Friday, June 24, 2016

England 2016 - Some Last Silly Looks

Weeks, sometimes months after my annual spring trips to England I reach a point at which the stories have been told, the pictures shown.  The last few are random odds and ends, things I just pointed a camera at and hit the button for no particular reason.

Carlisle Castle front door.  Hobbit accessible.

 Hey, mean spirited, smelly, omnivorous critters need somebody looking out for them...

I'm not sure how many patents and copyrights are being flaunted by this made in Somewhere prize. You'd think the combined legal departments of Lego, Lucas and The Great Mouse would be all over this.

Pretty good advice bolted to a pretty high wall.  I should send this to my new parent Son and Daughter in Law.

We were out for a pastoral stroll when we saw these menacing figures appear on a ridge line.  We assumed that woolly hoardes on the other side were just waiting for the order to attack.

Ah, what can I say.  I take a lot of sheep pix because they are so darned photogenic.  This was the special pen for abandoned sheep.  Sometimes a ewe just ditches one of the little darlin's and the farmer collects them in a batch for bottle feeding.  When we walked up to the pen there really was a mass rush of woolly critters.  They figured we had their bottle.  Don't put a finger near them, they are not very smart.  This one is using steel fence as a teething ring!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Guiting Power - Real and Imagined

I have made mention of my impression that the Cotwolds are just a little "too cute".  It was an area of considerable natural beauty with rolling hills and nice little towns built in lovely locally quarried stone.  When it was "discovered" by artistic types circa 1900 they did some excellent work in preserving the marvelous things they had found.  But did they perhaps also improve upon things a bit?

Guiting Power is a good case in point.

It sure is pretty when you walk into it from the south.

Very quaint.  Here's a nice little village green.

It has a post office, a village store, a bakery, an old church and not one but two pubs.  Pretty impressive for a place with a population under 300.  But when you settle in to stay the night there it becomes apparent that this Time Warp Quaint is sustained by artificial means.

There is some serious money here.  We stopped in for a drink at one of the pubs and found out that it was the place that the local "Horsey Set" frequented.  Posh, lots of pictures of race horses on the walls.  The barkeep was a guy from Italy.

The entire village was in derelict condition circa 1900.  In the 1930s there was the first stirrings of an effort to buy up the whole place, putting it into the hands of the Guiting Manor Annuity Trust.  This preserved the structures intact, allowed local residents to remain in them...and banned most structural and cosmetic changes.  Continuing perhaps the theme of things not being exactly as they appear, the driving force behind the establishment of the Trust was a certain Raymond Cochrane. Cochrane was born a hermaphrodite, one of those rare individuals whose anatomy is ambiguous.  Raised as an upper class woman, Cochrane later rebelled, alienated his/her family and had a very early gender reassignment surgery. Cochrane arrived in Guiting in the 1950s and made preservation of the village a personal passion.

We stayed in a nice B & B across the way from The Farmer's Arms, which is the other and more authentic pub in the village.  Over a tasty rabbit pie - that gave me grim satisfaction as I thought of the pests eating our garden back home - various tales of the village came forth.

The policy of locals being the preferred tenants is still in place, but swank Londoners can find a way nowadays.  The entire community is shortly going to be upgraded to the fastest internet connections in the UK courtesy of a music producer who lives and works remotely there.  We also heard that the Trust still has charge of every aspect of the village.  You can't put a new gate on your fence, you have to wait for the appropriate workmen to come and do it for you.  

On the way into town we had noticed that next to the church there was an open field where sheep were grazing around some old foundations and all about some curious earth works.  We were assured that the former was the remains of an ancient Anglo Saxon church and the latter a genuine Bronze Age barrow where intact human remains had been found.  

I had begun to have doubts about the authenticity of many things in Guiting Power.  Those Trust approved workmen sounded just a little too zealous....

Here is the top of the monument in the village green.  It looks centuries old but has a WWI Tommy leaning on his Enfield rifle.  This may not be a conscious effort to deceive as the local stone does weather quickly and gracefully, but certainly serves as a reminder to keep one's eyes open.

Guiting Power supposedly dates back to at least 780 AD.  A church of course would be one of the first things that the Anglo Saxons would build.  I have no doubt that the Trust's archaeologists found the remains of an early church here.  I have equal confidence that what they found was a sad and random little collection of stones that were later reassembled and enhanced with plenty of extra parts.  Those Trust workmen are such industrious chaps.

Oh, and that ancient barrow.  Here's what it looks like today:

Such an astonishing degree of preservation!  Such clear definition of the mounds and the surrounding enclosure ditch!  Such.....such nonsense.

