May God grant you always…
a moonbeam to charm you,
a sheltering Angel so nothing can harm you.
Laughter to cheer you.
Faithful friends near you…
and whenever you pray, Heaven to hear you.
May God grant you always…
a moonbeam to charm you,
a sheltering Angel so nothing can harm you.
Laughter to cheer you.
Faithful friends near you…
and whenever you pray, Heaven to hear you.
My introduction to International Women’s Day started with a card I received from my long-time Russian pen pal when we were both teenagers in the late 70s. I had never heard of it prior to her greeting but I have been intrigued with this international event since I first heard about it and very recently delved into researching it in depth. In February of 1913, on the eve of World War I, Russian women observed the first International Women’s Day on the last Sunday of that month. Following discussions it was transferred to March 8th and has remained the global date ever since.
This day is celebrated all over the world these days, just as the name suggests, but its beginnings were in the Russian States back the early 1900s and was a socialist movement, originally. By 1908 the inequality for women concerning legal, business and voting rights issues were debated prolifically and active campaigning for change was accelerating internationally- regardless of party affiliations or ethnicities. That same year. 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights.
By 1910 a second International Conference of Working Women was held in Copenhagen and concurrently a woman named Clara Zetkin who was Leader of the ‘Women’s Office’ (for the Social Democratic Party in Germany) tabled the idea of an International Women’s Day. She proposed that every year, in every country, there should be a celebration on the same day to press for rights and demands. The conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, representing unions, socialist parties and working women’s clubs included the first three women elected to the Parliament of Finland and all approved Zetkin’s suggestion.
Following the unanimous decision International Women’s Day (IWD) was honored for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on 19th March the following year and over a million women (and men) attended the rallies campaigning for women’s rights to work for equal pay, vote, hold public office and end job discrimination. Less than a week later on the 25th of March 1911, the tragic ‘Triangle Fire’ in New York City took the lives of more than 140 working women, most of them Italian and Jewish immigrants. A few years later, women across Europe held rallies to campaign against the war and to express solidarity on women’s rights issues. When the Russian Czar was forced to abdicate, the provisional Government granted women the right to vote.
International Women’s Day has grown to become a global day of recognition and celebration across large and developing countries alike and has grown progressively through the years. For many years the United Nations has held an annual IWD conference to coordinate international efforts for women’s rights and participation in social, political and economic processes. From the momentum it gained through the years, 1975 was designated as ‘International Women’s Year’ by the United Nations. Women’s organizations and governments around the world have also observed IWD annually on the 8th of March by holding large-scale events honoring women’s advancement while reminding us to be vigilant and active in ensuring women’s equal rights to be maintained in all aspects of life.
The year 2000 marked the 100th anniversary date of this global observance since its earliest beginnings but two years ago marked the official 100th anniversary when it became globally accepted and also official. Third world countries had joined in the solidarity, increased awareness and aid to women in these countries and has become an honored tradition by those who have stepped up to the plate to make a difference. The new millennium has witnessed a significant change in attitude in both women’s and society’s thoughts about equality and emancipation. Those of a younger generation seem to feel that all the battles have been won for women but feminists from the 1970s remember too well the longevity and ingrained complexity of patriarchy. With more women in boardrooms, legislative rights, and more visibility as important role models, it is supposed that women have gained true equality.
The struggle which comes to mind in more recent years was brought to light in a movie which Sally Field starred in portraying an actual person, Crystal Lee Sutton, in 1979, titled Norma Rae. In 1973, Sutton was a 33 year old mother of three earning 2.65 an hour folding towels at J.P. Stevens when a manager fired her for pro-union activity. In a final act of defiance before police hauled her out, Sutton, who had worked at the plant for 16 years, wrote UNION on a piece of cardboard and climbed onto a table on the plant floor. Other employees responded by shutting down their machines. She spent the remainder of her years as a labor organizer and quite heavily during the 70s. Eventually she became a certified nursing assistant in 1988 but by the time of her passing in 2009 she had not been able to work for several years because of illnesses. Her struggle to unionize textile plants in the South will be remembered many years from now on the strength of the type of solidarity brought to light through such organizations as IWD and others.
However, the unfortunate fact is that women are still not paid equally among their male counterparts. While we have increased in all the areas which would bring equality to men in our daily lives we have a long way to go before we will be found present in equal numbers in business, politics, women’s education and health. Violence against women is worse than that of men and has increased exponentially in domestic situations. We do have female astronauts and prime ministers, school girls are welcomed into universities, women can work and have a family and have viable choices, culturally. Advancement has been slow considering the momentum of the Women’s Movement and it is important that we recognize that the need for solidarity and activism continue so that we can truly say we have achieved the main objective of International Women’s Day which is absolute equality in all areas of life.
In the present day, one hundred years later, the organization has become celebratory of the positive advances we have made and thousands of events are held throughout the world, on the eighth of March, to inspire women and promote achievements. A global web of rich and diverse local activity connects women from all around the world ranging from political rallies, business conferences, government activities and networking events through to local women’s craft markets, theatrical performances, fashion parades and more. Many global corporations have also started to more actively support IWD by running their own internal events and through supporting external ones. Media giant Google changes its logo on global search pages on March 8th to honor IWD which increases the status of the event. The United States designates the whole month of March as Women’s History Month and is enjoying its 24th annual celebration this year.
