Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Dilhorne and the Zulu War

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

An abduction in the Peak District

We live in an age where the thought of forced marriages and abductions fills people with horror and reports of such events in the British Asian communities are condemned. Each year according to a recent TV documentary over 10,000 young Muslim women are forced into such arrangements against their will.

 The picturesque Blore near Ilam seems a world away from such considerations although a dramatic episode involving a forced marriage took place at Blore Hall at the beginning of the 16th century.

Margaret Kebell was the daughter of Ralph Bassett and in 1502 was a newly widowed 25 years old. She had married 10 years before to an elderly Leicestershire lawyer on whose death the previous year had left his young bride a sizable inheritance. In short, Margaret was now a very attractive proposition to the gentry of the area as any wealth that she had would become the property of the husband.

At the end of January Margaret became engaged to Ralph Egerton of Wrinehill who was also a wealthy person as he stood to inherit lands in Cheshire, A party was organised to celebrate the event. However someone had other ideas.

On the 1st February 1502 an armed band led by Roger Vernon of Wirksworth, Derbyshire assisted by a local landowner Thomas Foljambe of Throwley Hall attacked Blore Hall. The brigands arrived at 6am. The band was about 100 strong and was well armed. The trembling guests and retainers were under siege by a group of determined men. Vernon’s band broke in and threatened the servants of Margaret Kebell brandishing swords to get them to reveal her presence. Margaret was found and forced onto a horse and the posse plunged over the River Dove back into Derbyshire. Quickly a compliant priest was found in Derby and the couple was married despite Margaret’s protests.

Margaret’s father was furious and sent out parties to rescue his daughter. Roger Vernon was aware of the threat and moved his new unwilling bride into Herefordshire until things quietened down. Margaret’s mother, Eleanor, accompanied by Eleanor's father and brother, set off in pursuit of the abductors. They were outnumbered and unable to rescue Margaret, but Margaret later managed to escape on her own and reach safety in London. Sir Henry Vernon of Haddon Hall, Margaret’s father in law, was protesting his son’s innocence at court to anyone who would hear that his daughter in law was just being difficult. But Margaret was determined to have her say and gained personal audience with Henry VII. The case ended up before the court of the Star Chamber, where changes and counter-charges kept the litigation active for many years. Vernon was fined, but in December 1509 all those involved in the abduction were pardoned by the new king Henry VIII. Margaret did eventually marry Ralph Egerton, who was knighted in 1515. However whether it was a happy marriage is debateable as Egerton was reputed to have fathered many illegitimate children.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Youth Hostels

My family rejoined the Youth Hostel Association last summer. I have been a member for many years and visited dozens of hostels around the country. The Moorlands used to have several hostels although their numbers have been depleted and reduced even further with the selling off of Gradbach Hostel last year to Newcastle College.

The movement in the UK was born 80 years ago when cheap accommodation was opened in scenic parts of the country giving young people from industrial areas their first opportunity to explore the picturesque beauties of the UK. It gained royal approval early on when the Prince of Wales opened Derwent Hall in the Peak District in 1932.

Ilam Hostel opened in 1935 fulfilling a need as the Peak District attracted 20,000 youth hostellers to existing hostels in the area. During the war Ilam was pressed into service providing emergency accommodation for Czech refugees. Other hostels that opened in the 1930s were Ashover and Rudyard, both of which have long since closed. Rudyard had a distinguished literary visitor in the winter of 1936. George Orwell used it en route to Wigan to research “Road to Wigan Pier”; Orwell stayed a night at the Youth Hostel beside the Lake. It was intensely cold the hostel was unheated and lit only by candles. He had to thaw out over a fire in the morning. The lake was frozen and ice had formed into blocks which made a clanking sound as they collided. Cigarette packets bobbed up and down among the ice floes. Orwell thought it was a very depressing place.

YHA membership took off after the war with over 300 hostels opened by 1950 with individual membership reaching 200,000.

The first hostel I used was Hartington which coincidentally was the hostel where I rejoined in August. It was the summer of 1970 and I was part of a geography field trip from school. Of the local ones I have also stayed at Meerbrook in the late 80s which was rather cold and damp and Ilam which was delightful. I used to prefer the simpler hostels such as Ellingstring in Yorkshire Wheathill in Shropshire and Alpheton in Suffolk which was an old Nissen hut. It is a pity that these hostels were those targeted for closure in the 1990s as I found them basic but charming.

Anyone who has stayed any time in hostels during the old regime would be familiar with the “chores” that hostellers would be given and also the often eccentric hostel wardens who ruled with an iron fist and dole out the duties. I fell foul of such a character in the 80s at a basic hostel on Dartmoor who took a dim view of anyone who went to the pub. Dressed in lederhosen stretched over a portly frame the very camp warden admonished me in a phrase that has always lived with me “I tend to find that my young gentlemen like to go to bed early after a hard day on the hills”. I was on toilet cleaning duties the following day.

The Raven

Some weeks ago I was walking down Burton Street on the way to work when I heard a commotion before my head. I looked up and I saw two Crows mobbing a Buzzard who was flying nonchalantly off unconcerned at the antics of the member of the Corvus family.

It’s another member of that family I wish to write about following a conversation with a fellow “twitcher” at the Dimmingsdale reserve near Cheadle who was telling me of the increased presence of the Raven, after a period of long decline.

WH Hudson the travel writer and nature writer remarked  in his 1913 book “Adventures Among Birds” that on Axe Edge that the birds absence was marked "Not a buzzard, not a harrier, not a raven which when soaring would seem an appropriate object and part of the scenery in these high wild places". The situation seems to have been turned around.

 The largest member of the Crow family ravens are very intelligent birds. Two wild ravens helped a captive one escape by digging a hole from outside of its cage while the one inside dug from there. They can be taught to talk. Ravens are playful and have learned to use tools. They employ stones and other hard objects to crack nuts. It has been observed (not infrequently) that when a member of the flock perishes, the birds will hold what could be called a “raven funeral” – a 24-hour event marked by raucous outcries.

Its reputation in legend is not the most cheerful one as it’s associated with death. Not surprising as it was a bird that frequented the gallows of hanged men, a feeder off carrion and its size, colour and dismal call add to the sepulchral image.

It has an association with pagan deities such as Odin, Lugas the Celtic God and Bran the Blessed (Bran means raven in Welsh) whose head is buried under the Tower of London as a talisman against invasion. According to legend the country will fall if the Ravens of the Tower are removed. Even now an” unkindness”, the collective noun for the bird, of six is maintained.

Ravens were considered messengers of the Gods. One raven does appear in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English when St Paulinus is trying to preach in Yorkshire. The croaking of a raven appeared to be competing with Paulinus and the people think that the pagan Gods are arguing with Paulinus. (The Norse god Odin had two raven familiars named Huginn and Muninn who perched on his shoulders and told him everything they saw and heard)

I visited Durham Cathedral over the summer in which the head of St Oswald who bought Christianity to the north of England is buried in the same coffin as St Cuthbert. Oswald was killed at the Battle of Maserfield in 642 near to modern day Oswestry (Oswald’s tree) fighting the heathen Welsh and the Mercians. Although he was a Christian warrior Oswald included the powerful symbol of the raven on his war banners. It may well be he was keeping all options open in terms of his relationship with the pagan God Odin least things did not work out in the other world.