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

Just Another Day in Barbara’s Back Yard

Just Another Day in Barbara’s Back Yard

I was standing at the kitchen sink this morning (as I very often do!) and a sparrowhawk landed on the little table in front of the kitchen window.  Amazing, it was so close.  Usually you struggle to identify birds of prey circling high in the sky above you but this was so easy to identify – it was so close. Even though I stood perfectly still, I must have blinked because he was off in a flash – but the picture in my mind remains.

Daisy laid her very first egg this morning.  Dorking eggs are pale – not brown – and this is probably one of the reasons that Dorkings are now a rare breed.  Although the nutritional content of white and brown eggs is exactly the same – the perception is different – and consequently supermarkets only seem to sell brown eggs now.

Once Dillon learned to crow, he quickly realised he could do other things too – much to Doris’s consternation (she had obviously forgotten about Dillon the First).  The Spice Girls seemed to accept it as par for the course.  I can never quite figure out whether hens like to be jumped on – the ducks however do seem to enjoy it.  When we first had ducks (and geese) I was told we would need a pond if we wanted fertile eggs, so we spent ages digging out a pond deep enough for the geese to swim in.  The ducks and geese did love the pond – but they managed equally well on dry land.

Before I started this blog, I used to let the hens out then rush off to start work.  Now I am writing a blog, I sit and watch them for a while each morning and it’s amazing how much more you notice.  Doris (the oldest hen)) always comes to stand by my feet, waiting for some sunflower seeds.  The Spice Girls are quite adventurous now – and less timid that the other hens.  I use black plastic sheets on the vegetable patch to supress weeds – slimy creatures love to hide under it – so every so often I spread it out for the hens and ducks – the spice Girls are always the first on there picking off slugs and snails.

Doris

Dillon (cockerel) and Desmond (drake) have had a few scraps but they seem to have come to a sort of truce and, provided they keep out of each other’s way, everything’s fine.  I have learned that you do need at least 2 ducks with a drake, especially if you are keeping ducks and hens together – the previous drake insisted on mating with one of the hens and I had to separate them.  (Several reasons I won’t go into here – their anatomy is different and therefore damaging to the hen.)

 

Late November in Barbara’s Back Yard

Late November in Barbara’s Back Yard

This year I made a Samhain Wreath for Hallowe’en – there were so many scarlet berries and amber leaves – and rosy crab apples that I wanted to make something with them

So this is the wreath I made – it’s faded a bit now but it’s almost time to make a new one for Yule – 1st December.

The beech tree has lost all its leaves – it never ceases to amaze me how much the landscape changes with the seasons.

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.

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

Hallowe’en in Barbara’s Back Yard

Hallowe’en in Barbara’s Back Yard

Hallowe’en – the night when the divide between the worlds of the living and the dead is especially thin – my Grandmother used to have a teapot stand that said:  “From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties, and things that go bump in the night, may the good Lord deliver us.”  I’ve no idea why it was on a teapot stand but I always think of it at Hallowe’en.  (Looking it up I find out that it’s a Scottish prayer.)

Time to pick pumpkins and carve Jack O’lanterns (tip – use an ice cream scoop to scrape out the seeds).  Reserve the flesh for pumpkin soup.

The idea of a hollowed-out vegetable with a candle in the middle originated with the Celts – but they didn’t have pumpkins (they came later – from America).  They used beets, and turnips, and carved grotesque faces on them – and put them outside their doors to ward off evil spirits.

According to Irish folklore, Jack O’lantern comes from the story of Stingy Jack who tried to outsmart the Devil: Jack invites the Devil for a drink and convinces him to transform into a coin to pay with – as soon as the coin appeared, Jack changed his mind and kept the coin in his pocket with a silver cross – so preventing it turning back into the Devil.  Eventually Jack freed the devil, on condition that he would leave Jack alone for a year – and – that he wouldn’t claim Jack’s soul when he died.  At the end of the year Jack tricked the devil again by persuading him to climb up a tree to pick some fruit.  Whilst the Devil was in the tree, Jack carved a cross into the tree trunk so the Devil couldn’t get down.  The Devil had to swear that he would leave Jack alone for another ten years before he was allowed to come down.

Then Jack died – but he had led such a sinful life that God wouldn’t let him into Heaven and, because of his bargain with the Devil, he couldn’t get into hell either, so Jack was sent instead into the eternal night. Jack complained about how dark it was, wandering around earth with no place to go, so someone tossed him a hot coal, which he placed in a hollowed-out turnip – and he has been roaming the earth ever since – with his turnip-lantern to guide him.

The Irish began to refer to this spooky figure as “Jack of the Lantern”, which has since become Jack O’Lantern – and some folks say that Jack comes out on Hallowe’en night looking for someone to take his place… so watch out, if you see him wandering your way!

The Samhain festival marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, the “darker half” of the year.  Time to pick and store the apples for winter puddings – and to add to soups (Squash Apple and Sage Soup) – and to feed to the rabbits and hens when winter sets in.  Time to make Wittenham Cider with the windfalls.  The recipe says to leave it for a week after its bottled – but it’s usually quite fizzy – and very drinkable – the day after it’s bottled!

