Happy Valentine’s Day

Did you get a gift for Valentine’s Day? I got two 70-year-old folklore books, a box of Fondant Fancies and a card. So, the first thing I did (well, maybe the second) was look up Valentine’s Day in my new book.

Advert for Prang's Valentine's Cards, late 19thc

Advert for Prang’s Valentine’s Cards, late 19thc

I was aware that our grandparents’/great-grandparents’ generation – in the extreme north, anyway – set little store by Valentine’s and regarded it as a bit common and certainly inconsequential. I’d no idea why, as my Jackie magazine insisted that we Continue reading

Advertisements

Popular History Abhors a Vacuum, but Accurate Historians Can’t

Celtic head from Netherby, at Tullie House. Copyright D McIlmoyl

This is how I feel about this subject.

One of the things you have to deal with if you’re interested in early history, especially of a small part of Britain, is that Aristotle’s line about abhoring a vacuum applies. We find that in the absence of easily proven facts, stories flood in to fill said vacuum  – often in the Victorian period, but sometimes earlier  – and as a result an awful lot of people have had many years to write books, speculate on the internet and generally promulgate stuff which has remarkably little evidence to back it up.

There are some subjects where lack of hard facts remains so troublesome that Continue reading

Three Triskele Brooches

Today I present for your delectation three lovely ‘celtic’ bronze brooches, all of which were unearthed at Brough in eastern Cumbria. They are officially ‘romano-British’1   which means that they date to the four hundred years after the roman invasion, but archaeology suggests that they are the products of a bronze workshop on this site in the 2nd century CE2.

Triskele brooch from Brough. Copyright British Museum

Triskele brooch from Brough. Copyright British Museum

Brough is a signficant historical and archaeological site. When we look at a modern map, we assume that the main route into Cumbria has always been the M6 but this isn’t the case. The north-south route, despite its roman road (the A6, more or less), was not as significant as you might think. When the railway line was cut parallel to the A6 in the 1870s, engineers had to make 14 tunnels and 22 viaducts just to get the gradient under 1 in 100 and thereby traversable by the latest in high-powered travel at the time, the steam train. The more practical route for centuries –millennia, perhaps – was the Stainmore Pass, or, was we know it, the A66. Continue reading

Happy Midsummer!

Castlerigg stone circle

Castlerigg stone circle

Okay, I know it looks like I’m a day early, but the midsummer solstice takes place in the UK at 05.04am tomorrow (21st). Castlerigg is, of course, the most famous of Cumbria’s stone circles and sometimes – often – it’s obvious why. Continue reading

Bega of St. Bees: the Irish princess, nun, or pagan relic?

Silver armlet from Cuerdale Hoard, copyright British Museum

Viking silver armlet from Cuerdale Hoard, copyright British Museum

The official line on St. Bega1 is that she was the Irish princess in whose name St Bees’ Priory was founded. Bega decided at an early age that she would devote her life to the church, whereupon an angel gifted her a holy arm-ring as a symbol of her dedication to Christ. Needless to say, Bega was also a very beautiful Irish princess and she was soon in demand for marriage and her father, an Irish king, accepted the proposal of the King of Norway. This was the last thing Bega wanted, so whilst the kings were feasting, Bega used her Continue reading

The Druid’s Sacrifice, or History According to a Victorian Antiquarian

My observation in recent posts that interpretation of history has changed somewhat led to a few exclamation marks elsewhere in the halls of social media. In evidence, I present for your delectation a chapter which passed for history in the 1891 edition of Wilson Armistead’s Tales and Legends of the English Lakes.

Castlerigg stone circle, Cumbria

Castlerigg stone circle, Cumbria

‘The old road between Keswick and Penrith passes over a rough hill, called Castle Rigg1, which the new road now avoids. In a field adjoining this road, on the right hand side going on to Penrith, and at the distance of a mile-and-a half east by north from Keswick, are the remains of a Druidical2 Temple, popularly named Continue reading

The genius cucullatus, or the Original Hoodie

Genius Cucullatus from Tullie House

Genius Cucullatus from Tullie House

Picture time! See this fella? He’s a genius cucullatus, to give him his Latin name, but whether he was a Roman import or a native, his original owner wouldn’t have called him that. Genius cucullatus just means, ‘spirit in a hood’. This one, which was found at Birdoswald on Hadrian’s Wall, is the only one in Britain which is a single standing statue. They’re usually carved in relief on a flat stone, and in Britain, they are often depicted in groups of three.I wish it was simple matter to tell you what he represents, but that’s not possible. He’s often linked with Continue reading