Tag Archives: Southwell

The Saracen’s Head

Driving into Southwell from Newark, you can’t really miss the Saracen’s Head – as it positively dominates the junction in the middle of town.

In 1646 it was called the King’s Head, and on the morning  of 5th May 1646 the King came to call. Things hadn’t gone well for him over the years.

He’d fought against the Scots in the Bishop’s Wars of 1639 and 1640 and had not covered himself in martial glory.  The first was a draw, the second an emphatic away win for the Scots, who easily over-ran the counties of Northumberland and Durham, They then refused to hand them back until the English reimbursed them for the cost of the war. In 1641 the Irish started again (having fought four wars against the English in the previous 100 years), and in 1642 the English Civil War started.

The first action of the king was to raise his standard on Standard Hill in Nottingham. It blew down. It may or may not have been  bad omen, but it was certainly an inauspicious start to a war that gradually went wrong. By 5th May 1646 it looked about as bad as it could be, and the King arranged to surrender to the Scots.

He was rather caught out when the Scots handed him over to Parliament in return for £400,000, but carried on scheming and eventually managed to enlist Scots help in fighting Parliament. A Scots army did invade England in 1648, but was badly beaten by Cromwell at Preston.

With hindsight, (and if you believe in these things), meeting the Scots in a tavern called the King’s Head has the look of a bad omen.

We now come to my view of King Charles I, which isn’t necessarily a balanced academic view. He was a bit of an idiot and a good advert for why royal families should pay attention to the depth of their gene pool. If you look at his father you can see he never had much of a chance.

But when the chips were down he put on an extra shirt so he wouldn’t shiver in the January cold and seem afraid as he stepped up to the execution block.

“Let me have a shirt on more than ordinary by reason the season is so sharp as probably may make mee shake, which some Observors will imagin’ proceeds from fear. I will have no such Imputation, I fear not death!”

There is more to being a King than being clever and avoiding marrying your cousin.

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Paths of Glory

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow’r,
         And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Awaits alike th’ inevitable hour.
         The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
I’ve just finished reading The Final Whistle: The Great War in Fifteen Players . I bought it last week when I was supposedly getting rid of some books at the Oxfam shop. It is, as you may be able to guess from the title, a book about the Great War and rugby. I’m not one of those people who can quote details of Divisions and battles and all that stuff but I do have an interest in the subject, and I also like rugby.
As a result, I am now motivated to finish a post I began after visiting Southwell Minster. For me, the most interesting part of the visit is the original wooden grave marker of Major J P Becher. It’s on the wall of the graveyard at the east end of the Minster, and I always worry that one day it will disintegrate.
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Original wooden grave marker at Southwell Minster

In this case, Major Becher is commemorated in many other places, as are his brothers-in-law. The brothers-in-law were both killed on the day that Becher suffered his fatal wounds. He lived on for another ten weeks before finally dying, having been too badly injured to be sent home from France.
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Grave marker – Major J P Becher

His son, as seen from the small cross in the picture, died in the Second World War.
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Father and son

Families were allowed to have the original wooden grave markers returned to them when the permanent stone markers were erected, though I’m not sure how many actually applied for them. I imagine that although it represented closure for many families, it was far too painful for others.
One of my great grandmothers, having lost a son and a son-in-law and seen two other sons seriously injured, refused to even to discuss the war. Another one, having been widowed and left with three young daughters, died in the TB hospital in Lancaster five years after the death of her husband.
It was International Women’s Day yesterday, so it might be appropriate to spend a moment thinking about the women in this story, who also suffered in the war, though nobody erected a memorial to them.
The above link to my great grandmother’s headstone was a complete surprise to me. I was going to add CWGC details but browsed a few others and found that. Though I’ve been in that church and graveyard several times in the past I never thought to look for family gravestones at the time and it was on the list of “things to do”.
That’s the wonder of the web, and a whole new post.

 

 

Stone Faces of Southwell

We had a walk round the outside of Southwell Minster yesterday. We’ve never looked round the outside properly before, and we didn’t have time for a full tour.

The Minster is actually the cathedral for the Diocese of Nottingham, but it keeps the old title as part of what seems to be a policy of keeping itself hidden. Even its own website refers to it as ” the best kept secret among the forty-two English cathedrals”.

As The Association of English Cathedrals lists 44 on its website I have a suspicion that there are two English Cathedrals that are kept even more secret than Southwell. This might be explained by the presence of Royal Peculiars in the longer list. But it may not. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs is full of examples of why it’s a good thing to keep out of church business, so I’m not going to dig any deeper.

Seen from the winding country roads that serve Southwell, it is a breath-taking building. I will cover it more fully in the Spring, when the light is better for photography, but for now, here is a selection from the carvings scattered around the outside, some from the 12th century, some from more modern restorations.

The ones at ground level are on the wall of the Bishop’s Palace, though I’m not sue if they started off there.

The ones from the Minster look quite crisp so I suspect they are from recent restoration work.

To round off the visit we visited the tearoom for parsnip soup with artisan bread from Welbeck. Unfortunately, for a man looking forwards to a chunk of traditional bread, it was a rather thin panini that arrived, cut to a point at one end then baked crisp before serving. It was more like a crusty weapon that a meal. The soup was excellent though.

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Soup and a dangerous panini

The misty effect was unintended, it was actually condensation on the lens as the warm air of the cafe met the cold of the camera. The perspective makes the bread look bigger than it really was, and the soup bowl look smaller. That’s what happens when a hungry man decides to photograph his food.