At Christmas, we always have a real Christmas tree – and we save it to help get the bonfire going at Samhain.   I’m not too keen on fireworks – but we do love sparklers – and no-one is ever too old to draw sparkling shapes in the air on Bonfire night.

We have spicy pumpkin soup, hot dogs – and Wittenham Cider (which is much better before it becomes alcoholic as its much sweeter).  And we combine Guy Fawkes with All Hallows Eve and have our own Samhain on the nearest weekend – I always light candles on 31st October – and tealights in our Jack O’Lanterns to keep away Stingy Jack!

Happy, smiley, pumpkin Jack’o’Lantern

Today’s Treasures – The Herb Garden

Today’s Treasures

The Herb Garden is my favourite place to sit and dream.  As you can see, it’s not just herbs – there are a few wild flowers as well – the foxgloves just come and go as they please, setting seed in the most unlikely places – and there are poppies in every corner of my garden.

Herbs are so versatile – some have pretty flowers like thyme, borage and hyssop – all of course have definitive scents – lavender and lemon balm, sage and tarragon, fennel, basil and coriander.

They make delicious flavours for the simplest meals – tarragon chicken, rosemary lamb, garlic and parsley bread, chopped chives with potato salad, mint sauce, sage and onion stuffing.

I love experimenting with herbs – my latest success was potato wedges roasted in olive, sunflower and groundnut oil sprinkled with a mixture of herbs freshly picked and chopped.  Traditional horseradish sauce made with freshly chopped horseradish root, salad cream, fresh cream, mustard powder and a hint of cayenne pepper is divine.

Mint sauce made with apple mint, vinegar, cabbage water and a spoonful of sugar makes even the blandest cabbage delicious.  Cooked carrots fried in a little butter with chopped lovage leaves give a continental twist to any meal.  Fresh basil livens up any pasta sauce – sprinkle curry with coriander leaves just before serving for a more authentic taste.

Lovage

Herbs also have healing properties – you don’t need to buy expensive packets of herbal tea – you can make your own by simply pouring boiling water over leaves of your choice.

Hyssop tea is good for maintaining healthy blood pressure – whether it’s high or low it helps stabilise it.  Peppermint tea helps digestion and soothes an upset tummy.  Chamomile is calming, sage is stimulating, fennel is relaxing.

Peppermint

You can add the flowers and leaves of calendula, nasturtium and borage to salads to add colour as well as flavour.  Borage flowers frozen into ice cubes made an attractive addition to summer drinks. Mint is an essential ingredient of any Pimm’s cocktail.  Poppy seeds can be added to cakes and cookies – and sprinkled onto bread rolls.

Wherever I am, I will always have a few pots of soothing, fragrant, healing herbs on my windowsill.

Published in the July edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Today’s Treasures – Whitchurch, Home of Canals, Clocks and Cheshire Cheese

Whitchurch, home of Canals, Clocks and Cheshire Cheese

Whitchurch, located on the Cheshire and Welsh borders, is the oldest continuously inhabited town in Shropshire being the site of an early mediaeval castle. Built on a low hill, Whitchurch provided a perfect location for the Roman town of Mediolanum (meaning “The place in the mid plain”) on a major Roman route, half way between Chester (Deva) and Wroxeter (Viroconium).

 

 

The name ‘Whitchurch’ comes from the original Norman Church made from ‘white stone’ – the current church of St. Alkmund was built in 1712 of red sandstone and its clock workings were made by J.B. Joyce & Co, the oldest established maker of tower/turret clocks. Joyce clocks can still be found all over the world from Big Ben in London to the Customs House in Shanghai – and the Eastgate clock in Chester, one of the most loved and photographed clocks, was made in Whitchurch.  The original J.B. Joyce building still exists in Whitchurch High Street.

Despite being in Shropshire, Whitchurch is widely considered to be the home of Cheshire cheese, one of the oldest recorded cheeses in British history.  In the early 1900’s Cheese fairs were held in the old market hall in Whitchurch on every third Wednesday.  When the Whitchurch Arm of Thomas Telford’s Llangollen Canal opened in 1811 cheese was transported by horse drawn boat to Ellesmere Port (65 miles) and took 24 hours, non-stop – except for changing horses along the way.

Local cheesemakers Belton Cheese, Applebys and Windsors are all still famous for their cheeses.

     

There’s lots going on in Whitchurch all year round with a market every Friday and a Makers Market on the first Saturday of the month.

In May there is a Walking Festival, closely followed by a Food and Drink Festival

In June it’s music and mayhem at the Party in the Park

September sees the Canal Boat Rally and October 7th Blackberry Fair, the wildest, wackiest street festival you will ever find, full of actors, musicians, street theatre, fire-breathers, clowns – fun for people of all ages. The theme is sustainability and the name simply signifies Autumn.

    

Further information can be found at www.whitchurch.info

This article was published in the April edition of the Whitchurch Gossip