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

How the Mighty Fall

Sword, Yorkshire Museum

Sword, Yorkshire Museum

Since I last visited Tullie House in Carlisle to view the Crosby Garrett Helmet1, a curator’s comment has stuck in my head. There was a lot of controversy about the helmet, found by a metal detectorist in a field in the Eden Valley; some of it is worthy and true, and a lot of it is unmitigated codswallop and it’s the curator’s musings on the codswallop that caught me. He said he thought the root of some people’s determination to disbelieve that the helmet was found right here, as validated by a pukka archaeological dig and tentatively linked to a bona fide Roman fort at Carlisle, is that they just don’t believe that anything special – never mind exceptional – could be found right here in Cumbria.

In a similar vein, people have long imagined that Continue reading

The Rise and Fall of Penrith Castle, Or, why it’s Not a Good Idea to have Royal Relatives

Penrith Castle, Cumbria

Penrith Castle, Cumbria

I would have been happy to tell you about Penrith Castle last year, if it wasn’t for the fact that there was a point when I was being hounded by various members of local press and radio anxious to establish that St. Andrew’s Church in Penrith should be putting in a bid to be the burial-place of the newly-disinterred Richard III. Now, I like to make my historical connections as much as the next gal, but I do not get into that kind of politicised argy-bargy.* However.

Penrith is an interesting castle. It’s not really on the Continue reading

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

The Crosby Garrett Helmet Comes Home!

Crosby Garrett helmet Photo copyright Daniel Pett

Crosby Garrett helmet Photo copyright Daniel Pett

I shouldn’t say this1, I really shouldn’t2, but when it comes to Romans I sometimes feel Cumbria was a bit short-changed. I mean, we have a whopping great wall3 (well, half of it), numerous forts4, Roman roads and so on – but where’s the fancy stuff? Where are the villas with mermaid mosaics and painted plaster? I know I should make a virtue out of misfortune and assert that we have Real Roman Life, not some over-fed Roman fat cats poncing about with amphorae of wine… but still. You need imagination and learning sometimes to make sense of Cumbria’s slightly-straighter-than-expected roads5 and bumpy fields6. I start to envy Northumberland’s piles of old Roman shoes7 and notes about Continue reading

Viking Cumbria: The Ormside Bowl

Whilst on my travels in York recently (I do leave Cumbria occasionally) I came across this in the Yorkshire Museum.

The Ormside Bowl, from Great Ormside, Cumbria

The Ormside Bowl, from Great Ormside, Cumbria

The Ormside Bowl was found near St James’ Church in the village of Great Ormside in the Eden Valley in the early 1800s. The circumstances of its discovery aren’t clear; it was long assumed it was found buried, but at least one archaeologist1 has suggested that the condition is too good for that to be the case.

It’s really two bowls fastened together. The outside, the oldest part, is made of silver-gilt and dates to the mid 8th century. The inner part Continue reading

The train disasters at Aisgill

Today it’s the 100th anniversary of a truly terrible train crash that changed the way the train industry used signalling systems. The crash that took place at Aisgill, near Mallerstang in Cumbria on September 2nd, 1913, is commemorated today outside the county, at the original signalling box which is now at a museum at Butterley in Derbyshire. It wasn’t the only terrible crash of that period on the fabled Carlisle to Settle line, sadly.

It’s sometimes difficult for people to grasp that for most of history, it was really quite hard to get into Cumbria. We see that whalloping great stripe of motorway cutting up the Eden Valley, interlinking with various roads west, and can’t imagine that for a long time it was actually rather tricky to traverse.

Princess Margaret Rose steam train at Aisgill c. Ken Crosby

Princess Margaret Rose steam train at Aisgill, 1993 c. Ken Crosby

I remember that my Cumbrian granda (never grandad. Cumbrian grandfathers have no last consonant) always added the word, ‘up’ to Shap. You never went ‘to’ Shap, or ‘through’ Shap; always ‘up’ Shap. And whilst we know intellectually that Shap is Continue reading