'Flaming June' lived up to its name yesterday, so 'Team Helmick' went out for a little jolly to two local beauty spots! We started out at Worsborough Mill (Barnsley's working water-mill) to pick up some of their organic stone-ground spelt flour for Hubcap, who's sensitive to wheat gluten but can stomach spelt pastry and cakes. Then it was on to nearby Cawthorne to visit another Barnsley Museums site, the wonderful Cannon Hall (left).
Cannon Hall was the home of the Spencer family, whose wealth came from the local iron industry, and much of the present building dates to to the mid 18th century when John Spencer embarked upon an extensive programme of alterations to the old hall and to landscaping its 70 acres of park. After 300 years of family occupation, Cannon Hall was acquired by the County Borough of Barnsley in 1951; it opened as a country house museum in1957, and now contains fabulous, extensive collections of decorative art and militaria as well as period rooms. However, it was far too gorgeous a day to spend indoors; so after an indulgent lunch of sausage, egg and bacon sandwiches and home-made cake at The Pavilion Cafe, we passed a pleasant couple of hours wandering the grounds (along with hundreds of other visitors and happy-looking dogs!). Unfortunately the rhododendrons were just past their best, but they and the azaleas still made a magnificent show; it's strange to think that the Spencers who planted them as novel, expensive exotics would never have seen them in their full mature glory. Below left you can see me at the entrance to 'Fairyland,' a Victorian garden featuring a pond and stone arches taken from local churches, artfully-placed to give wonderful views when you look through them (below centre); and below right is a view of the walled garden with its historic greenhouses, herb beds and a marvellous collection of espalier fruit-trees including some rare historic varieties of pear. Altogether, this is a great place for a family visit, and a real bargain since entrance to the Hall and gardens is free after you've paid a modest £3 for all-day parking - although there is a charge to get into the adjacent home farm, (£8.95 yesterday, because among other activities a sheep-shearing festival was taking place; we didn't have time to do it justice, so decided to give it a miss). Then we rounded off our visit with a little leisure shopping at the Cannon Hall Garden Centre where I treated myself to a delicious room-spray: Cashmere & Cocoa by the fragrance house Marmalade of London, which makes scented candles, room-sprays, diffusers and bath/body products. Normally I wouldn't consider spending £14.95 on an air-freshener, but this is a wonderfully evocative mix of sandalwood, vanilla and chocolate, made with pure essential oils and not tested on animals - and by heck, you get what you pay for! One tiny squirt scents a whole room with a lovely lingering smell, so it'll last for ages - and I can wholeheartedly recommend this range if you're looking for a special present for someone. All in all a brilliant day out - go visit!
If you've visited Pontefract Castle recently, you can't fail to have noticed the massive building works currently taking place at the site (left). The standing remains are all being preserved by the removal of cement pointing applied some decades ago (which is too hard for the stonework and causes it to erode), and its replacement with a softer lime mortar like that used in the original construction; and a lovely new Visitor Centre, partly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, is being built and is scheduled to open later this year. I'm delighted by these developments, because Pontefract Castle is incredibly important to British history in general (for instance, it's where Richard II died and the Duke of Orleans was briefly imprisoned after the Battle of Agincourt) and the Wars of the Roses in particular: it was the Lancastrian commanders' HQ prior to the battle of Wakefield in December 1460; the captured Earl of Salisbury was executed there after the battle; and it's a stone's throw from the place where the decapitated bodies of Richard,
Duke of York and his second son Edmund, Earl of Rutland were buried while their heads were stuck up on Mickelgate Bar in York. But yesterday I was there for a much happier reason: to act as one of the judges for Wakefield Learning Community's second 'Catapult Challenge.' The Challenge requires teams of Year 7 pupils from schools all over the district to build a working catapult using only a set of wooden dowels, elastic bands and a plastic cup (below left) - which involves lots of research and prototype development - then to present a report on their project and demonstrate their catapult's ability to shoot a projectile (in this case, a marshmallow!). The judging panel awarded marks for planning, research, design, teamwork
and final presentation - which was no easy task, because the standard of entries was so high! But in the end, Airedale School emerged as the winner, with a special commendation for King's School, whose catapult shot an impressive 25 m, comfortably beating last year's record of 20 m held by Carleton School. The whole day was brilliant fun and a great learning experience for everyone involved (among other things, I learnt that the catapult was invented in ancient Greece by a chap called Dionysis) - but the highlight for me was a wonderful interactive performance by Baron John de Lacy (left), aka David Eliot Cooper of Histrionics, a former Leeds Royal Armouries interpreter. As well as being extremely funny, his piece was informative and moving, and I look forward to seeing him again at the second Catalpult Challenge final at Sandal Castle next week!
OLD LONDON ROAD DIG
This month has seen the first archaeological excavation to take place on Towton Battlefield for many years: a project funded by Towton Parish Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund to investigate Old London Road prior to
re-surfacing some badly-rutted areas to make it more accessible to walkers. The aim of the excavation, led by renowned battlefield archaeologist Tim Sutherland, was to determine the age and original construction method of the road (which, given the length and straightness of the sections shown in the photo above, appears to be Roman). I was hugely excited to hear about the dig and, I confess, cherished hopes that it might unearth some finds from the Battle of Towton (horseshoes, harness fragments and the like). So Hubcap and I went along on Sunday 26th, the fourth day of the dig, to find out what was going on for me to report about it in the next Towton Herald. (Cont'd below pics)
I got even more excited as we approached the trench (above left) and I spotted a team of TBS volunteers hard at work in the finds-processing tent (above right). Alas, it turned out that the material they were working on had come from another of Tim's sites in Cambridgeshire, while Old London Road had yielded little more than an old ceramic marble - nothing connected with the battle, and nothing to definitively date the road to any period (which isn't really surprising, considering that the trench was only some 25 square metres cut across several miles of track! The road itself at that point - a gravel surface flanked by kerb-stones - wasn't Roman or medieval, but consistent with the 18th century turnpike known to have existed there from the historical record (above centre). In some respects this was disappointing; but as ever in archaeology, what you don't find can be as interesting as what you do, and the excavation has thrown up a whole load more questions which I hope that Tim's ongoing research will answer one day: like why this section of Old London Road follows this particular route up a steep-ish hill rather than taking the more direct, flatter way corresponding with the edge of the barley field on the left of the top image. Meanwhile it's great to know that the re-surfacing will go ahead, because having a safe, dry, flat road will be a great boon for the local community and the thousands of people who now come to walk the Towton Battlefield Trail every year.