It took a bit of looking around the internet to sort this out.  The Trust's official site does describe it as a reconstruction but other references say a barrow has been there long enough to show up on Ordnance Survey maps.  The truth of it seems to be that a rather unimpressive barrow did exist here from ancient times.  I found a comment on a message board devoted to the study of barrows that really sums it up well:

What was previously a 38m diameter 1.5m high Bronze Age Round Barrow (which a 1992 excavation proved was a 'well preserved Barrow') has had what many people would call 'The Mars Bar treatment' (now very much smaller and a lot more costly) - the propaganda states that the reconstructed barrow (a flat topped mound 20m in diameter) 'reflected the original barrow' - well anything is possible these days, especially with considerable imagination, in the Cotswolds - perhaps it should be named 'Designer Barrow' -

Is this Preservation Gone Too Far?  It is a fair question.  One could debate it over a pint at The Farmer's Arms and have an enjoyable evening of it.  The pub looks authentic and the local residents are in fact members of a functioning small community.  If the whole enterprise has perhaps a little more help that the casual observer might notice, well, its better than many other possible ways that Guiting Power could have ended up.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Monkey Mayor of Hartlepool

My friends in the UK were understandably curious about American politics.  In fact they are at least as puzzled as we are over the considerable disdain for establishment candidates.  They have some similar trends going on of course, some are already speaking of Boris Johnson as the British Donald Trump.

Interestingly two different conversations ended up discussing The Monkey Mayor of Hartlepool.

Hartlepool is a rather drab town on the East Coast of England.  One of its few claims to fame is that it was actually shelled by the German Navy in World War One.  The rest of Britain may not have been all that bothered by this, it seems Hartlepudlians are looked down on as being rather dim witted and narrow minded folk.  Sometimes they were even called the derogatory term "Monkey Hangers". More on that in a bit.

In 2002 a referendum had passed creating a new post of Mayor, replacing an earlier Council based system.  This was a solid Labour party district so the outcome was not considered doubtful. But an odd thing happened.

A certain Stuart Drummond was at that time the mascot for the Hartlepool United Football Club.  In his role as H'Angus the Monkey, he decided to run for Mayor as a publicity stunt. Other than to "put the piss up" a bit, as my UK friends describe it, his sole campaign promise was to provide free bananas to all school children.

Well, he rather looks the part of a successful politician...

Hey, you could do worse.  And in a startling rebuke to the complacent Labour Party Drummond/H'Angus won the election.

By all accounts he was a good Mayor.  He knew how to compromise on the banana issue, settling for increased fresh fruit in the school lunches.  He did nothing to embarrass himself or his constituents and won re-election twice.  In fact he is the best Mayor Hartlepool will ever have, being of course the first, and as it turns out the last.  Perhaps having learned a humbling lesson the powers that be found a way to eliminate the office and return to the old system. Personally I like sports mascots and find them several notches up in respectability as compared to most politicians.

Hartlepool is enjoying a bit of prosperity these days.  Probably H'Angus doesn't deserve credit for much beyond lightening the general mood. Oh yes, the "Origin Story" of H'Angus.

As they tell it* during the Napoleonic Wars a French ship ran onto the rocks off of Hartlepool. It broke up in the waves and there were no survivors. None that is except a monkey that had been dressed up in a French uniform, presumably for the amusement of the crew.  The good people of Hartlepool having never seen a Frenchman before convened a drum head trial on the beach.  The ship wrecked survivor being unable to deny accusations that he was a spy was hung on the spot!

*the story is probably nonsense having been in circulation earlier in the form of a popular song!
Later this week.  A village where things are not what they seem.  Also menacing shapes on the horizon.....

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Father's Day. Minus One, Plus One.

This is my first Father's Day since my own father died.  And my first one as a Grandfather.

I am on my own this weekend, the kids up and out, the wife off on a trip.  She worries that it is unseemly to leave me alone on Father's Day.


Guys don't make a big deal out of it.  I don't want or need any silly gifts that traditionally get handed out today.  I don't wear ties for work any longer.  I already have a barbecue grill.

My sons are all turning out just fine, and in my book no better gift on this or any other day could be had.  My own father would not have been one to put it into words but pretty much felt the same way.

So I guess that means I am bereft of soft, sappy feelings on the day - designated by the makers of cards, ties and barbecue grills - for soft sappiness.

Well.  We were cleaning the garage the other day and found a trove of old sports equipment.  Some just had to be tossed out but there were a few keepers.  One thing we found was this very small baseball glove.  It probably belonged to our oldest son.  We spent a lot of time playing catch out in the yard but this glove is so small that he likely outgrew it very quickly.

They really do grow fast.  So I decided that my son, a Father himself now, should have it.  He can get back to playing catch in his own yard shortly.

