Today’s Treasures – Shrewsbury

Today’s Treasures – SHREWSBURY

Everyone loves a good ghost story.  In January, I gave a talk on folklore – myths, legends – and tales of witches, wizards, Druids, saints, fairies – and of course ghosts.

Did you know that Shropshire is one the most haunted counties?   And with its timbered buildings and cobblestone alleys it is hardly surprising that Shrewsbury is believed to be one of the oldest and most haunted towns in the UK and that the dead are often seen walking among the living along its cobbled streets.

There’s that macabre painting in a room in the Nags Head that is said to be cursed – and allegedly caused the suicides of three people who slept in that room.  No-one knows who painted it in such a strange place – or why – but their ghosts still haunt this 17th century coaching inn.

The Dun Cow is one of the oldest public houses in the UK – built by Roger de Montgomery, First Earl of Shrewsbury, around 1085 – it was a hostelry with its own brewery.  A Dutch army officer was hung on the scaffold in the stables – but he is just one of the ghosts said to haunt this pub.

Shrewsbury castle is haunted by serial killer, Bloody Jack who was finally hung, drawn and quartered on Pride Hill; and the station has the ghost of a local councillor who was crushed when the roof collapsed over platform 3 in 1887.

Perhaps that’s why Shrewsbury also has a lot of saints, immortalised in its churches:   St. Nicholas, St Chad, St. Alkmund, St. Mary, St. George, St. Peter and St. John.

St. Alkmund’s church is haunted by the spirit of a drunken 15th-century steeple jack who fell to his death after attempting to climb the church tower on a wager.

In 911, Aethelfleda, the ‘Lady of the Mercians’, believed that St. Alkmund, prince of Northumbria, was her ancestor, and she named the churches built at that time after him – at Aymestrey, Shrewsbury and Whitchurch – most likely all fortified towns on the route through Mercia from Gloucester to Chester – providing protection from marauding Danes.

The spire of the medieval church of St Mary’s – one of the tallest in England – has dominated the skyline of Shrewsbury’s old town for over 500 years. In 1739, showman Robert Cadman attempted to slide from it, head first, using a rope and a grooved breastplate. His engraved obituary stands outside the west door.

Published in the february edition of the Whitchurch gossip

Squirrels in Barbara’s Back Yard

Squirrels can be a real nuisance – and they have wrecked some of my bird feeders.  When we had a dog she used to chase them off.  When she died, the cat took over responsibility and kept them away from the bird table.  Now we are dog-less and cat-less (very sad walking down the pet food aisle in the supermarket – I try to avoid going down that aisle if I can!).  So the squirrels are back.  My sister bought me a little dish for Christmas – and we had some chestnuts left over from bonfire night – so I thought I would try putting out some nuts for the squirrels in the hope that they would leave my bird feeders alone!

It seems to be working – the squirrel comes to the chestnuts first – he sits and eats one, then runs off and hides one, then eats one, then buries one.  And, so far, he’s left the bird feeders alone.

Today though he’s decided to bury the nuts in my rock garden – digging up the pansies in the process – so tomorrow I’ll put out a few less nuts and maybe he won’t bury so many….?

 

 

 

 

 

New Zealand White Rabbits – Lunar and Dandelion’s first litter

Lunar and Dandelion’s First Litter – pure New Zealand White rabbits

 

 

 

 

 

Lunar gave birth on 29th December – so her babies are now just 3 weeks old. I think there are nine of them but I haven’t counted them yet – it’s best not to disturb them too much when they are tiny – and mum always pops her head round to keep an eye on them!

When they are born I check as best I can that there are no dead babies – they are normally left away from the others so it’s easy to remove them.  Thankfully I rarely get babies born dead – but sometimes if it’s a big litter the tiniest might not survive.

I check them once or twice a day to make sure none have got separted – if they have I gently push them back to the others so they don’t get cold.

At ten days old their eyes open and at 3 weeks they start hopping around their pen – they are so cute – this is the best part of breeding rabbits – I can watch them for ages.

And these are all pure New Zealand Whites – no black noses and toes this time!