The website www.internationalwomensday.com was founded in 2001 as a non-profit, philanthropic venture dedicated to keeping IWD alive and growing. International Women’s Day has gained considerable momentum since 2007 due to greater media attention, events, social networking and corporate support. Now celebrated with various and wide scale activities in almost every country- many world leaders and officials support this event with official statements, announcements and activities you can become involved in and with which to participate. This year Hillary Clinton and her daughter Chelsea will be hosting a webcast live from New York City the following Monday March 9th along with Melinda Gates titled Not There Yet: A Data Driven Analysis of Gender Equality on the web site www.clintonfoundation.org At the event, No Ceilings will release the findings of The Full Participation Report, an analysis of the gains women and girls have made over the last 20 years and the gaps that remain today. In honor of International Women’s Day, this groundbreaking event will bring together global and community leaders for a compelling look into the status of gender equality since 1995, when the world spoke with one voice to declare that women’s rights are human rights. There will be an online conversation with the hashtag #NoCeilings for those who would like to put forth their views and ideas.
So make a difference, think globally and act locally !! Make everyday International Women’s Day by doing what you can to ensure the future for girls is bright, equal, safe and rewarding. Last week in the Sunday Parade newspaper supplement, a woman was mentioned in an article touting the importance of making a difference right where you are in your community. Ana Maria Chali Calan founded AMIDI (Association of Indigenous Women for Holistic Development) in her small village in the Guatemalan highlands in 2000. There were almost too many issues that affected women in her locality but she decided to improve the standard of living for women, specifically. She started with classes in organic farming, accounting and even a small egg business and then on to installing safe, fuel-efficient stoves in kitchens. Those aided by AMIDI with micro-lending projects have become leaders in women’s rights, are savvy entrepreneurs and have become advocates, themselves, in the fields of health and nutrition. This is the true meaning of solidarity when those who have been helped become beacons in the international community for women.
Located along the eastern border, the town of Hertford contained two burhs founded in 911 by King Edward the Elder (England’s second king). Hertford Castle was raised, in 1066, beside the River Lea and bequeathed to Peter de Valoignes, the High Sheriff of Essex and Hertfordshire by William I. Today it is located in the Town Centre and entrances to the park are located next to the Castle Hall and in West Street. In general form, Hertford Castle originally resembled Berkhamsted- a motte and bailey once surrounded by a double moat, with palisades as barriers. The earthworks of the castle do not compare well considering the motte is much smaller, the moats have been filled in and are not easily deciphered. Hertford, similarly to Berkhamsted, also escaped damage during the first Civil War even though Hertford supported Matilda. This paid off well to Hertford because building of the castle continued later, according to Royal pipe rolls, which state that, from 1171 to 1174, construction continued under Henry II’s direction raising the curtain walls and giving the castle a rectangular courtyard appearance. An octagonal tower along the south was a later medieval addition, as well.
By the end of the 12th century, after Henry II’s reign, Hertford declined in royal favor for some time. Same as Berkhamsted, Hertford endured its only recorded siege in 1216 taken during Louis’ campaign to topple the English throne. Edward III used the castle to imprison his mother, the indomitable Queen Isabella, but he was, in fact, born and raised there! Later, he granted it to her. During the Hundred Years War he also used the dungeons to imprison David II of Scotland and John II of France. Even Richard II was kept here for awhile, along with 18 peasants before he was deposed to Pontefract. The castle enjoyed a revival when the House of York began to struggle to seize the crown after Edward IV was crowned. Construction on his brick gatehouse was started in 1461 and was finished by 1465. This oblong building features shallow angle turrets and just below parapet level you’ll see decorative machicolations, mullioned windows with arched frames and an arcade entrance. Occupation of the gatehouse continued long after the rest of the castle had been abandoned.
As a matter of fact, through the centuries the castle has enjoyed several revivals but the most enduring was that of Edward IV’s brick gatehouse. Before that Henry II had reconstructed the entire castle in stone during the second half of the 12th century and Richard I employed his regent William Longchamp to refortify the castle when his vassal Robert Valoignes, Peter’s son, had taken control over the daily life of the castle. King John ousted an heir to Robert, his son-in-law Robert FitzWalter and his entourage but was later reappointed to govern thereafter and it remained a strict stronghold to the crown from that time on. The last major overhaul came in 1360 when John of Gaunt was granted the castle and it was his chief country home through most of his life.
During the Wars of the Roses Hertford became a popular castle to bequeath to the queens of England which included Princess Katherine of France, Margaret of Anjou and Elizabeth Woodville. As much a jail as a residence, it may have been a way of controlling the women of the crown. Henry VI spent a good part of his early childhood at Hertford. Just before the Tudor period was ushered in Richard III granted the castle to one of his strongest supporters, that of the Duke of Buckingham and by the time Henry VIII came into power it was basically a civilian palace, private residence and the gatehouse was the primary residence. Queen Elizabeth was a frequent visitor most likely because she spent most of her childhood in Hertford Castle and Hatfield House- which is seated exactly at the midway point between Berkhamsted and Hertford Castles.
