Archive for April, 2009


Wrens Chapel at Wroxall

Wrens Chapel at Wroxall

Question: What connection is there between the Shakespeare family and Christopher Wren, the architect of St Paul’s Cathedral? Don’t know the answer? neither did I.

I recently had to attend a meeting at Wroxall Abbey which is situated in the countryside a few miles outside away from the town of Warwick.  I had passed this way before but had never noticed the Wroxall estate which lies at the end of a long drive.

The estate is in a lovely setting, surrounded by trees and fields and at the time of my visit there were masses of snowdrops to be seen amongst the trees.


As I passed an old church I noticed that there were some ruins across the road from it, and I decided to have a look around. I found out that the Church which is known as Wrens Chapel was once attached to the ruined buildings I had seen.

If you look at the side of the Church you can see where it must have once been attached to these other buildings. A little more research revealed that this was once the site of a Benedictine Priory founded in 1141. This Priory was demolished in the time of Henry VIII, the only part that was left was the Nuns Chapel which became St Leonards parish church. There is an interesting Shakespeare connection here.

Shakespeares Grandfather came from a place called Snitterfield which is to the north east of Stratford. (According to Google maps this is a 7 1/2 mile – 2 1/2 hours  walk). Apparently, at the time of the dissolution, Richard Shakespeare was the Bailiff to Prioress, Agnes Little.

An Elizabethan house was built nearby by the Burgoyne family who bought the land in 1544, this house was demolished in 1861 and was replaced by the current building.

St Pauls Cathedral (Clive Jones on Flickr - Click image)

St Pauls Cathedral (Clive Jones on Flickr - Click image)

Another famous connection came about when the land was bought by Sir Christopher Wren in 1713. Wren is especially well known as the designer of St Pauls cathedral in London.

As I drove away after the meeting, I reflected on the fact that in a very short time I had touched upon so many historical paths in such a small area. As I mentioned above, this was an area that  I have passed so many times without knowing anything about it and I was pleased I had stumbled upon this little piece of the past.

Ruins at Wroxall

Ruins at Wroxall

(See also this link)

PS I have just started using Twitter – if anyone wants to follow this see ‘About Tudor stuff’ above or click here – I am not sure if I really ‘get’ Twitter but thought I would give it a go. My following/ followers bit looks a little thin right now so please feel free to help me out!


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Harvington Hall
Harvington Hall

Instead of a post today there is an entire new page (see above) – this is a new part of Tudor Stuff blog. As well as continuing the regular posts about Tudor history, the blog will also be paying a visit to Harvington Hall.

This will give readers an insight into the history of the Hall and also report on events as they happen there throughout the year. It is intended to tell more about the story of the Hall – and it is quite a story!

The area around Harvington traces it’s history back to before the Norman conquest. Elements of the Hall story relate to the medieval period as well as  Tudor and Stuart times and the Civil War.

The Hall is a great place to visit – many people love it because of the way in which history seems to come alive here. Hopefully, finding out more about the Hall will encourage you to go and see it for yourself – in the meantime, take a look at Tudor Stuff to find out more.

Another development is that I am doing a monthly guest post on Anglotopia – this is a really good website for people in the US who are interested in things British. I will probably use this as an excuse to look at other bits of history, why don’t you check it out?


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Baddesley Clinton by Nala Rewop on Flickr (Click image) Baddesley Clinton by Nala Rewop on Flickr (Click image)

Baddesley Clinton in Warwickshire is a moated house now owned by the National Trust. The house which partly dates from the 15th Century experienced one of it’s most dramatic events during the Tudor period.

During this time it was an offence to attend Catholic mass, people were fined for not attending Church of England services and Priests could suffer savage punishment. In an attempt to maintain the faith, priests were trained abroad, smuggled into the country and then hidden by a covert network of sympathisers. In Warwickshire, as elsewhere in England, many of the gentry continued to practice what they saw as the true faith. One such family were the Ferrers who owned Baddesley Clinton.

A secret conference.

In 1591, the house was the scene for a secret conference of Catholic Priests. Amongst those at the conference were the well known Jesuit Priests John Gerard, and Henry Garnet as well as seven or eight fellow Jesuits, other Priests and a few fugitive sympathisers. All of these people were being actively sought by the authorities and the capture of such a group would have dealt a serious blow to the secret Catholic mission to England.

Partly because of concern about the possibility of such a large group being captured the conference broke up early. Several people departed leaving only John Gerard, Father Southwell and five others at Baddesley Clinton. At five o’clock in the morning whilst preparations for Mass were being made the house was raided by the authorities.

Baddesley Clinton by matthewallton on Flickr (Click image)

Baddesley Clinton by matthewallton on Flickr (Click image)

Armed raiders.

Four armed Priest hunters ( known as Pursuivants) had arrived and were loudly threatening a servant who had barred the door to them.  Because the servant had delayed their entry the Priests inside the house had time to hide their vestments and the altar stuff. The Priests even had time to turn the mattresses on their beds so that they would not feel warm to a searchers touch.

By the time the mistress of the house had come downstairs and allowed the searchers to enter, the Priests were hidden in a secret hide underneath the house. They had to remain crouched here for four hours whilst the search went on above them. Eventually the searchers tired of their efforts and left after they had extracted payment from the household for their troubles.

Baddesley Clinton Lizwalker1975 (Click image)

A close escape.

