Thursday, August 18, 2011

Kenilworth Castle, Warwickshire

I have just one more day of telling medieval tales at Kenilworth Castle.

For two weeks I have been camped on site with my friend and co-founder of Past-Imagined, Historical Tale Tellers , Stewart Alexander. As always it's been a real privilege staying on site after the public have gone home.

The Castle at Sunset
Click on image to enlarge

I have spent many nights wandering the ruins and more than any other castle I have stayed at, Kenilworth seems sombre and brooding, menacing even. Although Stew thinks it is a place of melancholy. Certainly like any major historic site it's had it's fair share of ups and downs. It was once home to Robert Dudley - One time favourite of Elizabeth 1st, but spurned for his own political and personal failings. Prior to that the scene of death and destruction including a siege by HenryIII in 1266, the evidence for which can still be seen in the huge stone balls shot from trebuchets and other weapons at the castle long ago, but now no more than decorative tops for many a gate post of many a house in the older part of Kenilworth.

Recycled Trebuchet Balls

According to some, the harrowing history has lead to a few hauntings over the years, including a Grey Lady. I like many others enjoy a good ghost story, and there was one night late when walking to the loos that I did catch something out of the corner of my eye - just flitting across the entrance to the new Elizabethan Garden, but whether it was a Grey Lady, a local lad intend on mischief or maybe even a low flying owl, i'll never know!

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Location:Fieldgate Lawn,Kenilworth,United Kingdom

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Victorian Crafts at Renishaw Hall

Today I'm telling at Renishaw Hall.

A very grand Victorian house built around a much older 17th century hall. It's most famous for being the home of the Sitwells, all part of the 'bright young things' of the interwar years. Creative people from privileged backgrounds. The most famous of them was Edith Sitwell the poet.

That's all very interesting, but I was more taken by the crafts and other activities on display at the Victorian event here this day. In particular the man making lead toys - animals and the like, although now cast from lead free pewter.

Pouring 'lead' into a mould
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His moulds are brought at antique fairs so he can produce animals just like originals and then the children can have a go at painting them in the tent next door. The toymaker even makes his own moulds out of marble just as they would have originally been. I like that kind of ingenuity.

And by sheer coincidence the small museum at the hall houses some of the Sitwell children's own lead soldiers and animals, so children can get an idea just what it is they are painting.

Sitwell antique lead toys

A small thing perhaps, but many of the kids kept the animals they had watched being cast and then painted themselves, very close as they listened to stories. And they had something to take away that may last and remind them of the hall for many years to come!

Thanks to all for the friendly welcome and to some great audiences. Especially the older listeners who gave as good as they got!

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Location:Station Rd,,United Kingdom

Monday, August 8, 2011

Hidden Gems at Colchester Castle

I have returned to Colchester Castle to tell Medieval Tales and was again very taken with one of their temporary exhibitions. This one was all about buried treasures, from Anglo Saxon and English Civil War Hoards to unfinished neolithic flints and clothes and shoes secreted in the fire places, floors and walls of old houses. It was this group that really caught my eye. From mummified cats to witches pots and even this mid 17th century coat that had been hidden in a house in Malden in Essex....

The Maldon Coat

This old coat in particular really fires my imagination. Why was it hidden there? Many think they know but no one can be certain. There are those who will tell you that shoes were hidden to trap witches, for it is said they they can't walk backwards! A great story if nothing else. And the coat it too has a story to tell. It was oft times repaired and the fancy cuffs later added. Many owners perhaps each with a story. And that's the point about museum exhibits - they are far more than the sum of their interpretation panels. Don't be afraid when you see things like this coat to let loose and imagine what sights, sounds and scrapes it's wearers once got into. These tattered rags tell of its owners status, but might also hint at their aspirations, their hopes and dreams. We can all be tellers of tales and so too a raggedy old coat!

For more information of hidden clothing visit the Deliberately Concealed Garments Website here...

16th century shoes, witches pots and a mummified cat
From various Essex houses

Roman cow bells buried in a circle

Saxon through to 17th century Civil War Hoards

Thanks to Clive for another invite to the castle and the great staff, especially the two who helped me push start my car today!