By the beginning of the 17th century it was no longer considered a royal residence and was neglected by both James I and Charles I but granted to William Cecil, 2nd Earl of Salisbury who had built Hatfield House by this time. Even though it was heavily ruined, surprisingly, it was leased to a Sir William Harrington of Hertingfordbury Park. Sir William set about restoration and then reassigned the lease to Sir William Cowper who was a customs collector for the port of London. A list of Cowper’s heirs gained this inheritance for a number of years until 1790 when it was enlarged with a south wing to the gatehouse and converted into a neo-Gothic mansion by the Earl of Hillsborough. This entailed the walling up of the original gateways and the addition of a porch in front. Additional restorations uncovered timber roof beams and partitions on the upper floors. After that time it was considered a Royal Tudor Palace and a private residence. The 18th century façade you will see currently actually dates from the 16th century with new parapets and brick battlements to give it a pristine look which is almost uncanny. Only Hertford’s walls remain as a five-sided enclosure and were reconstructed, in portions. It is easy to discern the original walls from the reconstruction upon close examination. The new gateway and lodge were built by the Marquis of Downshire at the beginning of the 19th century and soon after became the home of the East India Company College and through the years an emergency hospital was established by Reverend Thomas Lloyd, who was a strong charity supporter in Hertford.
Work was carried on by a corporation formed in 1911 leasing the gatehouse from the Marquess of Salisbury and housed the administration adding gardens to the public areas and a north wing was added to the gatehouse upon which the Salisbury estate finally granted the entire complex to the town. It now houses the offices of the town council.
Hertford Museum at 18 Bull Plain, a short distance away, offers free admission during normal business hours, Besides being an historic 17th century house with a reconstructed 18th fascia, it is filled with Hertford’s history on displays. There is also a beautiful knot garden on the grounds and a fascinating gift shop as well. T-01992 582686
1812 drawing of Hertford castle by George Shepherd, published by John Harris in The Beauties of England and Wales
www.hertford.net/events/castle/php Free admission with parking in St. Andrew St.
Hertford Town Council at The Castle, Hertford, SG14 1HR
Tel: 01992 552885 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Web: www.neton8.co.uk
Tourist information center at 10 Market Place
On the banks of the River Lea, one mile northeast of Hoddesdon along the Essex border, Rye House is often remembered for the Rye House Plot of 1683- a bungled attempt to assassinate Charles II. A short distance southeast of Hertford, the remains of Rye House speak of better days and are reminiscent of Kirby Muxloe in Leicestershire and Tattershall in Lincolnshire- both of which I have covered on this blog.. Sir Andrew Ogard, a former soldier during the French wars, was granted a license to crenellate the house in 1443. Most likely it was reconstructed as a courtyard quadrangle with most of the edifice destroyed by the 18th century. The 16th century two-storied gatehouse and former moat are all that is left but it was built in fashionable brick, save for the stone archway, and shows a passion for display with its decorative corbels, slight battlements, twin oriel windows and a diaper pattern along the walls in bands of blue brick. In its heyday it most likely hearkened to Scottish baronial castles in style and most likely was never built for defense of any kind however, it is considered to be the finest medieval moated site in Hertfordshire and what remains is in quite good condition. Discovery of documents relating to this fortified manor house has kept its historical significance intact.
Entrance to the castle is provided by a causeway on the south flanked by two re-erected late medieval chimneys which have been listed separately as scheduled monuments in and of themselves. The moat enclosure is quite large in circumference joined to the river on the east by a broad flume (artificial trench). It is also fed by the river along the north with a smaller flume. As a grade 1 listed scheduled monument, the surviving gatehouse has been kept very nicely and is located on the east side of the island most likely reached by an earlier bridge than the existing one. Some former walls remain in ruins to the west south of the gatehouse and some recent restoration has taken place without the aid of excavations. In 1868 a man by the name of Henry Teale developed a pleasure garden on the site including the moat into a part of the ornamental works and he was also responsible for replacing the chimneys, as well.
Hertfordshire blog by Chris Reynolds features old black and white photo of Rye House
About ten miles east, off the M11, Waytemore Castle overlooks the River Stort along the eastern border at Bishop’s Stortford right in the middle of town. William I established the castle to command the river crossing and later granted it to Maurice, his Chaplain and Chancellor by 1086 but it is speculated to be much older with its origins going back as far as Edmund the Elder ( ca. 901). It is assumed that King John made improvements during his reign since most of the ruins may date from the first decade of the 13th century and documents indicate that the owner of the castle was given a license to crenellate by the mid-14th century. This castle somehow missed being listed in the Domesday Book but Bishop William bought the Saxon manor of Stortford which ultimately became a property of the Holy See of London. By 1060 the castle became a popular retreat of the bishops, hence the name, but by the 15th century they transferred to the palace at Much Hadham not far away. Afterwards, abandoned as a residence by the 17th century, Waytemore achieved notoriety as a jail for nonconformists and was pulled down after the Civil War.
Earthworks delineate the position of the bailey and the motte is large and oddly rectangular in shape except for one rounded side along the north. At the summit are the low and bare foundations of a 12th century flint Norman curtain with a square tower keep close to the entrance. Human remains, in the form of bones, have been discovered more than any other type of artifact. Roman bricks and coins were also found so a settlement here by the Romans is also possible. Waytemore has never been conclusively excavated as a result but its use as a post-medieval prison may be a contributory factor. The motte is of incredible size and worth a visit as the site is easily accessible in parkland known today as the Castle Gardens. There you will see several modern war memorials amid a wonderful network of pathways and gardens
Along the southern side of the motte a gatehouse and steps led down to a barbican and a drawbridge existed crossing from the inner moat to the bailey. Four acres around the property are now bereft but once was laid out with stables, storehouses, a blacksmith and quarters for the castle garrison. A sizable outer moat also existed and was enclosed by a curtain with two gatehouses- one for the garrison and the other leading down to the causeway which has changed through the centuries but still exists.
