Roman and Mediaeval History, Illlustrated Travel Journals, Mediaeval Literature, Geology


31.5.08
  The Romans Got There As Well

And what they built must have been as impressive as the castles, about 2000 years ago. The problem is that for one, more time has passed since they left what they called Britannia in 410 AD, then their finely chiselled stones were often reused (some even in the castles) and today some of their remains are found under houses that can't just be torn down to excavate more Roman foundations.

Hypocaust heating of the fort bath, found in a cellar in Chester

But enough remains to get a feeling for the former splendour. Like the baths in Caerleon which would put some modern leisure centres to shame.

Main bassin in the Caerleon baths, 42 metres in length

Or the arena, also in Caerleon, which albeit overgrown with grass still displays the wide diameter of the original structure, though not its height.

Roman arena in Caerleon

Caerleon was a legionary fort, not an auxiliary fortress like the ones at the Hadrian's Wall and the German limes, and thus everything comes a bit larger. After all, a legion consisted of abut 5,000 men - not counting the slaves - and even if some of them were dispatched elsewhere most of the time, Caerleon was constructed to house the whole lot.

Barrack row at Caerleon fort

The Romans not only built two legionary forts at Caerleon and Chester (Deva) and littered Wales with auxuliary fortresses (one - Segontium - can be found in Caernarfon), they also built a town at Caerwent.

Flowers on the Roman east wall of Caerwent

What the Roman places had in common with the Norman castles were big walls. Makes you wonder why. *grin*
 


29.5.08
  I'm Back

I'm back. With lots of pics. Yes, I can hear Bernita's sigh of relief now. *grin*

Two rainy afternoons in two weeks wasn't bad at all, particularly not for Wales. Except for a fresh wind blowing from the sea sometimes, it was not cold, either. The only problem was the often hazy atmosphere which made it difficult to get decent photos of the landscape. But I got plenty of the castles.

Chepstow Castle, outer curtain wall

I managed to meet with Lady D from Lady Despenser's Scribery and James Oswald from Sir Benfro. It's nice to meet people you know from the internet in real. With Lady D I invaded Chepstow Castle (as she already mentioned on her blog), and with James I took a stroll through Aberystwyth, discussing ghosts and magic in novels. I failed to see a real ghost in any of the castles, though.

Kirsten, next time your mom plans to take you on a boring sea voyage through the Scottish mist, tell her you'll go to Wales and meet with me instead; it'd be a lot more fun.

Chepstow Castle, sea gate

Welsh public transport does get you places - except on Bank Holidays - though sometimes it's a bit complicated and through the backdoor and kitchen into the living room, like from Caernarfon to Dolwyddelan via Llandudno. But at least you can stop a bus almost everywhere.

Dolwyddelan Castle, Llywelyn's Keep

People actually speak Welsh in north Wales, and it's a pretty sounding language. In south Wales on the other side, the bilingual signs and descriptions fe. in the castles are a joke since almost no one can tell you how to pronounce a word, let alone knows what it means.

Conwy Castle, inside seen from one of the towers

Ok, now I'll have to go and sort out 2,000 photos, read up on two weeks worth of blogposts on my sidebar links, and put my foot into cold water because I managed to slip when leaving the ferry in Amsterdam and twist something. No, I'm not going to see a doctor for that, he'd only put my foot in a cast and make a lot of fuss about not doing this and not doing that. I heal better without the 'help' of a bone setter (to use a Mediaeval term).

Criccieth Castle

Oh, and it's fortunately back to German cakes and sweets; the British stuff is way too sugary for my taste. And to some nice rye bread with cheese instead of scrambled eggs with mushrooms. :)

There are more pictures here.
 


  They Built Them Big

Just some pic spam of some of the Norman castles in Wales. The things are huge, with massive walls, sorrounded by water and ditches, several gatehouses and lots of nasty little tricks to keep those pesky Welsh out.

