A Royal Welcome
At Windsor Castle some years ago I attended a training course for Blue Badge Tour Guides. My colleagues and I were learning about the history of this royal castle and how to show our visiting groups around to give them the best experience. By chance, at the same time, the Windsor Castle staff were busy preparing to welcome Jacques Chirac a former President of France who was arriving in Windsor on a semi-state visit the following day.
For two days the Castle had been closed to the visiting public but, as we were on site learning as much as we could about the Castle, our training course continued. We had a private viewing of the State Rooms with our Castle Guides, and we experienced some of the atmosphere that goes with the preparations for a formal state visit. It was fascinating seeing the banqueting table being laid. We gasped when we were told that the beautiful 18th century hand painted Minton and Tournai porcelain tableware from the display cabinets in the china corridor were to be used for the banquet. These dinner services were irreplaceable and we were very glad that the washing up wasn't our responsibility. It was a brief but fascinating insight and we realised just how much planning and attention to detail there was to make a state banquet such a regal occasion.
This year, for the summer opening of Buckingham Palace, an exhibition entitled A Royal Welcome has been set up which explains how the palace staff prepare for a state visit. Having got a glimpse of all the hard work and some of the behind-the-scenes activities at Windsor Castle, this was an exhibition I was very keen to see and discover more. I was invited along with my colleagues, to a preview, to look around the Palace state rooms and see and hear about the exhibition.
On the Friday, before the public opening the next day, we gathered at the Ambassador's entrance ready to be admitted to the Palace. Our first sight was the Australian State Coach drawn up in the inner quadrangle alongside the main entrance used by the Queen and her guests. Visiting foreign Heads of State arrive at the Palace by horse drawn coach sitting alongside the Queen. They'll have been met by the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh at Horse Guards Parade, where they will have experienced a welcome involving plenty of British Royal Pomp and Ceremony. There'll be a Royal salute and an inspection of the Guard of Honour. A military band will strike up their National Anthem. After this, they'll be taken in a procession of ceremonial horse-drawn carriages along the Mall to enter Buckingham Palace through the main gates.
The magnificent, ornately decorated, shiny black and gold coach we saw, one of many looked after in the Royal Mews, had been presented to the Queen by the people of Australia in 1988. We admired the beautiful craftsmanship and its gilded frieze with royal crown placed centrally on the roof. The doors were decorated with the Australian Coat of Arms supported by the Kangaroo and the Emu. The presence of the coach really gave us the impression that we were following in the footsteps of Her Majesty and her guests.
We entered the grand hall through the main entrance and continued our tour along the red carpet and up the magnificent grand staircase which, halfway up, splits into two. As you turn on the half landing to continue up the staircase you see the dramatic sweeping gilt bronze balustrade that takes you on towards the Throne Room. The landing is decorated in white and gold with portraits of Queen Victoria's royal ancestors hanging on the walls. There is no doubt this is an entrance to impress.
The next part of the exhibition was laid out in the Throne Room. A number of Investitures take place every year where the people who have been awarded an honour come to the Palace to receive their badges in person. This section explained the honour system and showed examples of the insignias presented.
Along the gallery leading to the Ballroom we saw a number of display cases including a section showing us part of the Dressers Workroom. The Queen's wardrobe for every occasion is carefully planned in a room in the Palace. Her dresses, coats and matching hats are made 'in house' and are looked after by her personal assistant. For a state banquet the Queen always wears a glittering tiara. We saw two examples - Queen Mary's Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara and the Russian Kokoshnik Tiara along with a necklace earrings and broaches.
We saw a display case of part of the silver gilt pantry which is looked after by footmen who maintain the Grand Service. This service consists of over 4,000 pieces of silver gilt cutlery. We were surprised to hear that the pieces don't all match. Some are contemporary and some traditional in design. George IV, who commissioned the service, liked the mix and this is the way the place settings are laid out to this day.
The laying of the table begins at least three days in advance for approximately 170 guests. The table decorations including candelabra, fruit bowls and flower containers are laid along the middle of the table. There is an allowance of 46cm between each place setting carefully checked with a measuring stick. Everything must be straight and exactly the same. Each place setting has six pieces of cutlery, six glasses, a name card and a linen napkin folded as a Dutch bonnet. There is a butter dish for each person, a menu card between two and a salt cellar, mustard and pepperpot between four guests. Along the edge of the room are long tables for nineteen serving stations and each service station is staffed by an under butler, footman, page and wine butler who between them look after nine guests. Everything is co-ordinated by the Palace Steward. The meal is served 'butler style' so each guest serves themselves from the platters of food presented to them from the left hand side. The wine butler serves the wine and water from the right hand side. The meal is cooked in the Palace kitchens using seasonal food and where possible fruit and vegetables grown on the Windsor and Sandringham Estates.
The Exhibition also explained about the preparation for a Royal Garden Party which was especially interesting to me because on Tuesday 18th July 2006 my husband and I attended one. We received our printed gilt-edged and gold-crested invitation which stated that the Lord Chamberlain had been commanded by the Queen to invite.... and our names were handwritten below.