Friday, June 17, 2016

On Parade in Carlisle Castle

A day off from digging, what to do?  After a debate over pints the night before we settled on a visit to Carlisle.  Plenty of history, a nice drive, and a fabulous bookstore to visit.  Seriously, Bookcase is one of the best bookstores I have ever been in.  A quarter of a million volumes, thirty rooms on three stories, reasonable prices and that impossible to either define or to mistake faint odor of old, delightful books.

While we were enjoying a snack in the affiliated tea room there came from the street the brassy martial sounds of a marching band.  I ducked out in time to see an odd procession.  A band in formal uniform, a contingent of older chaps in bowler hats and bemedalled blue suits, and finally a loosely organized column of very young looking soldiers.  I was slow with the camera and they were off down the street in brisk - if somewhat unmilitary - order.

Our own little band of ragamuffins then dispersed to follow individual interests.  Carlisle has a nice cathedral, a really good museum, and so forth. Some of us lingered in the bookstore for quite a while.

But I was off to Carlisle castle.  I had visited once before on a dismal rainy day.  For whatever reason - probably I just was feeling contrary - I did not go in on that visit, just circled the perimeter looking up at walls.  Now it was time to drop in.

The location has been a fortress for as long as history has been recorded.  The Romans built an early stronghold here in 72 AD.  The few glimpses we have of dark age Carlisle courtesy of Saint Cuthbert speak of high walls and a still functioning aqueduct system in the 7th Century.  When the Normans turned up in the 11th Century the first thing they did was fortify the old Roman site, upgrading a century later to stonework that still survives in spots. Today it flies the Dread and Puissant banner of English Heritage.

As I was admiring the place I was surprised to see the mismatched parade come in through the front gates.

They lined up for review in front of barracks buildings named for scenes of great British valor.  Gallipoli, Arnhem, Ypers.

The picture just above captures the mood pretty well.  The Older Gents on the right are clearly veterans.  They wear assorted head gear and are comfortably chatting with each other.  The band stays in the back.  They appear to be Professionals, I assume Regular Army.  The younger soldiers are Cadets, here displaying much improved military bearing now that the Regimental Sergeant Major, the Colonel and the Colonel's Wife are on hand to inspect them.

From chatting with the office staff at the Castle and doing a bit of post travel research I now understand this picture better.

Carlisle Castle is a base, mostly ceremonial these days, for The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment of the British Army.  The family tree of British Regiments is fairly complicated, with massive wartime expansions and increasing peacetime amalgamations.  But it is fair to say that the Lancasters can be considered to be in the lineage of the troops who fought so hard in the battles commemorated by the barrack's names.  In fact their antecedents defended these very walls against assorted Scottish marauders.  Probably, although this is lost to history, their far distant ancestors stood on both sides of the Roman walls long ago.

The Old Gentlemen are indeed veterans.  I think the varied hat colors relate to the several regiments that were combined to form this one in 2004.

The "kids" are not actually in the Army.  They are members of The Army Cadet Force.  Here in the US we don't have an exact equivalent to the ACF. Think of a mixture of Boy (and Girl) Scouts with more than a dash of Military School.  Most never go on to serve in the military.  From what I saw they appear to be enjoying the experience.

As did I.  The British Army has such a long and storied history.  I think its great that the youngsters and the Old Soldiers appear together on parade.  It is an interesting mix to my historian's eye.  You have the pomp and ceremony of a brass band, which practically invites you to march along.  On the march through downtown Carlisle people in fact did just that.  But they are not trying to hide the tragic side of things either.  It is eyes straight ahead when the Colonel is inspecting the ranks.  But behind them the signs still stare out with the doleful names.  Ypers, Gallipoli, Arnhem..... So many lads not much older than these marched there.  So many did not march home.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A Saturday Stroll - The False Wells

My annual archaeology pilgrimages to Vindolanda have typically been two week stints.  Oh, one year I could only manage a single week, and I have given brief whimsical consideration to doing a doubled up four week session next year if my then 60 year old carcass could stand the wear and tear.

But usually it is a week of excavating, two days to relax, then another week and home.

Naturally in the weekend of designated rest I don't sit still.

Being an "old timer" now it has come to pass that I have met quite a few folks, and usually my excavator pals and I concoct some kind of history themed activities for our non digging weekend. Today and next time you are invited to come along.

On a Saturday with extremely variable weather we set out to do a walk.

Our starting point was the parking lot at the Hadrian's Wall fort of Brocolita.  This is one of my favorite ancient place names.  It appears on the few ancient sources we have, and delightfully seems to preserve a Pre-Roman name.  "Brock" meaning badger is a very old Celtic word.  Brocolita has plausibly been interpreted as "the place with badger holes".  Now, since my nick name with my digging pals is "Badger" (based on being from Wisconsin and somewhat black and white in color scheme), what would be more historically apt than Badger at the place of Badgers?

