Written by Doreen Mc Bride
At the invitation of our good friends in FLHS, representatives from five societies, namely, Banbridge HS, Craigavon HS, Stuartstown HS, West Belfast HS and Bronte Society- NI Branch joined the group of local historians from all over the Island of Ireland to visit together the East Midlands of England. Present were, Esther Ervin, Pat Hanna, Doreen Mc Bride, George Mc Bride from Banbridge, Geo Beattie from the Bronte Society NI, Jimmy Conway and Jackie Conway from Lurgan, Evelyn Cardwell from Stuartstown and Damien Moore and Bridie Bradley from West Belfast. We would like to thank our great friends from the southern federation for sharing it with us and we were delighted to be part of the Merry Band sharing our common love and interest in local history. Unfortunately Bridgeen & George Rutherford were unable to come as George had his hip replacement and we wish him a speedy recovery. Also Andree Mooney and Ella Brown from Banbridge were unsuccessful with their application on timing grounds due to the huge interest in the trip. It was very encouraging that we had 14 applications from our members to be part of the trip.
MONDAY 23rd APRIL : TRAVEL FROM NAAS TO NOTTINGHAM
We caught the bus and greeted each other with joy. The trip attracted a nice mixture of old and new faces so it was lovely to meet up with old friends with the possibility of making new ones The Irish sea was like a mill pond, we arrived on time in Holyhead, enjoyed the Welsh scenery on the way to our comfort stop, the Wedgewood Museum, where we had a late lunch.
The Wedgewood Museum was fascinating, full of beautiful china, as expected. There was only one problem – did the tags on the China indicate the year in which it was made, or the price? Sadly it was the price! It was, as we ‘Northerners’ would say, ‘wild dear’ but undeniably stunning. We particularly admired the display of a dragon built from individual pieces of pottery although it raised a few wicked thoughts. Tommy said he’d love to give it a good boot up the backside to ‘see what happened’ and George wondered if the removal of a plate would have a domino effect.
At dinner we were delighted to meet our guide, Ian, who stayed with us throughout the trip and who, two years ago, guided us around Shakespeare country.
TUESDAY 24th APRIL -WALKING TOUR OF NOTTINGHAM AND A VISIT TO CHATSWORTH HOUSE
Ian told us Nottingham was originally called Snottingham, the ‘Snot’ being a tribe of invading Angles, ‘ing’ means ‘tribe’ while ‘ham’ means ‘place’, so it was the place of the Snots.
In the 17th century ‘Snot’ began to mean something unpleasant so the ‘S’ was dropped and Nottingham was born. The influence of the Angles is still strong as seen in the word ‘gate’, which in this part of the world means ‘street’. We noted, among other gates, ‘Hound Gate’, meaning ‘Dog Street’ although there weren’t any dogs there.
Ian said that Nottingham was once a very prosperous city because it manufactured stockings and the famous Nottingham lace, which has a strong connection with Northern Ireland. Lurgan’s Brownlow family originally came from Nottingham and settled in Lurgan during the 17th century. They kept close connections with their English family and during the Great Famine asked them for help in starting the manufacture of lace in Lurgan to provide jobs for their tenants.
Nottingham’s Theatre Royal, a very impressive building, was designed by Frank Matcham, the architect responsible for Belfast’s Grand Opera House.
We were surprised by the number of beautiful buildings, including the gorgeous art nouveau building now occupied by Zara, but originally housing the first Boots Chemist.
Other firms that became household names originating in Nottingham include Players Tobacco and Raleigh bicycles.
Nottingham Castle wasn’t a bit like the ones depicted in Robin Hood movies. The outside walls are very impressive, just the type one would expect around an ancient castle but the actual castle itself is a Georgian building surrounded by a beautiful garden. It’s definitely not the sort of place where it would be possible to swing down from walls to rescue maidens in distress!
We were told that King Edward II was murdered by his wife, Queen Isabella and her lover, Mortimer. Her son, the young Edward III revenged his father’s death by sneaking in through a tunnel under the castle. He found Queen Isabella in bed with Mortimer, grabbed him and dragged him off to be killed while the queen screamed, ‘Have pity on gentle Mortimer.’!
There’s an opening under the castle called, ‘Mortimer’s Hole’ and very deadly it looks too!
A nearby pub, called ‘The Trip to Jerusalem’ is reputed to be the oldest drinking establishment in Nottingham and was a popular venue after dinner.
The early part of the afternoon was occupied by a tour of Chatsworth House.
We were welcomed by a guide who said, ‘I just want to warn the ladies they may find the toilets very upsetting as each cubicle is lined with wall-to-wall mirror!’ (They were and it was upsetting although thankfully the mirror was only on three sides!)
Chatsworth’s very grand, very opulent, very over the top and privately owned by the Dukes of Devonshire. We felt disgusted by the amount of wealth represented. It’s obscene! However, more than 800 people are employed on the estate so we grudgingly admitted the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire are doing a good job providing local jobs.
Chatsworth’s amazing because it has had hot and cold running water, complete with central heating since the 17th century! A stream at the top of the hill behind the house was dammed and the water piped into the building. It’s gravity fed, as is the famous cascade and the Emperor’s fountain. It was built to impress the Emperor of Russia who said he’d come on a visit, but he never turned up!
There’s a connection a between Chatsworth and Ireland in that he 5th Duke of Devonshire helped King William III depose his father-in-law, King James II, in the ‘Glorious Revolution’, so called because not a single shot was fired. Eventually that action led to the Battle of the Boyne.