The dress code was formal, which gave my husband the opportunity to wear a black tailcoat and I to wear a new outfit and matching hat. The weather was glorious and we were able to wander around the private gardens with the other guests. Music, provided by two Military bands, played in the background as we mingled and socialised with the other guests. At 4 o'clock one of the bands began playing the National Anthem, which heralded the imminent arrival of the Queen. We gathered and waited for the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh to step out on to the terrace steps. As the Queen stepped forward the crowd of guests slowly began to separated down the middle. At first this action seemed spontaneous, but was in fact carefully orchestrated by the Yeomen of the Guard, the Queen's personal body guard. As the Queen walked along the pathway between rows of guests, gentlemen ushers walked ahead of her selecting a few people from the crowd to be introduced. Behind the Queen came the Duke of Edinburgh and other members of the Royal family who all walked slowly towards their tea tent greeting people on the way and stopping every so often to exchange a few words here and there. Once the Queen reached her tea tent, we were able to enjoy a beautiful afternoon tea of dainty sandwiches and delicious cakes served from a long marquee. It was a lovely and very memorable occasion.
A visit to look around the state rooms of Buckingham Palace can only take place between 25th July and 27th September 2015. Tickets have to be booked in advance and there is limited availability.
Windsor Castle state rooms are open for visits all year round except on 25th and 26th December. However, it can be closed at short notice should there be a state function taking place.
By: Blue Badge Tour Guide - Anne Bartlett
Visiting Ironbridge - A World Heritage Site
Staying in a hotel close to the River Severn in the canal town of Stourport, we started our tour looking at the development of the canal system which revolutionised transport from the mid 18th century. Stourport was built approximately 250 years ago as an inland port where the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal joined the River Severn. As such, Stourport was a pioneer town of the canal age and is the only town in the country to have been built as a result of a canal.
|Steam train on the Severn Valley |
The River Severn as seen from
|Ironbridge - A World Heritage Site|
This was the first iron bridge in the world, built in 1777-1779 by Abraham Darby III. It was intended to demonstrate the expertise of the ironmasters of the area and it was a spectacular success. This was the cutting edge technology of its time, and artists and engineers came from all over the world to see it. Even today, with great advancement in modern technology, it's impressive.
|A Street Scene at Blist Hill Museum|
|Taking a ride at Blist Hill Museum|
|A Squatters Cottage, Blist Hill |
Museum c 1820
We explored various cottages and even saw and squeezed our way around a two roomed Squatter's cottage, which in those days had to be built in a day, have a lighted fire in the hearth with smoke rising up through the chimney for the Squatter and his family to be able to have permanent residence there. I was surprised there was one still in existence, but the remains of this one had been found nearby and transferred to Blist Hill. It once belonged to a family with ten children.
The group had a very enjoyable time and their holiday in the Midlands exceeded all expectations.
Chastleton House, Oxfordshire - Film Location for Wolf Hall
Hilary Mantel's award winning historical novel Wolf Hall, chronicling the rise of Thomas Cromwell, was mainly filmed on location in South Wales and the South West region of England. This was brilliant because most of the properties belonged to the National Trust, and were ideal places to visit with my groups.
As always, the preparations were shrouded in secrecy because the BBC production team were paranoid about spoilers. I discussed the film with my tour group, which they had very much enjoyed, however we were curious as to how the BBC were going to recreate the Tudor period back in King Henry VIII's time.
Having discussed the TV production we decided to visit historic Chastleton House in the Cotswolds just on the borders of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire. As we arrived, there was a signpost in the courtyard pointing out a small exhibition to show how Chastleton House was rearranged to cater for filming some of the scenes, which was very helpful. I hasten to add, Chastleton House was just one of many locations for the film. Before we even entered the house, we crossed the courtyard where Thomas Cromwell's father had worked as a blacksmith and a brewer. The exhibition showed us the changes made to the courtyard and the buildings, which really took us back to the film. We remembered and discussed the scenes where Thomas Cromwell had flashbacks to his youth where his drunk and brutal father had kicked and beaten him within an inch of his life.
Cardinal Wolsey's Bedroom
The inside of Chastleton House was used for several very different scenes. The photograph on the left is how a visitor would see the great parlour today, it has a particularly fine ceiling and a tapestry depicting a musical party in a country house garden. In the film this became a guest bedroom in the Seymour's house where Thomas Cromwell slept during King Henry VIII's progress. You have to imagine the room without the dining table and chairs. Imagine a four poster bed with curtain hangings and bedspreads in front of the tapestry, the wall lights disguised and out of shot, and you have the scene.
The dining hall at the Seymour's
Chastleton House has a medieval screen passage and hall which was in keeping with a Tudor Manor House. In the 16th and early 17th centuries the hall would have been used for receiving guests and as a place where the household would have gathered. In the film Wolf Hall this room was converted to the dining hall of the Seymour's house. (oops, I should have asked for the door in the panelling at the back of the room to be closed - sorry!) King Henry VIII was having dinner surrounded by his courtiers and the Seymour family, when he surprised everybody by falling asleep. It was Jane Seymour who got up from the table and went to wake the King. A small deed but it got her noticed....
