May 2015




10th May


Progress at 'Beckside' and the adjacent woodland has certainly come on in leaps and bounds since the last time I posted about it. Over the past few months, Mick and chums have planted some 1200 native trees including birch, sycamore, hazel, poplar and a long stretch of hawthorn hedge; unfortunately not all of them survived the frosts and gales, but the site probably boasts about 800 more healthy, growing saplings than it did last November! Work wasn't restricted to simply planting the 'whips'; we also tagged them with hazard tape to make them more visible so that they didn't get accidentally trampled; Mick put mulch all round them to keep the weeds and nettles down until they're properly established; and in the picture on the left, I'm in the process of giving the more fragile plants a supportive cane and plastic tree-spiral to stop them being blown around and damaged before the stems have chance to thicken. It's lovely to see so many of them coming into leaf now - and I'm really looking forward to seeing how they come on over the summer.


The other major job, which is still ongoing, is the clearance of the massive growth of nettles and brambles from all over the site. Landowners Mark and Richard, along with Hubcap, have thrown themselves into this with great vigour helped by their new mate 'Big Dave' - that's what Mick has dubbed the giant heavy-duty strimmer you can see him using in the pic below centre. Meanwhile we also have a fine new log store - complete with new logs! - built next to a hard-standing area for Hubcap to park his van for loading and unloading (below left); and preparations for an orchard at Beckside (below right) in the shape of a big polythene sheet laid down to kill off all the nettles and bindweed ready for next year. Then we'll be planting a mixture of cider, eating and cooking apples trees, primarily rare old English species which are seldom used commercially these days - Mick's getting very excited about sourcing them from heritage fruit suppliers!

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23rd May


Herstory has been getting about a bit over the past week! On Wednesday evening, we went with Towton Battlefield Society for a special guided tour of Hazlewood Castle Hotel (left). This magnificent building, now a popular venue for luxury weddings, has had a long and chequered history: its oldest parts date to the mid-13th century, when it was the seat of the Vavasour family. The Vavasours were given licence to crenellate in 1290, turning the building into a fortified manor. The family played no part in the Wars of the Roses (they allegedly locked themselves in the chapel while the Battle of Towton was being fought!); and later, despite being staunch Roman Catholics, continued to prosper into the Elizabethan period when Lady Anne Vavasour was a lady-in-waiting to the Queen. (She seems to have been rather a good-time girl, who became the mistress and subsequently wife of Elizabeth's favourite, the Earl of Essex). Hazlewood remained in the Vavasour family until 1908, when it was bought by a wealthy solicitor called Edward Simpson. It was subsequently used as a maternity hospital, and as a Carmelite centre for pilgrimage and retreats, as well as being substantially altered and restored by a new owner, Donald Hart, who bought it in 1957. Mr. Hart was an avid collector who embellished the entrance hall (the so-called 'Flemish Hall') with marble floor tiles, carved wall panelling and a massive stone fireplace acquired from various historic properties around the country, and created the beautiful 'Victorian Room' (which TBS members are admiring, below left) using a wallpaper specially commissioned for Queen Victoria by Prince Albert. It was a fascinating visit, and I'm looking forward to going back there on 16th June to give a lecture on the Battle of Wakefield - so if you fancy having a look round this stunning building yourself, why not come along? You'll find details of how to book on the Events page.


Then on Thursday I went to some rather different castles, as guide for a Heritage Group Travel tour of Yorkshire sites associated with Richard III. First of all we went up to Middleham, and I braved the perishing cold and strong wind to climb right to the top of the keep to photograph the original Middleham Castle (below):



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These overgrown earthworks are all that remains of the Norman motte-and-bailey on nearby William's Hill, the fortress built c. 1086 by Alan the Red, lord of Richmond and one of the Conqueror's principal supporters. It was intended to defend the upper reaches of Wensleydale and the road to Skipton, but seems to have been abandoned within a century (perhaps because there was no source of water there) and rebuilt in stone on the present site. From Middleham we returned to Wakefield via lunch in Harrogate, a brief stop at Towton to see Bloody Meadow, and finally on to Sandal Castle - another two high-up sites exposed to the strong chilly winds, which rather discouraged all but the hardiest trippers from lingering to enjoy them! Still, apart from the unseasonally cold weather, it was a grand day out and I think (hope) everyone had a good time...