave but walk down the North Aisle instead, you’ll soon come to the grave of Jane Austen, the author famous for writing such classics as Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Northanger Abbey.
It’s not surprising that many people want to see where Jane Austen’s final resting place is, but they would miss a gem if they went straight past the nearby 12th century black Tournai marble Font. It’s not just old, but unusual and interesting as well.
Winchester Cathedral - From the Saxons to the Normans
People who read my pages can be forgiven for thinking that I’m a religious person as I often seem to be writing about cathedrals, abbeys, and churches in general. The truth is that I’m not at all religious, but I am interested in the historical significance and architecture of these fantastic buildings and Winchester Cathedral is a perfect example.
In this article I’m delving into the background of the cathedral from a time when England became Christianized under the Anglo-Saxons to when William the Conqueror needed Winchester to consolidate his hold over the rest of the country.
The Romans initially brought Christianity to these shores, but after their departure in 410 AD the country reverted back to paganism.
In 597 Pope Gregory sent Augustine to England to re-introduce the Roman version of Christianity, but he wasn’t able to convert the whole country on his own of course and it was St Birinus who came to Wessex in 635 and converted Cynegils, King of the West Saxons.
King Cynegils established a cathedral church at Dorchester-on-Thames in Oxfordshire, but soon after his death in 643 his son, Cenwalh, built a minster church in Wintanceaster near the centre of his kingdom.
In the 670s Bishop Haeddi transferred his Cathedra (Bishop’s Throne) from Dorchester-on-Thames making Wintanceaster both the Royal and ecclesiastical centre of Wessex.
The good thing about Winchester is that a stroll around the city centre can be accomplished comfortably in about an hour and a half. This doesn’t include visits to the Cathedral, the Great Hall or the pub mind you, so you’ll need to allow extra time for visiting some of the things that will hold you up on the way around as well.
On the map opposite I’ve compiled a trail which covers most of the interesting things that can be seen. Some places will occupy just a few minutes of your time and others considerably longer, and just a quick reminder for anyone who may be interested, you can always print out this post by clicking on the print icon at the bottom of the page. The map can also be printed out by using the ‘print map’ feature within the map itself.
I’ve chosen to start the trail at the King Alfred Statue in the Broadway (No1 on the map), and if you’ve read my introduction to Winchester – The First Capital of England, you’ll understand why I’ve chosen it as the starting point. I’m not going to describe his achievements here as this blog is mainly about what there is to see.
The Tower of London Pt 5 - Blood Swept Land and Seas of Red
To commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of World War I the Tower of London created an art installation called ‘Blood Swept Land and Seas of Red’.
From July to November 2014, the moat around the tower was covered with 888,246 ceramic poppies, one for each of the British and Commonwealth personnel who were killed in the ‘War to end all Wars’.
The creator was Paul Cummins, with assistance from designer Tom Piper, and the idea was to sell all the poppies for £25 each with the proceeds going to service charities.
The poppies were hand made in Cummins’ factory in Derbyshire, where the unknown man who coined the words of the installation came from. In his will he wrote the words “The blood swept land and seas of red, where angels fear to tread”.
The Tower of London Pt 3 - The Medieval Palace and the Bloody Tower
When King Stephen died in 1154, King Henry II became the first of the Plantagenet Kings that were to reign until 1485.
During this medieval period, moats, curtain walls and towers were added to bolster up the defences – not to keep out invading foreign armies – but to thwart any attack from the King’s subjects. King John, Henry III and Edward II all had trouble with their Barons and in 1381 the Peasant’s Revolt tested the young Richard II.
Although the Tower was never meant to be used as a palace, there were occasions when the King of the realm found it useful to hole up here for a while.
It was King Henry III and his son Edward I who built what is now called the Medieval Palace. In fact, it’s a combination of three towers – St Thomas’s, Wakefield and Lanthorn – that make up the royal apartments.
The Keep, known as the White Tower, is the oldest part of the Tower of London and therefore seems as good a starting point as any, both for this review, and for a tour of the Tower.
After William the Conqueror’s successful invasion of England in 1066 he needed to secure its most powerful city, and by building an intimidating fortress in a strategic position next to the River Thames, there was going to be no doubt as to who was the man now in charge.
Work started on the Keep around 1078 and wasn’t completed until 1100, 13 years after William’s death.
It would have been the most formidable stronghold in the land when it was built, and was never intended to be used as a palace.
The White Tower – given its nickname after Henry III had it whitewashed – became more of a place to store arms and munitions than anything else and this is reflected in what there is to see inside.
With some 2.8 million visitors in 2017, the Tower of London is the most visited paid for attraction in the UK. It goes without saying therefore that a bit of planning before going there will help the visit go more smoothly.
Timing is always important of course, but with a steep entry price of £26.80 without donation for a full adult fare (Jan 2019), it pays to find out if you can reduce your admission costs. If, like me, you travel to London by train, then you can check out the 2for1 London offers available to passengers here https://www.daysoutguide.co.uk/tower-of-london
The offer, if it’s available, is based solely on the full price adult ticket including donation, which as of January 2019 is £29.50; in other words, a total of £29.50 for two people regardless of whether you qualify for a concession or not.
There are also reductions of 15% on the Tower of London website if you book in advance.
It may be worth considering a membership to the ‘Historic Royal Palaces’ which also covers Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace, the Banqueting House and Kew Palace (Kew Gardens are not included). The current individual cost is £52 a year for a Direct Debit membership (Jan 2019).