The Long Gallery
This long, barrel-vaulted room on the top floor of Chastleton House was where the family would take their exercise on a cold and wet day. In the film this is where Thomas Cromwell had a long chat with Anne Boleyn as they looked out of the window to watch King Henry VIII accepting the resignation of his Lord Chancellor Sir Thomas More.
Homemade tea and cakes
The story of the Gloucestershire family who owned Chastleton House from 1612 - 1991 before handing it over to the care of the National Trust is a fascinating one. To have seen the film Wolf Hall and to be able to recognise the rooms as you explore the house is very exciting. I can most certainly recommend a visit.
Refreshments were available in the church next door and, as it was a sunny afternoon, we sat outside amongst the gravestones enjoying cups of tea and homemade cakes.
For a guided coach tour around the Cotswolds and a visit to Chastleton House
Contact: Blue Badge Tour Guide - Anne Bartlett
Walking around a Prehistoric Monument in Wiltshire
To be able to travel back in time and see a man-made Neolithic landscape that is over 5,000 years old is pretty incredible.
The stone circle at Avebury, Wiltshire is the largest in Europe. It's14 times bigger than Stonehenge, was built about 500 years earlier, it takes up an area of 28 acres and is a mile to walk all the way around. Avebury village dates back to Saxon times, so there has been a settlement within the prehistoric stone circle for about 1,000 years.
My coach group touring Wiltshire were full of eager anticipation about their visit to the Neolithic henge monument at Avebury. However before we got to the site I was able to point out Windmill Hill, where, as far back as 3,500 years BC, the late stone age people had formed a settled community that lived on the hill. They had started farming and domesticating animals many years before Avebury Stone Circle was built. There's nothing there now, but archaeological digs on Windmill Hill had uncovered lots of buried objects such as stone tools and pottery showing that the local people were trading and socialising with people who had travelled with the pots and tools that they had made from places as far away as Cornwall and the Lake District.
As we drove through Avebury my group were starting to spot some of the large unhewn standing stones. It was a glorious day, perfect for a walk and they were keen to get off the coach and find out more. We parked in the car park and walked towards the site. An information board on route helped with the interpretation of the stone circle. Originally 170 -180 stones had been dragged into position from the surrounding countryside on top of wooden rollers and placed upright within a very large circle consisting of a deep ditch surrounded by an earth bank. The diagram enabled me to point out the large outer stone circle and two separate stone circles within. Over the years many of the stones have disappeared, but there were enough to get an idea of the importance of area and marvel at the construction and man-hours taken to create it all. The reason for building can only be guesswork but it's thought that it was used as a religious site. The Keiller museum in the stables of Avebury Manor House was well worth a visit because the stone circle was part of a group of prehistoric monuments and the museum helped to put it all into context. After our walk, a visit to the museum and a stop for some refreshments in the café, we continued our journey passing alongside the West Kennet Avenue which took us towards the Sanctuary and on to see Silbury Hill, the tallest man-made hill in prehistoric Europe. We stopped along the road to see the West Kennet Long Barrow in the distance to the left and then look up at Silbury Hill on our right. The reason for building the hill is still a great mystery, despite a number of archaeological digs to find some clues.
We continued our journey through Wiltshire with eyes peeled for a sight of a crop circle or a white horse on the hillside - more of Wiltshire's mysteries!
Visiting Film Locations - Highclere Castle
My coach group were all avid fans of the television series Downton Abbey and had admitted to being glued to their television sets on Sunday evenings to watch the popular period drama, and discover the latest developments in the lives of the aristocratic family and their staff that lived there. There was no doubt they were really looking forward to visiting the stately home used as the set of the fictional Yorkshire pile of the Earl and Countess of Grantham and their family.
The photos of Downton Abbey, sorry - the photos are really of Highclere Castle, the ancestral home of the present 8th Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, which has been seen in every episode of the five series of Downton Abbey.
First question was where is it? Highclere Castle is not in Yorkshire as one would imagine but in Hampshire on the Berkshire -Hampshire border, just off the A34 south of Newbury.
We arrived at our destination early and caught a glimpse of the now very familiar tower as we drove up the mile long driveway. We had timed tickets for entry into the house so, with an hour and a half to spare, we had the opportunity to either wander around the park designed by Capability Brown, or admire the gardens and / or visit the Egyptian Exhibition. An earlier Earl of Carnarvon had been a very keen amateur archaeologist and along with his archaeological expert Howard Carter had spent many years exploring the ancient Valley of the Kings, where Egyptian pharaohs were buried. They had famously discovered the Tomb of Tutankhamun (1336BC - 1327BC) and the story is recounted in the cellars of the Castle, so I headed for the exhibition and found it very interesting.
