If you pay any attention to the news and to your surroundings, you can’t fail to be aware of the massive environmental problems caused by pollution and litter. Not that this is a new thing; the issue of waste disposal is as old as human civilization, and in some respects we deal with it better today than we did in the past – at least the streets of our cities aren’t ankle-deep in sewage and offal, as many of them were little more than a century ago! However, our streets, public spaces and countryside are all too often thick with other noisome and dangerous rubbish: stinking cigarette ends, revolting gobs of chewed gum, and the thoughtlessly-discarded debris of our addiction to eating and drinking on the hoof - cans, bottles, fast-food containers, crisp packets, sweet wrappers and the like, for which I’ve developed a deep and abiding hatred.
So as a life-long litter loather, I’m glad I’ve now got a weekly site maintenance job that involves cleaning up on an industrial estate, disposing of rubbish properly, and gleaning anything recyclable to bring home and put in our recycling bin – every can and bottle I rescue feels like a small victory for the environment! In fact litter-picking has turned into something of an obsession – every time I leave the house I try and pick up at least one piece. I couldn’t care less if other people think I’m mad or eccentric, (although I usually get lots of praise and positive comments from passers-by). And my reply to those who say, ‘Why bother, it only gets messed up again,’ is that every single bit I dispose of properly is one bit less to foul our streets, harm our wildlife, or get washed out to sea and end up in the belly of some unfortunate whale.
I'm also glad that I'm far from the only person who feels this way. On a national level, the Keep Britain Tidy charity is still going strong, organising clean-up campaigns all over the country; and locally, I feel very proud to have joined a group of nearly 50 Wakefield Litter Heroes, organised by Charleen Armitage (who took the photo) and Adelaide Foster from Keep Britain Tidy. I went on my first litter-pick around our neighbourhood on 25th May with around a dozen other local 'Heroes', and collected that full bin-bag of trash plus another bag of good-quality recyclable cans and bottles in just over an hour! It's an enormously satisfying and worthwhile thing to do, as well as a great way of teaching children to care for and respect their surroundings - so if you're stuck for activities during the summer holidays, why not contact Keep Britain Tidy to find out about clean-up campaigns in your area, and go on a family litter-pick? I'm certainly looking forward to my next outing with the Wakefield Littler Heroes!
If you live in Yorkshire, you may have seen news items about the fluctuating fortunes of Wentworth Castle at Stainborough, former seat of the Earls of Strafford, now Northern College (pictured). Despite extensive and costly restorations of the grounds and built heritage from 2002, a funding crisis forced this extremely popular beauty spot to close to the public in 2017. However, thanks to a partnership between the College, Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council and the National Trust, it recently re-opened – so on Sunday, Hubcap and I went to check it out.
The site’s history is fascinating. The original Stuart house, Stainborough Hall, was built in 1670 and extensively re-modelled by Thomas Wentworth, Baron Raby and Earl of Strafford, in an attempt to outshine his neighbour at Wentworth Woodhouse, 6 miles away. (We visited the historic gardens and garden centre there last month).
The Earl believed Wentworth Woodhouse was his birthright, but in 1695 the estate passed instead to his cousin Thomas Watson, creating a lasting enmity and bitter rivalry that drove his grandiose developments. One that we found particularly intriguing was Stainborough Castle; completed in 1731 to give the impression that the family had lived there for centuries, this elaborate folly is built in the form of a ruined medieval castle complete with curtain wall, lookout towers, the remains of a room with decorative plaster mouldings, (illustrated), and spectacular views from the top!
Wentworth’s gardens were also designed to make political statements and demonstrate his loyalty to Queen Anne. The geometric design of the Union Jack Garden represents the crosses of St George and St David, to commemorate the union of England and Scotland in 1707; on a less happy note, the ‘Kneeling Blackamore’ sundial, now in the conservatory, (pictured below), celebrates his achievement in negotiating the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, giving Britain a lucrative monopoly in the repugnant Atlantic slave trade. The Earl fell from power following transfer of the crown to the Hanoverians, but his descendants continued to develop the house and grounds; later features of interest include a lovely Victorian formal garden and conservatory (below, left and right), one of the first buildings in the country to boast electric lighting; and the spectacular lime tree avenue planted c. 1914, and named Lady Lucy’s Walk after one of Thomas Wentworth’s daughters (below, centre left).
After World War Two, Wentworth Castle was bought from the family, turned into a teacher training college, and has remained an educational establishment ever since. Although the house isn’t open to the public, there are still 63 acres of garden and 500 acres of parkland (inhabited by sheep and herds of fallow and red deer) to explore, so you can easily spend a full day there; and we felt the quality of the facilities, including a nice café and gift shop, amply justified the £8.50 standard adult admission fee (National Trust members get in free). Highly recommended - we were sorry to miss the rhodendron and azalea flowers, and will definitely be making return visits to see the plants in different seasons!