The History Anorak

The History Anorak

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

May Day

Maypole in Castle Gardens
Beltane Blessings

May 1 is a Pagan festival known as Beltane - which means good fire. Traditionally it was the first day of Summer and a reason to celebrate the end of the long winter days.  Many of the celebrations involved bonfires, including one ritual where cattle were driven between two fires to purify them before being moved to their summer grazing.

Near the centre of Leicester, just behind De Montfort University you'll find an area called Castle Gardens which has a clearing that contains a Maypole. 

Green man on
Leicester Maypole
Dancing round the Maypole was supposed to promote fertility. Think about what shape it is! Legend says they date back to Celtic times and survived until the fun-killing Puritans turned up and banned them.

They were revived, apparently, by the polymath John Ruskin, who introduced one at Whitelands College in 1881 and created a series of dances and a May Pageant to go with it. That's quite a thing for a man whose marriage was annulled because he allegedly couldn't face having sex with his wife.   He did, however, own an extensive collection of erotic art by the artist JMW Turner. Makes you think doesn't it?

Another face you'll find associated with May Day is the Green Man. There's one on the base of the Leicester Maypole. He represents a spirit of summer. Green like the new shoots. A spirit of the woods and fields. Usually he has leaves over his face. A true green man has shoots growing from his mouth. The leafy ones are technically known as foliate heads.

For a blatantly Pagan symbol they don't half turn up in churches a lot. Why don't you pop along to your local one and see if you can find any?

Monday, 2 April 2018

The Repair Shop

I've always been jealous of craftspeople. I can just about knit and purl enough to make a scarf and I occasionally get the watercolours out and have a go at painting, but nothing I produce could ever be described as skillful. That's why I love the BBC 2 programme The Repair Shop.

A team of artists and craftspeople - ceramics experts, carpenters, furniture makers, metalworkers, seamstresses, and others - take in precious heirlooms that are today past their best, and restore them.

Every one works a tiny miracle on someone's prized possession. They've done clocks, teddy bears, musical instruments, chairs, allsorts.

If you've not seen it you should switch on at 6.30pm on weekdays, or find it on the iplayer. You'll be well rewarded.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Castle Gardens

Close by De Montfort University in Leicester you'll find an area called Castle Gardens. Leicester Castle was a motte and bailey structure, but these days all you'll find is a large mound surrounded by trees and ornamental flower beds. It's believed there's been a garden of some sort on the site, possibly an orchard or even allotments, for several centuries.

It became a public garden in 1926 when Leicester Corporation started reclaiming land along the River Soar and the Grand Union Canal. The land belonged to Trinity Hospital and the county council, and the Corporation leased it to add to its own land and the site of the old West Bridge Mills. In 1937 the site was extended by leasing more Trinity Hospital land.  The whole site now belongs to De Montfort Uni.

Trinity Hospital was founded in 1330 by Henry Earl of Lancaster to provide homes for 50 poor and infirm people. Some time later Henry's son enlarged the building, calling it his New Work. (The area is today called Newarke.) The establishment included a college of canons and a church. The foundation closed in 1548 during the Protestant Reformation and many of the buildings were demolished.

The associated hospital survived, however, and was renamed Trinity Hospital. It's been rebuilt twice, in 1776 and 1901, but the residents moved to a modern property in 1995.  Then the building was renamed Trinity House ad is now part of the university campus.