The front door of Highclere Castle
Unfortunately photography wasn't permitted inside Highclere Castle, otherwise I would have been snapping away nineteen to the dozen. The first room that we saw was instantly recognisable as Lord Grantham's study. It was the library which was a very large room separated by tall gilded ionic columns, surrounded by mahogany and gold bookcases with over 5,600 leather bound books. A lot of the Castle furniture was used in the film, but a desk that had been put by the window for Lord Grantham during the series, was no longer in place - had it been antique furniture belonging to the Castle or was it a film prop?
|Date & family motto over the door|
The soaring Neo Gothic Great Hall, around which flow the state rooms was magnificent. It had a feature stone fireplace and arched stone walls with a decorated frieze all the way around featuring carved and painted heraldic shields of the generations of the Carnarvon family. The beautiful 17th century painted and hand tooled leather panels on the lower walls was very unusual and very rare but it softened the appearance of the room and made it look more cosy. The whole image is even more impressive than how it appears on the television because on the screen you don't see its full height, that it has a glass roof and is surrounded by a stone carved gallery at first floor level. The state dining room was again very familiar with the large central dining table as well as paintings, including the equestrian painting of King Charles I by Van Dyke, on the walls. All it needed was the Crawley family to be seated around the table and you'd be back in the period drama. We saw more state rooms and some bedrooms but not the servants quarters.
The 'below stairs' area was created at the Ealing studios and many of the actors and actresses playing the servants hardly ever visited the castle.
After our self-guided tour we all agreed that it had been a lovely day, and to finish we would enjoy a cream tea in the converted stables at the back of the house, part of the original Elizabethan Manor that hadn't had the Sir Charles Barry make-over.
We found some tables and cast our eyes round for Mr Carson, Thomas or Alfred. There wasn't a Butler or a Footman to be seen. I reminded everyone of the lovely lines of the Dowager Countess of Grantham "It's our job to create employment. An aristocrat with no servants is as much use to the country as a glass hammer." We all had to pitch in and do our own fetching and carrying, which brought us quickly back into the modern world to sitting around sipping tea and discussing which way of life we would prefer.
Note: For guided coach tours to Highclere Castle and other places, see the section on Guided Coach Tours and Places to Visit.
If you would like a particular itinerary arranged for you, see the section on Your Tour and Explore Package. We can tailor an itinerary to suit your group.
Magna Carta and King John
During this year we will be celebrating the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta, otherwise known as the Great Charter.
On 15th June 1215 King John reluctantly set out from Windsor Castle to make a pact with a powerful group of rebel Barons at Runnymede. He was greatly outnumbered and in desperation he agreed to their demands to observe the rights, privileges and liberties of the clergy and the nobles. King John's promises were set down in writing and an unknown number of copies of the document, which came to be known as the Magna Carta, were made and distributed across England.
Four of the original copies of the Magna Carta survive to this day. Salisbury Cathedral, pictured on the left, probably has the best preserved version of the document and will be celebrating the anniversary with a new exhibition in their 13th century Chapter House where this very famous and powerful document will be on display.
Two copies of the Magna Carta are in the British Library and from 13th March - 1st September they will be part of their exhibition entitled Law, Liberty, Legacy. The fourth copy is held in Lincoln castle.
West end of Worcester Cathedral
But what about King John? He was probably one of the most unpopular and cruellest of all the Kings of England. He put his seal to the Magna Carta to keep peace with rebel barons but only to buy himself time, he never intended to keep to the Charter. The result was Civil War. The nobility called on Prince Louis of France to invade England to depose the monarch who had become such a tyrant. King John, however proved himself an able soldier and continued to wage war, but a severe attack of dysentery made him very ill and brought on his early and unexpected death at Newark Castle in October 1216, resulting in a divided country. King John's nine year old son, Henry was quickly crowned King Henry III at Gloucester. The crowning of a new English King thwarted Prince Louis' reasons for invading the country, he also lost the support of the rebel barons so returned to France and has more or less been written out of English history ever since.
|King John's Tomb Worcester Cathedral|
As King John lay dying he made a Will. As part of that Will, John requested: "I will that my body be buried in the church of St. Mary and St. Wulfstan of Worcester". Amazingly, the document still exists, and is on display in Worcester Cathedral's library. King John's final request was to be buried between two saints - St Oswald and St Wulfstan and here is the tomb, pictured on the left, with his marble effigy lying on top and either side of his head are carvings of the two saints.
Worcester Cathedral will be marking the 800th anniversary with an exhibition - King John, Magna Carta and Worcester Cathedral until December 2016. There will be pre-booked talks, lectures and concerts during 2015 and a Shakespeare play - King John in the Cathedral in October 2016 to coincide with the anniversary of his death.
No holiday in the county of Gloucestershire should be without a visit to the city of Gloucester to experience its fascinating history and heritage.
|Church of St Nicholas|
When you arrive, I’d recommend starting your tour from the bottom of Westgate Street, where there’s a useful car park with easy access to the city centre and Gloucester Cathedral. As you walk up Westgate Street you’ll see St Nicholas Church straight ahead of you with its curious spire. The church received a lot of canon fire from the Royalist army during the siege of Gloucester in 1643. The spire took a direct hit, the top became unstable and eventually 1/3rd of it was removed for safety reasons, hence its rather unusual look with a coronet around the truncated top with a shiny bronze cockerel weather vane above. The church is instantly recognisable and is quite a landmark.
|Gloucester Folk Museum|
Do stop to admire the timber framed building which is now the Gloucester Folk Museum, one of the oldest museums in the country. It has a wonderful local and social history collection and I recommend a visit if you have time. You’ll discover a gallery about the River Severn, a gallery on dairy and arable farming in Gloucestershire. There’s information about the effects of the Civil War locally and various old fashioned shops including a wheelwright's and a carpenter's workshop as well as information about the industrial and domestic life in the area years ago.
|The Dick Whittington Pub|
The next surprise is a pub called The Dick Whittington which occupies St Nicholas House, a late fifteenth century merchant’s house which was built for Richard Whittington, nephew of Dick Whittington; Yes, the Dick Whittington (1350 - 1423) of nursery rhyme and pantomime fame, who was in fact a real person who lived in Gloucestershire for part of his life, then went to London and became Lord Mayor three times. Queen Elizabeth I has been one of many KIngs and Queens to have visited Gloucester and it is said that she stayed in St Nicholas house in 1574.