Today’s Treasure – Croft Ambrey Hillfort

TODAY’S TREASURE:  CROFT AMBREY HILLFORT

Croft Ambrey, comprises a hillfort, a Romano-Celtic temple and a medieval warren; it was excavated between 1960 and 1966 and found to have been in use from the 6th century BC up to AD 48 by a population of 500-900 people.  Finds included weapons, bone and antler artifacts, hammer stones and Iron Age pottery.

As well as the rampart banks and ditches there is a series of mounds which are the remains of a medieval rabbit warren constructed for the breeding and management of rabbits or hares which provided fresh meat and skins.

The Romano-Celtic temple was built over two phases and excavation found the remains of fire pits and stake holes.  Its purpose was to house treasures to revere the gods and serve the spiritual needs of the community.  Communal gatherings took place outside.

From the top there are extensive views over the Herefordshire countryside and it’s easy to see why it was an excellent place for a settlement.  There are many ancient trees – oak, beech and yew – that could tell amazing stories of the ancient communities that lived there.

Standing under these primeval branches it’s easy to imagine Druidic priests collecting magical mistletoe with a golden sickle, catching it before it touched the tainted earth ready to use in spiritual rituals.

These hillfort trees could have watched prehistoric communities gathering around fires, wearing animal skins, heating food in cooking pots, gathering bracken for bedding and blackberries and hazelnuts for food – and defending the ramparts from invading Romans with bows and arrows.

Many generations of animals and birds have nested in their branches and hollows and their decaying boughs still provide a haven for invertebrates and reptiles – including common lizards and slow worms.

It is thought that Aymestrey (at the foot of the hill) was once a fortified town, along with Shrewsbury and Whitchurch – along the route through Mercia from Gloucester to Chester.   In 889, Aethelfleda governed Mercia (which was then a massive area across the whole of central England) and St. Alkmund was a prince of the Christian Kingdom of Northumbria.  Aethelfleda was a very powerful woman and was known as the ‘Lady of the Mercians’.  She built churches in fortified towns so they would have some protection from marauding Danes and, as she believed that St. Aklmund was her ancester, she named the churches after him.

The Croft family still live at Croft Castle but the estate is managed by the National Trust.

This article is published in the January 2019 edition of the Whitchurch Gossip.

Today’s Treasures – Moreton Corbet Castle

Today’s Treasures – Moreton Corbet Castle

In 1086 two Anglo Saxon thegns, Hunning and Wulfgeat, were living at Moreton Toret – maybe on the site where the first fortified timber house was built around 1100 – by the Torets.  It passed by marriage into the hands of the Corbets – who gave their name to the village – and was gradually replaced in stone in the traditional style of fortified manors in the Welsh Marches.

By the 16th century the Corbets were amongst the most powerful and richest landed gentry in Shropshire .  In 1485, Sir Richard Corbet supported the House of Lancaster at the Battle of Bosworth.  Richard III had alienated the people of Shrewsbury when he imprisoned Edward V and his brother, Richard of Shrewsbury, ‘The Princes in the Tower’ – Prince Richard was born in Shrewsbury in 1473.

Richard’s son, Sir Andrew Corbet modified the medieval castle making it into a manor house – remodelling the gatehouse and adding the Tudor great hall.  When Sir Robert Corbet inherited the castle, he completed the refurbishment of the castle, adding Sir Andrew’s monogram, SAC, which was carved above the gatehouse in 1579.   Sir Robert Corbet then set about building the new Elizabethan building – from elaborate plans he had brought back from Italy – and influenced by the classical architecture he had seen overseas in his role as a diplomat.  Unfortunately, he died of the plague in 1583.  After his death, his two brothers and successors, Richard and Vincent Corbet, carried on with the building of the new manor, but left what remained of the original fortification.

In 1642, during the Civil War, Sir Vincent Corbet, fought for the king and the house was used as part of Royalist Shrewsbury’s defence – you can still see where the masonry is pock-marked by musket shot.