In the photo above I am standing not at the fort site but in a shrine just outside same.  This is a very nicely preserved Mithraeum.  The altars are reproductions, the originals now safely in a museum in Newcastle.

This was one of three shrines in a complex to the west of the fort.  In some ways the coolest one was actually Coventina's Well.  Coventina was (is?) a Romano-British water deity whose existence is basically only known from this site.  Near where I am standing there was another enclosure in the middle of which was a spring.  When excavated in 1876 it was a fabulous treasure trove.  Altars, incense burners, votive offerings....and 13,487 Roman coins!

So, where is the well today?

Tempting, tempting, but this ain't it.  Sure, its a well and just outside of the fort.  And, yes, almost certainly that is Roman stonework.  Why it even looks as if it were excavated a century or so ago, and I have seen pipes left in sites for various reasons.  But, wrong place.  This is a remnant of some farmer's miserable little stead.  Rock and scruffy grass did not make for prosperity even if you could save money by simply pinching nearby bits of stone work for construction.

The actual site of Coventina's Well is unmarked.  It stands to reason that if there were 13,000 Roman coins excavated then there could be a few still in the ground.  So the Management has not made the site blatant and I will abide by that wise policy.

Up and down the hills we went north of the Wall and into Disputed Territories.  We stopped in a little hamlet called Simonburn.  It has a very pleasant Tea Room.  While there I browsed through their local history book and noticed that there was a 13th Century church, St. Mungo's, that was on the site of even earlier sanctuaries.  In fact, it was said that Mungo himself had visited and had baptized Dark Age Pagans at "St. Mungo's Well" near the church.

Ah, sacred wells, pagans, a guy named Mungo....had to visit.

The hunt for the wells started at the church, then went down a ravine to the south and over a small creek.  High up on the other side we found several possible suspects...

All were suitably moss encrusted and had water in them and/or running out of them.  The water did not seem to have any particular influence on the less devout among our little band but perhaps the absence of St. Mungo was part of the problem.  The obviously later brickwork was not actually a deal breaker as it is common place for ancient springs to have some modern work on them either to protect the water source or to keep people and animals from falling in and coming to grief.

Ah, alas for mystery and history.  It seems that these water sources are newer and less holy.  Known as far back as the 18th century as "Mugger's Well" a vicar of Victorian times decided - for no particular reason - that this must be a typo of sorts and just renamed them.

A Mugger in this context means a travelling peddler who sold crockery.  I can imagine such folks using this as a nice campsite.  The alternate and more common use of Mugger is to describe a violent robber, someone who might hit you in "the mug".  It gets a little help along the way from a Hindu word that is used to designate a large and rather mean spirited crocodile which would be equally happy to grab hold of either end of you.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Vindolanda Update

So much, so very much cool stuff coming up since my departure.  The Vindolanda twitter and blog updates are better this year so I will at least for the digging season link to the latter over on the right side of this page.  I was really impressed for instance with the extremely pornographic pottery item that I imagine as being the tip jar for a brothel!

As to the nice anaerobic excavation that I left - slight tear in eye and catch in throat - at the end of my first week of digging.  Well here it was after we gave it a quick clean up on a muddy Friday:

We had to leave it be after that.  It was just such a complicated mess that the supervising archaeologists needed to get their cameras out and their thinking caps on to try and make sense of it. We were speculating that there might be a water tank underneath as various drains were present and the whole mess of stone slabs and oak planks appeared to be subsiding.

Well.  Here is a photo courtesy of my roving photographer mate Peter Savin.  You will have to rotate your orientation ninety degrees but the same structures can be seen.  Some of the mud and random wood has been cleared away.

It is now looking much more like a proper floor surface, albeit one that has not held up well over time. The flat bare surface on the near side of the trench is, well its something else.

Just for fun here's a close up from the later photo.  Pete's camera is a big fellow with plenty o' megapixels.

The round object near the top has striations on it.  This is a quern stone used for grinding grain. Usually you find them in a broken state, tossed into a pit as filler or onto a wall as a repair measure. But this close to a baking oven site, who knows.

I would like to imagine that the frondy looking stuff in the lower center of the photo might be bracken, the loose heather stuff that the Romans used as a floor covering.  That's where you find the really interesting little items.  Human beings drop things.  Maybe the Romans dropped more stuff as they had not invented pockets for clothing.  Imagine dropping something into very deep and slightly smelly shag carpeting.  You'd probably just leave it there.

Photos from the site are hit and miss for me now.  If I can get a later and deeper view I will pass it along.