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Archive for July, 2015

Weekend in London

This weekend I’ve done a Great Run that was fun in Newham (say it a certain way and it rhymes). Seriously, though, it was a great day and well done to the organisers and volunteers that made it all run smoothly.

The day before I went to some exhibitions around London. The first was the Magna Carter: Law, Liberty, Legacy at the British Library.

This exhibition, marking seven hundred years since King John sealed the Great Charter in 1215, tells the troubles England faced under John’s rule and how the charter shaped political thinking down the centuries. It looks at how it was used to inspire the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights in the USA and Chartism in Britain. It also shows its importance to figures such as Nelson Mandela in his quest for freedom.

There is also an embroidery of the Wikipedia page from the artist Cornelia Parker with contributions from judges and prisoners to artists and aristocrats. Well worth a look.

After Magna Carter I went down to the British Museum (as you might have gathered, I do like going there) and saw some art and artifacts from one of the world’s oldest continuing cultures: the native peoples of Australia and the Torres Strait Islands.

The works that are displayed here are from either the museum’s collections or on loan from Australia. These include boomerangs, hunting hooks and spears, baskets, masks and clothing that show how the land, sea and nature were central to these peoples’ beliefs.

Go and see this before it closes.

When you see a picture, does a tune come to mind? Or maybe a story? The National Gallery has commissioned six musicians or sound artists to put together pieces to accompany a painting each. These pieces in the Soundscapes exhibition range from orchestral pieces, electronic, strings and various sound effects.

Take a look and see what you think.

The final exhibition I saw last weekend was Coral Reefs at the Natural History Museum.

This was a fascinating journey around these living habitats that play host, food and danger to a range of plants, fish and other organisms. It also reinforces the need to protect these marvels from man-made threats and, instead, research further into them.

Go and see it. You might even see Nemo while you’re there!


Castling

No I’ve not been playing chess. A couple of weeks ago I went to Warwickshire for the weekend to go around some castles and visit the local area.

A huge chunk of the alternative history novel I’ve been writing is set in this neck of the woods so I thought it would be a good idea to see what the places were actually like. It was also a good excuse for a holiday (but a working one, of course!)

There has been a castle in Kenilworth since the 1120s and improvements were made by King John, his descendant, John of Gaunt and became a residence for the Lancastrian Kings. Elizabeth I gave the castle to Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester and he transformed it into a palace fit for a queen. No expense was spared when the queen came to visit him and Dudley almost bankrupted himself in an effort to entertain his sovereign. In the years following the Civil War, the castle fell into ruin, which inspired the poet, Sir Walter Scott and many other artists and writers, including Charles Dickens.

Kenilworth Castle

Kenilworth Castle GardensThe next day I went to Warwick Castle. Like Kenilworth, this is a fascinating place and perfect for all the family. This castle has a history that spans eleven hundred years since Aethelflead of the Mercians (daughter of Alfred the Great) build a burgh to defend the region against Norse invaders. The castle itself was started by William the Conqueror and many improvements were made during the Middle Ages. The castle also played major roles during the Baronial Wars of the thirteenth century and the Wars of the Roses in the fifteenth. The castle was neglected during the Tudor period and was granted to a courtier of James I to Sir Fulke Greville, who began to restore it. After the Civil War, the castle was restored further and has played host to a zoo and society balls. Now it is a tourist attraction and is the perfect place for people of all ages to enjoy history.

Warwick Castle

Trebuchet


The Tower of London

Every castle or old building has a set of stories to tell. Stories about who was there, kings, queens, soldiers, workers, spies. Stories about what went on, marriages, murders, plots and imprisonments. These take the forms of records that have been kept, names and dates scratched into the walls, of artwork and from word of mouth. And it’s legends that give these places character and, sometimes, notoriety.

And one place that has a long and well-known history is the Tower of London.

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The White Tower

The Tower of London has been an integral part of England’s history since the Norman Conquest. For centuries this fortress was one of the tallest buildings in the capital and loomed above the population for miles as London grew.

The Tower, as it became known as its notoriety increased, served many functions throughout its history. It was a royal palace for kings such as Henry III, Henry VI and Edward IV. It was a storehouse for the Crown Jewels after an attempt to steal them from Edward I in 1303 almost succeeded.

For centuries it was the home of the Royal Mint, a long avenue of houses outside the main fortress would ring with the clanging of coins being struck from metal.

Under the drawbridge and in other parts lived the menagerie of animals and birds who inhabited the Tower from around 1210 to 1834 when the Duke of Wellington moved them to London Zoo. Lions, bears, various birds (including ravens), monkeys and an alligator were just some of the exotic creatures on display to visitors.

Most famously the Tower was a prison and the scene for many daring attempts at escape, murder and execution. The ghosts of Henry VI and Anne Boleyn are some of those who are thought to stalk the fortress at night.

Today it’s a museum, one of London’s biggest attractions. If you want to learn more about the many, many stories that this place holds I can recommend Nigel Jones’ book, The Tower, (Windmill Books, 2012) and going to visit, of course.

Raven


Read Through History: June 2015

This last month’s been eventful. I’ve been to Warwickshire (blog post on the way), Kent and London to see Elton John and Fleetwood Mac Live (yes, the real ones!) and have finished the first draft of a novella. What happens with this, who knows?

And here’s what I’ve raided from the bookshelves this month:

1) Robogenesis by Daniel H. Wilson. Taking a break from the historical stuff, this is the sequel to the really, really good Robopocalypse (I think that’s spelt right). Not a bad follow up. Also, give the Humans TV series a go. It’s really good so far.

2) The Crown Jewels Robbery of 1303 by Paul Doherty. Before Colonel Blood there was Richard of Pudlicott. If you remember the BBC serial Heist, it’s the story of when Edward I’s treasury was lifted from Westminster Abbey.

3) VIII by H. M. Castor. This the life story of Henry VIII told from the point of view from the king himself. I liked this very much.

4) Dissolution by C. J. Sansom. The first in the Matthew Shardlake series set during Reformation England. I look forward to reading more of these.

Right, time to write about castles and that.