To see what remains of the stronghold now it is difficult to imagine how important this particular castle was through several epochs in English history. For one, although this castle was always the official seat of the Bishop of London it became a pawn in the political struggle for the crown between Princess Maud (or better known historically as Matilda) and Henry I’s nephew Stephen who usurped his cousin’s crown with all the barons of England’s approval. Known in history books as the Anarchy, the two continued to wage war over the ultimate reign of England. Robert of Gloucester’s support gave Matilda the confidence to return from exile in France to reclaim her throne and because there became two rival factions the first civil war began.
Matilda’s first bid for power began with a bargain struck with Geoffrey de Mandeville II. She promised him the castle at Stortford but only if he would help her fight King Stephen. If he didn’t accept, she planned to destroy the castle. It put him in a tough position because he owned property at Thorley and Saffron Walden and if Stortford became hostile territory it would make it difficult for him to travel back and forth between them. The bishop of London at that time was Robert de Sigillo and he supported King Stephen so he refused to release the castle to Matilda. By 1141 she took charge of England and Stephen was imprisoned at Lincoln Castle. She was never crowned and within a year Stephen took the throne by force again.
During King John’s reign the castle was ‘dismantled’ and rebuilt under the curious circumstance of an ongoing quarrel between him and the Pope after 1205. For a period of time John freed the manor and town from Church ownership and it became a royal stronghold. After 1214 when he rebuilt the castle at his expense, it became the seat of the Bishop of London once again. After King John signed the Magna Charta in 1215 he visited the town on the 29th of March 1216, but died later that year presumably in battle. Sometime during the reign of John’s successor, Edward III, the castle was restored and repaired again adding leaded lights to the windows and wrought stone for doorways under the direction of Ralph de Stratford, the current Bishop of London. The castle was also crenellated and the chapel of St Paul was built within the castle bailey. Priests brought there were to pray regularly for the souls of Queen Philippa and the bishop. When the bishop and priests abandoned the castle in the 15th century its purpose diminished and fell into disrepair rapidly. Interestingly, dues were still paid on it even by the time of Elizabeth I’s reign but it was merely a prison by then and eventually the entire castle was completely demolished after confiscations by the commonwealth in 1649.
If you head north on the A1 toward Bedfordshire you’ll find the remains of Benington Castle about four miles east of Stevenage. A red brick Georgian manor known in the present day as Benington Lordship, was built within the elevated enclosure of what began as a Norman castle. Its true origins go back to Saxon times and was founded by the King of Mercia. The ruins you will see were built early in the 12th century and may have been seen as an adulterine castle by Henry II and King Stephen during the Anarchy but is attributed as the work of Peter de Valoignes in the early stages and Roger de Valoignes’ stone fortifications of 1136 which included a stone tower atop the motte. It managed to survive Henry II’s decree of demolition in 1177 because it was back in full use by 1192. Destruction came upon this interesting stronghold by 1212 during King John’s time when Robert fitz Walter rebelled against the crown.
In the present, the earthworks and ruins are a beautiful backdrop for lush, rich hilltop gardens enveloping some of the ruins which linger along the east and north of the motte. The site has a lovely intimate atmosphere filled with herbaceous borders, old roses and graced with lakes and a nursery. The estate offers tea on the veranda of the manor along with facilities for fashion shoots and filming! A twin-towered gatehouse and a summerhouse with surprisingly good curtain walls lead into the enclosure. These are follies built in 1832 by George Proctor making the estate fashionable, once again, after a devastating fire which occurred in 1700. Also within the enclosure are the low foundations of a rather small square keep which was renovated in medieval renaissance with neo-Norman arched entryways. It is located within the village, off Town Lane near the A505-A602 and parking is available on the premises.
The remains of Walkern Bury castle are located a short distance north east of Stevenage. Attributed to Hamo St. Clare, it was built during the Anarchy when King Stephen reigned. This land was central to the St Clare barony of Hertfordshire and he was a follower of Geoffrey de Mandeville, 1st Earl of Essex- both major participants in this fierce civil war and so Walkern was definitely part of a group of unlicensed castles which were considered adulterine along with Anstey, Pirton, Great Wymondley and Therfield. They are all located within the northeastern area of Hertfordshire and were meant to protect manorial property at that time. Nearly all of them were abandoned by the second half of the 12th century under Henry II’s guidance and demolition.
Walkern may be better described as a ringwork which sits on a small spur along the northern slope of Bassus Green. You’ll find an oval ditch and inner bank which most likely had a timber palisade in the day. The natural knoll measures about 130 by 100 along the interior portion and a narrow causeway can still be seen which joins at the south end and corresponds to a hole along the internal bank.