Now turn into Three Cocks Lane.
Bishop Hooper's Monument
|Bishop Hooper's Monument|
Four hundred and sixty years ago, Bishop John Hooper was tied to a stake on this spot in St Mary's Square and burned alive in front of a large group of spectators.
He was condemned for his protestant beliefs, Hooper was one of around 300 people who was executed this way for not recanting and returning to the Catholic religion in Queen Mary I's five-year reign and he was the first Bishop to be burnt alive.
Now continue through the archway to visit Gloucester Cathedral.
|St Mary's Gate|
This is St Mary's Gate dating back to the 13th century and leads from the monument into Cathedral Close. This was once the great gateway of the Abbey of St Peter and alongside to the right of the archway was the Almonry where once the poor would gather, waiting for the charity that all monasteries were bound to give. The Almonry building has survived and is still in use today as an education centre.
As you walk through the archway you''ll get your first proper view of Gloucester Cathedral
This is one of the finest medieval buildings in the country. It was the Abbey church of St Peter but when King Henry 8th ordered the destruction of the monasteries, he had the Abbey church saved because it was the burial place of his ancestor King Edward II. I do recommend you look inside to admire the Norman nave, the beautiful fan vaulted ceiling in the cloisters, the perpendicular east end with its Great East Window of medieval stained glass and the Lady chapel with its Arts and Crafts stained glass windows. There is so much to see.
These are some of the highlights of a walk around Gloucester and I'd love to show you around.
For a guided walk contact: Blue Badge Tour Guide - Anne Bartlett
Stratford-on-Avon and the Shakespeare Connections
I'm often asked to take people on guided tours around Stratford-on-Avon to see William Shakespeare's birthplace and the other properties with the Shakespeare connection. The timber-framed Tudor style house in Henley Street, pictured on the left, was where the bard was born in 1564.
We do not know the exact date of William's birth but the church register (a copy of which can be seen in Holy Trinity church) records his baptism as being on 26th April 1564. It's generally accepted that his birthday was 23rd April, three days before he was baptised, which was the tradition in those days. The birthplace is a fascinating place to visit and it's furniture is typical of the period. You'll see all the rooms including John Shakespeare's workshop, the downstairs room on the far right of the photograph, and the room where William was born.
Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-Upon-Avon
The font in which Shakespeare was
A walk to Holy Trinity Church passing the Royal Shakespeare theatre is highly recommended. In the church, so long as there's no important event taking place, you'll be able to visit the chancel to see Shakespeare's grave as well as the curse he'd had written on the stone to stop people from removing his bones. You'll also see the font, pictured on the right, in which William Shakespeare was baptised. Notice the wooden display case alongside where you'll see the parish records of 26th April 1564 and 25th April 1616 which show Shakespeare's baptism and his burial. From these records we can assume that he was born on 23rd April and died on the same day 52 years later.
After leaving Holy Trinity Church in Stratford's Old Town, we'll pass Hall's Croft, where William Shakespeare's eldest daughter lived following her marriage to Dr John Hall. The walk will continue to the 15th century Guildhall. Historian Michael Wood describes it as ‘one of the most atmospheric, magical and important buildings in the whole of Britain’, alongside is the King Edward VI Grammar School.
The school room where William Shakespeare
William's father John Shakespeare a glover and wool dealer, held the office of town bailiff of the borough, so as a child, William would have been entitled to a free place at Big School, as it was known then. It was here that William's education would have included Latin, Greek, English History and Bible Studies. We get the feeling that he found the school day long and arduous because included in his description of the Seven Age of Man in 'As You Like It.' He refers to ...the whining schoolboy, with his satchel, and shining morning face, creeping like snail unwillingly to school.
At the moment the school room isn't open to the public except on special occasions, but funding has been secured to restore the Guildhall and it's hoped to open both the hall and Shakespeare's classroom next year for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death.
The remains of New Place the home
Nash's House and New Place, Stratford-Upon-Avon
The picture on the right shows piles of earth in a garden. This is the site of New Place, the house where William Shakespeare died. The site looks like this at the moment after an archaeological dig to try and discover more about the bard. For 2015 The site of New Place and Nash's House alongside, named after Thomas Nash the first husband of Shakespeare's granddaughter Elizabeth, is closed for essential conservation work, including structural repairs. The site will reopen as a contemporary heritage landmark in 2016, in time for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death. See the photo of the model on display in Harvard House. Plans for New Place
The model showing how New Place
Harvard House, 26 High Street, Stratford-Upon-Avon
A beautifully ornate timber framed house has been opened to visitors this year, whilst Nash's House and New Place are closed.