We found the tale of the double Duchess interesting. She was married to the Duke of Manchester. He died leaving her a fortune, after which she married the Duke of Devonshire, who died and left her a fortune causing her to become known as the ’double duchess’ .
In the late afternoon we travelled around the stunning Peak District. Unfortunately the vast majority of use were sleepy and couldn’t keep our eyes open! We kept waking up in beautiful villages in conservation areas or getting glimpses of marvellous scenery and fighting, to no avail, to stay awake. It was frustrating!
WEDNESDAY 25th APRIL : LEICESTER, RICHARD III and BURGHLEY
We were up bright and early to enjoy the interesting drive to Leicester to see the Richard III Centre and Leicester Cathedral.
Ian told us Richard III was implicated in the disappearance of his nephews, who he locked up in the Tower of London, never to be seen again. Ian said that kind of behaviour should be excused because in those days kings had to be tough and ruthless to survive. Murdering people was normal behaviour and Richard should be judged according to the morality of the time.
In1485 King Richard III lost his helmet during the battle of Bosworth Field and was hacked to death by his enemies. His body was interned in a local monastery which was redeveloped several times causing his body to become lost. It eventually was discovered under a Leicester car park
The Richard III exhibition started with an interesting video, which was projected on a wall. Seats were placed against the opposite wall and people came and stood in front of them! As a result those who were infirm couldn’t see anything!
The wall displays were attractive and so detailed it was impossible to absorb all the information given.
The display of a replica of King Richard’s skeleton and a discussion of how his body was identified by comparing genetic material extracted from one of his bones with that of two known descendants from his family was very interesting.
King Richard’s body is buried in Leicester’s cathedral, which is small, but beautiful. His grave’s covered by a simple slab of Swaledale fossil stone, quarried in North Yorkshire,
in which a deep cross has been cut. It faces east so the body is able to see the coming of Christ and is tipped upwards to signify the passage of the soul to heaven.
We had time for a short walk around some of Leicester’s old narrow streets. They are delightful, full of interesting shops and eateries. We grabbed a quick lunch and on the way back to the bus Ian came across some of us and took us to see a hidden gem, the old Elizabethan Town Hall.
The afternoon was spent in the magnificent Burghley House, which, perhaps unfairly, we liked better than Chatsworth. It’s an Elizabethan House that has retained its original appearance. It has the ambience of a home, not a show place. The walls were either decorated with tapestries or huge murals. We felt some of the decorations were not relevant to the function of the room. For instance dining room had a brightly coloured floor to ceiling mural depicting a bloody battle. All that blood and gore would be enough to put sensitive souls off their dinner!
THURSDAY 26th APRIL : SHERWOOD FOREST AND LINCOLN
We had a quick walk around Sherwood Forest to see the gigantic oak said to be associated with Robin Hood. The poor thing looks as if it’s on its last legs because its branches are propped up by metal posts. The trunk is gigantic and gnarled. The tree itself is interesting but no longer beautiful.
The forest provided a pleasant walk but apart from a few well-spaced, ancient deformed oaks, it did not give an impression of age. It was full of young silver birch trees.
Jimmy said it was one of his childhood dreams to be in Sherwood Forest and he felt like Robin Hood. Jacky said, ’That’s probably because of the hat you’re wearing!’
We arrived in Lincoln before lunch and immediately fell in love with the city. It’s delightful with a huge towering cathedral, winding streets and interesting buildings.
We had a walk round the castle, which houses one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta. It’s housed in a darkened room, is beautifully written in Latin so most of us couldn’t understand what it said. It wouldn’t appear uninteresting to the vast majority of people if it weren’t for its historical significance and great age.
An old Victorian prison is housed within the castle walls. The ambience of grim lives of prisoners in the past still hangs over it.
The prison church was upsetting. The pews have high sides so the prisoners couldn’t see anything apart from the pulpit, from which hell fire sermons were undoubtedly preached. Climbing up into the pulpit provides a pathetic view of the miserable waxen faces gazing forlornly out of individual pews.
Ian told us that Eamon De Valera was held in a jail in Lincoln and many ‘pilgrims’ visit the castle to see where he was imprisoned, but he was housed in Lincoln’s other Victorian prison.
The afternoon was spent in Lincoln cathedral. There’s only one word for that, WOW! The aisle’s 100 yards long! The vaulted roof appears almost out of sight and every corner reveals a view as large as a normal church. It’s huge! The stain glass windows are stunning and the atmosphere is happy, full of light. We were particularly interested in the window dedicated to the memory of the son of a shoemaker, the mathematician George Boole. He said he was influenced by Robert Murphy, who was born in 1806 at Mallow, Co. Cork.
Perhaps the most unexpected feature inside the cathedral was an interesting display about the Jewish faith. It was manned so we were able to chat with members of the local synagog.
FRIDAY 27th APRIL : HOMECOMING
We climbed aboard our coach and left Nottingham at 8 45am and after a quick comfort break arrived in Holyhead at 1 00pm where we were met by the Mayor of Holyhead, Ann Kennedy and her husband, John D’Arcy MBE. There was just time for a quick exchange of information and a photoshoot before they arranged for us to be loaded, ‘first on our boat’.
We had a marvellous, enjoyable, instructive trip. We are very grateful to members of FLHS for making us feel so welcome, to Larry Breen for all his hard work in organising the trip and to JJ Woods for providing us with a beautiful booklet about the places visited which will become a treasured souvenir.