At this time, Puritans were being persecuted and, whilst Sir Vincent was not himself a Puritan, he gave sanctuary to a neighbour, Paul Holmyard, who was. Unfortunately, as Holmyard’s views grew more radical, Sir Vincent felt he could no longer protect him and cast him out.  Holmyard cursed the family, declaring that none of them, or their descendants, would ever inhabit the house.

When Richard died, Vincent inherited huge debts, so he moved his family to Acton Reynald Hall and left the elaborate new building, begun by Robert, a quarter of a century ago, still unfinished.  Their grand design fell into decay – leaving Paul Holmyard’s ghost to inhabit the ruins.

Moreton Corbet Castle is still owned by the Corbet Family, but managed by English Heritage.

Published in the December edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Today’s Treasures – Blackberry Fair

Blackberry Fair 2018

The subtle tones of an acoustic guitar serenade volunteers setting up tables in the hall – getting ready for workshops for youngsters – crafting items for the Carnival of Plenty – little ones create leaves for the Tree of Life – and older ones decorate poles with different bits and pieces that glow, and shine and rattle.

Volunteers appear for a welcome hot drink after putting up gazebos and  distributing sofas to strategic points about the town, musicians have finished setting up speakers and microphones – the stage is set for Blackberry Fair to begin once again.

The music changes and we’re clapping hands in time to a drumbeat, accompanied by a guitar – and voices join in singing well known songs. Next come the Urban Gypsies, dancing, swinging, gyrating to gypsy music – looking around, everyone is foot-tapping, clapping, swaying in time to the music – mesmerised – no-one can keep still.

Then comes the Whitchurch Brass Band, trumpets and cornets – and all conversation ceases as tubas and trombones send oompahs and oom-pah-pahs reverberating around the walls.  Lunchtime, there’s such a lot to choose from – wild boar burgers, freshly made pizzas, ice creams, and deliciously decorated cupcakes, with real beers and ciders to wash it all down with.

Blackberry Fair has an atmosphere all its own, the spirit of poetry, singers, dancers, actors, fine foods, real beers, street theatre, costumes and characters, Urban Gypsies and Morris Dancers, skateboarding and stilt walking, jugglers and firebreathers – all join Harminder the Elephant in the Carnival of Plenty procession at the end of the afternoon.

Entertainment continues into the night with live steel band music and fireworks – and another Blackberry Fair comes to an end with lots of happy memories for families to take home.  “Our children made puppets, crushed apples, watched films, literally the whole of Whitchurch was alive, down every street and avenue – it’s the best fair we’ve ever been to.”

Published in the November edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

November in Barbara’s Back Yard

November in Barbara’s Back Yard

 

We have a sort of combination of Samhain, Hallowe’en and Guy Fawkes with a bonfire and Jack’O’Lanterns – pumpkin soup, hot dogs and flapjacks.

Timothy the Scarecrow, who has now completed his task keeping the pigeons away from the peas, becomes Guy Fawkes and we make a mask for his face.  Logan was particularly creative (and scary!) this year with his handprint skull.

Just have two pumpkins left to carve for our bonfire night – the rest have been made into pumplin soup or given away to good causes.  The biggest pumpkin this year went to a children’s nursery – wish I had a video of the excitement in the children’s faces when they saw how big it was!  One year there was a really massive pumpkin and it went to a local garden nursery to promote their pumpkin picking patch – they did a ‘guess the weight of the pumpkin’ competition.

When all the fun of Hallowe’en is over, it’s time to put grease bands on the fruit trees – especially the greengage – if you don’t then the plums all get grubs in them, they rot on the branches and the wasps love them which makes picking them quite precarious!

It’s also a good idea to pick holly whilst there are still lots of berries – before the birds pinch them all.  I was horrified one year to go out to collect holly to make wreaths to find that the beautifully adorned holly trees were practically bare of berries.  Need to store them where the birds can’t get to them as well – as last year I put them in the open barn – only to find that many of the berries had disappeared!