Shakespeare will have known the building, which is on the opposite side of the road to New Place. It was built by a wealthy businessman Thomas Rogers in 1596. Thomas's daughter Katherine married Robert Harvard and they lived in London until the plague hit the city in 1625. Only Katherine and her two sons John and Thomas survived the plague but they returned to Stratford to the house Katherine had inherited from her father.
The connection with Harvard University, America.
Katherine and Robert's son John Harvard went to Cambridge University. After his studies he married, then in 1637 he and his wife emigrated to Massachusetts, America. John worked as a minister and a teacher but sadly died of TB.
The Massachusetts Colony were they lived and worked were raising money for the establishment of a college, and John who had inherited a large amount of money donated it and his large library of books to the founding of the college. The college was named after him, and is called Harvard University today.
After a walk around Stratford looking at the properties connected with Shakespeare and also the other historic buildings and places that make up this fascinating ancient market town, we can visit Anne Hathaway's cottage at Shottery and Mary Arden's House at Wilmcote which are a short drive away from Stratford-Upon-Avon.
For a guided walk around Stratford-Upon-Avon or
A coach tour to include a visit to Stratford-Upon-Avon
Contact: Blue Badge Tour Guide - Anne Bartlett
Autumn Colours at Batsford Arboretum in the Cotswolds
guided coach tours of the Cotswolds and we've called in to Batsford Arboretum which has one of the largest private collections of trees in the country. We've soaked up the glorious autumn colours as the leaves on the trees have changed from green, to hues of gold, orange and red.
In among the collection of magnificent trees, which are from around the world, are Japanese Maples (Acer palmatum), deciduous trees with a graceful habit and beautiful foliage, which at this time of year turn the most striking colours. Also there are trees and bushes resplendent in masses of coloured berries, cones, seed pods, flowers and spent foliage - its quite breathtaking.
The advantage of visiting Batsford Arboretum is that there is an easy walk from the car park to a new and very large visitor centre, with a sizeable café. The food is good and is reasonably priced and there is an extensive shop and a very good plant centre, so there is plenty to see and do for those whose mobility isn't good or the rain comes and shelter is needed.
I look forward to taking people back to Batsford Arboretum in the spring when there are displays of flowering bulbs – swathes of snowdrops, daffodils, narcissi and bluebells. There's the beautiful blossom of the magnolia trees, the flowering cherries as well as the exotic Davidia Involucrata tree especially when the white bracts appear and dangle like handkerchiefs from its branches.
To book a guided coach tour for your group to include a visit to Batsford Arboretum.
Contact: Cotswolds Blue Badge Tour Guide - Anne Bartlett
Celebrating Chedworth Roman Villa's Special Anniversary
In 2012 Lottery funding provided money for a new award winning conservation building which was erected to cover and protect a section of the villa, which greatly improves the visitor experience. With raised walkways, people can marvel at the mosaics, imagine the finely painted walls in the numerous rooms, discover how the Roman central heating worked and get a much better idea of the luxurious living of the very wealthy, in Roman times.
|The new conservation building|
The Cotswolds Roman Villa's existence was supposedly discovered by accident in 1864 when a gamekeeper ferreting for rabbits found tesserae in the ground around a burrow. Realising that this could be an important discovery he reported his find to the landowner Lord Eldon and the digging started with great enthusiasm. Victorian archaeology wasn't as thorough as today and detailed records were not made, so unfortunately there are gaps in our knowledge which wouldn't have happened if the dig had taken place more recently.
|An artists impression of how Chedworth Roman Villa|
looked c. AD 350
|Site map showing location of Chedworth |
Roman Villa to the Roman Roads and
A site information board shows the location of other villas in the area at the time, and shows how close they were to the Fosse Way - the military road built by the Romans to link Exeter with Lincoln which ran through Cirencester, the 2nd largest Roman town after London. Chedworth villa, the best surviving roman villa in the area was built in a very sheltered valley, it had a good water supply, being close to springs spouting water from the nearby hill and it faced south. Just little way away, the River Coln flowed towards the river Thames.
|The Visitor Centre, Café and Shop|
I can recommend Chedworth Roman Villa as an excellent place to visit with the family, so keep a look out for special events. There's a visitor centre and café. The staff and volunteers are very helpful and are only too please to pass on as much information about the Roman Villa as possible.
For a guided coach tour to include a visit to Chedworth Roman Villa
Contact: Blue Badge Tour Guide - Anne Bartlett
A visit to Warwick Castle
A top tourist attraction in the Heart of England is Warwick Castle, one of the best examples of a medieval castle in England. It provides a wonderful day out for people of all ages.
Warwick Castle has been home to many generations of the rich and powerful Earls of Warwick who had supported their Kings, fought bravely and benefitted from the spoils of war. They had been key players in English history, been on the winning side and amassed a huge wealth adding to the castle and turning it into a massive fortress.
During the Wars of the Roses (1455 – 1485) members of the Houses of York (whose symbol is the White Rose) and Lancaster (whose symbol is the Red Rose) – branches of the Plantagenet Royal family descended from Edward III, fought a series of very bloody battles to gain the throne of England.