Once it was certain the Pursuivants were gone, the Priests were called up out of the hide. Care still had to be taken though to guard against the searchers appearing to leave and then returning which was a common tactic.

John Gerard wrote the account of this search in his memoirs when he escaped England and returned to live the rest of life on the continent. Robert Southwell and Henry Garnet were not so lucky as both of them were later caught and executed by being hung, drawn and quartered.

As you can see from the pictures, Baddesley Clinton is a really beautiful place to visit. If you go there, you can still see some of it’s hiding places as well as it’s beautiful rooms and gardens. The hide that was used in 1591 was originally part of the house sewer and is though to have been converted to a hide by Nicholas Owen, the master builder of such places.

You may well find it hard to imagine such a peaceful and secluded place being the scene of dramatic and perilous events.

See our earlier post ‘Tyburn Martyrs


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Ophelia : John Everett Millais

Ophelia : John Everett Millais

There is a willow grows aslant a brook,

That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream.

There with fantastic garlands did she come

Of crowflowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples,

That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,

But our cold maids do dead men’s fingers call them.

There on the pendant boughs her coronet weeds

Clamb’ring to hang, an envious sliver broke,

When down her weedy trophies and herself

Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide

And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up;

Which time she chaunted snatches of old tunes,

As one incapable of her own distress,

Or like a creature native and indued

Unto that element; but long it could not be

Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,

Pull’d the poor wretch from her melodious layTo muddy death

(Queen Gertrude – Act 4 scene seven of Hamlet)


We were lucky enough to see the recent production of Hamlet (see also) at the Novello theatre in London. In the programme notes the director describes some of the background research that was done – partly this involved a trip to Stratford and a walk up the riverside.avon-nr-tiddington

The Director of the play, Gregory Doran along with Mariah Gale who played Ophelia walked to the area where an historic event mirrors a famous scene from the play.


In 1579 a girl called Katharine Hamlet was drowned in the river Avon at a place called Tiddington, a short walk to the north east of Stratford town centre. Apparently, Katherine fell whilst filling a pail of water. There were also rumours that she was heartbroken about a failed love affair and that this might have been a case of suicide. Over the years it has been suggested that this accident in the Avon might have been in Shakespeare’s mind when he wrote the play.

John Everett Millais.

Perhaps the most famous depiction of Ophelia is that reproduced above by Millais. This picture which was painted in 1851/1852 shows a drowned Ophelia lying in the stream surrounded by flowers. In common with people in Tudor times, the Victorians were more aware than us of folklore and symbolic meanings attributed to plants – as you can see if you follow this link to the Tate Gallery.

A walk by the Avon.

burdockOn a recent visit to Stratford I walked by the river towards the area where Katharine Hamlet was drowned. Although the Avon is not very wide here, the water flows strongly and in places the riverbank is quite steep. In December (when Katharine was drowned) the ground would be wet pretty much all of the time and the banks slippery and treacherous. It is easy to imagine how someone could fall into the river, especially if one reached in to fill a bucket.


None of the flowers described by either Shakespeare or Millais would have been in evidence at the time of Katharine’s drowning. At that time of year the most prominent vegetation would be grasses and bare trees.  When we visited it was too early in the season to see many flowers growing, although certainly these would be plentiful around here later in the season.


I suspect that like me, visitors to Stratford usually confine their walking either to the town itself or to the riverside walk in the opposite direction – towards Holy Trinity church where Shakespeare is buried. Perhaps, if you get the chance, it is worth taking the time to walk in the other direction towards Tiddington and if you do so then perhaps you might spare a thought for poor Katharine Hamlet.


Nettles - symbolising pain?


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Not far from where I live is a place called Bidford, a lovely old village on the banks of the river Avon in rural Warwickshire. We used to go there with our parents to eat picnics by the river bank and play in the meadow by the river and I have been there with my own kids to do the same.

Bidford Bridge by John Clift on Flickr (Click image) Bidford Bridge by John Clift on Flickr (Click image)

Now that spring is here and the days are getting longer and warmer it is time to start getting out and about –  I love the idea that we are so often following  the same paths that our ancestors explored before us.

There is a story that Bidford was famous for it’s beer drinkers and that one day a group from Stratford came to the village and started drinking with the locals. Amongst the Stratford visitors was a young man called Shakespeare who tried and failed to out drink the Bidford men.

Bidford on Avon by recursion on Flickr ( Click image)

Bidford on Avon by recursion on Flickr ( Click image)

The group fell into a drunken sleep and the story is that Shakespeare spent the night sleeping under a tree. When he woke next day Shakespeare is said to have declined the offer of more Ale by saying that he had drunk at:

Piping Pebworth, dancing Marston,
Haunted Hillbro, hungry Grafton,
Dudging Exhall, Papist Wicksford,
Beggarly Broom and drunken Bidford.

Take a look at Google maps for the area – it is quite easy to find most of the places mentioned in this rhyme although I am not sure I ever came across ‘Hillbro’ – does anyone know where this was/is? (Update July 2010 – see comments below, thanks to the ‘Hairy Farmer family’ – see link)

If you have never visited any of these places then I can recommend you try to look them out one day – although try to avoid drinking too much in Bidford!

Pebworth, Worcestershire, St Peter. Tudor Barlow on Flickr (Click image)

Pebworth, Worcestershire, St Peter. Tudor Barlow on Flickr (Click image)

PS. Whilst I am on the subject of Tudor era booze ups – is this a good excuse to look at this clip from Blackadder?

For more about Beer see this post


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