The History Anorak

The History Anorak

Monday, 26 June 2017

Dolly Shepherd

Last weekend we visited a local craft trail where the wonderful art of yarn bombing was on display. Trees, lamp posts and other street furniture had been wrapped in colourful knitting and crochet all on the theme of flight. Among the displays was one about a woman called Dolly Shepherd, who was a new name to me. 

A decorated tree dedicated to Dolly
Dolly Shepherd (1886-1983), born Elizabeth Shepherd, was a parachutist and fairground entertainer in the Edwardian era. Born in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, as a teenager she went to work as a waitress in a North London cafe so she could afford to see a concert by the composer John Philip Sousa. While there she overheard two men talking about needing a girl to act as 'target' in their shooting act, and volunteered.

She immediately became known as a daredevil and, in 1905, she ascended to 4,000 feet on a trapeze slung below a hot air balloon, descending by parachute. This became a regular act, but on one occasion she made the descent with another girl whose chute failed to open.

Dolly carried the girl to the ground but the descent was too fast, and both were severely injured. Dolly was paralysed for many weeks but fought her way back to health and returned to her high flying act at a show in Ashby de la Zouch, Leicestershire. 

She continued her flying tricks throughout her life and never showed fear. On one occasion she almost hit a steam train on her descent but the driver had the presence of mind to blow his whistle, and the blast diverted her into the nearby canal.

She flew with the Red Devils display team a few years before she died at the age of 96.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Kirby Muxloe

William Hastings was Edward IV's lord chamberlain and made a small fortune in the post. As a result he could afford to build himself a luxury home on the family estates in Leicestershire.

Hastings chose a plot of land at Kirby Muxloe where the family already had a manor house. The new fortified house was built entirely out of brick, an expensive and fashionable material only recently introduced to England. Hastings brought craftsmen from the Netherlands to make the bricks on site because too few people here knew the skill.

However, the house was never completed because Hastings fell foul of the ambitious Duke of Gloucester, later to be Richard III, who accused him of conspiracy and had him executed in 1483.

The land remained in the family's possession until 1630, but only one tower was ever finished, although it's still possible to see how impressive the house would have been. Most of what remains today is footings for the outer walls, but the gatehouse stands proudly to welcome you on site.

Although it was also never finished, the gatehouse shows how well designed the building was. You can still pick out the pattern of dark bricks (known as diaper work) on the frontage.

In addition the castle had gun ports and a moat to aid its defence.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Wallingford Clock

The Wallingford Clock. A replica of a 14th century clock at St Albans Cathedral. The original was designed and constructed by Richard of Wallingford who was abbot from 1327 until 1336. As well as sounding the hours the clock has an astronomical section that shows the position of various stars, the sun and the moon. It can also predict lunar eclipses.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Heritage catering

Well, dear readers, the regular visitors among you will know that Mr Anorak and I spend many days a year visiting heritage and historic sites so that I can bring you my thoughts on them through this blog.  I'm sure that, for many of you, the reason you read me is because you enjoy similar visits.  And, like us, you probably enjoy a trip to the tea room as part of your treat.

We sometimes plan our visits around the tea room at the venue we choose.  For example, this weekend we planned a trip to Boscobel House, the place where Charles II hid while escaping from Cromwell's troops after the execution of his father Charles I.  It's about an hour from where we live, so finding something to eat as part of the deal was quite important.

(If you want to know where we live take a look at the map on English Heritage's website and find that large, oval shape in the middle with no EH properties in it. Then find the centre of that oval and you'll be close to our house!)

So, we checked out the EH website to see whether Boscobel would make a suitable destination. It warns you that the tearoom is an independent business and even tells you that it doesn't accept plastic payments. So far, so good. It actually says: "Situated within the old stables, the tearoom serves home-made cakes, light lunches and hot and cold drinks."  Sounded reasonable. So off we went.

Fortunately, we have EH membership, so we didn't pay to get in.  It was 12.30, so we went straight for lunch. There were precisely five things on the menu. (If you don't count cakes. We're both diabetic, so we don't count cakes.) Two of them had bacon in, the other three had cheese. So we ordered bacon sandwiches. Except there wasn't any bacon. So why were they still on the (chalked) menu board?

The waitress/whatever began a long tale about her woes and how the people from yesterday didn't leave a list of what was used up, like they were supposed to do. I don't care about how the system works. I asked why the two bacon items hadn't been crossed off the board so I didn't choose it in the first place?  No chalk, apparently. And no damp cloth either, I assume.

This was two and a half hours after the place opened and nobody had done anything about visiting the two supermarkets within 15 minutes drive and buying some bacon. No-one had attempted to get any kind of alternative food, in fact, no-one seemed to give a dingo's kidney about customer service.

This isn't good enough English Heritage!  Don't let an unprepared, unprofessional bunch of wasters damage your image. We left. Not just the cafe, but the site. We didn't spend anything in the gift shop. And we're unlikely to go back. We're also unlikely to renew our EH membership when it comes up either.