What remains of this castle was actually the earliest form of medieval fortifications in England which pre-dated the invasions. You can read more about these in my tutorials on castles that I put up in 2008. Comparatively speaking, there are few in the country with only 200 recorded examples which are distinguished normally from later earthworks because of the absence of a bailey or two. Less than half of these ringworks also have baileys which indicates that they were rebuilt as motte and baileys at a later date. Walkern is a part of those few and is an intact example of such. Its archaeological evidence is invaluable as a subject for further research. A World Heritage Site committee were given a tour of the castle site in 2013.
owners: Mr. and Mrs. CHA Bott T- 01438 869668
Therfield Castle’s remains, seated ten miles north of Walkern, appears to have been left unfinished and in the Domesday book Therfield was referred to as the possession of the Abbey of Ramsey, most likely because of the church built there and the village which surrounds it. However, evidence of the earliest human occupation can be found in the meadow situated west and northwest of the churchyard and known as Tuthill Close. You’ll find ditches that appear to have been moats and a mound which is referred to in ordnance surveys as the Castle Mound. There was also a larger enclosure to the south according to the written local records of Reginald Foster, a local teacher. H.C. Andrews, in a paper entitled “Therfield and it’s Castle”, reaffirms that a strong fortified post, over-looking the Icknield Way most likely was an early castle. He drew a comparison between Therfield and Pirton and his conversation with a visiting antiquarian suggested that digging might unearth definite traces of Iron Age man. Others who have excavated and investigated many iron age remains doubt the accuracy of these conclusions. In fact, no underlying structures were found during excavations conducted here in 1958. Neolithic round barrows are fairly common in the general area but no such records exist to support the idea of such simple structures in the village although barrows have been cited on Therfield Heath which is a mile north of the village.
One discovery during the 1958 survey was a timber-revetted clay rampart and unfortunately in 1960 the earthworks in the bailey were leveled, leaving only the wet ditches and low ramparts in the field boundaries to reveal its original layout. If you visit you will find what remains in the village center off of Church Lane by the water tower. It is very close on the north side of the 13th century churchyard and rectory grounds. One section of the old moat is still referred to as Tuthill Moat and contains a large amount of water. Most likely Therfield Castle was 12th century built during the Anarchy and the fortress was heavily slighted before the 13th century after the accession of Henry II. It would have been considered an adulterine castle, of course. Not far away is…
Anstey Castle, an impressive-sized late 11th or early 12th century motte and bailey castle. It is unlikely it was ever rebuilt in stone and that is why it is unconscionable that it is compared to Berkhamsted. With an extremely wide but low motte (30 ft high) and a wet moat, this former glory exists on the grounds of an ancient church and Ermine Street near the river Quin, four and a half miles northeast of Buntingford.
In the Domesday Book, Eustace, Count (or Earl) of Boulogne is listed as the owner who received the manor after the Norman Conquest. His sub-tenants adopted the name which was the usual custom and so Nicholas de Anstey strengthened the castle against King John during the Magna Carta war but was compelled in 1218 to destroy his additions once peace returned. This was by order of King John but may have been carried out by Henry III by 1225. Documentation of this castle ceased in 1377.
Situated on the south end of a broad spur the remains are adjacent to a Norman church, St. George’s. No traces of masonry survive, though at least one stone building may have existed because trace amounts of trapezoidal uncut flint were found atop the motte at the beginning of the 20th century during an excavation carried out by R.T. Andrews. To the northeast of the motte is an L-shaped bailey which surrounded a rampart along the northwest and east with a barbican. There is another mound along the bailey and east of the motte which is square shaped and landscaped but with no amount of height or width that would make it a part of the original. It is considered a later ornamental addition. The motte survived the onslaught of an American bomber which crashed into it in 1944!
Visible from a churchyard.
Arbury Banks, a very high hill fort southwest of Ashwell was possibly constructed during the late Bronze Age ca. 1,000- 700 BC. Far north on the border with Cambridgeshire, it is one of a series of six similar hill forts along the northern part of the Chilterns including Wilbury Hill Camp which is southwest of Letchworth, further west. Excavations which were carried out in the 1850s traced Arbury Banks’ horseshoe-shaped ramparts identifying two opposed north and south entrances. In addition, further evidence disclosed several enclosures inside the fort. The area may have been a possible location for the Battle of Watling Street, where a small Roman band destroyed Boudicca’s army.
Tiny Hertfordshire is rife with a network of highways coursing through its primarily rural landscape boasting of over 90 towns and villages. Proximity to suburban East London doesn’t quite encroach, although Berkhamsted Castle once held a strategic position on the road to London. Sumptuous gardens and miles of public footpaths abound including eleven miles of Ver-Colne Valley Walks accompanying diverse historic sites. The county cradles sleepy villages, marvelously beautiful woodlands, rivers and open farmland in a bustle-y type of pastoral bliss.
As the principal city, Hemel Hempstead is closest in proximity to Berkhamsted Castle with a population of 89,000 and nearby Stevanage holds 80,000. Along with Tring, on the far west, they comprise a quaint and peaceful area known as the borough of Dacaorum. I overheard talk in London, many years ago, that the most peaceful parts of England are just outside the din of London. Those words certainly apply here and in a modern context which is no small accomplishment. Equally extraordinary is the fact that there is so much to see, hear, experience and enjoy in this compact slice of England. I suggest that the next time you know you are within Hertfordshire borders to slow down long enough to see all that there is to see. It will not fail to delight you. -The Castle Lady
Destruction from the first Civil War in England seriously affected the remains of many castles but Berkhamsted Castle was not documented among them. There are several former motte and bailey castles in the county of which Berkhamsted is one of the best examples with its intact original motte! It is seated on the westernmost portion of the county along the border of Buckinghamshire in the Chilterns and, although it has been compared to Dover Castle during the time of Edward IV’s reign, there is a vast difference between what remains of Berkhamsted and Dover’s current 19th century magnificence, save for the size.Moreover, this castle was ignored by Edward IV, despite its possession by the crown, while Hertford Castle was rebuilt during the second half of the15th century. This aerial view imparts the castle’s former glory much better than just visiting the remains at ground level.