Don't get me wrong, I've developed an interest in the Welsh and their history and I'm not the biggest fan of Edward Longshanks, but the castles are still great. *wink*

Caerphilly





Pembroke





Caernarfon





Beaumaris




Plotbunnies? Of course. What did you think? *grin*

I concentrated on the walls and defenses for this selection, but I got lots of photos from the remains of the interior and some interesting views from unusual perspectives and angles as well.
 


22.5.08
  It's Fun So Far

Just a short check-in from Caernarfon Library's internet. I'm having fun, and the weather is not too bad. I take lots of pics: let's hope they will turn out fine. I am getting tired of scrambled eggs, mushrooms, bacon and beans, though. *grin*

Those Normans really built their castles big - you can put several Hansteins into Caerphilly, for example. The Roman bath at Caerleon is the most splendid I've come across so far, and I've seen quite a few of them. The landscape in northen Wales is gorgeous and made the long bus journey from Pembroke to Caernarfon worth the effort. And I got to stop at Aberystwyth and see the castle ruins there as well. Tomorrow I'll be off to Conwy and Dolwyddelan. Gotta love those Welsh names. And I have figured out how Llywelyn is pronounced. :)
 


13.5.08
  My Blog is Taking a Holiday

I'm leaving for Wales tomorrow and will return on May 28. Normal posting will begin soon thereafter.

Hold the thumbs for some nice weather. Rain may be typically Welsh but makes for bad photos and wet feet.

But I won't leave you without some pics.

Spring evening at the Kiessee

I finally got around to bringing my camera when I walk in the Kiessee area. It's very close to my flat and nice for an evening stroll. The only disadvantage is that a lot of people get the same idea when the weather is fine.


There are meadows where you can often find families and other groups complete with portable barbecue grill and lots of bottled beer that has been balanced on bicycle luggage holders. Fortunately I have a garden for that.


The lake is artificial and right now there are some problems with too much of that greenish stuff growing on the water. The ducks that are supposed to eat it prefer the bread they get fed. Lazy buggers.
 


11.5.08
  Fallen Splendour, Forgotten Greatness

St Mary's Abbey in York once was the one of the wealthiest monasteries in England and the abbot among the most powerful clergymen of his days. The abbey was built in 1088 and consecrated to the Benedictine rule, though of course, later changes and additions were made; most of what is left looks Gothic (Early English period) to me rather than Norman, except the heavy bundled pillar in the crossing that reminds me of the Norman part of Hexham Abbey.

St.Mary's Abbey, remains of the nave

The Gothic parts would fit with the time the wall encircling the abbey was erected which dates to 1260. The walls proved useful several times when the abbey and the city of York quarreled about taxes and land ownership. Somehow these things always tended to come to blows in the Middle Ages.

Crossing and transept, to the left a bundled pillar of surprising size

Today only some ruins in the Museum Gardens remain, but you can still sense some of the splendour in the withered stones. The estate of the monastery once occupied the entire area of the Museum Gardens. What is left are parts of the nave, the crossing and transept, and the cloister.

South entrance to the main nave

The decline of the abbey began when King Henry VIII banned all monasteries in England in 1530. The buildings were converted into a palace for the king when he visited York. Over time, the abbey with outbuildings and church fell into ruins until the Yorkshire Philosophical Society excavated them in the 1820ies and made efforts to preserve the remains.
 


6.5.08
  I'm Still Alive

Sorry for not posting and commenting as much as I usually do. Life's being a bitch right now.

Sunset

Mother Nature still beats Photoshop on a good day.
 


1.5.08
  York Guild Hall

Or, The Ancient Guild Hall of Merchant Adventurers of the City of York.

I like the merchant adventurers; it evokes images of stout cogs with red and white sails ploughing the green waters of the Baltic Sea, camel caravans trudging through yellow sand, mail clad mercenaries with their hands close to the swordhilt, and white eyed moors gesticulating with slant eyed men from Cathai in front of the pillared facades of a Venetian house, or a caftan clad citizen of Novgorod drinking beer with a golden haired Nordman while admiring the wonders of St.Mary Church in Lübeck, anxious to return ere the Gotland pirates gather another fleet. And maybe his comrade of chance is a pirate himself, and the moor in Venice an escaped galley slave who fought as mercenary all the way up into marrying the doge's daughter.