Autumn in Barbara’s Back Yard

Autumn  – season of mists and mellow fruitfulness – perfectly described by John Keats

So much brighter – and warmer – today – tidied up the hen house – and found where the Spice Girls are laying their eggs.  They have settled in much faster than the last lot and have calmed down – they don’t skitter away from me in panic any more.  Still have difficulty getting them in at night – it’s almost like they are saying to me:  “Just one more bit of grass first…”  I tell them that they really will be let out again in the morning and there will be plenty more grass to eat!

Dillon crowed for the first time this week – I felt a thrill of excitement when I heard him – its ages since we had an adult cockerel.  He has quite a deep crow (the bantam cockerel we had made a really shrill noise – much to the annoyance of the boys who were sleeping in the room nearest him!)  Clearing up the garden it was so lovely to hear him crowing.  Happy hens lay happy eggs!

Lit the fire the last few nights – my new herby firelighters work really well – just need to show husband how to use them instead of those smelly petrol ones – you just put them on top of screwed up newspaper and you need some really dry kindling or a dry log on top.  Works like a dream!

My two new ‘NZW’ does must have some Californian blood in them.  Half Keri’s babies now have black noses and tails – and ear tips!  They will probably be much hardier – and make better rabbits to breed for meat – but they are definitely not pure bred NZWhites!  Wonder how Lily’s babies will turn out!  They will all make lovely house rabbits – they are really friendly and the Californians with their black noses and tails are really cute.  They are ready for new homes now – £15 each – if you are looking for a pet that doesn’t need a walk every day.

Jack Frost is back!

Jack Frost is Back!

Frosty this morning – so cold in comparison to last week – but there’s always a bright side – the birds are back on the bird table in all their winter colours – the robin showing off his new waistcoat, the great spotted woodpecker in all his glory – and all the tits – the stunning black and yellow of the great tits and the tiny blue tits and coal tits, nibbling seeds when they can get a beak in.  Blackbirds are fighting over territory in the apple tree and nuthatches are busy gobbling up sunflower seeds – and peanuts – they don’t eat them on the bird table, they fly off with them – to eat in secret – or to store?  I would love to know where they go with them.

The frost has finished off the runner beans – and the nasturtiums:  “They’ve gone willy-nilly, umbrellas and all.”  Along with the Nasturtium Fairy.

Today’s Treasures Grindley Brook Staircase Locks

Grindley Brook Staircase Locks

It’s the Llangollen branch of the Shropshire Union Canal that drops down the staircase locks at Grindley Brook, then under the A41 and through three other locks on its way east to Nantwich.

Originally built by the Ellesmere Canal Company, this fabulous stretch of the Shropshire Union Canal was designed by Thomas Telford and completed in 1805.  It linked the ironworks and collieries of Wrexham to Chester via the Chester Canal, and extended west into the Montgomery Canal – which closed in 1936 and fell into disrepair but is now gradually being restored.

The canal carried lead and stone from Wrexham, bricks from Ruabon – and – by 1808 when the Whitchurch arm was opened – cheese from Whitchurch market to Ellesmere Port on the Fly Boat – a horse drawn canal boat – a journey of some 65 miles that took 24 hours, non-stop – except for changing horses along the way.

It was much later that it became the Llangollen branch of the Shropshire Union Canal and now is mainly important for holidaymakers.  Between March and November up to 60 boats a day negotiate the locks keeping the lock-keeper busy supervising – 3 boats up, then 3 boats down – he’s there between 8.30 am and 6.00 pm every day.  Visitors from all over the world come to enjoy the tranquillity of Britain’s canals, the beautiful rural scenery, the industrial architecture – and of course the trip across Thomas Telford’s famous Pontcysyllte Aqueduct near Llangollen.

The staircase locks at Grindley Brook are unique because they have no side ponds – the water comes from the River Dee near Llangollen via the feeder canal at the Horseshoe Falls at Llantysilio.

The Lockside Café is always busy with walkers along the Shropshire Way and the Sandstone Trail as well as boaters – it’s a fascinating place to sit and enjoy a cup of tea – watching the boats go up and down the locks – and the lock-keeper making sure that everyone takes turns and the lock gates and paddles are opened and shut in the correct order.

Published in the October edition of the Whitchurch Gossip