Berkhamsted was founded by Robert, the Count of Mortain (aka the Earl of Cornwall) and was listed as the owner in the Domesday book. As the half-brother of William I, Robert was part and parcel to the Norman Conquest. By the time of Henry I, Robert’s son had taken possession but supported Robert of Normandy against the King. As a result, the castle was confiscated by the crown and for the next hundred years the castle was leased to various individuals, including Archbishop Thomas a` Becket from 1155 to 1165, who was largely responsible for most of the remaining masonry on the site. Only five years later Becket was murdered by four knights taking action after he argued adamantly with Henry II. Military action occurred here solely during the First Baron’s War of 1216 when the castle fell to the Dauphin Prince Louis (who later became Louis VIII) after a heavy siege that lasted an entire fortnight. Henry III revived an alliance with the Earldom of Cornwall by granting Berkhamsted to his brother Richard who was given the title of earl and ‘King of the Romans’ instead of Holy Roman Emperor in 1256. King John’s widow, Isabelle, lived out her remaining days within its walls. In 1337 the castle became an outlying possession of the Duchy of Cornwall when Edward III granted the castle to his son Edward (the Black Prince) and set off the beginning of the Hundred Years War. The French King, John ( II ) the Good, was kept prisoner at this castle following his capture at Poitiers by the Black Prince who, in 1361, after marrying Joan, the Fair Maid of Kent spent his honeymoon at the castle which had an extensive deer park then and was his favorite hunting ground. Geoffrey Chaucer wrote his Canterbury Tales some decades after working a second job as a clerk at Berkhamsted. For several years thereafter he was controller of customs at the port of London. The book was published in 1387 and Chaucer is memorialized along with all the great English poets at Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey and the first so honored.
An interesting shift of power occurred in 1399 when the Black Prince’s son, Richard, was deposed to Pontefract Castle (in Wakefield, West Yorkshire) and died there as a prisoner. Henry IV ascended the throne even though Edmund Mortimer laid greater claim to the throne, Edmund’s lineage being more ancient. Berkhamsted was granted to Henry’s son who was to become Henry V and by then the struggle by two families who descended from Edward III- the Yorks and the Lancastrians- all Plantagenets- was in full swing. The final grant of the castle was to Edward IV’s mother Cicely, who was the Duchess of York. From 1469 she lived out the remainder of her life there (twenty six years) but the castle was already in decline by that time and eventually abandoned in the Elizabethan period.
The only exception was that Elizabeth I herself leased the property in 1580 for which she paid a single red rose to Edward Carey who was the keeper of the Queen’s jewels. He built a new dwelling above the castle premises referred to as Berkhamsted Place which he built with the bricks and stone from the ruins. This was not without damage to the castle but preservation of historic castles was not honored at the time- not even by royalty- and Elizabeth didn’t particularly like dwelling in castles, anyway. She preferred to be comfortable.
The layout of Berkhamsted is a true prototype of a typical concentric early motte and bailey stronghold with a tall conical motte and a large inner and outer bailey encased by a double ditch with ramparts built up between the dry ditches and moats. In the case of this castle, no attempt to correlate the outer banks with the inner was provided as they were built very close. Such works are an effective siege deterrent but makes defending more difficult. As per usual, the two moats were drained in the 1900s and was left that way. A high rampart supports defenses along the north and east sides and the circumference of the motte- all attributed to Richard of Cornwall. Some of the bastions of earthworks which project from the sides may have been raised as temporary platforms for trebuchets during the siege exacted on the castle by the Dauphin Louis. These bastions were usually never built by defenders, as it would compromise the security and purpose of the walls. The motte once held a shell keep atop which has vanished but the descending walls which joined the bailey curtain can still be discerned. The outline of considerable lengths of flint curtain walls survive just above the ground, especially along the east side but the former heights of them are pitiably gone. A large portion of that masonry dates from the time when Thomas a` Becket occupied the castle, though the money for building, which were substantial amounts, came from Henry II’s exchequer. Three semi-circular mural towers also can be made out and were most likely later additions. Little more than foundations are left of the towers now. A large oblong outline of foundational structure along the west curtain is most likely the remains of a tower built by Richard of Cornwall circa 1254. Foundations show that the north end of the inner bailey was walled off to form a separate enclosure, in effect a type of barbican in front of the motte.
Sixteen full color information panels abound at this English Heritage site visitor center with plentiful illustrations, photos, diagrams and drawings of the general and royal history along with the development and building of the castle plus an explanation of the ruins in two separate panels. The decline of the castle after the 15th century is also well documented with historical photos in the display.
On the London Midland line, Berkhamsted Station is adjacent to the castle.
The Castle Lodge is right on castle grounds led up to from the causeway.
T- 01442 871737 Jenny Sherwood, to book large groups
If you are a garden enthusiast and enjoy strolling you must also visit Ashridge while you are in the neighborhood. Once the residence of Lord Thomas Egerton, the landscape is one of the finest in England with 150 acres of park and gardens drawn up on a plan influenced by Humphrey Repton. It can be accessed 3.5 miles north of the town just off the A4251 and south of Little Gaddesdon smack dab in the middle of the Chilterns spilling over from Buckinghamshire. The mansion is a Gothic masterpiece graced with the crowning achievement of the Wyatt family’s finest work with hints of the remnants of its predecessor, an old monastery. The elegance here will give you a foretaste of the former Tudor elegance which graces other stately homes which Hertfordshire hosts within every corner of her borders. Gardens abound here.