Though the explanation is less romantic: a merchant adventurer was someone who risked - adventured - his money in overseas trade.

Outside view of the York Guild Hall

I didn't have the Guild Hall on my list of places to see, but when I visted the Roman baths, I got a ticket for several small museums, including the charming one about Richard III (which wasn't on my list either thanks to crappy UK travel guidebook - next time I'll spend the money on a Baedecker) and the Guild Hall, so I sneaked it in between breakfast and catching a train to Newcastle on my last day. The place is surely worth a visit. The York Guild Hall is the oldest that survived with its business rooms, hospital and chapel intact, and it's the largest townhouse of the time, only churches and castles were bigger.

In 1357, a group of influential men and women founded a religious fraternity and built the hall. Which proves, again, that not all women in the Middle Ages were suppressed to the level of inisgnificance except for popping out as many children as possible; women held considerable influence in the guilds.

Less than a hundred years later most members were merchants, and they set up a trading association, a guild, alongside the religious fraternity. The hall was quite the multifunctional place, the members conducted trade business, said prayers, cared for the poor, and met socially.

The Guild (today called Company) still exists though no longer as trading association. They still are involved in charity and use the chapel for services, and they own the Guild Hall as trustee for visitors.

The Great Hall

The Great Hall was built as double nave because there were no timbers large enough to span the full width - English oaks grow big, but not that big.

The lower part of the hall, the undercroft, is constructed of bricks; the earliest to be made in York since the Romans left. The upper part is a half-timbered construction . The process used was interesting because each section was first put together lying on the ground, the timbers marked, and then it was dismantled and reassembled in an upright position on the building.

The windows are one of the 16th century additions, the original ones were smaller.

The Undercroft

The Undercroft was used as hospital from 1373 to 1900. Guilds were the first to build hospitals in several towns, for example in Lübeck as well, and there, as in York, the hospital was in use into the 19th century. The name hospital may be somewhat misleading, because the inmates were poor and infirm people rather than acutely sick ones.

A great fireplace was inserted in the 16th century; before the room had been heated by braziers. Some of the beams still show scorch marks of torches. The place must have been rather dark and cold, especially in winter, but probably a paradise for people who else might have been left to sleep on the streets.

Charity is one reason to have a hospital, but another was order. People who had nowhere to go, no connection with the organised life in a town, were considered a potential danger and a disgrace in the eyes of God. By giving them a place to live, they were reintruduced - or kept - within society.

On the undercroft level is also the chapel which was used by the guild members as well as the people in the hospital. It is consecrated to the Holy Trinity which also protected the activities of the guild.

Old furniture in the First Anteroom

An annex was added in the 16th century, it holds the Governor's Parlour and several anterooms. It is a three gabled structure that fits well with the two large gables of the double nave roof. The rooms inside today display a nice arrangement of old furniture, paintings, and some silver.

The company held a number of responsibilites like the control of weights and measures, and they also trained apprentices and helped young men to start their own business. Some of this was conducted past the Middle Ages (there's a 17th century document about a loan, fe.). Until today, the company also keeps the archives.

Source: The guidebook provided by the Company
 


Miscellaneous musings of an aspiring Historical Fiction and Fantasy author. Illustrated essays on Roman, Dark Age and Mediaeval history, Mediaeval literature, and Geology. Some poetry translations and writing stuff. And lots of photos of old castles, cathedrals, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes from Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and the Baltic States.

All texts (except comments by guests) and photos (if no other copyright is noted) on this blog are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.

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Location: Germany

I'm a writer of Historical Fiction and Fantasy living in Germany. I got a MA in Literature, Scandinavian Studies, Linguistics and History, I'm interested in Archaeology and everything Roman and Mediaeval, an avid reader, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, and photographer.


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