Preparations for the Battle of Barnet Exhibition
Richard Neville, the very rich, powerful, ambitious 16th Earl of Warwick, wanted to rule the country through the monarch he'd put on the throne. Richard Neville, a total control freak, was known as the Kingmaker. Neville, the Earl of Warwick supported Edward IV's claim to the throne and helped to depose Henry VI and have him locked up in the Tower of London. Warwick expected Edward IV to reward him handsomely by giving him more power, wealth and land. However Edward IV was his own man and had no intention of being controlled by Warwick, they fell out and became bitter enemies, so much so that Edward had to flee the country and go into exile.
Warwick changed allegiances to support the Lancastrian cause. Six months later Edward IV determined to claim the throne, returned to England with a large army supplied by his brother-in-law, the Duke of Burgundy. Warwick on hearing the news assembled a great army of Lancastrians to fight the Yorkist King, Edward IV. At the castle you can see the preparations for the Battle of Barnet.
The battle took place on 14th April 1471. Things didn't go well for the Lancastrians army. King Edward arrived at Barnet in the dark on the evening before and set up camp very close to Warwick's army. The following morning the armies fought in thick fog. In the confusion the Lancastrians accidently fought against themselves. Warwick the Kingmaker was killed during the battle and the Lancastrian army were routed.
Although Edward IV had defeated the Earl of Warwick and his army, he soon heard that Margaret of Anjou, King Henry VI’s wife and her son Edward, Prince of Wales who had been in exile in France, had landed at Weymouth with an army and were on their way to assist the Earl of Warwick. Although they arrived too late for the Battle of Barnet, they continued marching north and raising supporters as they travelled. Margaret of Anjou heard the news that Warwick had been killed but continued the march north, determined to claim back the throne for her husband and her son.
Edward IV, anticipating their plans intercepted the Lancastrian army at Tewkesbury and after a bloody battle, they were again routed and victory for King Edward IV was finally secured.
Warwick's body was taken to St Paul's Cathedral in London and his naked corpse was put on display so that everyone could see that the Kingmaker was dead.
For a private guided coach tour for your group to include a visit to Warwick Castle
Contact: Blue Badge Tour Guide - Anne Bartlett
A Ghost Walk around Prestbury, the most haunted village in Gloucestershire
It was a cold, blustery, dark and eerie evening when I met 23 members of the Cheltenham branch of the Federation of Small Businesses for a stiff drink at the Plough Inn, Prestbury in Gloucestershire. Were we warming ourselves, chatting too much or just nervously 'raising the spirits' in preparation for our ghost walk?
Cathy, the landlady smiled knowingly, and promised to tell us about the spooks and spectres around the pub on our return. But first, as darkness had descended upon the familiar day-time world of this small village, we decided that it was time to set off and uncover the strange stories of the ghouls and ghosts that haunt the churchyard, dimly lit lanes and cottages of Prestbury at night. An owl hooted and we huddled together. With our senses alert, we listened for the sound of a galloping horse often heard by people around here. Alongside the pub, in low tones I recounted the terrible event in the village's history that caused this ghostly horse to bolt:-
It was during the Civil War in 17th century that Oliver Cromwell had arranged for many of his officers to be billeted in Prestbury village. Some of the enemy had an encampment at nearby Sudeley Castle. Cromwell and his men knew that from time to time messages would be sent from the camp to Royalist troops who had besieged the nearby city of Gloucester and he ordered an ambush to be prepared in readiness.
As expected, a King's messenger was spotted galloping towards Prestbury on route to his destination. Cromwell's men heard him coming, raised the alarm, and moved in to attack. The messenger saw what was happening ahead and spurred his horse into a faster gallop. Clods of earth flew from the horses hooves; the messenger was travelling so fast it was impossible to capture him. However, what he didn't see, until it was too late, was a fine wire stretched between two trees across his path. With an agonising scream he hit the wire so hard that his head was completely severed from his body. The head, spouting blood, bounced to the ground first, followed by the grisly remains of the twitching corpse, while the terrified riderless horse galloped on.
From that day onwards, locals have often heard the disembodied clatter of hooves of a galloping horse along the road outside the pub. The eerie sound has been attributed to the soul of this headless horseman.
Our group, continued along the streets of Prestbury, through the lanes and across the churchyard to hear other spine chilling stories including that of the Strangled Bride; the famous Black Abbot who haunts the churchyard; Peeping Thomasina; Old Moses; the disappearing jockey; the girl who plays the spinnet; Cromwell's bargain with the Devil and more...
After an hour or so we returned to the The Plough in need of another drink to settle our nerves. We were served with a piping hot meal and, gathering around the tables, we listened to Cathy as she told us of her experiences with the invisible, mischievous and often troublesome pub poltergeist.
To book an evening Ghost Walk for your group and hear more about Prestbury village's incredible tales:-
Contact: Cotswolds Blue Badge Tour Guide - Anne Bartlett
Cheltenham's connection with Capt. Scott's Expedition to the South Pole
The first one (1901 - 1904) on the ship the Discovery was supported by the Royal Society and The Royal Geographical Society and was primarily for scientific research as well as exploration. On this expedition Captain Scott, Ernest Shackleton and Dr Edward Wilson penetrated further south than any explorer had in the past and their valuable scientific research was more wide-ranging than any undertaken before, but they didn't cross the Great Ice Barrier to reach the South Pole.