You’ll find an intriguing lesser known country estate about two miles southwest of Aldenham situated in the southernmost part on the Greater London border and just east of Elstree Aerodrome with the M1 passing along the west. Alternately known as Hilfield Castle and Hilfield Lodge the existing edifice dates from 1798 and was drawn up by Jeffry Wyatt, the equally famous Regency architect (as his uncle Sir James Wyatt). Interestingly, it is picturesque Gothic but has some features which suggest medieval renaissance. It is doubtful that the latter mentioned features date from that period however. In Pevsner’s notes it states that the mansion was ‘castellated, turreted and cemented with a gatehouse and portcullis.” Additionally, he wrote about the symmetrical nature of the side and a conservatory having an ecclesiastical appearance but its uniqueness is in its asymmetrical features, the location and the Victorian Gothic overall outer appearance which is quite enigmatic and worth seeing.
Throughout the 19th century it was passed down periodically to members of the Timins family after the original owner Hon. George Villiers sold the home to John Fam Timins in 1818. The house was sold, once again, to Lord Aldenham in 1906 along with much of the property. It is uncertain how long the house has been unoccupied but as a wonderful backdrop for Borehamwood Studios Hilfield has been featured in numerous major films since the 1960s and the TV series Randall and Hopkirk during which time it was occupied by Lois Maxwell.
Wyatt’s work is well represented with medieval renaissance octagonal turrets (with slits!), shorter 4-storey bays, mansard roofs and vaulted ceilings with a Gothic conservatory. Thirty years ago it was given a Grade II listing which may give an indication of how long it has been unoccupied but still privately owned.
http://www.britainfromabove.org.uk/image/eaw023649?filter=new aerial photo dating from 1949
old postcard of Hilfield https://www.flickr.com/photos/picturepost/15538243818/
Two motte and bailey sites exist along the north western region of the county. Great Wymondley and Pirton (depicted above) are located closest to the town of Hitchin and Pirton’s site is not far from Ravensbury Castle, (depicted below) an iron age hill fort seated on the Berkshire/Hertfordshire border. ( Hitchin is the town where Elizabeth, the Queen Mother’s birth was registered- being born at St Paul’s Walden Bury a short distance away!) When you visit the site at Pirton, three miles northwest of Hitchin, you will find the rebuilt 11th century Church of St. Mary seated one of the former baileys of the castle. It was rebuilt late 19th century but its original 12th century tower still stands and was incorporated with the reconstruction. Pirton’s inclusion in the Domesday book, however, was not its earliest inception and several sites have been uncovered in the village which are Roman and Anglo-Saxon. Toot Hill is depicted here and features a motte, a moat and two baileys.
Southeast of the motte and bailey a large grassy knoll, referred to as the Bury is the remains of the ancient village of Pirton. Upon examination you will detect elongated depressions which were the streets and areas of raised ground were the sites of many houses. These can be seen as far as the modern Walnut Tree Road. Both the castle and bury are scheduled ancient monuments and are included with another medieval moated site at Rectory Farm where the ridges and furrows are medieval and equally protected as historical.
Great Wymondley, located only a couple of miles from Hitchin, retains the earthworks of a motte and bailey site within a short distance from the small Norman St. Mary’s Church which manages to dominate the town. Its thatched cottages have a curiosity of a set of terraced cottages with names corresponding to every one of Henry VIII’s wives! I can’t imagine what the story is about that, can you ? The town is graced with an exquisite Elizabethan mansion called Delamere House.
Ravensbury, which is also called Ravensburgh, is the largest hillfort in southeast England and heavily protected on the west with two banks and two ditches. The remaining sides of this rectangular earthwork are defended by a singular rampart with a ditch and counterscarp comprising 22 acres of landmass. Both original entrances were seated along the east closest to the southeast corner but a northwest corner was fortified with an outer rampart inverted to form another entrance and may have been the main gate possibly built much later. It dates from 400 B.C. during the Roman occupation and was palisaded with timber secured by cross timbers. Later works were built in mid-1st century and speculation centers around the possibility that a skirmish between Caesar’s army and the British warlord Cassivellaunus may have taken place here in 54 B.C.
