Sunday, 25 July 2010

Quarry Bank Mill, Haworth, East Riddlesden Hall

We were in Cheshire but wouldn't leave the area without a visit to Quarry Bank Mill. Founded in 1784 by Samuel Greg, it was built beside the River Bollin, which powered the mill's machines. The profits however, were powered by cheap cotton (picked by slaves in America's Southern states) and cheap labour (much of it provided by pauper children as young as nine who were sent to the mill from workhouses in Liverpool, Manchester and London). The mill building is huge and has many levels. Below is the Apprentice House which Samuel Greg built as the number of child workers increased. The apprentice system lasted well into the Victorian period (1847).

There is one place in Britain to which I have returned again and again - Haworth in Yorkshire. Here Charlotte (Jane Eyre), Emily (Wuthering Heights) and Anne (The Tenant of Wildfell Hall) lived.

The Parsonage (above) was their home and is now a museum. Nowhere has a stronger sense of the lives of its former famous inhabitants than Haworth. Below is the alleyway linking the Parsonage to the top of the town.

The moorland around Haworth has atmosphere in spades, and several local houses are believed to be represented in the sisters' novels. Ruined Wycoller Hall is the inspiration for Ferndean Manor to which the maimed Rochester retreats in Jane Eyre.
Below is the wonky bridge at Wycoller.

Haworth is on the edge of a conurbaton centred around Keighley, on the outskirts of which - an oasis of calm - is 17th Century East Riddlesden Hall. I wasn't that pleased with the photos I took of the hall itself, but I rather like this one - those are dog kennels framed by the blossom.

Later that day we visited the the remains of the Roman town of Aldborough in East Yorkshire, but there's a very little to see above the ground. The area, in early Roman times, was the territory of Queen Cartimandua of the Brigantes tribe.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Plas Nwydd and Little Moreton Hall

At the beginning of May we took our Spring holiday, and got into the car for a tour up through Wales to Chester and Knutsford. My brother has recently moved to a farm just above Aberfan, and this is the view down the Merthyr valley towards the Brecon Beacons.

There was no way I was going to miss out Llangollen. I had heard about the Ladies who once lived there in a house called Plas Nwydd (below).

Who were they? Lady Eleanor Butler and Lady Sarah Ponsonby - Anglo-Irish aristocrats who in 1778 fled Ireland for Wales, Lady Eleanor to avoid being sent to a convent, and Lady Sarah to escape the unwanted attentions of her guardian. They wanted to live the 18th Century ideal of a romantic friendship, and with begrudging financial support from their families, succeeded in doing so for over fifty years. Their friendship intrigued their contemporaries and their many visitors included Josiah Wedgewood, Wordsworth, Scott, Lord Byron, the Duke of Wellington and Lady Caroline Lamb, who was a kinswoman of Sarah Ponsonby.

Plas Nwydd is on the outskirts of Llangollen. It is on the River Dee (see above), which flows through North Wales to Chester (below).

Chester was once a large walled Roman town. The walls have survived, and the amphitheatre has only recently been excavated. The timbered merchants' houses in the main streets, although they look medieval are in fact later, the model for them being Little Moreton Hall, an absolutely fantastic timbered manor house a few miles south of Knutsford in Cheshire (see below).

What is so special about it? It is almost wholly Tudor. Building work started in about 1500, with wings being added over the next 100 years. No part of it is later than 1600. It belonged to the same family for centuries and has been preserved intact, if not exactly straight - you can see the wobbly bit in the photo. The inner courtyard is below. Nice tearoom too!

Knutsford itself is, of course, Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford. Shown below is a cobbled courtyard which is off the High Street where many period buildings have survived.

Knutsford is quite a bustling place, especially in the evening with so many places to eat. Quarrybank Mill and the Brontes' Haworth were the next places on the itinerary but I'll save those for the next post.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

River Police Museum, Wapping

The RNA Conference is where like minds meet, and with so many people travelling from all over the country, and indeed abroad, to attend, it is an opportunity for them to extend their stay for sightseeing. This year, delegates who arrived the day before had a chance to go on a 'school trip' to the River Police Museum at Wapping, organised by Jean Fullerton. Jean was born and lives not so very far from Wapping and, as an historical novelist, she not only sets her stories in this part of London but also virtually recreates the area as it might have been in the Victorian period. In her second novel Glimpse of Happiness, the 'Town of Ramsgate' (below) features, and it is in that pub that fifteen of us romantic novelists congregated at lunchtime on Thursday 8 July.

The 'Town of Ramsgate', situated beside an alleyway leading to a part of the river front called Wapping Old Stairs, is over 300 years old. Another riverside pub, just along the road and just as old, is the 'Captain Kidd'. You can see it mid-picture in the photo below. The building at the far end to the left, the one with the angled bays, is the River Police Museum. This was our ultimate destination, but not, of course, until we had had lunch and a good old natter!

The London River Police have a remarkable history. The unit was formed in 1798 by magistrate Patrick Colquhoun and Master Mariner John Harriott to counter major thefts from ships anchored in the Thames. The museum has a collection of uniforms, equipment, illustrations and documentation. It is open to the public only by special request so it was a real privilege to get a chance to visit. So thank you Jean, and thanks to to our informative guide.

Monday, 12 July 2010

RNA Conference Greenwich

The venue for the Romantic Novelists' Association 50th Anniversary Conference could not have been better - the Royal Naval College at Greenwich. What a privilege to be able to spend three days in such a fabulous location, especially in almost unbelievably sunny weather. Just look at that blue sky!

The gala dinner was held on the Friday night in the Trafalgar Tavern, next door to Queen Anne Court. This is the sight which greeted latecomers as they approached along the path by the Thames - a host of romantic novelists perched precariously on the 'deck'!

Saturday night's meal was a barbecue in the courtyard. It was more informal and there were opportunities not just for people to circulate, but air! It had been steamily hot in the Trafalgar Tavern, and there had been talk of breaking into the nearby Fan Museum and borrowing their collection for the evening.

At the conference itself there was something for everybody. Lucy Inglis' talk about working women in 18th century London, and Steve Wade's on the best sources to use if you are researching crime, appealed to the historian in me. And after listening to Rosemary Laurey's entertaining description of the finned, fanged and furry things she writes about, that's me off to hunt down some paranormal romances to read.

Here's one last photo - of the old Naval College, taken on Saturday morning before the sun got into its scorching stride.