Edward Wilson besides being an explorer was a physician, an artist, a naturalist as well as an ornithologist. He combined his important scientific work with beautiful paintings and drawings of the landscape and wildlife of this virtually unknown continent.
The second expedition (1910 - 1912), again led by Capt. Scott with Dr Wilson accompanying him, was specifically undertaken to reach the South Pole and to be the first explorers to do so, also, a large team of scientists travelled and worked alongside them to discover and gain more knowledge about the frozen continent.
Meanwhile, another very experienced team of explorers lead by a Norwegian, Roald Amundsen was raising money and preparing to travel to the Arctic to reach the North Pole. However, Amundsen's plans changed when he heard that rival explorers had reached the North Pole before him. Because he was unsure as to how his backers would react he secretly changed his objectives and headed South to be the first explorer to reach the South Pole instead. He announced his plans when he was well on his way.
When Scott heard that Amundsen had changed his plans he realised that it would be a race to get to the South Pole first.
The Antarctic Wilderness
|The Antarctic Wilderness|
Capt Scott wrote in his diary "All day dreams must go. It will be a very wearisome return."
It was a battle through terrible freezing temperatures and blinding blizzards. Hauling their sledges was debilitating. Exhausted, starving and suffering from frostbite they slowly perished The frozen bodies of Capt Scott, Dr Edward Wilson and Henry Bowers were found in their tent months later. Evans and Oates bodies were never found. The frozen continent became their final resting place.
Dr Edward Wilson's statue on the Promenade in Cheltenham was sculpted by Captain Scott's widow Kathleen and bears the following inscription:-
Edward Adrian Wilson B.A. M.B. CANTAB. F.Z.S.
Born in Cheltenham 1872. Chief of the Scientific Staff.
Artist and Zoologist of the British Antarctic Expedition 1910 - 1913.
He reached the South Pole January 17 1912. And died with Capt. Scott
on the Great Ice Barrier March 1912.
"He died as he lived. A brave true man.
The best of Comrades and staunchest of friends"
(Letter from Capt. Scott)
Gloucestershire's connections with Charles Dickens
|Charles Dickens |
(7th Feb 1812 - 9th June 1870)
London played a very big part in Dickens' life and was the setting for many of his novels, but he also travelled extensively.
We will be remembering Dickens in Gloucestershire as he visited our impressive city on his travels and later came to Gloucester on one of his reading tours. He enjoyed his visits and described Gloucester as - 'a wonderful and misleading city.' After his visit to the docks he wrote "You will see, suddenly appearing, as if in a dream, long ranges of warehouses with cranes attached, endless intricacies of dock, miles of tramroad, wildernesses of timber in stacks, and huge, three-masted ships, wedged into little canals, floating with no apparent means of propulsion, and without a sail to bless themselves with."
North of Gloucester is the Medieval town of Tewkesbury which was mentioned in the Pickwick Papers, when Mr Pickwick and his friends stopped at a coaching inn - The Hop Pole, on route from Bristol to Birmingham.
|The Hop Pole, Tewkesbury where Mr Pickwick,|
Ben Allen, Bob Sawyer & Sam Weller stayed
|The Dickens House Museum, London|
Another interesting place in Gloucestershire is The Bibury Court Hotel, in the Cotswolds. This is supposed to have been the inspiration for Dickens' novel - Bleak House written between 1852 - 8153.
Originally Bibury Court was a grand Jacobean Manor House dating from the late 16th century and owned by the Sackville family. The house and estate passed down through the family for a number of generations then through the female line to the Cresswell family. The Cresswells were among many to suffer the injustices of the English legal system, of which Dickens was so critical, trying to sort out a disputed family will. It was supposedly this long running litigation that inspired him to write Bleak House and the case of Jarndyce v Jarndyce in the Court of Chancery.
Bibury Court was bought and sold a number of times after the court case. By the 1920's it had fallen into a delapidated estate. It was bought by the Clarke family who restored it then, when Lady Clark died in the 1980's, it was sold again and was converted to a large luxury hotel which opened in 1968.
The 2012 Cotswold Olimpicks and the World Shin Kicking Competition
|My souvenir programme|
for the 400th anniversary
The official opening of the Cotswold Olimpick Games begins at 7.30 in the evening by someone taking the part of Robert Dover, who started the games back in 1612. He rides into the arena on a white horse, supposedly wearing some of King James 1 old clothes, accompanied by Endymion Porter and the Skuttlebrook Wake Queen and her attendants. The games begins with a speech from Robert Dover followed by the firing of a cannon to awake the spirit of the Games.
|Robert Dover with white feather in |
his black hat.
|One of the shin kicking contestants in the|
picture is celebrity sportsman Ben Fogle.
At 9.30pm, as its getting dark, the final shin kicking competition takes place to find the World Shin Kicker 2012.
Here is a Youtube video, uploaded by SoGlos last year in 2011. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eGXDwbzlJKw
|The torchlit procession into Chipping Campden|