St Paul’s Walden Bury
(off B651) T-01438 871218 contact: S. or C. Bowes-Lyon
18th century 40 acre landscape garden, 5 miles south of Hitchin
St. Albans and nearby Welwyn are two more Roman Heritage sites which you must visit ! Between these two towns you may be able to get a real sense of what Roman occupied Britain must have been like and you will certainly see as much evidence as you will ever need to see. You can start with the Cathedral and Abbey Church of St. Alban, who was Britain’s first martyr. It has been a shrine of pilgrimage for hundreds of years now. The 15th century Clock Tower of St Albans can be seen from miles away and is a rare example of a town belfry and surrounded by voluminous amounts of modern shops and restaurants. The dazzling marketplace is on every Wednesday and Saturday and has been running for over a thousand years as the largest in southeast England with a wide array of goods offered. This is in the center of the town and as you go further afield the attractions become more… well, attractive! Gorhambury House and Old Gorhambury House, only three miles west, both have their own charm with the former being a late 18th century classical Palladian built by Sir Robert Taylor and the latter a Tudor ruin built by Sir Nicholas Bacon who was a courtier for Henry VIII and Elizabeth I ! The physical distance between the two houses was not enough to disinherit each other so I recommend taking in both in the same afternoon. Don’t miss the family portraits which span the 15th to 20th centuries of the Earls of Verulam ! Speaking of that, don’t miss the Roman Theatre of Verulamium on Bluehouse Hill which is right within the city. These ruins were built circa 140 AD and were unearthed in 1847. Roman Verulamium itself is protected in 100 acres of parkland and is open to the public during regular hours six days a week and special hours on Sundays. Then, of course, you cannot get this close to Shaw’s Corner without visiting playwright George Bernard Shaw’s Edwardian villa. Another nearby attraction is The Gardens of the Rose which is at Chiswell Green outside the town of St Albans and headquarters for the Royal National Rose Society. You can find out lots more about that at www.rnrs.org. The Organ Theatre at St Albans will delight any music lovers- viewing and hearing the permanent play exhibition will be worth more than the price of admission. There is so much to take in for this immediate area so take full advantage, pack a lunch and have fun.
Just a little further afield west from Berkhamsted you’ll find a wonderful natural history museum at Tring which is the Walter Rothschild Zoological Museum on Akeman Street. It was opened in 1892 to the general public and houses Lionel Walter’s private collection of more than 4,000 species of animal in a glorious Victorian setting. T- 020 7942 6171
www.stalbansmuseums.org.uk/blog Tel/Fax: 01438 820307
The Roman Theatre of Verulamium Tel: 01727 835035
Jack and Joan they think no ill,
But loving live, and merry still,
Do their weekdays work and pray
Devoutly on the holy day.
- John Campion, poet and musician, born and baptized at Anstey
I have been celebrating this day with a wonderful group of people who comprise the Colorado Welsh Society. Most of the Welsh Festivals involve songs, traditional hymns and folk songs, dancing and always wonderful traditional food. If you have never been to a Welsh national holiday celebration I highly recommend going even if you don’t have an ounce of Welsh blood in your family. This entry I put up on St. David’s Day back in 2009 will give you the basic story. After that you really must check to see if you have a chapter of the Welsh Societies that abound in the U.S. I think you’ll really enjoy the story-telling, the language itself (which is very lyrical) and the overall culture is very rich and interesting.
Quotes can be uneven. Not all are really true. Not all are truly wise. Some just make you laugh while others can sometimes make you want to cry. The quotes I love best open up my mind the way a bee opens a flower when it is in the process of extracting pollen. They fulfill something inside that you always knew as a truth but somehow your mind was never quite able to express it. I love when that happens, don’t you ? I hope you will be edified by this sampling. - The Castle Lady
We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.
You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
You cannot live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.
I know you won’t quite believe this but brand new automobiles are going to sound like supercar jalopies this year. That’s right. Your ears aren’t deceiving you ! Look outside some time for a spell and you’ll find that what you thought was a gang car rally going on in your neighborhood isn’t anything of the sort ! At least you won’t have to go to the next town meeting to complain. No. You can send your complaints directly to the manufacturers of these auditory monstrosities and tell them off for disturbing whatever little peace we still have in 2015.
It seems as though car dealers were having a hard time selling their Mustangs, F-150s, Porsches and BMWs without having a sound of what is perceived as power in a vehicle. Never mind that the noise has nothing to do with thrust- people must have their noise or they don’t think they’re getting their money’s worth ! What do you think of that ? For all those people ignorant of how a car runs these days I have only one thing to state: Without that noise your fuel efficient engine will perform just the same sans the mind-blowing roar that sends most people running for their earphones and plugs.
What the manufacturers have done is add fake engine noise through special pipes or digitally into the engines. Automakers are telling us that they resort to this chicanery because they understand a key car-buyer paradox: Drivers want all the force and fuel saving of a newer and better engine but with the classic sounds of the cars they gave up for dead a long time ago. If this makes sense to anybody then I’m definitely on the wrong planet.
Mustang now has what is called an EcoBoost and sound engineers developed an active noise control system which amplifies the engine’s noise through the inside sound speakers ! This was done with the approval of Mustang purchasers who were consulted through fan clubs on which “sound concepts they most enjoyed.” Oh brother! Ford’s spokesmen have stated that a vintage V8 engine boom “has long been considered the mating call of Mustang,” and additionally, “it is athletic and youthful with a more refined growl and low-frequency sense of powerfulness.” The same trickery is used on the new F-150 which is a six-cylinder job whose noise comes primarily from the speakers and not particularly the engine.
Even manufacturers of electric cars are using artificial engine noise with the claim that these cars usually run so noiselessly that they can fool inattentive or hard-of-hearing pedestrians and even the blind- who are generally thought to have a keener sense of hearing out of necessity. So they get a thumbs up from Federal safety officials who will finalize the laws governing a requirement that all hybrids and electrics must play fake engine sounds to alert anyone within hearing range of the vehicles !
It has it’s place, I suppose and I’m all for saving lives but I wish that they’d ignored the people who don’t seem to think anything is powerful unless it overpowers your auditory nerves to the breaking point. It’s unnecessary, insipid and inconsiderate. To use a very old adage: cars are just like children for the most part- made to be seen but not heard.